Maintenance troubleshooting can be both an art and a science. A common problem is that, while art can be beautiful, it isn’t known for its efficiency. When taken to the next level, maintenance troubleshooting can ditch the trial-and-error moniker and become a purely scientific endeavor. This helps maintenance technicians find the right problems and solutions more quickly. When troubleshooting is done correctly, your whole maintenance operation can overcome backlog, lost production, and compliance issues much more efficiently.
In this troubleshooting guide, we’ll take a look at what it actually is, why it matters to maintenance professionals, and how your team can fine-tune its approach.
What is maintenance troubleshooting?
Systems break down—that’s just a fact of life. Whether it’s a conveyer belt or an industrial drill, we’ve all run across a piece of equipment that is unresponsive, faulty, or acting abnormally for seemingly no reason at all. It can be downright frustrating.
Maintenance troubleshooting is the process of identifying what is wrong with these faulty components and systems when the problem is not immediately obvious. Maintenance troubleshooting usually follows a systematic, four-step approach; identify the problem, plan a response, test the solution, and resolve the problem. Steps one to three are often repeated multiple times before a resolution is reached.
Identify the problem
Plan a response
Test the solution
Repeat until problem is resolved
Think about it this way: When a conveyor belt breaks down, you may try a few different methods to fix it. First, you identify which part of the conveyor belt isn’t working. Once you’ve identified the problem area, you plan a response and test it, such as realigning or lubricating a part. If this fails to fix the problem, you might replace the part, which makes the conveyor belt work again. This is troubleshooting.
How is maintenance troubleshooting usually done?
Stop us if you’ve heard this story before. An asset breaks down and no one knows why. You talk to the operator, read some manuals, and check your notes about the asset. You try a couple of things to get the machine up and working again with no luck. Before you can try a third or fourth possible solution, you get called away to another emergency, with the asset still out of commission.
This is often how the process happens when performing maintenance troubleshooting, especially when a facility relies on paper records or Excel spreadsheets. The process is based on collecting as much information as possible from as many sources as possible to identify the most likely cause of the unexpected breakdown. You can never go wrong when you gather information, but it’s the way that information is gathered that can turn troubleshooting from a necessity to a nightmare.
Why does maintenance troubleshooting matter?
Unexpected equipment failure is the entire reason maintenance troubleshooting exists. If assets never broke down without any clear signs of imminent failure, there would be no need to troubleshoot the problem. But we know that’s just not the case.
Machinery failure doesn’t always follow a predictable pattern. Yes, maintenance teams can use preventive maintenance and condition-based maintenance to reduce the likelihood of unplanned downtime. However, you can never eliminate it entirely. What you can do is put processes in place to reduce failure as much as possible and fix it as soon as possible when it does occur. This is where strong maintenance troubleshooting techniques come in handy.
Because troubleshooting will always be part of the maintenance equation, humans will also always have a role. Maintenance technology does not erase the need for a human touch in troubleshooting; it simply makes the process much more efficient. When troubleshooting isn’t refined, it could lead to time wasted tracking down information, a substantial loss of production, an unsafe working environment, and more frequent failures. In short, knowing some maintenance troubleshooting techniques could be the difference between an overwhelming backlog and a stable maintenance program.
Maintenance troubleshooting tips
The following are just a few ways your operation can improve its troubleshooting techniques to conquer chaos and take control of its maintenance.
1. Quantify asset performance and understand how to use the results
It probably goes without saying, but the more deeply you know an asset, the better equipped you’ll be to diagnose a problem. Years of working with a certain asset can help you recognize when it’s not working quite right. But exceptional troubleshooting isn’t just about knowing the normal sounds, speeds, or odours of a particular machine. Instead, it’s about knowing how to analyze asset performance at a deeper level, which is where advanced reporting factors in.
When operators and technicians rely solely on their own past experience with a piece of equipment, it leaves them with huge gaps in knowledge that hurt the maintenance troubleshooting process. For example, it leaves too much room for recency bias to affect decision-making, which means that technicians are most likely to try the last thing that fixed a particular problem without considering other options or delving further into the root cause. Also, if maintenance troubleshooting relies on the proprietary knowledge of a few technicians, it means repairs will have to wait until those particular maintenance personnel are available.
Maintenance staff should have the know-how to conduct an in-depth analysis of an asset’s performance. For example, technicians should understand how to run reports and understand KPIs for critical equipment, such as mean time between failure and overall equipment effectiveness. If using condition-based maintenance, the maintenance team should also know the P-F curve for each asset and what different sensor readings mean. When technicians are equipped with a deeper understanding of an asset, it will be easier for them to pinpoint where a problem occurred and how to fix it, both in the short and long-term.
2. Create in-depth asset histories
Information is the fuel that powers exceptional maintenance troubleshooting for maintenance. Knowing how a particular asset has worked and failed for hundreds of others is a good place to start a repair. That’s why manuals are a useful tool when implementing troubleshooting maintenance techniques. However, each asset, facility, and operation is different, which means asset machine failure doesn’t always follow the script. Detailed notes on an asset’s history can open up a dead end and lead you to a solution much more quickly.
A detailed asset history can give you an edge in maintenance troubleshooting in a variety of ways. It offers a simple method for cross-referencing symptoms of the current issue with elements of past problems. For example, a technician can see if a certain type of material was being handled by a machine or if there were any early warning signs identified for a previous failure. The more a present situation aligns with a past scenario, the more likely it is to need the same fix. Solutions can be prioritized this way, leading to fewer misses, less downtime, fewer unnecessary spare parts being used, and more.
When troubleshooting is done correctly, your whole maintenance operation can overcome backlog, lost production, and compliance issues much more efficiently.
When creating detailed asset histories to help with maintenance troubleshooting (as well as preventive maintenance), it’s important to include as much information as possible. Make sure to record the time and dates of any notable actions taken on an asset or piece of equipment. This can include breakdowns, PMs, inspections, part replacement, production schedules, and abnormal behavior, such as smoke or unusual sounds. Next, document the steps taken during maintenance, including PMs or repairs. Lastly, highlight the successful solution and what was needed to accomplish it, such as necessary parts, labor and safety equipment. Make sure to add any relevant metrics and reports to the asset history as well.
