Working the work order strategically

The work order is a vital component of any efficient plant. It is often used to procure new materials, schedule routine tasks, or make repairs. When integrated with a strategic asset management system, the work order serves even greater purposes such as record keeping, ensuring regulatory compliance, and budget forecasting.


Key Concepts
  • Just as a piece of equipment is a part of a greater system, so is the work order.

  • Work orders are the basis of capturing actual costs, labor hours, time, and history of maintenance for an asset.

  • Equipment failure history provides more strategic information than replacement or purchase cost.

The classic work order
Work order life cycle
Work order as a budget indicator
Smart planning and scheduling
Working the work order
More Info:

The work order is a vital component of any efficient plant. It is often used to procure new materials, schedule routine tasks, or make repairs. When integrated with a strategic asset management system, the work order serves even greater purposes such as record keeping, ensuring regulatory compliance, and budget forecasting. Work orders can assume a more strategic role within your plant, drive greater operational efficiency, and reduce costs.

The classic work order

A supervisor shouts across a busy maintenance workshop to a technician, "Replace the impeller on the centrifugal pump, okay?" Stopping his or her current activity, the tech sets off to repair the pump.

Is this a work order? Absolutely! This is an immediate request for work. Simple but effective, this order causes a faulty part to be replaced. The pump is fixed and everyone is happy, right? Not always.

In many situations, this is how work orders are assigned and completed. But just as the pump is a part of a greater system, so is the work order. In addition to the work order having the simple effect of fixing the broken pump, it also produces cascading effects on everything and everyone related to the pump's system. Turning an eye toward operational efficiency, it is clear that this type of process leaves too many unanswered questions. Unforeseen and potentially negative consequences could outweigh any beneficial results of completing the work order.

Before fulfilling the supervisor's request, the technician must first answer some questions, such as:

  • When does this work need to be done?

  • Which of our five centrifugal pumps needs to be repaired?

  • What parts and tools do I need?

  • Is the pump shut down and isolated?

  • How long will this take?

  • Can I stop what I am doing now?

  • Do I need safety equipment?

    • Further, the supervisor should have enough information to immediately answer the technician's questions before allocating the work. Questions that the supervisor should be prepared to answer include:

      • Is the material being pumped hazardous? Do I need a safety plan?

      • What isolations are required?

      • Why are we replacing the impeller?

      • How much production loss has occurred due to reduced flow rate from the pump?

      • How long can we maintain this loss of production?

      • What is the cost of repair (including time spent, materials, loss of production caused by maintenance, etc.) against current product loss?

      • Do we have a standby pump we can use?

      • Do we have spare parts to replace the impeller?

      • Is it quicker to replace the whole pump with a rotatable spare? Are there current alternatives?

      • What if production stops completely? What is the risk of this happening?

      • What if the shaft is worn? Do we have a spare shaft?

      • If I take this technician off his or her current job, what else will be delayed?

      • When was the last time we replaced the impeller on this specific pump?

      • Could it be the impeller is of incorrect material for the liquid being pumped?

        • Next, consider the questions of the engineering manager who controls the maintenance budget with a plant-wide goal of zero downtime:

          • How critical is this pump to production?

          • How many times has this pump caused downtime?

          • Is the pump the correct design for the throughput?

          • What is this pump's maintenance history?

          • What is its use-by date? Its replacement cost?

            • How will the engineering manager explain why the plant has lost valuable production time and dollars? Can he or she justify how the engineering maintenance budget has been spent? And the most critical question that must be asked: "Where do I find all this information?"

              Without up-to-date data to answer the above questions, a business cannot expect to be profitable.

              Work orders are the basis of capturing actual costs, labor hours, time, and history of maintenance for an asset. A strategic asset management (SAM) system turns every work order into key decision-making information and puts it at the fingertips of personnel from the technician to the boardroom.

              Work order life cycle

              There is an opportunity to derive greater value out of the work order process through strategic maintenance. By codifying complex labor and materials management practices, strategic maintenance ensures that the right person, with the right parts, repairs the right asset, in the right order of priority, at the right time.

