One of the worst things about getting your maintenance budget cut is all the questions.
Do I need to lay off staff? How can we hit our targets with fewer resources? What projects are essential and what can wait? Is my job safe?
It’s enough to keep you up at night for a while.
We talked to a few experts who’ve been there before. They told us how they managed a smaller maintenance budget while hitting their targets, keeping up with preventive maintenance, and avoiding staff burnout.
How to find extra room in your budget
#1 – Find it in your storeroom
Pay close attention to your inventory minimums when restocking parts and supplies, says Joe McVay, an Implementation Consultant at Fiix with experience in facility maintenance.
“Many organizations don’t realize how much cash flow is tied up in inventory in the warehouse that could be bought just-in-time from multiple vendors without interrupting the business,” says Joe.
Look for parts in your storeroom that are either not immediately critical or can be easily sourced from vendors with short lead-times. Adjust your purchasing schedule accordingly so you’re not spending money on unnecessary inventory.
Many vendors also offer ‘keep stock’ programs, says Joe. These programs guarantee the availability of parts without adding them to your books until you need them. This gives you short-term flexibility in your budget without the risk.
#2: Find it in your schedule
Preventive maintenance is great, but too much will cost you. You can reduce the cost of labor and parts without sacrificing asset health by cutting unnecessary PMs, says Charles Rogers, Fiix’s Senior Implementation Consultant with over 33 years of experience in maintenance.
“If your regular inspections aren’t finding something wrong with an asset, you can probably do them less often,” says Charles.
He recommends looking first at scheduled maintenance based on OEM guidelines. These PMs are more likely to have room for improvement because they weren’t created with your specific use case in mind. Monitor any PMs you change to make sure failure rates don’t increase.
#3: Find it in your work orders
Increasing wrench time helps you stretch your maintenance budget further, says Rob Kalwarowsky, a Reliability Engineer and Asset Manager.
Rob suggests calculating wrench time for all work, starting with jobs that have higher labor costs. Flag areas where wrench time is low. The average wrench time is 20% and 40% is world-class, says Rob.
“Once you have this baseline you can trace the cause of low wrench time to a root cause and tweak your schedules and processes to bridge that gap,” says Rob.
Increasing wrench time by a few percentage points across hundreds of repairs and PMs can save you thousands of dollars in labor and make up for some of your lost budget. And when maintenance is quicker, production gets more uptime. It’s a win-win for everyone.
#4: Find it in your processes
Your budget gets a little tighter every time a highly skilled technician stops what they’re doing to complete a routine task. That’s why Jason Afara, a Solutions Engineer at Fiix and former maintenance manager, suggests training operators to do routine maintenance.
“Operators know their machines best,” says Jason, “Give them the power to inspect machines…and do light maintenance that would otherwise take up your time.”
Not only will a few hours of training save you money in the long term, but it also helps you catch equipment failure earlier and prevent emergency maintenance, which eats into your budget.
#5: Find it in your people
This is another gem from Rob and it’s all about communication, engaging staff, and leading by example.
“You’re cutting maintenance that [your staff] believe they should be doing,” says Rob. “That’s going to have a negative impact.”
Low morale is more than some extra grumbling in the break room. It creates fear, mistrust, and information gaps, says Rob. When you’re missing the whole picture, you can’t see problems and prioritize work, which is essential after maintenance budget cuts.
“You need to foster a low-fear, high-trust environment so people can tell you exactly what’s happening on the shop floor,” says Rob.
Here are some ways to do that:
Book a regular meeting with staff to talk about concerns, roadblocks, solutions, and successes. It might take time for everyone to feel comfortable sharing. That means you could be the only one talking for a little while.
Stop playing the blame game. If a critical work order wasn’t done on time, talk to your technicians, find out what held them back, and think of a way to prevent it from happening again.
Create metrics that have nothing to do with efficiency. Your technicians need to know they’re being measured on how well they collaborate, identify problems, and work to find solutions. It tells your team that you care about them as much as the bottom line.
How to convince your boss to increase the maintenance budget
Getting a bigger maintenance budget is tough, but not impossible. We put together a few tried and tested strategies that other maintenance teams have used to score extra resources. They’ll help you change minds, make your case, and get the budget you need.
If you’re strapped for cash, you’re probably also strapped for time. That means backlog. Lots of backlog. The good news is, it’s easy to get people on board with fixing this problem if you have the right data.
Start by tracking your preventive maintenance backlog in hours. Compare this number to the available hours for your workforce to determine the gap between the two.
The next step is to show how backlog impacts the business. Track mean time between failure and the cost of breakdowns. When MTBF goes up because you’re missing maintenance, it means more downtime and less production.