Effective maintenance troubleshooting starts with eliminating ambiguity and short-term solutions. Finding the root of an issue quickly, solving it effectively and ensuring it stays solved is a winning formula. Root cause analysis and failure codes are a couple of tools that will help you achieve this goal.
Root cause analysis is a maintenance troubleshooting technique that allows you to pinpoint the reason behind a failure. The method consists of asking “why” until you get to the heart of the problem. For example:
Why did the equipment fail?: Because a bearing wore out
Why did the bearing wear out?: Because a coupling was misaligned
Why was the coupling misaligned?: Because it was not serviced recently.
Why was the coupling not serviced?: Because maintenance was not scheduled.
Why was maintenance not scheduled?: Because we weren’t sure how often it should be scheduled.
This process has two benefits when conducting maintenance troubleshooting for maintenance. First, it allows you to identify the immediate cause of failure and fix it quickly. Second, it leads you to the core of the issue and a long-term solution. In the example above, it’s clear a better preventive maintenance program is required to improve asset management and reduce unplanned downtime.
Failure codes provide a consistent method to describe why an asset failed. Failure codes are built on three actions: Listing all possible problems, all possible causes, and all possible solutions. This process records key aspects of a failure according to predefined categories, like misalignment or corrosion.
Failure codes are useful when maintenance troubleshooting because technicians can immediately see common failure codes, determine the best solution, and implement it quickly. Failure codes can also be used to uncover a common problem among a group of assets and determine a long-term solution.
4. Build detailed task lists
Exceptional maintenance troubleshooting requires solid planning and foresight. Clear processes provide a blueprint for technicians so they can quickly identify problems and implement more effective solutions. Creating detailed task lists is one way to bolster your planning and avoid headaches down the road. This could also be incorporated into routine maintenance.
A task list outlines a series of tasks that need to be completed to finish a larger job. They ensure crucial steps aren’t missed when performing inspections, audits or PMs. For example, the larger job may be conducting a routine inspection of your facility’s defibrillators. This job is broken down into a list of smaller tasks, such as “Verify battery installation,” and “Inspect exterior components for cracks.”
Maintenance technology does not erase the need for a human touch in troubleshooting; it simply makes the process much more efficient.
Detailed task lists are extremely important when conducting maintenance troubleshooting. They act as a guide when testing possible solutions so technicians can either fix the issue or disqualify a diagnosis as quickly as possible. The more explicit the task list, the more thorough the job and the less likely a technician is to make a mistake. Comprehensive task lists can also offer valuable data when failure occurs. They provide insight into the type of work recently done on an asset so you can determine whether any corrective actions were missed and if this was the source of the problem.
There are a few best practices for building detailed task lists. First, include all individual actions that make up a task. For example, instead of instructing someone to “Inspect the cooling fan,” include the steps that comprise that inspection, such as “Check for any visible cracks,” and “Inspect for loose parts.” Organize all steps in the order they should be done. Lastly, include any additional information that may be helpful in completing the tasks, including necessary supplies, resources (ie. manuals), and PPE.
5. Make additional information accessible
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; great maintenance troubleshooting techniques are often the result of great information. However, if that information is difficult to access, you will lose any advantage it provides. That is why it is crucial for your operation to not only create a large resource center, but to also make it highly accessible. This will elevate your maintenance troubleshooting abilities and get your assets back online faster when unplanned downtime occurs.
Let’s start with the elements of a great information hub. We’ve talked about the importance of reports, asset histories, failure codes and task lists when performing a troubleshooting method. Some other key resources include diagrams, standard operating procedures (SOPs), training videos, and manuals. These should all be included and organized by asset. If a technician hits a dead-end a troubleshooting procedure, these tools can offer a solution that may have been missed in the initial analysis.
Now that you’ve gathered all your documents together, it’s time to make them easily accessible to the whole maintenance team. If resources are trapped in a file cabinet, on a spreadsheet, or in a single person’s mind, they don’t do a lot of good for the technician. They can be lost, misplaced and hard to find—not to mention the inefficiency involved with needing to walk from an asset to the office just to grab a manual. One way to get around this obstacle is to create a digital knowledge hub with maintenance software. By making all your resources available through a mobile device, technicians can access any tool they need to troubleshoot a problem. Instead of sifting through paper files to find an asset history or diagram, they can access that same information anywhere, anytime.
Using CMMS software for maintenance troubleshooting
If it sounds like a lot of work to gather, organize, analyze and circulate all the information needed to be successful at maintenance troubleshooting, you’re not wrong. Without the proper tools, this process can be a heavy lift for overwhelmed maintenance teams. Maintenance software is one tool that can help ease the load every step of the way. A digital platform, such as a CMMS, takes care of crunching the numbers, organizing data and making it available wherever and whenever, so you can focus on using that information to make great decisions and troubleshoot more effectively.
For example, when building a detailed asset history, it’s important to document every encounter with a piece of equipment. This is a lot of work for a technician rushing from one job to another and difficult to keep track of after the fact. An investment in maintenance software will help you navigate these roadblocks. It does this by allowing technicians to use a predetermined set of questions to make and retrieve notes in real-time with a few clicks.
The same goes for failure codes. The key to using them effectively is proper organization and accessibility. Without those two key ingredients, failure codes become more of a hindrance than a help. One way to accomplish this is to use maintenance software. A digital platform can organize failure codes better than any filing cabinet or Excel spreadsheet and make it easy for technicians to quickly sort them and identify the relevant ones from the site of the breakdown.
The bottom line
Troubleshooting will always exist in maintenance. You will never be 100 percent sure 100 percent of the time when diagnosing the cause of failure. What you can do is take steps to utilize maintenance troubleshooting techniques to ensure equipment is repaired quickly and effectively. By combining a good understanding of maintenance metrics with detailed asset histories, failure codes, task lists, and other asset resources, and making all this information accessible, you can move your troubleshooting beyond trial and error to a more systematic approach.
Want to build a great preventive maintenance program, but don’t know where to start? Here are 8 tips to set you up for success.
What is a preventive maintenance program?
A preventive maintenance program is a series of processes, guidelines, and tools for conducting regular and routine maintenance on equipment and assets to keep them in good condition so as to avoid failure and costly unplanned downtime.
Preventive maintenance and planning fit together perfectly, just like salt and pepper, Batman and Robin, and movies and popcorn. That’s because in order for a preventive maintenance program to succeed, it requires a solid blueprint.
