Maintenance departments across all industries are facing a similar challenge. As executive 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 other 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 its quality of service; the assets must be maintained for the company to remain competitive. You still have to deliver products or services to your clients. Remember that if you don’t deliver — someone else will.
So, how do you handle this situation? Fortunately, there are ways you can turn the downsizing and budget cuts into improvement opportunities by eliminating inefficiencies and increasing productivity. Most companies can actually improve efficiency in the face of fewer resources by making some adjustments to their workflow, planning and scheduling and technology. Start by identifying improvement opportunities in the workflow, improve planning and scheduling functions and then introduce technologies, such as computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) systems and/or "mobile" to support your efficient workflow.
Identifying improvement opportunities 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 and eliminated.
Common inefficiencies in maintenance work process flow include transportation time, waiting for parts or instructions, overdoing preventive maintenance (PM), recurring repair problems and other 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/assets, that waste time.
For example, performing PM tasks more often than is necessary or re-doing 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 — 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 and scheduling
Usually, maintenance is working under stress due to emergencies and other unplanned activities. Unpredictable emergencies will always occur to some extent. Technicians are generally derailed from the job at hand to attend to these emergencies, for which they are unprepared. Technicians have to rush or abandon their initial job, then have to waste time retrieving the appropriate parts for the emergency repair.
A simple way to ensure 95 percent 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.
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, if you have a proper work process flow in place — you are doing adequate planning and scheduling and then applying appropriate technologies. You have the potential to turn an efficient maintenance department into a "real-time," problem-solving maintenance centre.
Introducing CMMS technology
A CMMS system will not only support your work process flow, it can enhance it. It can assist in work flow improvement by easily allowing technicians 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 that of a 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. 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. The CMMS system has a provision for specifying parts and tools on work orders. Adding mobile technology also allows the technician hand-held 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.
Benefits of adding mobile
In the next five to 10 years, the 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 bar code and RFID technology, technicians can scan a piece of equipment, 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 workflow and information will discover substantial savings from implementing this technology;
- Enables faster troubleshooting. Technicians spend less time looking for information, yielding more wrench time;
- Provides easier capturing of data, such as pressure, temperature and oil levels. Security checks can be done and easily recorded using mobile technology;
- Increases the performance life of critical equipment and assets; and
- Manages parts receiving, parts addition and depletion, cycle counts, and annual physical inventory because all can be done very efficiently using hand-held 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 a CMMS system 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.
Kris Bagadia is president of U.S.-based PEAK Industrial Solutions and is a maintenance management consultant and educator. You can reach him by email: email@example.com.