Use this data when you’re asking for the budget to hire an extra person, offer more overtime, or spend more on contractors. This is what worked for Tom Dufton, a maintenance and project manager at food manufacturer Perth Country Ingredients:
Using clean start-ups to justify higher labor costs
Other areas of your business suffer when the maintenance budget is cut. Your staff is spread thin, work is rushed (or missed), and equipment fails. Tracking clean start-ups is one way to prove this and get the extra cash you need to prevent it.
Clean start-ups was a key metric for Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s Director of Solutions Engineering, during his time as a production line manager at Proctor and Gamble. This KPI not only united maintenance and operations, but also tied directly to financial targets. That always gets people’s attention.
Unfortunately, clean start-ups are hard to achieve without the time, people, and resources to do proper maintenance, which takes money.
Making your case for this money starts with calculating the cost of lost time and production from poor start-ups for all machines across a full year. Compare this to the lower cost of extra people and resources to achieve clean start-ups.
Using time tracking metrics to show the ROI of technology
Administrative tasks waste time and money. If your technicians spend an hour a day writing work orders, that’s an hour of lost efficiency you’re paying for. So while it might seem cheaper to do everything by hand instead of with technology, it’ll cost you more in the long run.
Things like sensors and CMMS software come with a price tag. Getting an increase in your maintenance budget for these purchases starts with tracking the amount of time your team spends on administrative tasks. Then find out how much time you’d save with software.
The final step is to highlight how you would use this extra time and the impact that would have on company targets. For example, if you were able to do one more PM per day, how much more uptime could the company gain.
This was the strategy used by the maintenance team at Rambler Metals & Mining. The company was able to slash the time spent on administrative tasks by 15% after implementing a CMMS. They were able to do more preventive maintenance and reduce equipment failure.
Everything you just read in three sentences
1. Eliminating waste, whether it’s parts you don’t need or delays in your work, is crucial when dealing with maintenance budget cuts.
2. Don’t forget to communicate with your team, include them in decision-making, and be open to feedback so you can avoid a toxic work environment.
3. If you’re asking for an increase in your maintenance budget, lean on numbers to prove the value of maintenance and highlight what your company is losing by not investing in maintenance.
There’s a reason people buy toolboxes. While each tool serves its purpose, having only one at your disposal vastly limits what you’re able to achieve. On the other hand, having all your tools allows you to do more and solve a wider range of problems.
Similarly, no maintenance team or plant manager should look to just one maintenance KPI to track and improve production. Multiple maintenance metrics—and categories of metrics—exist because each one provides different information that leads you to take several different actions.
Today, we’re going to take a look at Total effective equipment performance, or TEEP, and how your maintenance team can use it together with OEE and OOE to improve scheduling and output at your company.
What is TEEP?
Total effective equipment performance (let’s call it TEEP from now on) exists in the same family of maintenance metrics as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and overall operations effectiveness (OOE). All three metrics take machine performance, quality, and availability into account to measure overall equipment performance. Where these metrics differ lies in how they define availability.
On its own, TEEP measures your total potential for equipment capacity. It defines availability as a function of all available time—365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. When you measure TEEP, you’re asking, “How much could we potentially be producing if there were no limits to scheduling?”
TEEP is calculated by multiplying performance, quality, and availability, where availability is defined as current production time divided by all available time.
For example, if you ran a machine 24/7 for a week and it produced perfect products without stopping once, TEEP would be 100%. If that same machine ran 16 hours a day without stopping, availability would be 67% (16 hours divided by 24 hours). Let’s say it also operated at 90% of potential throughput (performance) and produced perfect products 88% of the time (quality). The asset’s TEEP would be 53% (0.9 x 0.88 x 0.67).
Of course, no plant is ever running on a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year schedule. This is why TEEP is useful when compared to the other metrics in its family.
How TEEP compares to OEE
As a metric, TEEP is most closely related to OEE, so let’s distinguish between these two metrics first.
While TEEP measures an asset’s potential capacity, OEE measures an asset’s current level of productivity. It’s calculated, much like TEEP, by multiplying an asset’s availability, performance, and quality, where availability is calculated as the total run time of the asset divided by the planned production time of that asset.
OEE differs from TEEP in that it is rooted in the reality of the current production schedule. It supposes that the maximum amount of time that a piece of equipment can run cannot be greater than what it already is.
Because OEE is a current-state metric, it gives production teams and operators a pretty accurate read on how well their equipment is performing, and whether any changes to availability, performance, or quality could increase capacity. Because OEE is closely tied to production, it’s a metric that many facilities monitor in real-time to determine whether any improvements could be made.
How TEEP compares to OOE
Similar to TEEP and OEE, OOE (overall operations effectiveness) is once again calculated by multiplying performance, quality, and availability, where availability is defined as actual production time divided by operating time.
Operating time includes the planned production time of an asset (like OEE), plus any unscheduled time during which an asset might be taken offline.
