Reassessing your Maintenance Strategies When There are Supply Chain Disruptions

There is an adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, and that concept has worked for a long time for some managers to save money. Has it really saved money, or it deferred the problem to a more costly one that could leave you unprepared to handle? Murphy’s Law states ‘If anything can go wrong, it will’, this should be expanded to include ‘It will happen at the most inconvenient time!’

What happens in pandemic times where there are supply chain disruptions delaying lead times, higher costs, and sometimes fewer staff and/or technicians to call on? Does management of your assets and maintenance strategies change? This may be a crucial time to consider what kind of maintenance strategy do you currently use to maintain your water and wastewater equipment, and whether you need to re-assess.

If you implement service primarily when equipment fails, then this is considered a responsive maintenance strategy. The benefits of reactive maintenance are lower upfront costs since you are not investing in preventative maintenance costs and less staff time is needed since they’re not maintaining equipment (i.e. chemical metering pump stops working). Emergency maintenance is another responsive action that identifies a specific problem that also has potential health and safety implications (i.e. system has stopped disinfecting and a town may end up on a boil order); legal ramifications may also be a factor.

In either responsive maintenance scenarios, time sensitivity and stress are high, and maintenance will be costly.  In 2022, lead times for replacement parts and/or equipment may be significantly longer (weeks to months) than pre-pandemic times. Does equipment failure impact your ability to operate if there is an extended delay in parts? If this is your current style of management, then you may want to evaluate critical components for operation and have complete replacements that you can quickly switch out a failed unit.

A less catastrophic form of responsive maintenance is corrective, where equipment is malfunctioning and can be repaired before full equipment failure. An example would be a drifting analyzer probe (i.e. free chlorine amperometric probe) that regular calibration and maintenance (i.e. electrolyte replacement, membrane cap) does not fix, but indicates the end-of-life of the electrodes are approaching and should be replaced. If anomalies are swiftly identified troubleshooting happens prior to failures, it may give sufficient time to bring in parts or service technicians prior to failure – even with current delays in the supply chain.

Ideally, managers would have enough funding and staffing to use proactive maintenance strategies; in reality, operations and maintenance requires decision-making to balance fiscal constraints and maintenance schedules. Preventative maintenance is an effective strategy to help prevent equipment failures by establishing routine inspections, re-applying lubrication or reagents as needed, calibration or adjustments et cetera, that may be required as part of regular wear and tear on equipment. Preventative maintenance can minimize downtimes, extend the life expectancy of your assets, and reduce chemical and/or electrical costs (if applicable) when equipment is working optimally.

Preventative maintenance includes daily, weekly and/or monthly checks that manufacturers outline in the Service section of their manuals. This is usually handled by on-site staff that are frequently inspecting the equipment. Consistently checking critical assets and flagging intermittent and/or problems when they are discovered help avoid costly emergencies and significant downtime.

Planned Maintenance

Planned maintenance is planned, scheduled, documented, and is usually essential for managers to identify service priorities, frequency, purchasing inventory (i.e. annual maintenance kits), and assessing whether this will be completed internally or outsourced to a service technician. This planned strategy can reduce risks of malfunctioning equipment, allows equipment to work optimally, and demands tracking time be included in annual budgets. Quarterly and/or annual maintenance schedules are included in manuals, listing what parts are recommended by the manufacturer.

Relatively simple and cost effective to establish, it has become essential in disrupted supply chain to include planned maintenance to minimize un-expected failures. The importance age for critical components is a predictive tool that helps determine when you will need to upgrade or replace current equipment. In 2022, other impediments arising is older equipment are suddenly discontinued/unsupported; long lead times of critical components (any age); sudden and larger pricing increases than the past. Customers have begun to carry more inventory, and/or replacements for key equipment to drop in to help offset these variables during uncertain times.

At Nulantic Water, we have been expanding our capacities to serve you better by increasing virtual support options for basic troubleshooting, training multiple team members in all Maritime Provinces, and carrying more critical inventory during this challenging time. Please do not hesitate in reaching out to us if you need assistance with your maintenance strategy or evaluating replacements/critical components so you can plan accordingly.