A Food Manufacturing Asset Care Training Model and the corollary of increased productivity

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Recent business press articles have reported the low level of productivity in the UK*. Simon French, economist at Panmure Gordon & Co, argues that: “The only way an economy becomes wealthier or delivers economic growth is to increase productivity”. Toby Nangle, Threadneedle Investments, supports this: “It is fundamentally true that the (UK) economy is a slicker, efficient machine when people are working smarter and achieving more outputs for the inputs,” he states. The Office for National Statistics has also joined the debate with a report that productivity will be 14% below predictions if the present trend continues.

Case study

MCP’s asset care training programme has been running for over 25 years with the core aim to ‘help people to work smarter’ says John Saysell, their head of business development and training. For the last five years, the company has been working with a major food manufacturing business to deliver a broad programme of training.


Back in 2011, the business only employed single skilled engineers. For example, when a mechanical fitter or control engineer needed to safely isolate a switch, he had to wait for an electrician. There was no culture of engineers carrying out high-frequency, low-risk tasks in other disciplines and concerns about this situation fell into a number of broad areas:

Tools: Production line operators had no tools or any maintenance training, so they were unable to carry out basic tasks such as cleaning, inspection, lubrication or tightening (CILT).

Maintenance planning: The planned maintenance schedules were poorly written. The plant ran Monday to Friday and was maintained at the weekends only. Some planned maintenance was carried out but it was unscheduled, ad-hoc and delivered to varying standards. Root cause analysis was not carried out; therefore, maintenance was all about repairing machines when they failed, resulting in many repeat failures.

Staff: The engineers worked on low-level tasks and basic maintenance, and it was rare for engineers to get involved in continuous improvement activity. Interdepartmental teamwork was limited because the shift patterns for the engineers and operators were not aligned.

To summarise, the key concerns were:

  •  single skilled engineers
  •  no operator involvement in asset care
  •  maintenance conducted at weekends
  •  unscheduled and ad hoc planned maintenance
  •  very reactive culture
  •  limited interdepartmental teamwork
  •  shift patterns not aligned


A range of approaches was offered to ensure a holistic approach so that the key concerns were tackled on a number of levels.

1:  The initial proposal advised that the position of ‘technical operator’ should be created. Technical operators are the cornerstone of an operator asset care (OAC) programme.The food manufacturer went a stage further, approximately a third of the operator workforce (100 strong) now hold this position’.

2:  OAC is based on the principle that the people operating production line equipment are the most capable of improving equipment reliability and performance. OAC creates a culture where operators develop ‘ownership’ of their equipment and work with engineering and management to ensure that equipment operates optimally every day. It is an approach that enables traditional maintenance practices to change from re-active to proactive. OAC frees up maintenance professionals allowing them to carry out more complex, preventive maintenance tasks and engineering improvements.  In many cases, line operatives are now trained in CILT.

3:  This company then agreed with the union that mechanical high frequency-low risk maintenance tasks could be carried out by operators; to this end, engineers and technical operators were trained and then assessed against the SOPs with continuing ‘development journeys’ introduced for technical operators and the engineers.  Delivery of a 10-day, mechanical and pneumatic training course to the technical operators, enables them to carry out basic mechanical maintenance tasks. Engineers also undertook a structured training programme. For example, mechanical fitters were trained in high frequency-low risk electrical tasks, and electricians were trained in high frequency-low risk mechanical tasks. This was achieved initially using demo rigs, followed by consolidation of the skills on-the-job.

4:  Selected engineers have also received fault-finding and root cause analysis training to enable them to first locate a fault more effectively and then develop a ‘long-term fix’.


Output given from the solutions resulted in the development of all the key tasks, which were written up into SOPs, with personnel trained and assessed as competent against the SOPs. The OAC programme was delivered as follows to foster interdepartmental teamwork:

  • maintenance plans re-written to enable operators to carry out the low-level tasks,
  • technical operators trained to carry out the low-level tasks,
  • shift engineering technicians were reduced







Examples of tasks chosen at the site are as follows:

Task 1: identify a defective sensor, replace and re-set,
Task 2: identify and replace a faulty heater element and temperature probe, and gain an understanding of the control unit,
Task 3: identify and repair/replace defective motor/gearbox assembly,
Task 4: dismantle, inspect and refurbish pneumatic cylinders,
Task 5: identify and rectify a problem with semi-automatic electro-pneumatic cylinder.

‘Train the trainer’ programmes were put in place to enable engineers and technical operators to train their colleagues in site specific tasks. The outcome of this approach was that across the company’s sites, training has been developed to match the needs of both large and small groups:


  • mechanical to electrical or electrical to mechanical
  • logical approach to fault finding and root cause analysis
  • PLC training – basic and advanced
  • writing SOPs and risk assessments
  •  plant reliability – failure mode effects criticality analysis (FMECA)
  • AMIS philosophy
  • behavioural training

Technical operators

  • mechanical skills (2 Weeks) City & Guilds
  • mechanical maintenance and installation Level 2 apprenticeship framework
  • food manufacturing excellence Level 2 NVQ
  • train the trainer
  • writing SOPs and risk assessments
  • behavioural training                                                                                                                                                                        The programme offered an important incentive for the engineers and technical operators, for completion of the practical competence assessments to the right standard and a pass mark gained them a City and Guilds accredited certificate. These skills were then applied in the workplace and linked to units of competence at NVQ2.


Analysis of the electrical tasks carried out by mechanical fitters following the training was carried out. It was estimated that between 1200 and 2400 hours of downtime were saved in a calendar year after the training.

 Food Manufacturer has achieved major gains.  However, this is a continuous assessment and improvement cycle, therefore, there is always room for improvement. In this case study, the company realised that they needed to focus expensive maintenance resources in the right areas. There is no point maintaining low-value business equipment to the same standard as critical production plant! The goal to ‘help their people to work smarter’ continues. 










• MCP acknowledges the use of quotations, taken from The City AM newspaper, London

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