How to use TEEP
Now that we have these metrics—and the differences between them—straight, let’s talk about how they can be used together. We can think of these three metrics as a sort of cascading system, where TEEP measures the total effective (or potential) equipment performance, OOE measures your current equipment performance taking unscheduled time into account, and OEE measures everything as it is right now.
We spoke to Stuart Fergusson, Director of Solutions Engineering at Fiix, to parse out these three scenarios. “TEEP is a couple of steps removed from a true maintenance metric,” he says. “It’s useful at the business level for someone like a plant manager because it helps inform scheduling decisions.”
In other words, calculating TEEP helps you answer questions like, “Should we introduce new shifts? Is it worth it to run through the holidays? What would happen if we ran through weekends?”
Stuart adds that some people are quick to jump to metrics like TEEP because they’re actually not calculating OEE correctly. This happens when maintenance is done during downtime is not counted against OEE. As an example, think of a factory that shuts down during weekends and runs all maintenance during that time. Maintenance time is not being counted against production here, which could give you an inflated sense of what your OEE actually is. If maintenance is counted as planned downtime, you get a very different sense of your OEE and what you’re actually capable of achieving.
Take this example: Let’s say that you calculate your OEE as 90% based on the 5 days a week that your machinery runs. With an OEE that high, it seems like it would be simple to increase capacity without buying any new equipment. But what if you use the downtime on weekends to run all your routine maintenance? That time is not available for more production, because it’s always being blocked off for maintenance, but it’s throwing off your OEE because it’s not being included in the equation.
Stuart suggests calculating OEE, OOE, and TEEP the way you normally would, and then examining the deltas between each metric. By investigating the differences between each metric, you can start to see where changes in scheduling could be made to improve production.
“You could be running your equipment very, very well three days a week, and you would still get a low TEEP score,” he says. “But compared with OEE, you can look at that delta and say, ‘We would have to add X staff members to improve our OEE.’”
How TEEP can help you plan
TEEP can be improved when performance, availability, or quality improvement, and it’s probably most useful when you’re out of ideas for how you could improve your OEE given your current production schedule.
TEEP can be used as a benchmark to compare how you’re currently planning your plant production schedules. Unlike OEE and OOE, it gives you an idea of how much your equipment is sitting unused. Again, Stuart warns that its usefulness has its limits. “You should only ever be tracking and putting a metric in front of people that have the ability to change it,” he says. “There’s nothing an operator can do to affect the total available time. On top of that, they can’t schedule themselves in for another shift.”
But when operators, maintenance teams, and plant managers work together (yes, you’ve heard this before with regards to total productive maintenance), it’s clear how they can use their own metrics (like MTTR for maintenance) to improve overall equipment production capacity. When these functional areas can work together to improve capacity while taking the realities and limitations of the entire operation into account, a holistic picture starts to emerge of what a plant is truly capable of achieving.
The maintenance team at Voltalia had a big problem. They were closing over 104,000 work orders every year with no work order data to show for it.
The renewable energy producer and service provider had no idea if any of its PMs caused breakdowns instead of preventing them. Or if it was spending labor hours, parts, and other resources on unnecessary work. Or if it was assigning the right number of people to a task. Or much of anything about their work orders.
Rewriting the script to make data count
Voltalia’s maintenance team vowed to change this. After years of working toward their goal, they reached a “100% improvement in measuring maintenance KPIs,” in the words of Vasco Vieira, Voltalia’s Maintenance Engineering Director.
The data helped the company uncover some major efficiencies. For example, the work order data showed that one team was spending 40 hours every week driving from the office to an off-site facility. That meant adding time and costs to every job. The company ended up building a smaller satellite office near the off-site facility to save time and money.
The moral of the story
Work order data has the power to transform the way maintenance teams operate. There are the small wins, like making every job easier for technicians, that add up to bigger ones, like decreasing maintenance costs across the board. Voltalia is proof of that.
But this data is often overlooked. It’s not because maintenance teams think it’s useless. It’s because looking at thousands of work orders is not easy. This post provides some best practices for making this process easier so you can discover insights in your work orders and use them to make a difference at your organization.
How to get maintenance data from work orders
The most common obstacle to using work order data is having unreliable data or no data at all.
“Before you do anything with work order data, you need to know that it’s there and clean. If not, all the decisions you make afterwards are going to be flawed,” says Vishakha Shah, a Solutions Consultant on Fiix’s professional services team.
Getting off on the right foot with work order data is a four-step process:
#1: Define your goals
Some data is helpful. Too much is distracting. Having a goal will help you draw the line between the right numbers and the distracting ones. Some examples of a goal include:
Building a world-class preventive maintenance program
Think about the areas of your day-to-day operation that can mark progress toward your goal. Some examples of measurements in your work orders include:
Percentage of reactive vs. preventive work orders
Number of faults found during PMs
Frequency of reactive work on critical assets
Number of expected vs actual labor hours
Size of backlogged work orders
#3: Build work orders around those metrics
Set up your work orders to get the metrics you’ve chosen. To do that your work orders need to be created with three Ss in mind:
Standard: Your work orders should ask for the same information every time. The process for creating, reviewing, assigning, prioritizing, and completing work orders should be as standard as possible.
