Do You ‘Run to Fail’?

Originally titled ''

Processors without a preventative maintenance plan might be paying more in the long run.

Like most Americans, I own a car. I’m not particularly mechanically inclined, so I get it serviced when needed, usually on schedule. I like those quick-lube places for oil changes, but for things under warranty—or for repair items that might be outside the scope of those fast-service joints—I’ll bring the car to my local guy.

I am also fortunate to own a home. I’m not a handy guy, remember, so I know my limits in the area of home repair. I’ll change or clean a filter on my furnace, paint a room, and even do some very basic plumbing and electrical work. Anything above that, I call in the pros.

My current home came with a built-in pool. I wasn’t crazy about that. I had small children when we bought it, and I had fears about some ghastly mishap that thankfully never occurred. But I had to learn to check the chemical levels in the pool water, add chemicals when necessary, vacuum, and backwash the filter.

I don’t think any of this makes me all that different from anyone else who owns and maintains a car, home, or others of life’s amenities. I think most of us who invest their hard-earned money in their stuff want to keep it in good shape. 

What worries me is that in the plastics processing business that we cover in this magazine, I hear about a completely different philosophy that I find mind-boggling: It’s called “run to fail.” As I understand it, that basically means you operate your equipment until you can’t anymore. In “run to fail,” according to the website maintenanceassistant.com, “assets are deliberately allowed to operate until they break down, at which point reactive maintenance is performed. No maintenance, including preventative maintenance, is performed on the asset up until the failure event. Importantly, a plan is in place ahead of the failure, so that the asset can be fixed without causing production issues.”

The website continues: “Under ‘run to fail,’ it is important to have spare parts and staff on hand to replace the failed part and to keep availability above organizational requirements.  This strategy is useful for assets that, on breakdown, pose no safety risks and have minimal effect on production (emphasis mine).”

I understand a run-to-fail strategy on light bulbs. What confuses me is why a plastics processor operating in a highly competitive environment would eschew basic maintenance procedures on primary and auxiliary equipment and essentially beat the heck out of their equipment until it collapses. That doesn’t sound like an effective strategy to me. With “run to fail” you’ll no doubt be paying more over the long haul then in the short term (see chart). It reminds me of that old TV ad for motor oil: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”

The processors we profile in our On Site features are more “pay me now” types of operations, and are successful in part because of that. I hope that becomes the norm rather than the exception.