Is Outsourcing Industrial Maintenance a Good Idea?

There are many situations where outsourcing industrial maintenance is beneficial to a factory: sudden increase in production demand, start-up of a new plant, high levels of technical expertise required for a few critical machines, and so on. However, these are mostly situations where outsourcing is a temporary solution to a temporary challenge. 

In other cases, is it really a good idea to outsource all maintenance on our production line, at all times and for all maintenance activities?

Are the savings and profits promised by outsourcing companies always delivered?

That's what we would like to discuss in this article.

Our intention is not to take a position on what is or isn't good for your manufacturing business; we want to lead you towards realistic, objective thinking so that you can make the best decisions for your facility.

The promises of industrial maintenance outsourcing service providers

With the labor shortage that's been going on for a few years now, with inflation showing no signs of slowing down, or with the recession that economic experts are predicting, it can be very tempting to think about outsourcing your maintenance when outsourcing companies promise a lot. It's good to remember, however, that they operate in the same reality as you, and while they may act in good faith, they're not miracle makers either. So we thought we'd show you the other side of their promises.

Benefits mentioned by service providers:

  • To adapt themselves to your production volume (less maintenance if less production)
    Il est vrai qu’ils ont une certaine capacité d’adaptation mais, ils n’iront pas en dessous d’un certain minimum et il n’est pas dit qu’ils auront les ressources pour augmenter les services à l’instant où vous en aurez besoin.
  • To ensure a complete and competent maintenance team
    Remember that you're not the one who decides what makes someone competent to do the job. They too are experiencing labor shortages, and are unlikely to have a secret bank of candidates to which you have no access.
  • To manage the team members (less HR for you)
    Related to the previous point: you don't choose the people who come to work for you. On the other hand, it's true that you won't have to manage these people's vacations and absences.
  • To reduce your maintenance costs (you're no longer responsible for training the team, providing them with the required equipment, etc.)
    It is possible that costs change without prior notice. As mentioned earlier, suppliers also live with inflation and other market realities. If your supplier announced that it was raising its rates by 10%, 15% or 20%, how much would that wipe out your past savings? How quickly could you bring your maintenance team back in-house?

Globalement, on vous promet souvent l’équivalent d’un «tout inclus» pour votre maintenance… qui ne serait pas tenté par ce genre d’offre! Mais est-ce trop beau pour être vrai?

Maintenance activities that cannot be outsourced

Although maintenance activities, such as inspection, are carried out by the subcontractor, the manufacturing company will have to ensure ongoing monitoring and be in charge of corrective measures, if any. All this takes time and resources, and can quickly consume the overall benefits of outsourcing industrial maintenance.

In addition, it is never appropriate to outsource certain activities, such as: 

  • maintenance of critical/strategic activities
  • maintenance activities that ensure the safety of critical installations
  • tasks that help maintain the know-how and skills essential to your field

When it comes to routine maintenance, it often makes more sense to use a hybrid model between in-house maintenance and outsourcing... but in this case, is it always profitable and beneficial for you to consider outsourcing?

Are there other options to outsourcing without going back to traditional maintenance?

Not so sure about outsourcing your industrial maintenance, but don't want to go back to a large, expensive team doing several inspections a week? You'll be glad to know that there are other options, such as condition based predictive maintenance!

Il s’agit d’une nouvelle façon de voir et de «vivre» la maintenance industrielle qui offre des avantages réels soutenus par les nouvelles technologies, et pas seulement une solution «pansement» face à de nouvelles réalités du marché qui sont là pour durer.

Indeed, predictive maintenance combines many of the advantages that make outsourcing attractive. They have the same advantages, but created for different reasons. Predictive maintenance with intelligent sensors makes it possible to:

  • Reduce maintenance costs by reducing the number of inspections, which may often be unnecessary.
  • Reduced labor costs as a smaller team is probably sufficient for all predictive maintenance tasks.
  • Adaptation to production volume: it's the smart sensors that collect data, so you don't have to vary the size of your team according to production.

In addition to:

  • Reduction in repair costs , as it enables potential failures and problems to be detected before they become major breakdowns.
  • Optimization of resources , as maintenance work can be planned and carried out during periods of low activity, thus avoiding disruption to normal production.
  • Increase equipment lifetime by identifying and correcting potential problems at an early stage. 
  • Excellent budget planning , because predictive maintenance enables better planning and predictability of maintenance costs. By knowing in advance what needs to be done and forecasting the associated costs, it is possible to budget more accurately and avoid unforeseen expenses.
  • Improvement in worker safety by identifying and correcting potential safety problems before they become dangerous, reducing the risk of accidents and the costs associated with employee injuries.

How do you know what's right for your business?

There is no one-solution-fit-all when it comes to developing a maintenance plan for your manufacturing business. For example, predictive maintenance and industrial maintenance outsourcing are not mutually exclusive. Some companies may combine the two approaches by outsourcing certain less critical maintenance tasks, while keeping predictive maintenance of critical equipment in-house. The decision will depend on each company's specific needs, available resources and long-term objectives.

The only real way to make the right choice for your business is to be transparent, honest and realistic in estimating potential costs (including hidden charges) before deciding to outsource maintenance. A proper analysis of costs and benefits, a comparison with other maintenance methods, and good communication with the service provider are essential to avoid unwelcome financial and production surprises.

If you would like to know more about other types of maintenance, we suggest this other Soralink article, or if you would like to discuss the possibility of integrating predictive maintenance into your production, contact us