Specific: Be exact about what you want to know. For example, if labor hours are important, ask how much time each task took instead of the time for an entire work order. This will give you cleaner data and makes it easier to spot key metrics quickly.
Simple: Involve staff who frequently make and complete work orders in the process. The input will help you design work orders that are easier to fill in and increases the likelihood they’ll actually be completed.
#4: Start small and scale your success
Finding problems in your process is heartbreaking when you’ve spent months on it. Avoid this by starting with work orders from one asset or from one area of the facility. Hone your measurements, get quick wins, and scale the process to other parts of the organization.
How to use work order data to find and fix problems
Collecting work order data is pointless if it’s not used to solve problems at your organization. Every facility has unique issues, but three most common ones are unplanned downtime, critical work that’s delayed, and work that takes more time and resources to complete.
How to prevent equipment downtime
Here are a few questions to ask to find the cause of reactive maintenance and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again:
Was a follow-up task not created or completed? Make sure failed inspections trigger high-priority follow-up actions and alert the right people. A concise list of failure codes helps follow-up work be successful.
Was a defective part used during a repair? Make sure other spares aren’t defective. If they are, follow up with your vendors to get new ones.
Were tasks on a previous work order missed or done incorrectly? Review your task list and fix any unclear instructions that may have led to missed tasks. Supplement task lists by attaching asset histories, diagrams, pictures, and manuals.
Was scheduled maintenance missed prior to the failure? Mark critical work as a priority and make it visible in whatever system you have until it’s done.
Was production higher than normal/planned, was it done incorrectly, or was it modified?: Review your maintenance schedules and consult with the operations team to create stronger SOPs for when production increases or changes.
How to prevent work from being delayed
Work order data can help you find and fix work orders that took so long to get to:
Parts and supplies were not available. Review the purchasing process for these parts, including minimum quantities and who can submit purchase orders so you’re never shorthanded again.
The problem wasn’t identified properly or instructions were missing. See if the work order description, failure codes, and task list can be clearer. Attach photos, manuals, SOPs, or other documentation to the work order.
An emergency work order diverted resources: This can’t always be avoided, but it could tell you that the task is too big. Consider breaking it into smaller tasks to prioritize parts of the job.
There was a scheduling conflict with production: Talk to operations about why maintenance is necessary on the asset. Consider giving operators minor maintenance responsibilities associated with the work order.
The person/people assigned to the work did not have the right skills: Make it very clear on the work request what kind of skills or certifications are necessary for certain maintenance types.
How to prevent work from taking longer than it should
Maintenance schedules don’t have a lot of room for error. When work runs long, it has a big domino effect. Work orders can give you insight into what’s causing work orders to take longer and how to fix the issue.
It was assigned to the wrong person: Work will take longer if the technician didn’t have the right skill set. Standardized work requests let everyone know the right person to assign. Add as many manuals, pictures, diagrams, and other resources to work orders to help technicians who are unfamiliar with the task.
The expected completion time was too low: The expected labor hours should be increased if a work order is consistently taking more time than is given.
The task list was too big or unclear: Join an experienced technician as they complete the work order, document what they do step-by-step, and create task lists with this information. Give expected hours for each task in the work order so you know which ones are causing problems.
Not enough technicians were assigned to this work order: It might not be a one (or two, or three) person job.
Additional work was done during the work order: Develop processes that help technicians create and prioritize separate work orders for additional corrective repairs.
Parts and supplies were hard to find: Bundle together all parts and supplies needed for common and critical work orders so they can be accessed quickly.
Prioritize work orders so you’re focusing on the ones that matter most
Hire more people to analyze work orders
Invest in a system that does all this for you
How to prioritize work orders
“If you’re strapped for time and resources, focus on reactive work orders,” says Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s Solutions Engineer Leader.
Identifying how work orders contributed to failures will help you move toward a solid preventive maintenance program, says Stuart.
If you have reactive maintenance work orders locked down, the next batch to prioritize are high-risk, upcoming work orders. This is work that has the potential to go very wrong, including work on critical assets, work that hasn’t been done in a while, or large and complex projects.
If you can squeeze in a few more work orders, Stuart recommends analyzing work that costs a lot. Making these projects more efficient will make a major impact. Look at work that uses a lot of labor, major components, and planned downtime on production assets.
How to justify more resources for your team
Results are the currency you need to convince your boss that you need another person on your team. Highlight the problems you’ve uncovered and fixed by analyzing and optimizing work orders. For example, how many failures have you caught and prevented? Did you decrease the cost of projects by helping technicians be more efficient? No win is too small.
