Mobilize your assets

Maintenance departments across all industries are facing a similar challenge: as management takes a slash and dash approach to save costs, maintenance must accomplish the same quality of service with only a fraction of the resources. Unlike some departments, maintenance’s workload doesn’t get any smaller when resources are cut.

By Kris Bagadia, PEAK Industrial Solutions, LLC July 1, 2009

Maintenance departments across all industries are facing a similar challenge: as management takes a slash and dash approach to save costs, maintenance must accomplish the same quality of service with only a fraction of the resources. Unlike some departments, maintenance’s workload doesn’t get any smaller when resources are cut. Buildings don’t disappear. All the equipment is still there. Maintenance doesn’t have the option of lowering their quality of service; they have to maintain assets for the company to remain competitive. Remember — if you don’t deliver, someone else will. Quality cannot be sacrificed in the face of budget cuts.

Fortunately, there are ways to eliminate inefficiencies, increase productivity and save time and money. Most companies can actually improve efficiency in the face of fewer resources by making a few adjustments to their workflow, planning and scheduling and technology. Start by identifying inefficiencies in the workflow, improve planning and scheduling functions and then introduce technologies such as a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) and/or mobile technology to support your efficient work flow.

Identifying inefficiencies in the work process flow

A thorough understanding and analysis of a maintenance work process flow makes it easier to identify and eliminate inefficiencies. The goal is to not only eliminate inefficiencies, but to develop an improved work process flow that is more effective and productive. As the flow is thoroughly reviewed and analyzed, the entire process flow becomes visible and inefficient activities are easily identified.

Common inefficiencies in maintenance work process flow include transportation time, waiting for parts or instructions, overproduction (overdoing PMs as an example), recurring repair problems and process waste. Most inefficiency of these types are either due to unplanned jobs — technicians don’t have the right tools, parts or instructions — or else due to poorly planned jobs, such as indirect routes or unavailable machinery that waste time.

For example, performing preventive maintenance tasks more often than is necessary or redoing jobs that were not done correctly the first time wastes valuable time. If maintenance personnel are waiting for equipment to become available; or for tools, parts and instructions; or permit approval, that time could be better spent elsewhere. Waiting is not a value-added activity and should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible.

Improving planning, scheduling

One major cause of poor planning is that unpredictable emergencies occur — and they always will. Technicians are generally derailed from the job at hand to attend to these emergencies for which they are unprepared. They have to rush or abandon their initial repair, then have to waste time retrieving the appropriate parts for the emergency repair.

A simple way to ensure 95% of your maintenance force is not disrupted when an unpredictable situation occurs is to have a small reserve crew whose primary purpose is to work on emergencies. When not being used for emergencies, this small crew can be assigned to other lower-priority work.

Usually, maintenance is working under stress due to emergencies and other unplanned activities. Often, technicians do not have the time to correctly analyze the root-cause of a problem and instead quickly fix it to move onto the next problem. This can lead to reoccurring breakdowns and long-term loss of productivity. By optimizing the workflow and scheduling, technicians can spend more time determining the root-causes of problems. This way, repairs will be thorough and complete, reducing the risk of recurring defects and/or further damage.

It is crucial that inefficiencies in planning and scheduling, as well as in work process flow, are minimized or else all the technology in the world will not make a difference to your bottom line. However, some technologies have the potential to turn an efficient maintenance department into a real-time, problem-solving maintenance center.

Introducing CMMS technology

Adding CMMS technology to your facility can enhance efficiency and lead to cost-saving measures. A CMMS can improve your workflow and give your facility added flexibility to further improve scheduling. It can assist in workflow improvement by easily allowing employees to initiate and approve work requests and help with planning, scheduling, dispatching, completing and then following up for continuous improvement. An online work request system enhances the efficiency of the maintenance operation as well as the requester. Moving this system to mobile technology will allow instant information access and data entry, further improving workflow. Requesters have convenient access to the status of open and completed requests, which reduces lost productivity from identifying and disposing of duplicate requests.

Today, a technician can receive a work order on a mobile phone or handheld PDA. Included in the work order is all the information required to complete the necessary repair. The technician completes the work, and instantly the customer receives notification that the job is complete. CMMS has a provision for specifying parts and tools on work orders. Adding mobile technology also allows the technician handheld access to the parts list; the current location of the part; and gives the technician the ability to instantly update the status of the repair for the user.

The benefits of adding mobile

In the next five to 10 years, use of mobile technology in maintenance will explode. The ability to enter data in real-time and at the point of performance saves time and reduces errors. With barcode and RFID technology, technicians can scan a piece of equipment and instantly update maintenance records — saving time and man-hours in inspections as well as data entry.

