Preventive maintenance – a good investment?

This article on The Economist website brought me back to my days working as a management accountant in manufacturing firms.  Maintaining manufacturing and process equipment was always a delicate balance.  Spares and maintenance staff pay was quite a substantial cost in one plant I worked in over the years.  This plant, like others, tried its best to engage in preventive maintenance programs.  This usually implied using a mixture of following guidelines from equipment manufacturers and the experience of the maintenance staff. But, as I am sure you can imagine,  preventative maintenance comes at a cost too. The arguments would always be “should we wait until it breaks,  or fix it before it breaks”. Of course, letting a piece of equipment go unmaintained can create serious problems. A business needs to avoid its main manufacturing process being down – losses of revenue per day (or even per hour) rack up very quickly. So from an accounting and profit view, a balance needs to be achieved between the right level of preventive maintenance and the cost of same.

Of course modern technology can help. When I left my last manufacturing role back in 2004, process equipment could be remotely diagnosed and repaired by engineers. I always remember being amazed in or around 2001 when a production manager told me how the main machine at our plant had PLC’s (programmable logic circuits) with an IP address – the same as any PC or internet device. This meant the engineers from the equipment manufacturer could simply connect over the internet. At the time I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if fault information could be sent out instead, or even better, that fault signs might be noted in advance.

So, reading the above mentioned piece from The Economist brought me back to those great days when I as an accountant was constantly amazed by how advanced machinery had become. But now it seems a “virtual engineer” may be on hand to predict if electrical equipment is showing early signs of failure (read the piece for more detail).  No detail is given on the cost of such devices, but it would seem to be a great cost-saving idea. It could mean that preventive maintenance costs are incurred less frequently as equipment may be perfectly fine beyond it’s normal maintenance  period


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About martinjquinn

I am an accounting academic, accountant and author based near Dublin, Ireland.

2 responses to “Preventive maintenance – a good investment?”

  1. mira says :

    what kinds of cost savings may be possible with a system like a virtual engineer?

    • martinjquinn says :

      Not really my area I have to say, but I would imagine a virtual engineer would be a preventitive maintenence cost too. Or perhaps is could save costs compared to on-site vists.

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