Mobile technology cuts paper; improves asset management

Knowledge-driven maintenance is the cornerstone of successful asset performance management (APM). Doing more with less, cutting costs, and increasing asset reliability are some of the challenges plants face today. Companies are turning to their maintenance teams for answers. The reason is simple — technician productivity affects maintenance costs.

By Richard Padula, President, Syclo, Barrington, IL August 9, 2004
Key Concepts
  • Companies that want to revolutionize their maintenance practices and improve asset performance must find a better way to feed their starving EAM systems.

  • As increased productivity eliminates work backlogs, preventive maintenance measures overtake corrective maintenance.

  • Replacing paper work orders with electronic work orders on handheld devices increases technician wrench time.

    Timing is almost everything; the rest is data accuracy
    Benefits of mobilizing maintenance
    Knowledge-driven APM
    More Info:

    Knowledge-driven maintenance is the cornerstone of successful asset performance management (APM). Doing more with less, cutting costs, and increasing asset reliability are some of the challenges plants face today. Companies are turning to their maintenance teams for answers. The reason is simple — technician productivity affects maintenance costs. Asset performance — and consequently plant performance — is directly related to maintenance efficiency.

    Traditionally, maintenance departments have used CMMS or EAM systems to gain visibility into plant asset performance and working lifecycle. EAM systems generate trend and asset performance reports that help identify problem areas and prevent asset failures before downtime occurs.

    In an ideal world, EAM systems should provide a 360-deg view of asset behavior, enabling managers to make informed decisions that would increase asset reliability, reduce downtime, and increase plant output at the lowest possible cost. However, the reality of many EAM deployments is that these systems provide only about 270-deg of visibility, leaving a significant portion of asset behavior unknown.

    For many plant maintenance departments, the results derived from their EAM investments have fallen short of expectations. EAM users employ only 15%—30% of their systems’ functionality. Major factors that contribute to the underutilization of these systems revolve around the entry of performance and asset data. These factors are:

    • Low-quality data

    • Lack of data

    • Lack of common standards.

      • The flaw is not in the EAM systems themselves, but rather in how these systems are populated with data as well as in technicians’ daily workflow. Many maintenance departments are still using paper as the primary means of collecting information about asset performance and maintenance activities.

        Companies that want to revolutionize their maintenance practices and improve asset performance must find a better way to feed their starving EAM systems.

        Timing is almost everything; the rest is data accuracy

        The information gap between technicians working throughout a plant and the valuable data locked away in an EAM system presents a serious process flaw. If a manufacturing plant with more than 50,000 working assets requires its technicians to start each shift with a stack of paper work orders and end each day with nearly an hour of paperwork, then the maintenance operation’s performance is impeded by the fundamental limitations of paper.

        Paper isn’t dynamic. A technician given a paper work order is deprived of valuable asset history, work plans, or condition details that could help him or her work faster and smarter. Expecting that technicians will accurately write down data as they complete a job is not only optimistic, it assumes they will include all required data points, and that these readings or notations will be legibly scripted so that an administrator in the back office can interpret them sufficiently to enter them in the EAM system.

        Many organizations need to look closely at what percentage of actual asset touches are being tracked. Paper work orders do not provide a means for technicians to record unassigned work they perform during a particular shift. If a technician working on a turbine motor notices that another component, such as a valve, needs replacing, then he or she may perform the secondary job without recording it because it does not directly relate to the assigned work order.

        These unscheduled asset touches, however small, can provide a valuable data point for plant engineers and maintenance managers when evaluating overall equipment performance and scheduling preventive measures. Information shadows , which result from work that goes unrecorded, may be hiding potential warning signs or may create redundancy in work performed.

        When relying solely on paperwork for data, at least one of four scenarios is true:

      • Workflow is inefficient

      • Data entry is time-consuming

      • Information is incomplete

      • Information lacks integrity.

        • Yet an EAM system is only as powerful as the data in the system. Where does this leave a maintenance organization? Virtually blindfolded.

          Unless EAM data are complete, accurate, and up-to-date, the ability for maintenance managers to make sound planning decisions is impaired. Effective maintenance strategies, such as reliability-centered maintenance programs, depend on accurate and timely feedback, as well as recording of asset touches. Plant performance suffers unless EAM systems can offer a 360-deg view of the plant’s assets.

          Benefits of mobilizing maintenance

          To say that paper has some fundamental shortcomings is an understatement. However, mobile technology on the plant floor helps overcome these limitations (Fig. 1). Mobile software and handheld devices bridge the critical information gap between technicians and maintenance managers on the plant floor and backend EAM systems. Mobile technologies provide the missing 90-deg of plant asset visibility. As a bonus, mobile technologies also provide some profound improvements in workflow efficiency.

