MRO Magazine

Go Live or Go Home

How a CMMS/EAM system keeps maintenance facilities on track.

Photo: Eagle Technology

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, the impact would challenge emergency preparedness, and test resilience across industrial, commercial and institutional sectors.

At the time, Metrolinx, the Province of Ontario’s largest transport services agency, was in the throes of an enterprise-wide computer systems upgrade. The onslaught of the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for a go-live date of August 2020.

“The term ‘pivot’ is a bit of a cliché, but you really have to be ready to take anything that comes your way,” said Rajes Perumal, a supervisor in the plant maintenance group at Metrolinx who was moved into a planning role to help with the implementation. “Whether it’s training for an asset management system or deciding on what has caused a major power failure at a site, you brainstorm very quickly and get the ideas out on the table and adjust. That’s not an easy task, but it is a doable task.”

The vision for replacing a 19-year-old CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) at Metrolinx, said Perumal, was to bring everything under a single platform – an enterprise asset management (EAM) system – which would not only facilitate future lifecycle analysis on of physical assets, but also develop an enterprise-wide asset hierarchy designed to connect all business units, from maintenance at one end, to procurement, human capital management systems and financial on the back end.


Touchpoints and training protocols
Perumal recalls two main events stemming from the pandemic that notably affected the course of the implementation at the Willowbrook Rail Maintenance Facility (one of two maintenance facilities servicing the Metrolinx fleet).

The first was the requirement to sanitize touch points. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Metrolinx had been working with a consulting firm to assess its facilities and make recommendations on best practices. Due in February 2020, the timing of the assessment aligned with public health directives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For instance, the assessment included guidelines and recommendations for custodial staff on proper cleaning techniques and its documentation.

“With greater transmission risks we needed to reconfigure and recalibrate the number of times we would sanitize touch points throughout the day,” said Perumal. “The CMMS helped in coordinating and implementing a regimented cleaning schedule.”

The second event was the system’s training roll out. When physical distancing measures were enforced, the implementation at the maintenance facility had already advanced to the training phase. Since there was no telling how long the pandemic might last, the training team decided it would be prudent to forge ahead with training administrators, super users and power users on the software. Initial plans to host full-day classroom sessions with groups of 12 people were whittled down to virtual sessions of three or four.

“A system is only as good as the operators using it,” said Perumal. “Without an adequate amount of training, users cannot feed the needed information into the system, which doesn’t do us any good, or causes confusion.”

After using the system for six months, Perumal’s team is starting to see maintenance patterns emerge. Their data capture capability has been crucial for operating efficiently, he says, and the team is able to look at processes from a lean perspective.

Photo: Eagle Technology

Start tracking
The global lesson learned from the pandemic, is that logistics and supply lines are vulnerable in crisis environments, points out Leon Wasser, President of Wasser Resources in Toronto. This reality has made it critical to forecast all of the needs of the manufacturing process, “because the supply chain can’t be interrupted,” said Wasser.

Increasingly, enterprises rely on remote monitoring operations, fault detection and course correction. Asset management systems give plants the ability to re-design complex processes and increases opportunities for remote operations and optimize productivity.
– Wasser

For proof, said Wasser, look to the auto parts manufacturers that had to retool and manufacture ventilators instead of car parts on an emergency basis. “It illustrates why being able to forecast all of the components, including expertise, is of critical importance,” he said.
A CMMS, regardless of the industry, is above all else a forecasting and management system – a veritable “crystal ball,” said Wasser, whose is also an authorized agent for Eagle Technology CMMS and EAM software.

“If plants need components, expertise and logistics going forward, they will not only need to know what a normal process requires, but also what alternate supply routes might be available. The CMMS gives plants the tools to be able to look into the future, map out all of the inputs and outputs – including engineering, components, regulatory approvals – that you need to complete your manufacturing process,” said Wasser.

He has consulted on multiple installations and training, including with CSA Group (formerly the Canadian Standards Association), regards a CMMS as a necessary risk management tool. De-risking the manufacturing process is especially critical in a crisis environment, he said, and a CMMS can help identify those risks and engineer ways to mitigate those risks.

According to Wasser, there are three elements of the overall manufacturing process where CMMS technology can help de-risk plants during a crisis situation: hygiene (basic maintenance), manufacturing processes, and inventory management.
Basic maintenance/hygience.

“COVID-19 is unique due to its infectious nature, but in food packaging plants, where disinfection goes hand-in-hand with safety, de-risking through clean hygiene practices is especially important,” said Wasser, referencing as a cautionary tale how Cargill Canada’s meat processing plants were temporarily shuttered due to significant COVID-19 outbreaks, and how the company came under scrutiny for failing in its safety protocols to protect essential workers.

“We’ve learned the hard way that we have to increase our management of processes,” said Wasser. He also advises that a CMMS can be used to remotely manage and schedule critical processes, such as disinfecting components, while effective scheduling and social distancing protocols can provide a safe operating environment.

Photo: Eagle Technology

Manufacturing process
In times of crises, manufacturing processes may need to be re-engineered, said Wasser. “In normal situations, if you have a CNC issue or another sensitive tooling process issue, you might call a service person to reprogram it or change components,” he said. “But in a crisis situation, the maintenance technician might not be available.”
Increasingly, enterprises rely on remote monitoring operations, fault detection and course correction. Asset management systems give plants the ability to re-design complex processes and increases opportunities for remote operations and optimize productivity, according to Wasser.

Inventory management
It rarely makes sense to have too many spare parts on hand, said Wasser. (“Spare parts and components cost money.”) At the same time, he said, no plant can afford to be short of a critical component at a key juncture, and it is why managing that supply is crucial. Going forward, plant managers will need to know what’s required in their normal manufacturing processes, but will also need to know what their alternate supply
routes might be.

Manage risk
A key metric for maintenance is “near-zero unplanned downtime for critical assets, which includes those used to produce revenue,” said Ralph Rio, Vice-President, Enterprise Software, with ARC Advisory Group. He argues in a white paper that without maintenance, or when it functions below capacity, downtime “increases chaos among employees,” meaning it undercuts productivity, and stokes missed shipments, loss of revenue and shareholder value.
Rio’s perspective rings true when applied to the Cargill meat-packaging dilemma – and might even be characterized as prescient. Wasser points out that even skilled risk managers would not have been able to figure out what might go wrong in a pandemic. “After March 11, many things went wrong,” he said.

Photo: Eagle Technology

Still, unplanned events can interfere with the manufacturing process at any time, and risk managers will need to work hand-in-hand with plant managers to figure out what could go wrong, said Wasser.

“You’re not going to buy a spare injection molding machine, but you could identify components that are vulnerable and can wear down,” he said. “You might also want to keep an inventory of small components, and you might want to keep a secondary or even tertiary supplier in your file for moments when your primary supplier is not able to operate.”

Game changer
A year ago, neither Wasser nor Metrolinx’s Perumal could have predicted that car manufacturers would have to get into the medical ventilator business. “That was inconceivable, and yet it happened,” said Wasser. “Thanks to platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, geography has disappeared as a factor
in business.”

In terms of maintenance, the need for accountability systems has forever
been elevated.

“The pandemic has taught us that business as usual was rote,” said Wasser. “That’s no longer adequate. It has to be dynamic because things are changing day by day – technology changes, the inputs change, the outputs change, and what clients expect has changed.” MRO
Rehana Begg is a Toronto-based freelance editor. She has spent the past decade in the trenches of industrial manufacturing, focusing on engineering, operations, asset performance and management. Reach her at