For facilities looking to break out of a reactive maintenance rut, a preventive maintenance plan can do wonders. Having a roadmap to preventive maintenance allows your operation to conquer unplanned downtime while staving off the temptation to fall back into a reactive approach.
A PM plan makes everything clearer so the path to reliability is obstacle-free. Goals and responsibilities are defined, timelines are understood and necessary resources are accounted for. Everyone knows what success looks like and how to sustain it.
What is preventive maintenance?
Preventive maintenance is proactive maintenance that is regularly performed on a piece of equipment in working condition to prevent unplanned failure or breakdown maintenance. Preventive maintenance is triggered for an asset based on time or usage. For example, if an asset has operated for 100 hours, a preventive maintenance work order will be automatically triggered. The goal is to increase asset reliability, reduce downtime and maximize the impact of costs and labor.
For facilities looking to break out of a reactive maintenance rut, a preventive maintenance plan can do wonders. Having a roadmap allows your operation to conquer unplanned downtime while staving off the temptation to fall back into a reactive approach.
Transitioning from predominantly reactive maintenance activity to a mostly preventive one takes time, dedication, resources and, most importantly, a plan. Achieving a successful preventive maintenance program means creating a preventive maintenance schedule and sticking to it. It means a reduction in unplanned downtime, backlog, miscommunication, accidents and the corrective maintenance costs associated with each. At the end of the day, preventive maintenance will help you conquer inefficiency and improve your maintenance program from top to bottom.
What should a preventive maintenance plan include?
A preventive maintenance plan should include eight steps at its foundation:
Establish and prioritize goals
Create and measure KPIs
Get stakeholder buy-in
Use the right technology/software
Set up PM triggers
Train maintenance workers on how to implement the preventive maintenance plan
Build a preventive maintenance checklist
Fine-tune your plan based on results
We’ll take you through each step in detail.
How to create a preventive maintenance program in eight steps
Each and every facility is different, with different goals, assets and resources. That’s why there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a preventive maintenance program. However, by using these eight important elements, you can build an effective blueprint for success. Following this template for a preventive maintenance plan will go a long way to making your operation more efficient and sustainable.
1. Establish and prioritize goals
The first step in building a successful preventive maintenance program is to sit down and lay out what you want to achieve. Every facility has different goals and those goals influence all future decisions. Do you want to reduce downtime? Increase reliability? Cut costs? Think about the reasons for wanting to create a structured PM program and write them down.
Next, it’s time to prioritize your goals. Let’s face it, you’re always busy, and implementing a preventive maintenance plan is another huge project to add to your to-do list. With everything that’s going on, it’s nearly impossible to go full steam ahead on all your goals. By prioritizing, you know where to focus your attention and resources first when establishing a blueprint for preventive maintenance. When those tasks are firmly underway, you can begin the next step in your plan.
Once you know which KPIs you’ll be using to define the success, the next step is to create a framework for consistently measuring these metrics. Stats are only valuable if you are consistently using them to improve the preventive maintenance plan. It’s crucial to build processes and procedures that ensure data is collected, analyzed, understood and actioned on a regular basis. This way, you will know if you are meeting your goals and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
3. Obtain buy-in from stakeholders
It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve put into your preventive maintenance program if you don’t have your entire team on board. Total buy-in is crucial as an effective PM strategy requires everyone to chip in, from a maintenance manager or technician who must input data to a reliability engineer who reads that data and makes decisions based on it. What seem like small details add up to make a big difference. That’s why establishing the concept of total productive maintenance is so important to creating a strategy that works.
Getting buy-in from all stakeholders for a preventive maintenance plan includes having discussions about goals, skill sets, needs, resources and more with each member of the team. This will give you a holistic view of how an increase in scheduled maintenance will affect each person and the team, how people might react to change and what is necessary to execute your strategy with fewer snags.
4. Leverage the right technology
Technology is one of the most important ingredients for an effective PM strategy. Leveraging a digital solution allows you to efficiently arrange all the smaller preventive maintenance tasks required for your facility to embrace a PM mindset, such as scheduling, inventory maintenance management, reporting and organizing work orders. If your facility operates on a legacy system, such as pen and paper or Excel, now is the time to plan for a transition to a digital solution.
There are several factors that must be considered when choosing the right technology for a preventive maintenance program, including the skillset of your team, budget, asset capabilities, team preference, data security and more. One of the most important things to remember when looking for preventive maintenance technology, such as a CMMS, is ease of use. If a system is too hard to understand and use properly, it will not be used effectively and all the time and money invested in the solution will be for naught.
5. Make sure your PM triggers are accurate
Because all effective PMs are built on accurate triggers, this is a crucial step in building a preventive maintenance plan. Matching maintenance tasks with the right trigger will help your operation flow efficiently and will ensure assets are as reliable as possible. These triggers should also be known by all members of the maintenance team so no maintenance task falls through the cracks. Automated scheduling and mobile notifications are two tools that make this simple to do.
It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve put into your preventive maintenance program if you don’t have your entire team on board. Total buy-in is crucial as an effective PM strategy requires everyone to chip in, from technicians to reliability engineers.
When defining a preventive maintenance trigger for an asset, it’s important to look at a few variables. This includes the manufacturers recommended guidelines, the performance history of the asset, how critical the asset is to production, the cost of repair vs. maintenance and the projected future use of the asset. When you take all these elements into account, you should have a good idea of when to trigger maintenance for a particular piece of equipment. This number should be fine-tuned moving forward to optimize your preventive maintenance.
6. Train and implement
At this point in your quest for an effective preventive maintenance program, you probably know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Your team, on the other hand, probably does not. It’s important to remember this and create a training strategy so everyone can get up to speed on proper equipment maintenance. Team members should be trained on any new technology as well as any processes and procedures that come with a shift to preventive maintenance, such as prioritizing work orders, creating failure codes, and accessing documents digitally.
The obvious next step is to implement your preventive maintenance plan. If preventive maintenance is something completely new for your team, you might consider a pilot program at one site, one section of your facility or a few particular assets. This way, you can help your team adjust to a new way of doing things while working out the kinks in your PM program.
