How to develop an asset maintenance strategy

Ask the basic questions too often overlooked, to improve asset management

By Hank Kocevar January 7, 2021

Does your organization struggle to develop the right asset or equipment strategies and practices? Do you fight to get traction from the programs that can help build or improve existing strategies? Ask these basic yet often overlooked questions to help your teams improve and support the organization’s asset maintenance program.

1. What percentage of your assets are critical? How many have rankings assigned in our EAM/CMMS?

Critical equipment is the equipment or systems that would significantly impact the company’s strategic goals were it to fail. Significant impact is determined and quantified by your organization’s guiding principles. Do you know what those guiding principles are?

If the asset fails, would it have major quantifiable consequences such as lost production, safety or environmental consequences or other outcomes that degrade the company’s reputation?

Determine what assets are critical to your operation. Review your asset criticality assignments. Understanding why the asset is assigned is critical if this is the case. How are high criticality assets distributed in the targeted area or system? If you do not currently have criticality assigned for assets, start assigning them.

To help a company develop asset strategies for critical equipment, myself and colleagues did an analysis of a plant using SAP as their EAM/CMMS. When reviewing the data, we found that less than 50% of the assets in SAP had a criticality indicator assigned. Of the items assigned an indicator, more than 75% were ranked as critical.

This company’s criticality assignment process reminded me of the adage, “If everything is important then nothing is important.” Is the radio in your vehicle as critical to the function of the vehicle as the brakes? Take a new look at assigning a ranking to assets based on an organization’s criteria, mission and values.

2. What are the criteria for identifying bad actors?

Identify the assets causing pain in the process. Use carefully selected criteria to identify bad actor assets. Don’t just use work order counts or anecdotal evidence, e.g. “I’m working on the conveyor every day.” Consider beginning with the assets having the biggest impact on production. Look at total downtime costs and repair costs. Don’t overlook items that have significant environmental or safety costs but may have minimal lost production cost.

Focus on equipment that really matters. What is failing that causes the greatest production loss and consumes the most resources? Incorporate a defect elimination process using root cause analysis (RCA) to identify significant failure causes. Take action to eliminate the causes.

Company XYZ identified a compressor as a bad actor. It required frequent work orders to remedy excessive vibration. When the compressor was down, production dripped by 10%. While doing the analysis it was discovered the compressor wasn’t really a bad actor. The compressor was being run higher than design specifications. This resulted in excessive vibrations, causing the compressor to trip.

Moral to this story: Choose the right criteria to analyze your bad actors. Then eliminate the defect and operate the equipment within parameters. The compressor wasn’t sized properly for the function it was being asked to perform.

3. Do we have an asset management plan?

If the answer is no, begin by developing an overall strategy. Once your strategy prioritizes areas of focus, develop the asset management plan from those strategic priorities. This is a comprehensive project. It should be detailed like a work order or maintenance procedure.

What human and technical resources will be required? How much time will you need? What key data fields will you capture? How many RCM’s, FMEA’s, Asset Strategies or optimizations are you going after as proof of concept? Keep your first effort manageable in size and have metrics for measuring what success looks like.

Focus your initial effort to get the most bang for the buck. If an asset has suffered from chronic failures, was an RCA done? Have the recommendations been implemented? Have they been effective? Can you associate any of your existing maintenance tasks to the failure modes or risks they are mitigating?

Do you have good start-up, maintenance, operating and shut-down procedures? Do these clearly identify the steps necessary for precision maintenance? Are parts and tools identified? Are torque values called out? Are parameters for setpoints defined? Are there QA sign offs for critical steps if needed?

In another example, another company we worked with was proud of their maintenance plans. They had detailed procedures for production assets. However, they had neglected some of the non-production but equally critical areas like the fire system.

