Asset Management Management

Manage Assets from Cradle to Cradle

Ken Bannister | February 8, 2016

Today’s design approach enables most OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to realize improved reliability and efficiency with leaner (less built-in redundancy) design-load factors close to par.

Moving out of the traditional ‘cradle-to-grave’ mode has significant benefits for your operations, and may already be a corporate must-do.

In the past, our cradle-to-grave life spans would have been divided into three distinct phases: birth and formative years, productive years, and end of life. Medical advances over the past two-plus decades, however, have been helping humans “live on” in others through post-mortem tissue and organ donations. This ability to repurpose/recycle ourselves has created a fourth stage of existence, allowing us to progress from a “cradle-to-grave” life cycle to a “cradle-to-cradle” (C2C) model.

Humans, though, still have little control over our conception, and as “finished products,” we are never perfect. Granted, with diligence, reasonable life-style choices, and attention to health and safety, people can be extremely productive for a long time. Our plants’ physical assets, including machinery and facilities, could be more so. With them, we can exercise control from concept through production, to disposal and beyond, through recycle or refurbishment.

Physical assets prior to the 1970s were typically “robust-built.” With design-load factors as high as 1.5, they were capable of absorbing significant abuse and overloading before failure occurred. Since that time, technological advances have led to more-complex designs and “purpose-built” assets loaded with on-board diagnostic capabilities. Today’s design approach enables most OEMs (original-equipment manufacturers) to realize improved reliability and efficiency with leaner (less built-in redundancy) design-load factors.

More recently, asset design and operating elements have been challenged to take into account not only an asset’s ambient operating conditions, but also its lifetime carbon-footprint impact. An asset’s carbon footprint reflects a C2C approach by factoring in lifetime consumable-resource use that includes energy (fuel), lubricants, and water, as well as the impact of materials used in the asset’s manufacture, effluent discharge from the production process, and how the asset and its components will be recycled/repurposed at the end of their lives. The emphasis on carbon footprint and how equipment is designed, operated, and disposed/recycled have moved operations from the cradle-to-grave-style approach of the past to today’s more environmentally sensitive and efficient C2C asset-management approach.

Key strategies and tactics to be addressed and employed when implementing C2C asset life-cycle management can be defined by five elements: design, operational, maintenance, performance, and disposal/recycle.


When asset designers or architects first put pen to paper (or hands to CAD programs) for new projects, they’re usually working toward an end-user specification. This specification is usually wrought through a combination of customer surveys and actual client specification requests (all based on the customers’ understanding of their requirements—be it good or bad) and the designer’s knowledge of engineering, maintenance, the production process, and typically encountered ambient-condition factors. When budget is also factored in, however, many designs can be highly compromised. If specifications are too vague, and the designer has little experience with maintenance and operation reliability needs, the end product may suffer from built-in redundancy, operational inefficiency, and reduced ability to ensure successful life-cycle management.

The more open designers are to collaborating with end-user engineering, production and, most important, maintenance staffs to build an asset specification and design, the more likely they are to achieve operational reliability, operability, and sustainability—all hallmarks of a successful design. Such thinking is already employed with great success in factories and production lines designed and built to manufacture a product for a specified contract and/or time period after which the line is dismantled and recycled. This approach dictates a very different design mindset that employs maintenance strategies and design elements to include:

Perimeter-based maintenance design. With this approach, an asset is designed to allow the maintainer or operator to perform basic preventive and diagnostic maintenance tasks while the equipment is running. The design includes setting up go/no-go gauging systems to view fluid levels; pressure/flow/temperature indicators; minor mechanical adjustments; filter change-outs; and data-collection-point arrangements for predictive maintenance (PdM) and oil sampling.

Engineered lubrication systems. As much as 70% of rotating-equipment failure is caused by ineffective lubrication systems and practices. Including an engineered centralized lubrication-delivery system with a reservoir that can be filled in a perimeter-based approach will effectively increase bearing and rotating equipment life by as much as three times. Use of engineered lubricants can not only extend lubricant change-out intervals and reduce their associated lubricant-disposal requirements, but also significantly reduce operational energy costs by as much as 18%.

Mistake-proofing (poke-yoke). Designing a device, mechanism, component, sub-assembly, or perishable tooling
system in a fail-safe manner—so it will only operate or go together one way and, for assembly or defect-detection purposes, that there is no confusion as to how the device is to be positioned or used—has been proven to reduce production errors, manufacturing defects, asset downtime, and MTTR (mean time to repair). 

Technology choice. Asset designs that use unproven cutting-edge technology aren’t easily embraced in work environments—especially when the end user has standardized on one or two control-system manufacturers and computer-platforms/architectures. Using proven technology can better position users with regard to spare-parts management and training for operational and maintenance purposes. The decision to adopt new technology must be a wholesale, multi-departmental decision that helps build a life-cycle strategy for training on, using, and maintaining that technology.    

The green machine. An asset’s conceptual and design phases are when its eventual disposal and environmental issues should be considered. Many forward-thinking corporations now mandate that all new equipment must be recyclable upon retirement.

The emphasis on carbon footprint and how equipment is designed, operated, and disposed/recycled have moved operations from the cradle-to-grave-style approach of the past to today’s more environmentally sensitive and efficient C2C asset-management approach.

The emphasis on carbon footprint and how equipment is designed, operated, and disposed/recycled have moved operations from the cradle-to-grave-style approach of the past to today’s more environmentally sensitive and efficient C2C asset-management approach.