Show the impact of this success if it was achieved on a larger scale. If you saved a dozen labor hours on one work order, imagine how many labor hours would be saved across 100 work orders.
Drive the point home by describing the ripple effect this could have on maintenance. If someone could take work off your plate, it could mean less backlog. Or more training for operators to do routine maintenance tasks, freeing your team to do big projects. Focus on where a new hire may add value indirectly.
Software for work order analytics
Almost every maintenance analytics platform focuses on asset data. It’s not that easy to find a system that goes deep on work orders. Until now.
Work order insights, powered by Fiix Foresight, can analyze 1000s of work orders in minutes and tell you what work has caused breakdowns, overdue work, extra labor hours, or other problems. The work order insights report goes through all your work orders, compares similar ones, and identifies the riskiest ones by finding outliers.
For example, you might have many of the same asset across multiple facilities with hundreds of PMs per year on those assets. If the task count on one PM is half as big as the others, work order insights will catch this. Spot this problem, change your task list, and avoid missing a crucial step in your scheduling maintenance.
That’s just a small taste of what work order insights can do. Learn more about how the report works, what it looks like, and more here.
Everything you just read in three sentences
Creating a successful work order data strategy includes defining your goals, choosing metrics and benchmarks that align with those goals, building work orders that collect those metrics, and piloting your approach.
Studying work orders that took too long to complete or get to and were in response to breakdowns will help you identify the areas of the work order that need fine-tuning and prevent these problems from popping up again.
Scaling your success with work order data relies on three things: Prioritizing work orders, quantifying success to justify more resources, and investing in work order systems that can take on tedious and time-consuming analysis.
The National Parks Service has a serious problem with backlog. And it’s costing everyone.
The cost of maintenance backlog at over 400 national parks across the United States was recently billed at $12 billion. That’s 500% more than the operating budget for the department. And although $6.5 billion has been set aside to address the backlog, it barely covers half of what’s needed.
The parks bear the scars of deferred maintenance. Safety hazards. Unusable equipment. Expensive infrastructure needs upgrading years too early.
It’s not pretty. Not many maintenance backlogs are. That’s why this article explores tips for avoiding work order backlog and how to reduce maintenance backlog if you already have it.
What is maintenance backlog?
Maintenance backlog is all maintenance work that’s been planned, approved, and scheduled, but not completed. It is not work that is simply past its due date.
Think about it like your household to-do list. You were planning to clean the garage last Saturday, but never got to it. You’re also planning to organize your closet next weekend. Both chores are in your backlog.
How is maintenance backlog measured?
Maintenance backlog is often measured in the number of hours or weeks it would take to complete the work with the resources available. And backlog doesn’t discriminate between emergency and planned work orders. Every scrap of maintenance is included in the calculation.
How much maintenance backlog is too much?
Having zero maintenance backlog is not healthy. If a backlog is too small, it will be difficult to keep tradespeople and technicians on priority work, according to this article in Reliable Plant. This usually leads to an increase in unplanned and corrective work.
That same article recommends having a total backlog of about four weeks. This includes a planning backlog of two to three weeks (work that’s planned, but not ready to start) and a scheduled backlog of one to two weeks (work that can be started at any time).
Six steps for reducing maintenance backlog
A long list of backlogged work orders is scary, but the consequences of keeping it that way are scarier. These are six tried and true strategies for chipping away at that mountain of backlog:
#1: Get buy-in
The idea to put maintenance ahead of some other things (like production) might not be too popular. But getting access to equipment and resources is essential for working through backlog. That’s why changing everyone’s mind is the first thing you should do.
Getting people to buy into your plan starts with telling them how it’ll help them and backing it up with numbers. For example, your plan might cut into the production team’s goals and quotas in the short-term. Show them that this work will help them hit their targets long-term through better asset performance (less scrap and rework) or cleaner startups for the next few months.
First, prioritize based on asset criticality. Outstanding work on critical assets should move to the top of the list.
Filter work on critical assets by how late they are. If a PM was missed four times, it’s probably more urgent than a PM missed once.
Determine the length and difficulty of remaining work orders. Work that can be done quickly or with less downtime should be your number-one priority.
#3: Assess your resources
The next step is to assess what resources are available for you and your team to get the work done:
How many people are on your team? What training, skills, and certifications do they have? The capabilities of your technicians will change what you do, the order you do it in, and how long it’ll take.
Do you have all the parts, supplies, and safety equipment for your work orders? If not, how long will it take to get them? This might push back your timeline.
How big are your maintenance windows?
Do they have all the information needed so technicians can do the job safely and properly in the time given?
#4: Plan for risks
There are three kinds of high-risk jobs usually found in a work order backlog:
Time-consuming and complex projects
Work your team hasn’t done in a while or at all.