              The ideal SAM system focuses on the total asset lifecycle as experienced by the asset owner (Fig. 1). Examining the original work request can help you understand how a "simple" work order can capture and maintain historical information to allow management to make more informed asset decisions.

              If the supervisor has entered the work order into the automated system, the tech begins the work order with 90% of his or her questions answered:

              • When? — See scheduled start time

              • Which pump? — Equipment 11450 centrifugal pump

              • Is the equipment shut down and isolated? — The equipment is running

              • How long will it take? — Estimated 5 hours work

              • What material is being pumped? — 11450 pump is a feed-water pump; material is water for a boiler.

                • Attaching job plan information to the work order allows technicians to immediately see task details, plus required parts and their availability, in order to complete the work. Attaching a safety plan to the equipment record specifies whether or not there is a hazard associated with this equipment. Electrical tag-out compliances can be stored on the equipment. Attached documents such as manufacturer specifications can be linked to the equipment or work order. This integration ensures safety compliance and certification requirements, employee protection against hazards, and equipment protection.

                  Stored labor rate information and equipment costs enable you to estimate cost for the work to be approved (Fig. 2). Once approved, a commitment has been made to spend money, use labor, and issue inventory from a storeroom. Time has been allocated to labor and to shut down an asset from operations. Note that no costs are validated in the General Ledger until an actual cost is recorded.

                  Revenue generated per dollar of asset investment is a key performance indicator for nearly every manufacturing company. It should be obvious how this approach relates to physical assets. Scheduled routine maintenance and/or replacement would prevent plant stoppages due to this pump failure.

                  What is not typically considered is that employees are also assets. The right employee for the task is as important to plant efficiency as is the right part to repair the asset. It is not necessary to use a more trained (and costly) Mechanic Level 1 when the problem requires the skill set of a Mechanic Level 2.

                  Also consider developing multiple skill sets for personnel. Employee training is a cost to any company. However, increased skill sets among existing employees can effectively increase productivity and capacity. By containing skill sets, labor qualifications, hourly rates, and actual hours worked in one system, it is easy to match the right person to the right equipment.

                  Work order as a budget indicator

                  A true SAM system integrates maintenance data with financial systems. Assets are registered in a common General Ledger and removed only when they are of no further value — for example when the asset been sold or discarded.

                  Every asset has both its initial purchase and replacement price entered into the system by procurement personnel. Each work order entered for that asset updates related financial and maintenance records to provide total cost of maintenance.

                  This information reveals how much every asset costs the company in a given period. Companies should evaluate an asset's maintenance costs against its value and determine whether the costs exceed the benefits. Relying solely on an expense account as the bible for maintenance costs against assets will not provide the complete answer. Don't forget that failures also have hidden costs such as product loss and regulatory fines.

                  The solution to this situation is to link maintenance and financial systems. If the system is well maintained, managers make operational decisions in less time, based on real knowledge of each asset. This allows greater accuracy in budget forecasting for asset maintenance because cost adjustments in parts and labor can be anticipated (Fig. 3).

                  The actual monetary value of the asset, not to be confused with replacement or purchase value, can be reviewed in the financial register of assets. Failure History and Equipment Cost Rollup reports allow decisions on continuing maintenance to be made against the real asset value (Fig. 4).

                  Much time and money is spent understanding and writing about Reliability-Centered-Maintenance as well as reviewing "Just-in-Time" and other methods to speed up procurement for critical spares. However, the actual process of procurement is often not where energy is misdirected (Fig. 5).