7. Build a preventive maintenance checklist to analyze results
Once your preventive maintenance plan is in motion, it’s important to prioritize inspection and keep an eye on the numbers. It is essential to have a preventive maintenance checklist that helps you to consistently track KPIs, such as mean time to repair, planned maintenance percentage and mean time between failures. Analyzing these stats and comparing them to pre-plan numbers should give you a good idea of how your program is impacting the efficiency of your maintenance operation.
Check these metrics against the benchmarks you established when you were first building your preventive maintenance processes. This will help you identify where you are hitting your goals and where you aren’t so you can target issues in your program before they get out of hand. Take advantage of data capture tools to make tracking and analysis easy, quick and actionable. For example, there are many automated reporting templates you can use that are commonly available in maintenance management programs.
8. Fine-tune plan
This is one task you should never feel is complete. Your preventive maintenance program should always be under construction as you continually fine-tune, improve, fill in the gaps and fortify procedures that are working well. Use the data you capture through sensors, work order notes and digital reports to see where strengths and weaknesses lie. Uncover opportunities to improve and focus on embracing preventive maintenance wherever possible in your operation.
One crucial element in this phase is to include all stakeholders, such as technicians, operations, reliability engineers, etc., in the process of improvement. Digital profiles and forums for team members make it easy to schedule a time to get feedback, work through problems and review issues that have been flagged while you smooth out any wrinkles in your plan.
The bottom line on building a preventive maintenance program
Creating a successful, sustainable, and effective preventive maintenance program doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning, but it’s worth it when you achieve the many benefits. It’s important to build a sturdy strategy by identifying goals, creating proper KPIs and triggers, discussing the plan with stakeholders, leveraging the right technology and conducting training for regular maintenance. It takes consistent analysis and fine-tuning to ensure all your careful planning doesn’t go to waste. And just remember, a well-oiled preventive maintenance program is not an unattainable dream for maintenance operations; it’s a viable option for all. And once you have a solid program in place, there’s always room for growth, like expanding into predictive maintenance.
There are very few modern processes that don’t benefit from a good checklist— basic car maintenance? Yep. Packing for a trip? For sure! Boiling an egg? Yes, even that. And the same goes for your preventive maintenance program.
A preventive maintenance checklist gets all the steps and information out of a manual and into the hands of experienced technicians by standardizing PMs in your CMMS.
This guide will lead you through how to create a preventive maintenance checklists to make your maintenance team more efficient, cost-effective, and safe.
What is a preventive maintenance checklist?
A preventive maintenance checklist is a set of tasks that the technician needs to complete in order to close a preventive maintenance work order.
A checklist gets all the steps and information out of a manual and into the hands of experienced technicians by standardizing PMs in your CMMS.
The purpose of a preventive maintenance checklist is to ensure preventive maintenance tasks are done correctly and in the same sequence of steps, regardless of which maintenance team member completes them.
Preventive maintenance checklists are known by several names, the most common being preventive maintenance task lists or task groups. There are two main types of preventive maintenance checklists: Pass-or-fail checklists and step-by-step checklists.
Examples of preventive maintenance checklists
Pass-or-fail preventive maintenance checklist
Many parts of a machine have an ideal condition. For example, a compressor has an ideal operating temperature. A pass-or-fail preventive maintenance checklist might include instructions to measure the actual temperature of the compressor and compare it to acceptable standards. The compressor can either meet this standard or not. It can pass or fail the test.
A pass-or-fail preventive maintenance checklists can identify problems and prevent bigger issues by scheduling maintenance sooner than usual. While these checklists can be done by maintenance personnel, they are usually the responsibility of machine operators. If a problem is identified during a pass-or-fail checklist, the follow-up tasks are assigned to a maintenance technician.
Example of a pass-or-fail preventive maintenance checklist
Record the strokes-per-minute at which Machine-X is running. Is the inlet temperature of Machine-X below 70°F? (Yes/Pass, No/Fail)
Record the outlet temperature of the product from Machine-X using the infrared temperature meter. Is the outlet temperature under 95°F? (Yes/Pass, No/Fail)
Notify maintenance/create a work request in your CMMS if you have marked “No/Fail” on any of the tasks above.
Step-by-step preventive maintenance checklist
There are also asset parts that require preventive maintenance based on the usage of that asset. For example, a motor might be changed every 500 hours. A step-by-step preventive maintenance checklist outlines instructions for changing the motor, from beginning to end. These checklists ensure no critical steps are missed during a PM so failure can be avoided as often as possible. These checklists usually include more complex and technical tasks, which is why they are normally assigned to or lead by maintenance technicians.
Example of a step-by-step checklist
Lockout from the main panel to complete the following preventive maintenance task
Test machine to ensure lockout is properly preventing the machine from running
Remove belting from conveyor
Replace both bearings on the non-drive side and inspect shaft for any damage
Install conveyor belting on the belt
Remove lockout/tagout and test conveyor at the following speeds: 5, 10, and 15 on VFD
Benefits of a preventive maintenance checklist
Members of your maintenance team can probably recite the steps to certain tasks off the top of their heads. But not everyone necessarily has the same information, especially if they’re new to the job. A formal preventive maintenance checklist puts this knowledge in the palm of your hand for easy access. Here’s how:
Tasks and outcomes are standardized
Checklists create a standard way to do preventive maintenance tasks and regular inspection, which leads to reliable outcomes. There’s no guesswork or miscommunication, reducing the chances of error and the need for costly repairs. For example, if you need to replace an engine, a good checklist will tell you what kind of engine, so you don’t use the wrong part. Reliability helps you plan better and helps mitigate the effects of turnover by ensuring there’s continuity in your processes, even if there isn’t continuity on your team. It makes training more effective, improves safety, and keeps you from relying too much on one person.
Work is more efficient and labor is maximized
Preventive maintenance checklists make is easier for technicians to complete PMs, which makes them quicker. This reduces downtime and allows technicians to move onto more skilled tasks in less time. Detailed checklists also free up time for technicians by allowing other members of the facility, like machine operators, to take on routine tasks. In this way, checklists are an integral part of establishing a great total productive maintenance program.
Troubleshooting and reporting are easier
Because preventive maintenance checklists provide consistency, they create a great baseline for measuring maintenance activity. This baseline helps you to report with more certainty and pinpoint whether a certain action did or did not lead to better results. When all tasks are done the same way, over and over again, it also eliminates the number of reasons why a problem might occur. By reducing the number of possible issues, it makes troubleshooting much easier.