Ideally, in a best-practice organization, maintenance works cooperatively with operations to drive continuous improvement initiatives such as RCM (reliability-centered maintenance), CBM (condition-based maintenance), 5S, and lean manufacturing, all of which are designed to maximize throughput and asset-life-cycle longevity. Collaboration in C2C asset management entails decision making in the following areas:

Operation within design specs. In the equipment’s design stage, operational specifications, such as production throughput and operational speeds, are determined. Each time the asset is operated beyond the design parameters, reliability is challenged and asset failure can be accelerated. Operations and maintenance must agree to operate within operational design limits. 

Constraint recognition. Under the theory of constraints, an asset is designated either as a constraint bottleneck or a non-constraint. Bottleneck assets usually operate at maximum design throughput, whereas non-constraint assets will operate at a reduced rate of speed or intermittently due to their built-in redundancy. Recognizing constraints improves maintenance-scheduling requirements.

Autonomous operator maintenance. Both RCM and CBM recognize the value of autonomous operator maintenance. Through basic perimeter-based maintenance engineering and training, standardized routines, and checks can be performed by operations staff and allow maintenance to perform more complex and intensive tasks. Additional benefits include facilitation of operator asset ownership and improved communication between operations and maintenance.

Production-evidence data capture. Successful asset life-cycle management demands a forensic understanding of all equipment failure occurrences. Each time an asset is unavailable because of a forced stoppage or slowdown, the event is recorded and classified. These evidence data are then analyzed to determine the root cause and build asset-management decisions based on facts, not opinions.


Maintenance must work smart, not hard. Employing strategies and tactics that enhance maintenance effectiveness is paramount to maximizing asset effectiveness and longevity:

Reliability-based maintenance. A reliability approach to maintenance requires maintenance to understand which components are more likely to fail, how they will fail, and the consequence of their failure. Following an RCM approach, maintenance can choose a suitable approach to failure prediction and prevention, or decide to allow the component or assembly to run to failure and simply replace. Following RCM ensures maintenance does not cause downtime through ineffective overhaul strategies and preventive maintenance (PM) tactics.

Condition-based scheduling. Moving from a fixed PM/PdM schedule in which preventive/predictive work is scheduled on a fixed calendar or meter basis, to a condition-based approach—which schedules the work based on pre-set condition parameters—is a normal progression toward asset life-cycle management. Maintenance requirements are dependent upon ambient condition factors and how well an asset was assembled during its manufacture. PM/PdM that’s performed in a just-in-time (JIT) fashion is less taxing on maintenance resources and the production asset.  Note that condition-based maintenance demands a disciplined, proactive maintenance-management approach that allows the immediate planning and scheduling of necessary repairs anytime a downtime-threatening event becomes evident.

Purchasing spare parts based on a life-cycle costing (LCC) model. Buying spare parts based on price alone has caused infinite grief and downtime in every organization. Buying spare parts based on quality and reliability first, then price, is mandatory in a life-cycle asset-management approach. Consider the following LCC example. Component A is priced at $100, and fails approximately every three years. Component B is priced at $50, and fails annually. If the maintenance cost of replacement is $200, component A’s replacement cost over three years amounts to $300. Component B’s replacement cost is $750 plus the cost of two additional downtime occurrence losses—which could amount to substantially more.

Standardization. Once reliable components and supply distributors are established, their use can be standardized throughout an organization—and included in any new design. Employing this strategy facilitates spare-part management and decisions based purely on service and life-cycle reliability.


The adage “what gets measured, gets done” applies to the C2C management approach. Concurrent performance measurement of production, maintenance, and human resource (HR) issues will tell a complete story of expectations and the reality of the operational state. Performance measurement vindicates the management approach and exposes improvement opportunities. True performance measurement will include:

Set goals and expectations. Achieving success means you must first define success. Knowing your stakeholders and their objectives is the first step in setting up deliverable goals and expectations for the asset and its management.

Leverage KPIs (key performance indicators). KPIs are the currency of performance measurement and the primary indicators in determining an operational state. Begin with baseline measures and use them, initially, to identify internal areas of strength and improvement opportunities. Overlay the objective goals and expectations to establish the gap analysis from which business-improvement strategies can be mapped.

Use measurement trending. As the asset life-cycle management program, or improvement initiative, is rolled out, the performance measures are gathered on a regular basis and compared with the original baseline, previous measures, and target goals. With three measurement sets, a trend can be plotted to determine either a positive or negative trend for achieving set targets.   

Manage by facts, not opinion. To simultaneously measure the impact of production, maintenance, and HR (training) on a facility and its asset lines and individual asset pieces, we must synergize data collected in our ERP (enterprise resource planning), CMMS (computerized maintenance management software), EAM (enterprise asset-management), and production and other management systems. Through performance measurement, the data are turned into interpretable information that allows management to make decisions based on facts, not opinions.


When an asset no longer serves its purpose, the maintenance department is usually involved in its decommission and disposal/recycle.

Disposal. Asset disposal involves a pre-built workflow/business process that defines which department—and specific people in that department—performs what actions throughout the event. Maintenance is tasked with retiring the asset in the asset-management program and safely managing its records according to corporate record-retention requirements.Preparing the asset for physical disposal calls for maintenance to decommission it by dismantling the equipment and determining which material is salvageable, recyclable, and hazardous, and which is saleable for profit.

Recycling. In a C2C design, the maintenance department will already know what percentage of the asset’s materials are recyclable and how they are to be treated for recycling purposes. Components and base materials are sorted and can be recycled as spares or sold for profit as scrap material. If an asset has completed its initial end-user contract purpose and is still deemed usable, it can be refurbished for reuse and sold whole, providing it doesn’t contain any design issues.

Cradle-to-cradle asset life-cycle management is a highly disciplined strategy involving long-term thinking and harmonization of strategies and tactics. This holistic framework for improving business performance calls for excellent interdepartmental cooperation between engineering, operations, purchasing, and maintenance.


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Ken Bannister

Ken Bannister

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