Make note of these work orders. Analyze the risks associated with each and find ways to mitigate them. Reduce risk by giving technicians extra training, putting more technicians and labor hours towards the work, and making sure the right PPE is available.
#5 Build work orders for efficiency and safety ?
Creating great work orders helps technicians to knock backlogged maintenance off the list safely, efficiently, and properly so you can make the most of your time, staff, and budget. There are some key areas of a work order that make this possible:
Clear and detailed task lists: Clear, detailed, and concise task lists eliminate confusion and wasted time
A list of required parts and PPE: Including a bill of materials, along with where to find those parts, will speed up most jobs
Manuals, diagrams, and pictures: Giving these items to technicians upfront cuts a lot of time spent searching for them or troubleshooting without them
An in-depth description of the problem and completion notes: Any additional information that gives a technician context for the job will help them avoid mistakes, risks, and wasted time
#6: Keep track of everything
It’s important to measure your progress once your plan is in motion. This allows you to adjust your strategy as new challenges come up and work is completed. It also gives you more data for building buy-in across the organization.
Keeping track of everything means staying up to date with your team and helping them tackle the tasks you’ve assigned. Schedule frequent touchpoints with them to ask:
If they’re comfortable with the work
If they have all the resources and equipment they need
What processes are helping the most and which ones need tweaking
What causes maintenance backlog and how to prevent it
Whittling your backlog down to a manageable size is an accomplishment. But it’s just the beginning. Keeping your team from reaching code-red status again is next. Here are a few ideas for your next fight against backlog:
Eliminate duplicate work orders and fine-tune your PMs: Get rid of duplicate work orders so they don’t inflate your backlog. Review your PM schedules regularly and adjust the frequency of scheduled maintenance based on how often they’re finding faults. No faults means they could probably be done less frequently
Standardize work orders for requesters and technicians: Build one template for all work orders. Be very specific about the information required when creating or completing work orders. It’ll make requesting and reviewing work faster. It also helps you track trends in work orders so you can catch problems sooner and adjust schedules easier.
Align your goals and processes: Get everyone on the same page about the expectations for maintenance. For example, define priority work orders and what ‘high priority’ means? Fewer important work orders will be missed when everyone is talking the same language.
Track your parts and staff skills closely: Keep a dashboard of commonly used parts so they never go out of stock. Find skills gaps in your maintenance team and bolster training in those areas.
Everything you just read in three sentences
The best way to change a culture of reactive maintenance at your organization is to frame backlog as an obstacle to everyone, align on a solution, and make everyone part of the process.
More time planning means less time doing so make sure to prioritize your tasks, figure out the risks, and build strong work orders to maximize efficiency.
Optimize your PMs, track trends in your work orders, and push for standardization across your processes to prevent backlog from emerging or reemerging at your organization
There is a scene in the movie Office Space where the three main characters take out their rage on a printer with a baseball bat. The machine is nothing but rubble by the end.
It’s an incredibly therapeutic two minutes. Probably because we’ve all been there. We’ve all dreamed of smashing our computer or phone because a piece of software has driven us crazy.
That includes maintenance and manufacturing software.
When Bryan Sapot, CEO of manufacturing software SensrTrx, asked his LinkedIn followers why the industry’s software can suck so much, it hit a nerve. It also got us wondering about the root cause of this frustration. Why does maintenance and manufacturing software suck sometimes?
We sat down with Bryan, Scott Deckers (Fiix’s Director of Customer Success), and Rob Kalwarowsky (host of the Rob’s Reliability Project podcast) to talk about it. You can watch the full video below or download it as a podcast. You can also scroll down to read the top reasons these experts think maintenance and manufacturing software can suck and how to avoid the pitfalls when searching for software.
Software is almost certainly doomed to fail if you’re not crystal clear on the reason you want it. When you don’t know what you want to achieve or what problems you want to solve with software, it usually ends with a system that doesn’t work for your team or your organization.
What the experts are saying:
“If you’re going to search for any tool, you need to know what you’re going to do with it. Too often, we see people saying, ‘Somebody told us we need to buy a CMMS, so we’re buying a CMMS’…That’s not the type of buy-in or leadership you want to see.”
– Scott Deckers
What you can do about it
Like any repair job, you need to know what’s wrong before you can fix it. That’s why the first step is to determine what problems software will solve. There are three steps for doing this:
Gather a team of people who will use the software and ask them what’s wrong. People won’t use the software if it doesn’t solve their problems. This post has a few tips on who to include in this consultation stage.
Dig deeper into the problems. Here’s where you can apply root cause analysis to your project. Keep asking why until you find the real reason for a problem.
Align your goals. Figure out which problems are the biggest and which ones will have the largest impact on both your organization and people.
