MRO Magazine

Cover Feature: The plant walk-down – Steps to avoid a data disaster

Industrial maintenance and repair is a strategic and time-sensitive business activity that depends on easy access to accurate technical information. When plant equipment breaks down, the inability to ...

June 1, 2002 | By Paul Gray

Industrial maintenance and repair is a strategic and time-sensitive business activity that depends on easy access to accurate technical information. When plant equipment breaks down, the inability to quickly find the right documentation or the right part to make needed repairs can result in costly waste and lost production.

When repairs are delayed, maintenance labour time is wasted. Emergency production and overtime costs are incurred. Production capacity is lost. Critical production equipment sits idle and, in extreme cases, can fail, necessitating equipment replacement at a cost of millions of dollars.

More reliable equipment and total productive maintenance, the goals of modern maintenance management concepts, require access to increasingly rich maintenance and repair information to keep the equipment running.

At many facilities you’ll find that equipment maintenance data is often misfiled, out-of-date, incomplete and inaccurate — or it may be missing entirely. Parts catalogues and manuals are not where they should be, or they are marked up with penciled-in corrections that are difficult to read. Often data is located in multiple physical locations or it may be locked in computerized enterprise systems, making it difficult to access by shop-floor personnel.


This data dilemma has been aggravated by the gradual loss of experienced maintenance personnel who have traditionally acted as equipment owners and gatekeepers to invaluable equipment maintenance knowledge.

The increasing fragmentation of equipment maintenance data has led to serious data access issues and increased user frustration with their existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS).

Skilled trades people have expressed frustration with the complexity of finding specialized equipment data within enterprise systems designed for broad application across the corporation. Manual searches for equipment data often require consultation with many people, as well as visits to multiple locations, including the document room, the blueprint room, the manual room and the archives. All this foot traffic consumes hours of planner and technician time, resulting in a significant loss of wrench time.

With maintenance costs typically making up to 45 per cent of an organization’s resources, EAM and CMMS technologies are a critical component in the ongoing challenge to optimize industrial maintenance and repair operations. For several years now, some companies involved in asset-intensive industries have made significant investments in implementing the latest ERP, EAM and CMMS systems designed to improve operational performance, better manage corporate assets and cut costs.

But when it comes to managing maintenance work flows, assets and inventories, these systems are often compromised by the lack of accurate, up-to-date information relating to the production equipment in service at the plant and the spare parts inventory.

This shortcoming, coupled with the inability to visually reference spare parts diagrams and technical drawings, often causes delays in repairs, which translates directly into equipment downtime and lost productivity.

Recognizing this data integrity problem, some companies have responded by initiating plant survey projects and equipment data management programs with the goal of creating an accurate master equipment list, asset register and spare parts inventory database. Experience has shown that there are significant barriers to getting these projects underway, including a lack of dedicated resources, the sheer magnitude and complexity of the task, and the daily maintenance demands of production.

A complete plant walk-down and data-cleansing initiative is a critical first step to ensuring accurate maintenance data is readily available to drive today’s mission-critical production systems. The legacy data in maintenance management systems can be used as a baseline comparison for an intensive physical inventory or plant walk-down, which includes a systematic inventory of all of the capital assets located on site.

In order to create a verified equipment list and comparative analysis of assets-to-parts inventory, which is critical to identifying and correcting inventory problems, trained personnel need to verify all data. As part of the walk-down, every critical equipment asset is physically examined, and nameplate specifications such as manufacturer name, model and serial numbers, are recorded. A detailed set of attributes for each type of equipment also is collected.

In addition, all missing or incomplete content related to the maintenance of the equipment, such as manufacturer contact information, parts books, maintenance procedures, health and safety instructions, training videos, service bulletins, etc., are collected to establish an accurate and complete equipment maintenance database.

All collected data can be compiled and digitally converted to establish an electronic library of complete and cleansed Equipment Maintenance Data (EMD), and made available for upload to an organization’s ERP, EAM or CMMS. This ensures that the data in these systems is accurate and complete.

Selecting and implementing a single-source delivery solution for an EMD library is the final step to ensuring accurate technical data is easily accessible to planners/schedulers, skilled trades people such as mechanics and electricians, engineers and equipment operators. Optimal delivery system functionality includes intelligent graphics and advanced search capabilities to enable easy navigation and fast identification of complex, technical data, drawings and parts catalogues.

A scalable web-based architecture and a flexible integration framework that supports industry standards is required to ensure secure, easy deployment and seamless integration with a company’s existing maintenance management system. Extensive annotation capability is required to enable data to be updated and maintained in the system as modifications are made to the equipment and information requirements change.

Finally, and most importantly, the user interface is a key consideration to ensure easy usability for shop-floor employees who may have little computer experience.

Improved management of equipment maintenance data is a key enabler to helping companies maximize the cost and efficiency benefits made available through their current ERP, CMMS and e-procurement systems.

Plant walk-downs, coupled with a user-friendly and fit-for-purpose electronic delivery solution, can allow users to make better real-time decisions that reduce costs and improve efficiency and productivity, while at the same time optimizing maintenance, inventory and materials management.

Paul Gray is CEO of NRX Global Corp., Toronto, a provider of equipment maintenance data management solutions. He can be reached at 416-306-3358 or by email at


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