7 steps to build an effective preventive maintenance checklist
Not all preventive maintenance checklists are created equal. Poorly constructed guidelines can be as problematic as having none at all. The good news is, you are likely halfway there when it comes to building great checklists. Your maintenance team has all the necessary information—the key is to gather that information and organize it into formal processes. There are seven things to keep in mind when you’re going through this process:
Focus on safety– Preventive maintenance checklists should start and end with safety instructions, like required PPE, lock-out tag-out instructions, and steps to sanitize the area.
Ensure it’s sequential– Preventive maintenance checklists should list tasks in the order they should be completed.
Follow the preventive maintenance framework– A PM checklist should follow this order of tasks when appropriate:
Example of a preventive maintenance checklist for machines:
Safety – Ensure that machinery is clear of debris before every shift.
Clean – Wipe machine surfaces of lubricant, dirt and other loose debris each day.
Adjust – Check for any parts that have loosened and tighten accordingly. Calibrate machines regularly.
Inspect – Regularly inspect tools for sharpness and proper functionality. Check for leaks, cracks, equipment failure, and safe electrical connections.
Replenish – Routinely check all machinery fluid levels, and air filters in the HVAC system, and replace as needed.
Replace – Check for any worn out parts or damaged tools and replace.
Rebuild – Rebuild any worn out or damaged parts that were custom built.
Include necessary detail– PM checklists should provide enough detail that new technicians can realistically complete the task by reading the checklist. Having too much detail can be confusing and difficult to change if needed.
Provide photos and/or diagrams– PM checklists should include visual representations of the instructions to make the task easier and clarify any ambiguity.
Be as concise as possible– Every task on a PM checklist should have a clear action and goal associated with it so you can ensure maximum efficiency.
Insert total time for the checklist or time requirements for each task– Make sure to give sufficient time for tasks so technicians don’t feel rushed.
Tips for using a preventive maintenance checklist
Now that you know how to create PM checklists, it’s time to decide who should take the lead when it comes to building them.“Best practice for creating checklists is to have it be a team effort between the maintenance manager, the maintenance planner, and the supervisor,” says Fiix solutions engineer Jason Afara.
Afara recommends having the maintenance planner write and plan checklists with input from the manager and supervisor as well as senior technicians. These experienced personnel have been working with the equipment for years and may be able to identify any gaps in checklists.
Because preventive maintenance checklists provide consistency, they create a great baseline for measuring maintenance activity. This baseline helps you to report with more certainty and pinpoint whether a certain action did or did not lead to better results.
The maintenance manager should be the one reviewing checklists and making sure they’re doing the job they’re supposed to be doing and that there are no instances of pencil-whipping occurring.
“You always want to be proactive to ensure your PMs are still relevant and leading to better maintenance,” says Afara.
“The best time to review checklists and make sure they’re still strong is during periods of high turnover, just before production spikes, or when an asset is consistently breaking down right after it’s been inspected.”
Building checklists for better maintenance
Preventive maintenance checklists are an essential part of an effective PM program and are included in preventive maintenance software. Checklists eliminate miscommunication and reduce the chance of human error. They make everyone’s life easier and allow your maintenance team to focus on tasks that optimize their skills and time. Creating checklists for each preventive maintenance task can easily be incorporated into a preventive maintenance schedule. It only takes a few simple steps and can yield tremendous benefits across your facility. So before you set out on the next leg of your maintenance journey, make sure you have well-built maintenance checklists to act as a compass on your way to higher efficiency, better spending, and a safer operation.
Imagine, you walk onto the production floor with a stack of paperwork orders in hand. Some equipment requires an oil change and some parts need to be replaced. As you grab an oil canister, it drops right onto the work orders. The oil ruins all the work orders and gets all over the new parts. You have to put all your work on hold as you clean up, rewrite the work orders, and make sure the spares are still functioning.
You might be cringing right now. And it’s about to get worse. This is a true story and dropping that one canister of oil caused hours of delays and thousands of dollars in lost production. All because paper work orders are easily destroyed.
So, how do you avoid a similar fate? The solution lies in a common and simple piece of technology that often gets overlooked in maintenance — QR codes.
QR codes can be used to streamline workflows and access information quicker than you pour a cup of coffee. This frees up time in your jam-packed schedule and helps keep production lines running with fewer disruptions.
This article will explore how maintenance managers and technicians can utilize QR codes in maintenance to improve equipment maintenance, track assets, and better plan preventative maintenance.
What are QR codes?
Much like traditional barcodes, QR codes store data by using a series of patterns of black dots and white space. The patterns are scanned with the help of a camera or scanner and translated into readable text such as work orders, manuals, or images. They can also be put on almost anything. For example, you can stick QR codes on an asset, the shelves in your storeroom or even on a door of an office.
QR codes allow easy access to information and provide real-time updates to that data. Most iOS and Android mobile devices come equipped with QR code readers, making it an easy solution to access information and share it with various people.
The top three benefits of using QR codes in maintenance
1. Quicker response to asset issues
If a machine requires maintenance, an operator or technician can scan the QR code on that equipment and quickly create a work request. With the QR code, technicians can access everything from repair history, maintenance manuals, and, on more sophisticated systems, real-time updates on the asset‘s condition. Technicians don’t have to spend time retrieving documents, hunting down people for information or searching for the right parts.
2. Collect more accurate data
Using QR codes to collect and share asset information eliminates the need to track information in Excel or a document that gets shoved in a filing cabinet. It also provides more accurate information as data can be updated in real-time instead of logging data at the end of inspection rounds or into multiple systems.
3. Increasing standardization in your maintenance tasks
Having QR codes attached to assets allows you to see maintenance checklists for that asset so technicians know exactly what to do when servicing it. For example, technicians will know exactly how much lubrication to apply to a part so the job can be done quickly while reducing the risk of post-maintenance breakdowns.
Three ways to use QR codes in your maintenance strategy
QR codes can be used daily to make day-to-day tasks, like equipment maintenance, inventory management, and asset tracking, easier. Here are a few examples of how your team can use this technology on the shop floor.
Using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), fill out details of each piece of equipment, including repair history, instruction manuals, and any associated tools or replacement parts. Then generate a QR code using the CMMS. Place the QR codes on each piece of equipment. Technicians can scan the code to pull up details of work orders associated with the equipment, view past repairs, and even access the machine’s instruction manual. With this technology, they are able to quickly repair the equipment without spending time looking for information.