#2. The data sucks
What it means
If there’s a problem with your data, you’re going to have a problem with your software. There are three potential problems you can have with data: It’s inaccurate, it’s the wrong kind, and there’s too much of it. Because software often relies on data, having these issues can make it look like the system itself is to blame.
What the experts are saying
“Less is more…If you have to sift through all these different metrics and all this different data to try to find something meaningful, then you don’t have any meaningful data.”
– Bryan Sapot
“If you’re not actioning work, not actioning improvement projects, not using the data to run the equipment better, then why bother? How is it going to improve your processes? What are you going to do with this information?”
– Rob Kalwarowsky
What you can do about it
Bad data is really good at blending in with good data. That’s why the secret to exposing bad data is a laser focus on one part of your operation. Look at one piece of equipment or one task and ask yourself these questions:
Am I collecting the right data? Does it tell me something I can act on?
Am I collecting too much data? Can I find what I’m looking for in a few seconds?
Is my data accurate? Do my records match what’s happening in real life? Am I recording data incorrectly because there’s no easy way to log it?
#3. The buy-in sucks
What it means
Your software project is going to fail if you can’t get buy-in from the people using the software. Period. When people don’t want to use the system (or don’t know how to), it ends in one of two situations: The software is used incorrectly or not used at all.
What the experts are saying
“The shop floor leadership is arguably more important to making sure software sticks, making sure it’s driving value, and making sure everyone knows the value it’s driving.”
– Scott Deckers
“You can put the most beautiful application out there on the floor that’s so easy to use and requires a minimal amount of input, but if you don’t have the leadership…and the structure in place, and people understanding why it’s there, it doesn’t matter.”
– Bryan Sapot
What you can do about it
Leading change and driving software adoption is a huge topic. In fact, we hosted a whole webinar about it. If you’re short on time, we distilled a few tips from the discussion:
Tell people what’s in it for them. Finding out what users care about, what pains they have, and what goals they want to achieve. Then tell them how software is going to help them with these things. Back it up with numbers. Tell people that they’ll save an hour a day instead of saying that they’ll be more efficient.
Select a software champion. This is someone who will lead and advocate for the project. The perfect champion is also a user of the software so they understand both the benefits and challenges.
Have a detailed plan. Having a software implementation plan takes a lot of uncertainty and fear out of change by making roles, timelines, and expectations clear, which makes it easier for your team to commit to change.
Do lots of training. People forget about 75% of what they learn after just six days. Don’t rely on just one training session to turn your team into pros at using software. Make time for regular training and account for growing pains as users learn a system on the job.
Promote your successes. While success doesn’t erase every frustration people have with software, it makes those problems seem a lot smaller. Keep track of every win you accomplish with software, no matter how small, and tell everyone you can about it.
#4. The processes around software suck
What it means
Poor processes lead to software letdowns. For example, CMMS software can be an easy way to create and execute PMs. But if you have no process to follow up on a failed PM, your whole preventive maintenance program will crumble.
What the experts are saying
“Technology is only as good as the systems in place beneath it. A hammer doesn’t swing itself.”
– Scott Deckers
“You need to worry if you’re doing the right processes the right way before you worry about measuring them with software.”
– Rob Kalwarowksy
What you can do about it
Building solid processes has a lot to do with a couple of points we’ve already covered: Defining the what and why, and starting small to find gaps.
First, identify the processes you want to facilitate, track, and improve with maintenance and manufacturing software. The word ‘improve’ is very important here—if you only monitor processes and don’t improve them, the software will most likely disappoint.
Then go to work auditing these processes. Break processes into smaller chunks to see where they might be broken. For example, in the webinar, Rob mentions that it’s important to make sure you’re doing the right PMs, in the right way, and with the right frequency.
The ultimate takeaway: Maintenance and manufacturing software is not a silver bullet
It’s not the software’s fault. That’s the big lesson we’ve learned after looking at all the reasons maintenance and manufacturing software can suck. Software is often touted as a silver bullet solution. This is a recipe for disaster. It takes a clear objective, full buy-in, solid processes, and great data for software to help your team. Building up this support system will help you use software as a tool for improvement and take your business to new heights.
The maintenance team at Century Aluminum was fighting an uphill battle from day one.
“The philosophy has been, ‘It’s what goes out the door that counts,” said millwright Linda Sibley in this interview with Reliable Plant, “not how well the machinery is running.”
Pumping out product, equipment health be damned, was obviously not a sustainable model. It fueled a culture of reactive thinking, leading to lots of breakdowns, data shortages, low morale, and much more.
“When you are in such a reactive mode, it’s next to impossible to do much planning. It’s all about putting out fires,” said maintenance planner Todd Harrison.
Needless to say, there was a hunger for change. But despite the maintenance department’s best efforts, the preventive maintenance program struggled to get off the ground. The reason progress stalled could be linked back to one thing: Poor maintenance planning and scheduling.
