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Maintaining the Always-On Warehouse

1/27/20
Grainger Editorial Staff

Regular equipment maintenance is a challenge, but in an always-on warehouse, it can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. With no real downtime to plan repairs or swap out equipment, you're continually looking for opportunities to keep the facility properly maintained without impacting production. Often, this means postponing regular and required maintenance in favor of dedicated maintenance windows or focusing on high-risk issues.

Warehouses that never shut down can still have programs in place for conducting regular maintenance. With a strong foundation of inventory management and equipment tracking, your team can perform targeted regular maintenance while limiting impacts on production. Combined with a plan that matches your unique warehouse and a ranking of the highest and lowest priority maintenance tasks, you can optimize your facility to keep equipment working at its peak without excessive downtime.

Creating a Plan

Step one to master maintenance in the always-on warehouse is to make the plan. Everything about your facility is unique, from what you store and move to what equipment, supplies and people are onsite. You can use a plan that adapts to how your warehouse operates so that inspection and repairs fit seamlessly into regular operations. The core of the plan should focus on your equipment, your tasks and your people. This approach to warehouse management helps you visualize what work to do, who needs to do it and how long each task will take. 

The first step, according to Reliable Plant, is to use a system called "reliability-centered maintenance." This approach groups equipment based on common characteristics, such as type, criticality or maintenance frequency, and lists the tasks and parts required for each. To start, make a complete list of all the systems and tools that require regular maintenance and inspection throughout the facility. If your team is spending time on equipment, it should be on the list. Without clear visibility into what equipment your team is or is not inspecting, you run the risk of missing work or failing to include equipment in the plan. 

Next, list all of the maintenance jobs that your team has to do. These tasks can be simple jobs like regular lubrication or critical repairs. For each task, record what actual maintenance needs to take place. Capturing all of the work you need to do, rather than what you think needs to get done, avoids “hidden work” where the efforts of your team go undocumented and unrecorded. 

Once you know all of your equipment and the maintenance tasks required, you can list all of the people responsible for that maintenance. According to the International Facilities Management Association, these roles can vary widely and many people can be responsible for individual maintenance tasks. For example, one person may focus on safety, and another on repairs, and both play a role in maintaining a piece of equipment properly. Your plan can detail how many people are available, when they are on shift, how much they can do and the time needed to perform each task. With inadequate resources or limited staff overnight, for example, some maintenance tasks might not be possible in the given time. While it's not necessary to list everyone by name, your plan should demonstrate how much maintenance can be accomplished with your available staff.

Prioritizing the Workload

Once you have your maintenance plan in place, you can create a schedule. Some equipment demands weekly or even daily inspection and repair. Other less-used systems such as lighting and hand tools may only need inspection monthly or once a year. With a plan in place that prioritizes the highest-need equipment, you can ensure that your team is spending their time where it is needed and only impacting production when critical.

Using your plan as a guide, start by grouping equipment in priority order based on the list of tasks you created. According to Reliable Plant, equipment can be grouped based on maintenance frequency, with names such as Monthly or Daily. Ensure your groups contain all of the equipment present in your plan so your team doesn't miss any maintenance or required work. Some pieces of equipment will demand inspection of specific components or systems at different intervals. In this case, document each task under the appropriate group. For example, daily oiling of a roller would belong in the Daily group, while a monthly inspection of the motor would be in the Monthly group.

Leveraging Strong Inventory Management

The next step in completing regular maintenance is to keep the right supplies in stock in the right locations. According to FacilitiesNet, not stocking the right parts or supplies for maintenance leads to excessive downtime, potentially reduced repair quality and even lower morale. Adding regular maintenance to your inventory plan can cut downtime and stress caused by missing parts and supplies. A maintenance-ready inventory management system includes your specific list of equipment and its necessary components, and as MH&L shared, keeping the items you need to complete repairs and maintenance on hand at all times.

Any type of inventory management system that your warehouse uses can incorporate regular maintenance. Using the plan and list of equipment you created, you can build a list of the necessary supplies for each piece of equipment, the priority of that supply and the quantity needed. For example, a critical piece of equipment may demand a specific type of lubricant to be applied monthly. That means that your nearby closets need to have enough supply for the next maintenance window, with backups in storage. 

This approach to regular maintenance can also help you plan repairs and replacements with ease, even if the warehouse never shuts down. Once a part is removed for service or replacement, a backup can be available to prevent a costly shutdown. A missing part can even stall your maintenance window, forcing more downtime later on. You can stay ahead of these potential problems by stocking replacement parts in enough quantity in the right places across the facility.

In an always-on facility, having a partner to help craft your specific maintenance needs can make the difference between smooth operations and costly downtime. Grainger KeepStock Inventory Management Services can help you keep items in stock, provide vending services that match your specific needs or offer advice on how to manage your maintenance inventory.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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