Place a QR code on every aisle and shelf in your equipment storeroom. Inventory managers can scan the code on each shelf to access inventory details such as the quantity of spare parts and past purchase orders. This information can influence better-informed purchasing decisions and streamline auditing.
Consider using QR codes as a tool to plan a more accessible preventative maintenance strategy. By placing them on equipment, QR codes provide information on inspection tasks, bills of materials, and follow-up workflows with a simple scan. Having technicians update the result of inspections using the QR code makes tracking usage patterns and repair history easier. Pair this technology with a CMMS, and you have an all-in-one system to plan your facility’s preventative maintenance strategy.
QR codes are convenient, inexpensive, and easy to implement solutions to common maintenance problems. Pairing their use with CMMS software will guarantee to have lasting benefits and improve the efficiency of your operation.
Work orders are the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B. But there are millions of engines in the world, from rusted duds to high-powered studs. This article is about mastering the maintenance work order so your operation can run as smooth as a luxury sports car.
What is a work order?
A work order is a document that provides all the information about a maintenance task and outlines a process for completing that task. Work orders can include details on who authorized the job, the scope, who it’s assigned to, and what is expected.
Work orders are the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B.
Work orders are crucial to an organization’s maintenance operation. They help everyone from maintenance managers to technicians organize, assign, prioritize, track, and complete key tasks. When done well, work orders allow you to capture information, share it, and use it to get the work done as efficiently as possible.
Work order vs work request
While a work order and work request sound similar, they have a few key differences. A work request is used by non-maintenance staff to make the maintenance team aware of a task. For example, a machine operator might submit a work request when equipment breaks down. The work request is reviewed by a maintenance manager, who adds extra information, schedules the task, and assigns it to a technician. The work request is now a work order.
Types of work orders
There are five main types of work orders used in CMMS software, including general work orders, preventive maintenance work orders, inspection work orders, emergency work orders, and corrective maintenance work orders. Below are details of each type of work order and when to use them.
General work order
A general work order includes maintenance tasks that do not fall under the category of preventive maintenance, inspection, emergency, or corrective maintenance work orders. General work orders may include tasks like setting up new equipment, taking down equipment no longer in use, or painting.
Preventive maintenance work order
Preventive maintenance (or preventative maintenance) work orders are scheduled routine maintenance that is done on assets to prevent costly equipment failure and unplanned machine downtime. Preventive maintenance falls between reactive maintenance (or run-to-failure ) and predictive maintenance. Preventive maintenance work orders include resource requirements, instructions, checklists, and notes for each task. They are also put on a schedule to ensure the maintenance task is performed at a specific time interval.
Inspection work order
An inspection work order indicates when a maintenance technician needs to audit or inspect the condition of an asset. This is usually based on a predetermined period of time, similar to preventive maintenance work orders. During an inspection, a maintenance technician may identify a problem and then create a new work order to correct that problem.
Emergency work order
An emergency work order is created when an unplanned asset breakdown occurs and needs to be repaired right away. An emergency work order records and tracks reactive maintenance that is performed. The maintenance technician can add details in the work order about why the asset resulted in the unexpected breakdown, what maintenance work was done on it, and information on how to prevent the breakdown from happening again.
Corrective maintenance work orders
A corrective maintenance work order is created when a maintenance technician discovers issues while conducting preventive maintenance, inspection, general, or emergency work order tasks. Corrective maintenance is performed to identify, isolate, and solve the issue so that the equipment, machine, or system can be restored to its correct condition. Unlike an emergency work order, a corrective maintenance work order is planned and scheduled because the failure was identified in time. A corrective maintenance work order may consist of repairing, restoring, or replacing equipment or equipment parts.
What is the work order lifecycle?
Every maintenance work order has a lifecycle with three main phases – creation, completion, and recording. These phases can be broken down into six steps, including task identification, requesting a work order, scheduling the work order, assigning and completing the work order, documenting and closing the work order, and analyzing the work order to help improve the process for next time. Understanding each step and having a solid work order process ensures tasks don’t get stuck in one phase and turn into backlog.
How to write a good work order in six steps
Step #1: The task is identified
Maintenance tasks fall into two groups, planned maintenance and unplanned maintenance. Planned maintenance encompasses all the jobs you know of ahead of time, like routine inspections, and unplanned maintenance includes all the tasks you can’t foresee, like an unexpected breakdown.
Step #2: The maintenance request is created
The details of the job are put together and submitted to the maintenance team for further action. For example, when a machine breaks down, an operator creates a work request and submits it to maintenance. If a task is planned, a work order is created and triggered at the proper time.
Step #3: The work order is prioritized and scheduled
Some jobs are more time-sensitive than others. A burnt-out light bulb doesn’t need to be fixed immediately, but a broken conveyor belt might. That’s why you need to prioritize every work order that hits your desk.
After prioritizing, it’s time to schedule. Work orders can be scheduled based on a set deadline, planned maintenance triggers, or dedicated blocks of time. Setting a deadline keeps everyone accountable and informed so nothing falls through the cracks.
Step #4: The work is assigned and completed
It’s time to turn those words on a page into action. The work order is assigned to a technician, who completes the task. This can be a five-minute check of equipment, or it can be a complex repair job that takes several days.
Step #5: The work order is closed and documented
Once all the terms of the work order are completed, it can be closed. Managers may need to sign off on the work order for compliance requirements. Once closed, the work order is filed away. A properly organized work order log is crucial for building asset histories, reviewing past solutions, preparing for audits, and more.
Step #6: The work order is analyzed and/or reworked
Closed work orders contain valuable information. They can provide insight into your processes and systems that can be used to fine-tune your operation. Having a work order log also allows technicians to quickly spot any missed steps or alternate solutions if an issue flares up again.
What should be in a work order?
A good work order will have 16 different sections to provide the necessary details for maintenance workers to effectively understand and complete the task at hand. The 16 components are listed below. Work orders are like anything else your facility produces – they must be made well and free of defects. If one part of the process is off, it can affect the entire line.
Asset: What piece of equipment needs work?
Description of issue: What’s the problem? What did you hear, see, smell, or feel at the time of failure or leading up to it?
