The underestimated optimization potential: planned machine maintenance and repair in the food and beverage industry

September 24, 2020 | Operations Management

The underestimated optimization potential

In the article “Status quo in disguise“, we focused on the challenges that companies in the food and beverages industry classically have to deal with. In this article, we will be dealing separately with the problems relating to unplanned machine failures and system malfunctions in production. In many notable companies in the food and beverages industry, they result in costly inefficiencies, which can be easily remedied with simple measures. Axel Davila Lage, graduate industrial engineer and long-time consultant in the food, packaging and processing industries, describes the causes of these particular malfunctions, providing tangible information on how they can be systematically remedied long-term.

The challenge: Unplanned machine failures and system malfunctions

Any industry specialist or executive working in production in a classic food and beverage company has experienced them: those unexpected malfunctions at machines that interrupt the flow of production. Generally, they immediately cause material losses and repair costs as well as increased payroll costs due to capacity loss, because the company is forced to reproduce product.

The cause: Insufficient systematic maintenance and repairs

For the most part, the cause of unplanned machine failures and system malfunctions can be traced back to inadequate maintenance in maintenance concepts, which are simply too rudimentary, as well as inadequate preventative maintenance. Davila Lage and his team observed that in many companies in the food and beverages industry there is plenty of improvement potential that relates to the systematic maintenance and repair of their systems, in particular when compared to other industries, where methods for continuous process optimization are already in place. “For many companies, we have observed that their machine “maintenance” is performed based on the firefighting principle. A machine and system technician is often only consulted after a malfunction has already occurred, even though it usually has made itself known in advance, ”says Davila Lage. Even a (semi-)annual maintenance week (overhaul) does not release from regular maintenance.

The goal: Moving past focusing on repairs and instead towards scheduled daily and weekly maintenance

Yet, what could such an excellent maintenance concept look like and how often should scheduled maintenance be performed? Axel Davila likes to compare machine maintenance in production with dental care. The goal is to dedicate time daily towards regular dental care and to perform special, more in-depth dental care once a week. One should also plan in a visit to the dentist once or twice a year. This kind of care can easily be transferred to the maintenance of the production machines: regular, systematic maintenance is necessary in order to detect and prevent wear. During weekly maintenance, experts replace components before they fail. The (semi-)annual overhaul is intended for implementing any major upgrades that may be needed. However, what we see in many companies is that daily, weekly maintenance is not being performed. So, it is not surprising that these companies regularly complain about “toothaches”.

At the same time, taking a look at companies that work with unexpected machine failures in the low single-digit range is especially helpful. A well-known, leading international food producer, for example, performs maintenance of its systems on a daily basis. The intervals for maintenance and repairs are firmly calculated into capacity planning and the scheduled dates are observed. Here, Davila Lage recommends to strictly follow the recommendations of the machine manufacturers. In addition to operating manuals, manufacturers also always supply maintenance and repair recommendations.

The crux of the matter: Smartly integrating maintenance into the processes

What Davila Lage noticed was that companies that show very few unplanned machine failures and system malfunctions were able to pragmatically integrate maintenance into the natural production process. For example, they perform scheduled maintenance during changes overs, cleaning or at the end of a production week. This allows them to bundle activities and save resources.

Realization: How a new maintenance concept can be implemented

Experience shows that cooperative maintenance activities by production employees and technicians bring about the best results. Smaller repairs and maintenance activities, referred to as Autonomous Maintenance, can be assumed by production employees. Basic technical understanding is required for this, which can be conveyed as part of a one to two-day training, depending on how complex the machine is. The major, scheduled maintenance, should be assumed weekly by an in-house or third-party technical expert, who regularly exchanges information with the production employees. Important here is that the responsibilities are clearly defined and the activities are included in the calculations for production and capacity planning from the start.

Long-term results: with process confirmation

In order to guarantee the long-term implementation and effectiveness of this process optimization, the “See-Learn-Act-Live” approach has proven successful. The introduction of a new maintenance concept could look like this:

  1. See: Plan a visit or an exchange with companies, which have already introduced scheduled maintenance and have successfully brought their unplanned system malfunctions to a very low level (e.g. 5 percent). This helps to convince and motivate your own employees, offering valuable pointers.
  2. Learn: Organize pragmatic training for your production employees in the field of Autonomous Maintenance of your machines and systems.
  3. Act: Allow your employees to “just do it” for a day or two after the training and perform the new process, including scheduled maintenance with the technician. The practical implementation is the be-all and end-all. Also, consider assigning an employee who already has experience with regular maintenance and repair, or a third-party expert to walk your production employees through the process. The goal here is to observe the implementation of the new rules and to reflect on the new process with the employees. Collect figures, data and facts for the process confirmation. Evaluate how much added value the process optimization has brought in terms of quantity and where there is still potential for optimization.
  4. Live: It is critical for long-term process optimization to ensure that the new processes are in fact consistently lived. This means introducing the corresponding key indicators, incentives and regular follow-ups. The objective is for the production machines to run autonomously.


Industrial Engineer (University of Applied Science, Kiel) | Year of birth 1976

14 years of lean experience in Food and Beverage and Process industries 
Operational background on plant and corporate level (Nestlé) implementing the Excellence program
Strong lean consulting expertise in food, packaging and FMCG, national and international certified coaching trainer

Axel Davila Lage is an Industrial Engineer and has been working as a Principal for the Staufen AG since 2019. Prior to his time at Staufen, he gained numerous professional experiences at renowned companies in the food and beverage industry as well as in consulting firms:

  • Performance Solutions by Milliken
  • Nestlé
  • Efeso

His core competences include:

  • Lean / TPM in the food industry
  • Introduction of production systems
  • Shop Floor Management
  • Policy Deployment / Hoshin Kanri
  • Coaching
  •  Trainer

Do you want to know how we can help you in your current situation? Lern more in our seminars or contact our expert Axel Davila Lage:

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