                  In the impeller replacement work order example, there were at least three levels of questions. However, there were even more people who played a part in getting this pump back to full operating efficiency. The following list is an outline of the pump scenario:

                  • Production flow rates drop

                  • Boiler steam pressure drops

                  • Production personnel asks why steam pressure is down

                  • Boiler operator reduces pressure to maintain water levels in the boiler

                  • Maintenance supervisor is called

                  • Production manager is called

                  • Operation manager is notified

                  • Mechanic is notified to perform the repair

                  • Storeroom personnel are requested to source spare parts

                  • Storeroom personnel review quantity to determine if sufficient spares are available

                  • Electrical personnel are called to isolate the pump as required

                  • Boiler operator shuts the pump down or switches to a standby pump

                  • Steam pressure increases

                  • Production personnel increase production to normal

                  • Finally, mechanic can replace the impeller on the pump.

                    • This process should provide more insight into the actual cost of asset management. Much of this time is decision making. Most likely, 50% or more of this time is not accounted for in traditional work orders. Having this information in one place not only captures the hidden costs of doing business, it also reduces these costs over time. The right system supports both planned and unplanned maintenance activities from initial work requests to work order generation, through completion and recording of actual results.

                      The pump example shows how a SAM system would handle an ad hoc corrective maintenance (CM) work order. Asset management efficiency is achieved by decreasing CMs and increasing planned maintenance (PM) work order routines. The following two-step process relies on your maintenance requirements to ensure performance-to-specification of the asset throughout its lifecycle:

                      1. Establish a template to hold information regarding frequency, labor qualifications, and needed materials

                      2. Create a job plan that activates the PM at a given frequency and lists all the relevant tasks on the work order.

                        1. The system should identify the resources, materials, and equipment required for recurring tasks and provide comprehensive information including work plans, schedules, costs, labor, materials, equipment, failure analysis, safety, and related documents. As with CM, the estimated costs are committed to the work order on approval; and the actual costs on completion of the work order will then be an expense in the General Ledger.

                          Smart planning and scheduling

                          Improved planning and scheduling consistently results in increased asset availability, improved labor utilization, and reduced operational costs. The goal is to reduce costs by shifting from a reactive to a proactive work order model. To ensure that maintenance is a sustainable overhead cost without consuming profits, your management must recognize that:

                          • All assets are not equal

                          • All failures are not equal

                          • Effective maintenance — doing the right things right — is crucial to reducing maintenance costs

                          • Creating multiskilled workers reduces the number of crafts required

                          • Better, more timely information reduces maintenance rework

                          • Automating the reorder process reduces the supply time for materials and parts.

                            • Implementing and using a SAM system, organizations can determine the following:

                              • If the asset should continue to be maintained

                              • Whether the plant can go forward with projections for budgeting requirements

                              • If existing assets fit into long-term expectations

                              • The real value of each asset

                              • Consequences/savings if the organization decides not to maintain the asset

                              • The possible failure rate of each and its effect on product quality or output until the asset is replaced.

                                • Working the work order

                                  The tool used to answer these questions and maximize the value of assets is the work order. Capturing and reporting work order information enables engineers, managers, and operators to make balanced and informed decisions about an organization's assets.

                                  The example of simple verbal instructions has been translated to a system that can be used to maintain an information record from reported time to the completion of the repair. Routine tasks completed at predetermined frequency ensure maintenance efficiency. Maintaining up-to-date reporting of actual failure enhances plant efficiency.

                                  To determine how effectively your plant works the work order, the questions you should ask yourself include:

                                  • Does anyone audit the work orders in our plants?

                                  • What information is missing?

                                  • Do we record information even for an emergency task?

                                  • Are labor records updated?

                                  • Do we conduct analyses on failures?

                                  • Do we review labor skill sets for work orders?

                                  • Do we review PM frequency?

                                    • The challenge in tying work orders to a SAM system is to fully use the work order so that it can assume a more strategic role within the plant. Categories such as work type, reported date, and reported by are as important as asset, location, and job plan. When asked which is the most important field to be completed on a work order, the answer should be: "All!"

                                      More Info:

                                      The author is available to answer questions about this article. Mr. Wulff can be reached at 781-280-2000 or . Article edited by Jack Smith, Senior Editor, Plant Engineering magazine, 630-288-8783, .

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