Scope of work: What work is required to get the job done? What skills are needed?
Parts and tools required: Are there any parts that need to be replaced or special tools that need to be used?
Health and safety notes: What safety procedures and equipment are needed? Have there been any accidents or near-misses while working on a similar issue or asset?
Date requested: When was the work order created and submitted?
Requester name/department/contact: Who created and submitted the work order?
Expected completion date: When should this work order be completed?
Actual completion date: When was the work order completed and closed?
Expected hours of work: How many hours should it take to complete the work order?
Actual hours of work: How many hours did it take to complete the work order?
Task checklist: Is there a step-by-step guide to completing the required work?
Priority: How important is this work order? High, medium, or low?
Assigned to: Who will be doing the work? Is more than one person required? Is an outside contractor required?
Associated documents: Are there resources that can help the work order be completed more efficiently, like SOPs, manuals, diagrams, videos, asset history, purchase orders, or images?
Notes: Are there any other observations that might be helpful in completing the work order or reviewing the work order after it closes, such as the frequency of an issue, troubleshooting techniques, or the solution reached?
5 best practices for managing a work order
Just like company assets, work orders also need standard operating procedures (SOPs) to give you a baseline for creating, reviewing, and optimizing maintenance tasks. Five best practices for improving the management of your work orders are to establish your maintenance goals, KPIs, and maintenance metrics, define roles and responsibilities, decide on work order frequency, build work order triggers, and conduct work order post-mortems.
#1: Decide on goals and measurements for your work orders
Before setting up your work orders, it’s necessary to know what information you want from them. You can follow a four-step framework for this. First, start by identifying your organization’s maintenance goals. Second, define your maintenance KPIs so you know what needs to be quantified. Third, identify your team’s metrics and what they should be measuring. Fourth, use this information to guide your maintenance strategy.
#2: Define work order roles and responsibilities
Create clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each part of the work order process. Outline who can create, assign, prioritize, complete, and review work orders. This will help you avoid duplicate or unauthorized work and miscommunication.
#3: Decide on work order frequency
The frequency of when you should perform maintenance work will vary depending on the equipment and the operation it is performing. You can follow the manufacturer guidelines to help determine scheduled frequency and inspection so that assets do not fail unexpectedly. Creating a preventive maintenance schedule will help protect against costly reactive maintenance.
#4: Build work orders triggers
Determine the best way to trigger work orders automatically within your operational processes. This includes triggers that create the initial work request as well as follow-ups for failed PMs, compliance documentation, or extra work that needs to be done on the asset. There are five common types of maintenance triggers include breakdown, time-based, event-based, usage-based, and condition-based. It’s important to understand when and how to use each one to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability at your facility.
#5: Conduct work order post-mortems
Big projects and big problems deserve hindsight. Create a plan to find what went right and what went wrong on these major jobs. Then apply your learnings to the work order process.
5 benefits of using work order management software
Overseeing all the maintenance tasks across your company is definitely a challenge. Regardless of best efforts in trying to keep up with manual tasks, there will always be things that fall threw the cracks. Work order management software benefits maintenance technicians and facility managers by bringing overall efficiencies into operations. Five benefits of using work orders to manage maintenance tasks include having a centralized system where all the work order details can be found, no more need for paperwork, better budgeting and planning, easy access for maintenance workers, and regulatory compliance.
#1: You get one centralized system for all maintenance tasks
Work order management software allows you to create and track maintenance tasks all in one place. That means only one source to reference versus having to look through multiple systems to find the necessary information. With work order management software, maintenance teams can handle multiple tasks at a time, like assigning labor hours, estimating and monitoring labor and parts costs, and keeping track of safety procedures and downtime. With all work order information in one place, it becomes easier to schedule and prioritize orders according to need and urgency.
#2: You reduce your paperwork
Work order management software is able to record information automatically. As soon as you enter data into the work order, it gets saved by the system. This eliminates the need to manually enter data into paper records. In addition, maintenance technicians have 24/7 access to all the necessary work order information on their mobile devices or computers. Work order management software helps you save time by eliminating the need to sift through piles of files or clipboards in search of specific information. The system provides real-time tracking and record keeping throughout the work order process.
#3: You’re able to budget and plan more accurately
Work order management software provides a treasure trove of real-time data that enables you to accurately measure maintenance performance. Work orders keep track of every part of the process, including what work needed to be done, who did it, what did it cost, and how long did it take to complete. Having a work order management system is vital for keeping your records accurate and up-to-date. Using this information, you’re able to plan and budget better in order to reduce or eliminate stoppages and interruptions.
#4: You have easy access to information whenever you need it
Work order management software enables maintenance technicians to access work order information at their fingertips. Whether by mobile, laptop, or desktop computer, the information goes where they go. That means they have work order access no matter where they are conducting maintenance, such as in the factory or in the field.
#5: Easy to maintain regulatory compliance
Work order management software is required to comply with both national and international regulatory standards. All the work is already incorporated into the software, so this reduces the amount of time and paperwork it takes your maintenance team to prepare for an audit. Instead of getting stressed and spending hours in preparation, all you need to do is generate reports of previous work orders done through the system. In the long run, compliance becomes easy to trace and reduces exposure to noncompliance penalties.
Learn how to build work orders easier with software
Work order software vs pen and paper
Work orders have been managed with pen and paper since the day they were invented. Written work orders are cost-effective and familiar. Paper is a tool everyone is comfortable using. It takes next to no training, the upfront costs are fairly low, and there’s a paper trail for when you need to check past work.
However, this system has some serious flaws. Paper files are easily misfiled, lost or damaged. They are cumbersome and take time to find, retrieve, and sort. Inaccurate information is more likely to make its way onto a work order as details are often recorded after an incident. Response time to work requests is also slower. These factors, combined, make work less efficient and could cost you a lot of money down the line.
Some jobs are more time-sensitive than others. A burnt-out light bulb doesn’t need to be fixed immediately, but a broken conveyor belt might. That’s why you need to prioritize every work order that hits your desk.
Work order software vs whiteboards
Whiteboards are another old standby for maintenance departments. The cost of materials doesn’t stretch the budget too far and it’s certainly easy to have all work orders available to view and update in one, central place.
