MRO Magazine

Solving the data entry problem

Computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) continues to grow in popularity as more maintenance departments  realize the power these programs possess. As well, manufacturing, government and public facilities are finding more uses...


Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

June 1, 2011
By Peter Phillips

Computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) continues to grow in popularity as more maintenance departments  realize the power these programs possess. As well, manufacturing, government and public facilities are finding more uses for their existing CMMS software.

Companies that have established strong equipment-based maintenance programs, which use the preventive maintenance (PM), work order and inventory modules of their software, now want to use many of the other functions their CMMS has to offer. No longer content to just print work orders, these assertive maintenance departments want to maximize their return on their software investment.

One the functions they want to use is the ability to record critical data into the CMMS from manufacturing processes and instrumentation readings taken from the equipment that supports the building envelope.

For example, in Canadian laboratories that conduct research for the health and welfare of people and animals, the number of daily critical instrument readings that are recorded on clipboards is staggering. Both buildings and manufacturing/processing equipment use software that monitors and records critical measurements and can set off alarms when problems arise; however there are still a multitude of other readings taken by stationary engineers and process technicians that are recorded on hand-written charts.

These measurements include temperature, pressure and vacuum, among others (see Figures 1 and 2). The readings can be recorded and analyzed once in the CMMS software to spot trends to detect early equipment failure. Other readings taken from building utilities, such as water, gas and electrical usage, can be also recorded.

However, there are problems with entering dozens of meter readings in the CMMS program. First is the time it takes to manually enter the readings into the software. It can take several hours each week to enter all the data. Because they are usually the last to be entered, meter readings are not current and often are a week or more old.

Second is the accuracy of the data. We all know about a maintenance crew’s typical lack of penmanship. Maintenance clerks must often take a best guess as to what they think has been written on the paper records.

Third is the human error factor associated with manual data entry.

Looking for a faster and more accurate means to get this data into their CMMS programs, maintenance departments have turned their attention to handheld computers. With additional mobile software purchased from their CMMS provider, technicians can carry small computers with them as they complete their daily equipment rounds. These units are equipped with scanners, touch screens and easy-to-use interfaces. Using them, readings can be taken very easily and accurately.

Equipment barcode labels are applied next to instruments and gauges to be read. All the person needs to do is scan the barcode, which causes the unit to display the equipment identification, the previous meter reading and a field to enter the current meter value. Using the touch screen or keypad, the new meter reading is recorded.

Once the maintenance rounds are completed, the handheld device is placed in a cradle, which automatically uploads the captured data into the CMMS system. Units can also be linked wirelessly to upload the data into the CMMS database.

Sound simple? Well it is. Maintenance staffs really like using the mobile unit as a tool. Instead of carrying around a clipboard and papers that can get dirty or lost, they simply slide the Blackberry-sized unit in and out of their pocket or belt clip.

Data entry people are usually ecstatic about this process. The time previously spent entering this data into the CMMS can now be utilized elsewhere. As well, the recordings are current and accurate.

It gets even better. The mobile unit can also download work orders from the CMMS, and they can be filled out electronically, and then uploaded with information about the parts used, maintenance hours logged, and any other comments. If needed repairs are noticed during the maintenance rounds, work orders can be created on the fly.

Yes, it’s a paperless system for those progressive maintenance shops that have mastered the basic CMMS functionality and are ready to work with the advanced software features.

Many CMMS solution companies provide mobile software that offers this kind of functionality. The cost for the mobile software starts at about $1,000 and pocket computer equipment with scanners ranges from $800 to $1,800, plus accessories and extended warranty costs. The units are tough and can withstand multiple drops to concrete. There are also rubber boots available for some models for severe environments.

This cost may seem high, but if you calculate the time it takes to manually enter data into your software, you’ll see that it won’t take very long to recoup your investment.

When you are ready to use your CMMS as the professional maintenance tool it is designed to be, look into the additional software and hardware you can purchase to add efficiency, accuracy and time-saving capabilities to your maintenance program. MRO

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a Canadian CMMS consulting and training company, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at peter@trailwalk.ca.

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