Mobile technology will revolutionize the way maintenance departments approach equipment, work orders and inventory. As mobile technology becomes more common in maintenance systems, users will find that it:

  • Provides technicians with more information at the point of performance — With mobile devices, technicians have access to history and other pertinent information while performing inspections and repairs, instead of having to come back to the office to retrieve the information

  • Offers greater return on the initial investment — Managers who carefully review the flow of work and information will discover substantial savings from implementing the use of these devices

  • Enables faster troubleshooting — Technicians spend less time looking for information, yielding more wrench time

  • Provides easier capturing of performance data such as pressure, temperature and oil levels — Readings can be taken frequently, and security checks or mileage counts can be easily recorded

  • Increases the performance life of critical equipment and assets

  • Manages inventory — Manages parts receiving, parts addition and depletion, cycle counts and annual physical inventory because all can be done very efficiently using handheld devices.

    • Even though maintenance departments are facing diminishing resources, failing to maintain assets is not an option for a successful company. Following the outline given for improving workflow, increasing efficiency in planning and scheduling and researching the options of adding CMMS and the use of up-and-coming mobile technology, a maintenance department can help decrease costs and continue to provide the quality of service they need to compete in today’s global market.

      Optimizing workflow and scheduling enables technicians to spend more time determining the root-causes of problems so that repairs will be thorough, which reduces the risk of recurring defects or further damage.

      Understanding a maintenance work process flow allows managers to identify and eliminate inefficiencies, as well as to develop an effective, productive and improved work process flow.

      As mobile technology improves, so does the enforcement of standardized business processes that remote workers can use on devices to get the job done faster, consistently and more accurately.

      Author Information
      Kris Bagadia is president of PEAK Industrial Solutions LLC in Brookfield, WI. A registered PE and CPE, he has been involved with CMMS for more than two decades. In 1980, after serving for eight years as a plant engineer and project manager, he founded UNIK Associates (now PEAK Industrial Solutions), a firm specializing in maintenance consulting and training.

      Going mobile: Fulfill the promise of your CMMS

      Asset-intensive industries are realizing the importance of having an enterprise asset management (EAM) system or other CMMS to track and monitor business processes. With today’s business climate — an aging workforce, uncertain economy, spiking gas prices, increased regulatory scrutiny — it’s never been more important to have timely, accurate data in your EAM to streamline operations and cut out waste.

      A unified, standardized system will improve the way you track and manage work. But, there’s an important distinction: EAM and other CMMS systems store the work data you need; they don’t actually capture it. The link you choose between your remote workers and your EAM is critical for the system itself to fulfill its job. Inventory, maintenance and repair information is captured out in the field, not behind a desk; the quality of this information relies entirely on the way your workers report data.

      This is where mobile enterprise technology comes in. Large, asset-heavy operations have too much to lose by tracking day-to-day activities via “best recollection” on paper. As mobile technology improves (processing speeds, screen resolution, workflow intelligence), so does the enforcement of standardized business processes that remote workers can use on devices to get the job done faster, consistently and more accurately.

      For example, a major North American distributor replaced its clipboard, pen and PC system of data gathering and routing with Syclo SMART Mobile solutions linked to its IBM Maximo system, and noticed results right away. Before, technicians had to line up in the shop, wait for a computer and spend about a half hour putting in work orders. By coupling mobile solutions with its EAM, the user estimates that if each tech completes just one extra work order per day, it’s boosting maintenance productivity by 15,000 work orders per year.

      It’s important for companies to understand the seamless data flow that mobile enables between their field workers and EAM systems. “With mobile technology, workers have the intelligence of your EAM system data in the palm of their hands — and that means instant access to safety warnings, customer order information, inventory availability and repair histories,” said Joe Granda, executive vice president of Syclo. “Mobile not only cuts down on time spent trekking to and from offices for service requests, it also gives you the added intelligence that translates to more, better data in EAM, ERP and other back-end systems.”

      More asset touches and an ability to respond faster to field service make your company’s PM plan feasible, extending asset longevity and reliability through better maintenance. However, for an EAM system to fulfill its promise, you need to be able to capture and access all of the data from day-to-day business processes. By equipping your workers with intelligence such as parts and failure codes and step-by-step data entry prompts for the entire job plan, mobile solutions ensure more accurate, quality data in your CMMS, letting you fully use its reporting, scheduling and tracking capabilities. — Joe Granda, Syclo