During the plant tour I noted a few corroded valves and a fire pump tagged out of service. I asked about the maintenance plan for the fire system and was informed a plan really didn’t exist. The fire system was viewed as a run to fail or “we fix it when it breaks” system. The fire system was troublesome: valves stuck, piping leaks and old pumps that were difficult to support. The company did nothing preventive for fear of causing more problems. They did the minimum testing required when a regulator showed up, fixed what was noted and that was all.
Safety and environmental systems should carry equal or more weight in an asset strategy development as that assigned to production systems. At this site, I made a mental note of the emergency exits and portable extinguishers. Interestingly, the company had contract maintenance for the portable extinguishers!

4. Do we have support and buy-in from the whole team?

To obtain necessary support and buy-in for your asset management program, be prepared to show the benefit of allocating resources to achieve it. If downtime is averted, how much will risk be reduced and potential dollars saved?

Show the value but be up front with your team. Let everyone know that this is a long-term strategy, and the real benefit may be months down the road. Involve the people that know the asset best – the operators and maintainers – from the start. Show them the WIIFM, “What’s In It For Me.” Communicate the project’s impact up to management and down to the plant floor.

Not long ago, a plant manager wanted 50 or more asset strategies developed and implemented during the year. The project team presented their recommended course of action: review criticality, develop bad actor criteria, then identify the top 10 assets for the pilot project. Unfortunately, the plant manager chose a piece of equipment that had gone down over the weekend as the first asset to be reviewed. “We will have a strategy to make sure that failure never happens again ,” he pronounced to the team.

That plant manager had a knee jerk reaction to a fresh failure that the team did not see as a worthy candidate. The plant manager’s decision wasn’t data driven. It didn’t consider the recommendation of the assembled team. The team suggested that doing an RCA would be more appropriate, but the plant manager wanted a strategy for the failed asset, so that was the first strategy developed.

The asset that had failed wasn’t on the top 10 list, but the plant manager wanted it done first. The project immediately lost creditability with the implementation team as just being another project of the month that wouldn’t last. While the plant manager was onboard with the project, he had lost the buy-in of the project implementation team.

5. Do we understand our current data before we begin?

Evaluate your information on hand. What is the cost of an hour of lost production for the line? An hour of technician time? You need this information to start to build the business case for your strategy.

Do your homework get the existing procedures, BOM’s, and Technical references that are available for the asset. What past work has already been done that you can leverage? Are your CMMS/EAM key data fields identified and is there actionable data available? Can you connect maintenance tasks to failure modes? If you have a strategy, can you improve it or do you need a new strategy? Do not re-invent the wheel. But you can upgrade from a tubed tire to a steel belted radial.

6. If you have strategies or maintenance plans in place, are they working?

While reviewing a plant’s asset strategies we found that planned maintenance had a 35% completion rate because the plant was in a reactive state. While talking with technicians, we discovered they didn’t have faith in the CMMS data. They couldn’t do a real time query of the asset history or check part status. They didn’t have necessary parts or consumable noted on work orders.

When they went to do a preventive maintenance procedure, they wound up doing a corrective maintenance action. With a company technician, I observed an air handler inspection that should have taken maybe an hour. The work order had the wrong filters called out. One of the three drive belts were thrown, and we didn’t have any spare belts with us. There were no belt alignment tools available. The motor was installed in such a way we couldn’t get to one of the hold down bolts to remove the belts.

We implemented the company’s improvised solution of rolling the belts on and off. Three hours later a corrective work order was written for the motor mounting and the tech had marked up the ‘inspect” work order with good notes and taken pictures.

Managers should walk around with their operations and maintenance team to see what conditions they deal with. They must evaluate an existing asset strategy from cradle to grave: Where did it come from? How are you implementing it?

Are you capturing the data necessary to measure success and make improvements? The organization where I shadowed the technician wasn’t, but they were starting to – which is why I was there.

7. Who should be on our team?

Find the experts: the recognized best operator/technician who knows the asset and its pinch points. The CMMS guru who can quickly find your downtime, cost and parts information. “Get the right people on the bus,” and in the right seats.

