Stopping uncertainties from wreaking havoc on maintenance projects

In many ways, the traditional CMMS or EAM system works somewhat like a computerized PERT chart. It is based on traditional methodology, which asks you to identify the tasks that need to be done and determine how long the tasks should take to do. You then attempt to finish each task within the allotted time and hope all projects finish on time so that you don't have to rearrange the chart.

04/08/2004


In many ways, the traditional CMMS or EAM system works somewhat like a computerized PERT chart. It is based on traditional methodology, which asks you to identify the tasks that need to be done and determine how long the tasks should take to do. You then attempt to finish each task within the allotted time and hope all projects finish on time so that you don't have to rearrange the chart.

Unfortunately, this methodology ignores the very simple fact that there are many uncertainties in maintenance, repair, and overhaul projects. For example, there are unexpected surprises. Projects are continually assaulted by uncertainties, such as changing requirements, technology failures, vendors not delivering, work materializing slower than expected, slow approval cycles, and changing priorities. Some tasks take longer than expected. Resources working on one task may be needed somewhere else.

These uncertainties quickly multiply and destroy schedules. As they become realities, resources planned for one project are used to fix other projects. A cascade effect takes place in which delays propagate but gains do not add up. Delays compound so people are pulled in multiple directions and begin multi-tasking. Soon, all controls and plans dissolve.

To avoid such problems in the next project, management requests a more detailed plan. Now, there are even more details to track and defend. To assure that they won't be called on to excuse their failures on the next project, managers at all levels hide safeties in their plans before sending their commitments upward.

Nonetheless, the same uncertainties that torpedoed previous projects are realized, causing the same results. The quality of your maintenance goes down, and costs go up.

Project management software has not really helped for this very simple reason - it ignores the uncertainties of projects and does nothing to prevent it from wreaking havoc. Yet, this is a basic requirement in a plant operation.

People intuitively understand that if you want multiproject management, you need to go from desktop management tools to a solution with a central database where you can input all the projects and give everyone access to common data that will allow many people to make project-related decisions. What they sometimes miss is that alone is not enough; one needs to have a mechanism in place to deal with uncertainties.

Theory of Constraints solution to managing uncertainties

Uncertainties can't be wished away or ignored. But project management software can be made useful by providing a way to accommodate and manage uncertainties by adopting the proven and practical principles of Dr. Goldratt's Theory of Constraints (TOC). For the last 20 years, TOC has been primarily used to streamline manufacturing and distribution. However, TOC scheduling is now also revolutionizing how MRO (and other) projects are managed.

In production, the Theory of Constraints holds that there is one critical operation in every organization that would cause massive bottlenecks if it were to go down. Therefore, the entire organization should focus on feeding that constrained operation. One way of feeding that critical operation is to build buffers — either of time or materials — in front of it so that it never is forced to stop working.

Here is how the concept is applied in projects. In the project plan, buffers are placed at critical points — where noncritical paths meet critical path — to create room to absorb uncertainties. These projects are released for execution based on the availability of overall constraints.

This ensures that schedules at nonconstraints have room to absorb uncertainties. During execution, the rate of consumption of these buffers is monitored and used to set task priorities - both within and across projects. This ensures that available safeties in projects are used judiciously to get projects to finish on time and provide people with clear priorities to avoid multitasking.

Safety engine

Software is now available that automates it. A "safety engine" makes room for uncertainties in your projects with blocks of unscheduled time, called buffers, placed at a few critical junctions. These buffers absorb and lessen the shocks of uncertainties. Since you cannot afford unnecessary buffers, it puts buffers only in those few critical places where absolutely necessary. With unscheduled time buffering the right places, people have no reason to hide safeties at multiple levels. Your commitments are now more aggressive and based on reality.

As uncertainties strike in execution, work gets delayed, and the unscheduled time gets used up. The safety engine then calculates how much of the unscheduled time is still available for future uncertainties and accordingly sets priorities for everyone, including managers.

A natural question that many people ask is, "Don't buffers increase project length?" To the contrary, project plans created with a TOC-based safety engine are more aggressive.

Remember, managers are no longer hiding safeties in their commitments. The safety engine puts buffers only in a few critical places where absolutely necessary. With unscheduled time buffering in the right places, there is no need to hide safeties at multiple levels.

Importantly, there is typically only one buffer for a series of tasks, whereas safeties are usually embedded in each task. Thus, the aggregated buffers are much more efficient than individual safeties.

Bottom line: not only does the safety engine help deliver projects as planned, but throughput also goes up. Cycle times come down as well.

In addition, such an approach also provides enterprise software benefits. For instance, by automating repetitive tasks and processes, so common in maintenance, this methodology cuts the administrative overhead typically associated with managing project operations. By leveraging the latest advances in computing technologies, such as web-based browsing, it also minimizes the IT effort required for initial deployment as well as ongoing maintenance.


Author Information
Sanjeev Gupta is CEO for Realization Technologies, which provides project management software, specifically designed to manage uncertainties in projects. Mr. Gupta can be contacted by email at sgupta@realization.com . The web site for Realization Technologies is




Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me