Managing manufacturing facilities requires special skills

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Factories are not like offices. For an FM just taking over a role in a manufacturing environment, it is vital to understand how critical the plant operation is to the business. That’s the message from those who ply their trade in that sector

by David Arminas

Outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas locations a decade ago was a fraught experience. There were many corporate social responsibility issues, health and safety trip-ups and questions over the quality of the physical plant and processes. But today it is common to find overseas plant that meets the same technical and health standards as those in western Europe, which on the surface makes the life of an FM much easier.

Or does it? Being an FM in manufacturing has inherent risks that will always remain. Plants are dangerous and, more than ever, continually evolving environments where machinery upgrades, shop-floor layouts and personnel changes focus minds. Into the mix throw a major cultural change of the so-called “working man”. The cloth-cap egg-and-chips worker is becoming extinct, to be replaced by a consumer-oriented worker demanding better quality in everything. Importantly, a manufacturing plant is often unique to a business’s needs, unlike an office building.

Worldly wise

In manufacturing, unlike many other environments, the FMs need to fully understand risk management and where facilities management fits into and moves the business strategy forward, says Ian Broadbent, director of property services for Hallmark Cards that manufactures around 70 per cent of its products in Eastern Europe and Asia.

“Outsourcing used to be a major exercise in risk management,” he explains.

“Today many of the people that an FM will talk to, especially in China, are totally conversant with these issues, although some smaller Asian countries still lag behind.”

Where many FMs fall down is not getting to grips with the company’s overall business strategy and how facilities management supports that. For an FM taking manufacturing plant under their wing that is absolutely critical for success.

For an FM just taking over a manufacturing role — no matter where the factory is located — it is important to understand how critical the plant operation is to the business, advises Broadbent. If there are operations or manufacturing managers or directors, they have to be listened to.

Essentially it is about life cycle of the product being manufactured and what are the organisation’s short-term versus long-term strategies. For example, a product being manufacturing has a life of 10 years before being made redundant. Similarly, the company strategy is to get out of the market in five years or so. Should an FM re-roof the plant with a view to 30 or 40 years of site use if the site will not flexible to accommodate refitting or be surplus to requirements?

“From that point of view, the FM has to know what is driving the business,” says Broadbent.

Many plants must to pass stringent audits by organisations within the sector for which the plant makes its products. A plant that fails an audit is an FM’s – not to mention a chief exec’s – nightmare because it could have devastating consequences on developing a product and then bringing it to market.

This is most pronounced in the electronics, pharmaceutical, bio-engineering and medical sectors, says Simon Harris, regional support director for EMEA at Hochtief and who has a decade in pharmaceutical engineering management. The German-based firm’s FM division overseas the manufacturing facilities for some of the world’s largest blue chip companies, such as Siemens. It’s all about tolerances and maintaining them exactly, from air quality and laboratory temperature machining precision, explains Harris.

“Manufacturing has many compliance issues because that is what the business will get audited on, especially in the pharmaceutical and semi-conductor sectors,” he says. “Meeting compliances are statutory requirements, especially in the bio-pharma industry because their manufacturing can be a test-bed for product development.

In this regard, the British drug watchdog Medical and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and its US counterpart the Food and Drug Administration will often bark loudly and are not afraid to bite hard when it counts. Even a sniff of lax manufacturing practices, or poor “good practice” as the MHRA would say, could close a plant or lose a firm their licence to produce the product. The product may not even be strategically significant to its business plan, but the damage to its brand image could be inestimable.

In July the MHRA visited contract pharma plants in India and found inaccuracies in documents such as batch manufacturing and testing records. Immediately several UK clients recalled stock without any indication that the products would have ill affects on or product users or patients.

Such incidents can boil down to the tiniest deviations in good practice or the manufacturer’s stated maintenance instructions. If the manufacturer of a machine stipulates that only cleaning solvents with specific levels of chemicals within them be used, then a machine could lose its compliance if other solvents even touch it, says David Millar, business development director at Hochtief FM UK.

Lack of experience

Using designated cleaning solvents in the cigarette manufacturing process is a particularly high priority because the cigarette paper is susceptible to absorbing odours, says Millar. Compliance is a simple equation: no paperwork equals no compliance. All plant must have a paper audit trail for its maintenance. A simple and inexpensive synthetic rubber ‘O’-ring may do the trick to keep a machine running. But if the manufacturer requires a specific brand that has a specific accreditation then that is the only item that will maintain the machine’s compliance.

Not surprisingly, the compliance-specific O-ring will likely cost several times that of the non-compliance product simply because it, too, has been manufactured to specific tolerances and chemical structures. It can be a sad time when a business has to mothball or close down a facility, says Peter Clement, director of energy and utilities at Cofley, an energy and environmental efficiency business and part of GDF Suez Energy Services.

Cofley delivers and manages energy and utilities up to the point of use and, in certain cases, deals with effluent from processes. Cofley itself doesn’t manage the manufacturing machinery or manufacturing processes.

“It’s always disappointing when a customer runs down all or part of its facility as it implies the business is not doing well,” says Clement . “A key consideration is whether this is a temporary mothballing or a permanent shut-down, as the procedures will be very different.”

Complex plant such as gas turbines and boilers can’t simply be switched off and work again six months later without ongoing maintenance. It’s important to check with the manufacturers to determine the procedures. Boilers may need to be filled with water to prevent corrosion from air ingress, or the addition of extra anti-corrosion chemicals. Combustion space may need to be vented to prevent condensation. It will also be necessary to check regularly for leaks, as these could allow air into the system.

Where decommissioned is permanent the emphasis is on making the site safe. A deserted site may attract children and vandals who are at risk of injury if the site has not been made as safe as possible. High-voltage equipment must be fully isolated, including the removal of fuses and contactors to protect against accidental re-activation by people who shouldn’t be on site. It is also necessary to deal safely with any chemicals, such as those used for water treatment, as well as effluent from the industrial processes themselves. Gas and oil storage tanks must be drained and thoroughly cleaned.

“This decommissioning process that meets regulatory and legislative requirements is more complex and time-consuming than many customers realise,” says Clement. “It is important to engage with the customer as early as possible to establish realistic timescales.”

A major risk for FM and suppliers is that key personnel leave the business early on, so that remaining staff are multi-tasking in unfamiliar environments. The lack of hands-on knowledge of decommissioning can lead to oversight and underestimating the size and complexity of the task.

Such hard FM services also have their soft, or sensitive aspects, says Clement. A supplier involved in decommissioning work will need tact and awareness of the factory situation to maintain good communication with the client. After all, a supplier’s team could be dealing people who are losing their jobs.

Dietary Requirements

You’re only as good as your last meal is the maxim now for catering in manufacturing. While there remains a place for the full English breakfast, caterers must supply many more alternatives.

“Workers are comparing what they get on site to what they see in the high street,” says Graham Sims, managing director of Eurest, part of the Compass Group. “There is also now a continual demand for improving quality, freshness and value.”

The cultural make-up of the plant is much more diverse, thanks to European Union workers moving around for jobs. A lot of eastern European maintenance workers or technicians from further afield such as Asia will work in a plant permanently or even just several weeks on a special project and want food akin to their normal diets. Decent Thai or Chinese food will probably be appreciated by Western workers, as well. This is why caterers need to be very flexible in what they offer.

Similarly, they need to be flexible in when they serve meals. A factory that is revamping its production schedules must time its catering hours and meals accordingly. Caterers must also accept that there may be fewer meals if the factory is downsizing and laying off employees. By doing so, they are helping their client’s business strategy and tactics.

 

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