          There is an average gain of 40 min in wrench time per day per technician when electronic work orders accessible by handheld devices replace paper work orders. If one additional work order can be completed in that 40 min, then a team of 50 maintenance technicians can complete up to 50 additional work orders a day, or 1000 work orders a month (Fig. 2).

          This increased productivity means more asset touches and more data. Additional asset touches yield increased and improved data to feed the EAM system, which will further help maintenance managers determine resource allocation.

          Mobile technology also provides maintenance organizations with better means to manage human resources and related costs. For example, the increased productivity that results from using mobile technology can help eliminate overtime, reduce work order backlogs, and allow maintenance departments to actually do more while spending less money. Administrative overhead is dramatically reduced as time-consuming and error-prone data entry becomes obsolete (Fig. 3).

          Quality of work also improves with mobile technology. Technicians armed with handheld devices have the ability to view work orders, asset history, job plans, and images at the point-of-performance. Numerous mobile deployments have shown that access to this valuable knowledge enables technicians to work smarter and faster, and improve first-time fix rates by an average of 30%.

          Other functional areas of a maintenance organization benefit because data that may have previously sat on a clipboard strung to a piece of equipment, now are uploaded electronically into the EAM system. For example, rounds and system surveys conducted with mobile devices not only ensure data collection accuracy but also encourage addressing problems immediately by creating a work request on the spot.

          Asset audits are more efficient, detailed equipment hierarchies are more precise, and data are entered according to corporate standards. Condition monitoring can be performed in real time, and actual readings can be compared with past measurements, or alerts can be generated instantly if parameters are outside of acceptable ranges.

          Inventory management becomes more efficient with mobile technology. Out-of-stock situations can be avoided with an electronic trail of parts requested and issued. With better tracking of spare parts, inventory levels are better managed to keep costs down and avoid overstocking.

          These are working realities in many operations today, and it is the reason mobile technology has rapidly emerged from being an innovative tool, to becoming a recognized best practice, and even standard operating procedure for some plant maintenance departments.

          Knowledge-driven APM

          The workflow advantages and delivery of knowledge to technicians at the point of performance are very compelling benefits of mobile technology. But the depth of data captured using mobile devices is what drives a maintenance department’s ability to implement reliability-focused programs that affect asset performance significantly.

          Consider the minimal input required by a static paper work order. A technician may merely be required to acknowledge an equipment inspection, and then sign off on the work request. Since a mobile work order is interactive, the system can require users to enter specific information, prompt action to be taken when measurements are within certain action levels, and allow technicians to proactively initiate work orders.

          A mobile system can ensure that important fields, such as failure codes, are entered before a work order can be closed, ending the all-too-common practice of entering failure codes based on best recollections or a simple “no trouble found.” A technician may be required to not only specify that a machine was greased, but also specify how many shots of grease were required.

          These informational nuances improve a maintenance department’s overall ability to detect and prevent failures. If actions are performed as part of routine preventive maintenance tasks, managers can use these data to predict quarterly supplies required, which helps manage inventory costs.

          With more accurate labor figures, recording of work being performed, and parts usage being entered in a timely manner into the EAM system, plant engineers and maintenance managers have greater visibility into day-to-day operations for better planning and regulatory compliance. They can also begin to develop maintenance strategies driven by meaningful equipment failure information — based on a 360-deg view of plant asset behavior.

          At this point, mobile technology moves from solely making workflow more efficient to the greater purpose of becoming an enabler for developing APM strategies driven by accurate and meaningful data. As increases in productivity eliminate work backlogs, preventive maintenance measures begin to overtake corrective maintenance.

          Without the constant fire drill of break/fix dispatching, and with more information available on assets, maintenance managers can take proactive measures to schedule and perform maintenance before a valuable piece of equipment breaks. Condition monitoring conducted by technicians who upload findings into an EAM system in real time gives plant engineers the upper hand in making critical decisions required to keep valuable assets working. Replace-vs.-maintain decisions are made easily with the ability to calculate the actual cost of maintaining each piece of equipment.

          APM requires that organizations create an environment where asset maintenance is knowledge-driven. Knowledge and data delivered to and received from the point-of-performance can help an organization gradually direct its maintenance strategy to become reliability centered. To reach that point, EAM systems must be populated with accurate data in a timely manner. Mobile technology is a key element in helping organizations reach this goal.

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          Author Richard Padula can be reached at 800-567-9256, ext. 100 or . Article edited by Jack Smith, Senior Editor, 630-288-8783, .