Like pen and paper, whiteboards have some severe limitations. Keeping records is a huge headache and it’s extremely difficult to extract information from any records you actually manage to get. This makes it almost impossible to create asset histories, prepare for audits, and build work order reports. The work order management process also gets bogged down as operators and technicians need to go to a central location to submit or view work requests.
Work order software vs excel spreadsheets
Excel spreadsheets are a step up from pen and paper and whiteboards. It makes records digital, so files are less likely to be damaged or lost. It’s also easier to search for information and create reports using this information.
But while spreadsheets raise the bar slightly, there are some factors that make it a shaky foundation for managing maintenance work orders. Some spreadsheets are locked into single computers, which makes it difficult to see up-to-date information on a work order. Even if they are cloud-based, spreadsheets don’t have the ability to automatically trigger work orders, which makes preventive maintenance extremely difficult to achieve. Inputting data and creating reports require long periods at a computer and know-how. There’s also a limited ability to track the progress of work orders, which leaves you a step behind.
Work order software vs CMMS software
Work order software is a stand-alone solution to creating and managing work orders. It ensures maintenance departments can assign work efficiently so it can been completed in a timely manner. Work order software also creates comprehensive work histories for each asset, and offers real-time updates on completed work and scheduled work. Many vendors also offer a mobile solution through an app, making it easier to document work correctly in real-time and make informed decisions on the spot.
A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) goes beyond basic work order management, and also includes a scheduled maintenance planner, asset profiles and management, and inventory management.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of computerized maintenance management systems is their use of mobile and cloud technology. This kind of maintenance work order software allows everyone in maintenance to create, track, complete, and analyze tasks in real-time, from anywhere—whether that’s at the scene of a breakdown or a beach in Hawaii. Technicians can bring work orders, asset histories, documents, and images wherever they go. They are also notified of new work orders as soon as they are submitted or triggered. Reports mine the data in maintenance work orders for cost, efficiency, and other metrics. For those outside of maintenance, submitting a work request through a CMMS can give them a greater sense of ownership over that work. They can track the status of their requests and it eliminates duplicate work orders. This is a key way to grow TPM at your facility and reduces the need to get updates or clarification on the task.
While CMMS software is the way of the future, it comes with costlier upfront prices, requires exceptional training and culture to make the system successful, and often necessitates more advanced maintenance techniques. However, the long-term benefits of the system more than make up for any initial shortcomings. To learn more, read our blog detailing the top 20 benefits of a CMMS.
The bottom line
Work orders are a pillar of great maintenance. When managed properly, they give your team the stability and structure it needs to be efficient. A well-built maintenance work order and work order process makes it easier to establish a preventive maintenance program and react to unplanned maintenance. Roles are defined, workflows are smoother, tasks are tracked, and information is well-documented. Choosing the right tools and systems to manage work orders is the crucial final piece of the puzzle. When it all comes together, your operation can master the fundamentals of maintenance and look for new ways to grow and succeed.
Criticality and reliability-centered maintenance go hand-in-hand. Think about it: We’re told to prioritize PMs for critical assets, to build a TPM plan that accommodates critical pieces of equipment, and to perform root cause analysis on machinery that we consider to be high priority based on criticality. But how do we actually decide what makes a piece of equipment “critical”? In short, it all comes down to risk. Performing a criticality analysis allows you to understand the potential risks that could impact your business.
What is criticality analysis?
Criticality analysis is a systematic approach to assigning a criticality rating to assets based on their potential risks. Still sounds kind of abstract, right? How can risk be quantified? It helps to think about criticality analysis as part of a larger failure modes, effects [and criticality] analysis (FMEA / FMECA).
As we’ve defined it recently, FMEA is an approach that identifies all possible ways that equipment can fail, and analyzes the effect those failures can have on the system as a whole. FMECA takes it a step further by conducting a risk assessment for each failure mode and then prioritizing what corrective actions should be taken.
Why is criticality analysis important?
As James Kovacevic of Eruditio describes, using a predetermined system to evaluate risk allows you to remove emotion from the equation. This ensures that reliability is truly approached from a risk-based point of view, rather than individual perception. Once equipment undergoes relative ranking based on its criticality, work can be properly prioritized and a condition monitoring strategy can be put in place. Performing an equipment criticality analysis also helps to clarify what can be done to reduce the risk associated with each asset.
Who’s responsible for criticality analysis?
So who actually carries out a criticality analysis? Industry experts say that it should be a cross-functional effort. We couldn’t agree more. It’s a much more effective process if input from operations, maintenance, engineering, materials management, and employee health and safety functions is considered. After all, risk can be defined differently for different teams. And since assigning risk will always be somewhat subjective, having a diverse background of knowledge to draw on will help to curb that.
How do you assess the criticality of an asset?
Asset criticality is the number value a business assigns to its assets based on their own set criteria. An asset criticality assessment can be done by creating a ranked list of work orders and orders in progress. This is known as an asset criticality ranking (ACR).
How to perform a criticality analysis
According to Kovacevic, there are two ways to carry out a criticality analysis. Both approaches produce a risk priority number (RPN) that allows you to rank the criticality level of each asset.
The first approach uses a criticality matrix, which is a 6×6 grid where severity of a given consequence (on the X axis) is plotted against the probability of that consequence occurring (Y axis). Naturally, if there is a high probability that a piece of equipment will fail in a way that causes great personal injury or severe operational issues, that piece of equipment is highly critical and should be prioritized accordingly. The number at the cross section of severity and priority for any piece of equipment is that piece of equipment RPN.
The second recommended approach is to separate the consequence categories by type (for example, health and safety, environmental, and operational). That way, you can rate how severe an equipment failure would be for each consequence category. For example, a piece of machinery that could cause severe personal injury upon asset failure would be a 5 or 6 in the health and safety category, but of almost no consequence to the environmental category (perhaps a 1 or 2), and moderately impactful to operations (somewhere in the middle). Once you’ve determined the severity of each consequence category for a given piece of equipment, you can multiply each of the categories together for that piece of equipment to get its RPN.
Once each piece of equipment has an RPN attached to it, you can rank them to assess which assets are critical. Kovacevic recommends grouping equipment into categories based on their RPN. Here are the categories he suggests:
Once each piece of equipment is ranked, maintenance managers can make decisions that are informed by risk, rather than gut feel. From here, all reliability-related activities and processes will run much more smoothly.