Probably one-third of the PMs are no good,” said maintenance manager Jim Doeffinger. “We waste time doing irrelevant PMs.”
No one wants to constantly take two steps forward and one step back. That’s why this post will go in-depth on best practices and simple frameworks for strong maintenance planning and work order scheduling.
How to get really good at maintenance planning
There are two ingredients you need to be really good at planning work orders:
Clear goals for maintenance that align with the goals of the organization
A way to prioritize maintenance activities based on your goals
All your work processes, schedules, training, and SOPs flow from your goals and priorities.
“You really need to go back to the fundamentals of the organization and find out what they’re objectives are for maintenance,” says Charles Rogers, a Senior Implementation Consultant at Fiix with over 33 years of experience in maintenance and reliability.
Four steps for aligning maintenance goals with business goals
A handy four-step process will help you align the organization’s goals with your maintenance plans:
Confirm the goals of your organization. Your business may be looking to accomplish something really specific, like decreasing the cost-per-item. Or the goal might be a little less tangible, like entering new markets.
Link maintenance KPIs to business goals. If reducing the cost-per-item is the big goal, maintenance could focus on reducing downtime and maintenance costs. If entering new markets is the target, you might want to standardize maintenance processes so they can be repeated at other sites.
Choose your maintenance metrics. Set up metrics and benchmarks so you can track progress and measure success. For example, if you want to prevent unplanned downtime, you might track faults found and fixed through PMs on critical equipment.
Plan maintenance activities to hit your targets. Let’s say your aim is to find problems with critical equipment before they cause failure. In this scenario, you have to figure out what your critical equipment is, how often it should be inspected, and what needs to be included in work orders for those assets.
How to get really good at maintenance scheduling
“Some people think a lot of scheduled maintenance is good and more is better,” says Charles.
“Those people are wrong. Doing PMs for the sake of filling a quota is costly and often increases the chance of breakdowns.”
The number of failed inspections per PM is the true mark of scheduled maintenance success, says Charles. Every problem you catch during a PM is an asset failure avoided.
And that’s the secret to really good maintenance scheduling: The constant tweaking of PM frequencies to find the right balance between too often and not often enough.
How to optimize preventive maintenance frequencies
The PDCA model (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is a framework for finding the right PM schedule over time:
Plan: Create a baseline for PM frequencies by looking at recommended guidelines, repair history, criticality, and usage patterns for an asset.
Do: Follow your plan consistently for accurate results.
Check: Look at failure metrics for each asset to determine if your plan is working.
Act: Fine-tune your PM frequencies based on your findings. Increase the frequency if an asset is breaking down between PMs. Reduce the frequency if your PMs don’t find failures or if the number of breakdowns between PMs is low.
Warning: This process is not quick. It takes a while to go around this cycle and implement improvements. But you will see improvements, including longer MTBF intervals, fewer labor hours, and fewer costs for spare parts and supplies.
How to convince people that maintenance needs to be done
“We would fight operations just to get a little bit of maintenance on a machine,” says Jason Afara, a Solutions Engineer at Fiix, remembering his time as a maintenance manager.
Although the tension between maintenance and operations isn’t going anywhere, a maintenance plan and maintenance schedule can’t reach its full potential without buy-in from production.
“This is where maintenance departments usually fail because they don’t have data to back up their asks,” says Charles.
“You have to be able to prove your case and show evidence that if you don’t do maintenance on schedule, there will be much worse consequences at some point—probably sooner than later.”
Creating a culture that chooses preventive maintenance over reactive maintenance doesn’t happen in a day. It can take years and a lot of conversations with everyone from CEOs to operators for it to stick.
Scheduling around seasonality and sudden production changes
In a perfect world, plans would never change and your maintenance schedule would run like clockwork. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The holiday season can lead to a huge spike in orders. A global recession could completely dry up demand.
When things shift at your company, your maintenance must shift too. One way to stay flexible is with your maintenance schedule. This doesn’t mean abandoning all the plans you’ve put in place. Actually, it’s the opposite, says Charles.
“This is when it’s super critical to understand your asset criticality and asset priorities,” says Charles.
Knowing the needs of each critical asset is what helps you create schedules and justify maintenance windows required to ensure healthy equipment.
“It also becomes very critical to understand how assets need to be shut down and started back up so that they function as best they can in those situations,” explains Charles.
Plan work orders that cover all the nuances of each equipment and each task. Build airtight SOPs with this information so delays don’t make stopping and starting equipment even harder.
Everything you just read in three sentences
Having crystal clear goals for your work orders will give you a clear direction for all your decisions around maintenance planning and scheduling.
Never set your maintenance schedules in stone and always keep looking for ways to optimize each work order so you’re doing it at the right frequencies.