Arian Bahramsari unpacks the world of facility management in factories and manufacturing, explaining how it differs from the management of towers and commercial buildings.
Managing large scale production facilities may be one of the ultimate career aims of any facility manager. As much as the position may seem attractive to many FMs, some may be oblivious to the role’s day-to-day complexities. On the one hand, manufacturing FMs have a very tight schedule for emergency repairs, and they need to act promptly. On the other hand, plants’ FMs should be proactive in predicting possible disruption and mitigating the potential causes well ahead.
What is there to be managed?
As a matter of fact, each site and contract is unique, and reviewing the FM contract is the very first step in finding out what tasks are allocated to the facility manager. It is also vital to understand that the FM is not supposed to manage all the factory’s equipment. Each plant typically has its engineering and maintenance teams, which look after the site’s issues. Facility managers cannot be much of help if a piece of machinery or plant equipment in the production line stops working. Similarly, the FM is not responsible for overseeing any production machinery preventative service schedule. These are outside the FM’s work scope.
The most understandable way of explaining FM roles and responsibilities in plants is by referring to what falls between the yellow lines or safe and non-restricted areas. There is no need to mention, depending on the area, that each factory has its own floor line marking, but yellow lines are quite common indicators of the safe and non-restricted areas. In manufacturing plants, there are always scenarios when building components are located in restricted and sensitive areas beyond the yellow lines, though. For example, HVAC, lifts, fire fighting equipment, and lighting in the production line cannot be accessed easily by FMs or non-authorised vendors.
The question here is then how to manage an asset that is out of the accessible areas. Based on the service type nature, FMs are required to take the steps below to complete the maintenance in these areas:
- Communicating information effectively: Facility managers should liaise with the area managers/team leaders and advise them on the maintenance work that is going to happen. FMs should never authorise access to a technician into a restricted access area without notifying the area supervisor. The FM is also required to be aware of what exactly is going to be performed, as the maintenance service may affect other areas or interrupt production. For example, if some lighting needs to be replaced, will the circuit breaker disconnection impact any other locations or IT cabinets? What about the access for the workers working in the area? Suppose you don’t have the answers to all these questions. In that case, investigate more and potentially plan the maintenance works when the production is not running, such as during weekends and RDO days.
- Site induction and permits: It is the responsibility of the FM to ensure the servicing technician is inducted, fully aware of the safe work practices in that area, carries the suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) and all the required work permits, prior to and after the job completion (including Job Safety Assessment and Safe Work Method Statements are completed).
Working as a facility manager in a manufacturing context is very different from managing a residential high-rise tower or a commercial building. FMs in a factory will be dealing with workers on the shop floor who may have been working for many years in the same plant. FMs are required to forge relationships with the employees and strive to connect with them to make things work. Developing a connection can be via talking about families, past work experience, career aspirations and asking their ideas on some subjects.
Facility managers also need to be cautious about changing any facility-related service on-site quickly and without prior notice. Always communicate the plan well ahead, especially with the workers’ supervisors. For example, altering the canteen menu or even upgrading the lunchroom chairs and furniture without boarding everyone on the same page can sometimes snowball into a big problem.
Health and safety
Safety is critical at plants. Facility managers usually do not need to create any new safety procedures as there are comprehensive and detailed health and safety measures already in place. The FM needs to be mindful of all the site health and safety procedures and elaborate on the service providers and visitors who attend on-site upon the FM’s request.
Some of the most common measures that are neglected are as below:
- The use of mobile phones: Facility managers need to know that in most cases, walking and talking with mobiles around the plant is forbidden (especially in highly flammable and explosive areas).
- Electrical works: Typically, all electrical works must be followed by the Lock, Tag, Clear, and Try (LTCT) method and workers may use danger tags on isolated equipment.
- PPE: PPE must be worn in all high-risk areas, and it is also imperative to know the correct type of PPE suitable for each industry. For example, Australian Standards AS/NZS 1270:2002 has rated hearing protection into five classes, with Class 1 being the lowest level of protection and Class 5 being the highest. Facility managers can also proactively place PPE dispensers around the plant and regularly monitor the PPE box refills.
- Work permits: Getting one’s head around all the site permits and the safety audit practices plays a crucial role in FM performance. The FM is expected to know all different permit types, policies, regulations, and how to handle them correctly. There are many types of work permits in the plants such as General Working, JSA, JSEA, Working at Height, Confined Space, Hot work, Impairment, and Isolation, etc.
- Understand the factory process and needs: Facility managers need to comprehend that some manufacturers require specific products to be used on site to maintain their compliance. For example, in food plants, the chemical used for the cleaning or baits for pest control traps have to be suitable for the site.
Process downtime avoidance
Production interruption is a deal breaker! The consequences of process interruption can be costly and disastrous. Every minute in production downtime, which may either happen due to a facility-related equipment failure or a poor planned maintenance service, counts. For example, suppose the FM arranges maintenance service work in an area that limits the workers’ access or a faulty fire pump that goes on to the alarm and stops the production. Facility managers must analyse their planned works step by step to have zero effect on the core production process. FMs may have regular maintenance scheduled on the equipment to extend the critical assets’ life and reduce unplanned downtime.
Like any other business, financial management is key to success. Facility managers should know finance language and master the knowledge, not allowing the budget to run away with itself.
FMs can help in spending the facility budget wisely by reducing costs, increasing revenues, or both. As a minimum, a facility manager’s financial intelligence must include some knowledge in concepts such as profit and loss, balance sheet, equity, CapEx and OpEx, etc.
Arian Bahramsari is a Melbourne-based facility manager.