In one instance, I was working with engineers, maintenance technicians and supply personnel to build an asset management strategy. At one point, the team disagreed on how an asset was operated. The engineers knew how it was supposed to be operated. The maintenance techs could speak to what they saw when the equipment was running. But no one could speak to how it really operated and why a particular failure was occurring.

While management initially deemed operators time too valuable to free up for our analysis, we convinced them to bring in operators from all the shifts. We discovered that no one was operating the equipment as designed; all shifts were operating it differently. Each team would adjust the asset at the beginning of their shift. The operators were all aware of the proper procedure, but “that isn’t how we do it on our shift”.

You must have the right people available. They don’t have to be physically participating in the analysis 100% of the time or in the same location. They do need to know the process, what the goals are and be available to answer questions, even if the answers come the next day. Let the team know where the bus is going and get people on and off the bus as the journey continues.

Some tips on teams

Focus the team by communicating goals, providing initial training, and explaining how recommendations will be implemented and measured. Make sure they understand what the goal is, why the effort is important, when the systems need to be completed and how each asset/system strategy will be implemented.

Publish what your measures of effectiveness will be. It will make the team accountable. Show the team the big picture and explain what role they play! Train them on what good asset strategies, operation procedures, maintenance tasks, planning & scheduling and EAM data look like. Let them know what is important to the organization and why.

I learned a valuable lesson from the plant manager who had different priorities than his analysis team. We took the ‘pain of the weekend’ asset he wanted to prioritize and used it to our advantage. This high-profile preventive maintenance asset became the template for our strategy process. The team used its strategy analysis to determine if the asset really was as critical as the manager thought. It was not. However, the analysis did reveal areas for improvement in the asset strategy. A small gear case breather had been overlooked on the equipment, which when clogged caused the gearcase to pressurize, resulting in a shaft seal oil leak.

8. Do you have a communication plan?

Monitor and communicate your results using analysis tools like Weibull and Reliability Growth to measure the impact of the strategy changes made. Monitor the strategy to ensure it is having the desired impact. Communicate how the strategies are working and progress towards meeting short-term and long-term goals. Capture lessons learned and refine your strategy development plan and tackle the next asset or system.

Once while working on an asset strategy program, we had completed the analysis, revised maintenance plans and procedures and were rolling out new procedures to the shop floor to be evaluated. We soon discovered a problem. While the plant, reliability, maintenance and supply management functions were aware of the project, only line/shift supervisors and maintenance personnel involved in the analysis really knew what was going on. The asset strategy management initiative was never communicated to the plant floor or other departments such as the safety team. We found out there was a note about starting the project, but never any status updates after the initial announcement.

In summary

In sum, the steps discussed will support your organization’s asset management team in its journey to develop a robust asset management strategy and a plan that keeps operations running consistently.

Take inventory. Understand what assets you have and the condition they are in. This information will help you schedule maintenance and replacement of your assets.

Prioritize your assets. Prioritize or rank the assets value to the operation of the organization.

Develop an asset management plan. Plan for the maintenance or renewal of your assets. This includes planning the resources necessary to maintain the operation of your system. Develop a budget and calculate required reserves. Ensure that funds needed for maintenance or renewal of your valuable assets are understood. This includes maintaining your human assets.

Implement your asset management plan. Once you have determined the necessary resources work with management to carry out the plan and ensure that you secure the technical and financial means to accomplish the mission.

Review and revise the plan. Once you have developed an asset management plan, do not stick it in a drawer or on the shelf gathering dust (computer file) and forget about it! Your asset management plan should help shape your operational blueprint. It is a flexible document that should evolve as you gain more actionable information and as priorities shift.

Hank Kocevar, CMRP, is a senior consultant to Daniel Penn Associates, a CFE Media content partner. They can be reached at 860-232-8577.

Author Bio: Hank Kocevar, CMRP, is a senior consultant to Daniel Penn Associates, a CFE Media content partner.