Data: It’s the backbone of any maintenance program. It’s what you use to measure success. It tells you what assets need more attention and how that will impact your schedule. It’s what helps you survive maintenance audits unscathed. In short, data is the language that helps you tell the story of your maintenance team.
But not all data is created equal. And it could be that yours is failing to say what it needs to. Jason Afara, a Senior Solutions Engineer at Fiix, experienced this when he was a maintenance manager.
“We had more technicians than we did CMMS licenses, so we had people logging in after they had already completed a work order, just trying to fill in all the details they could remember,” he says. “We were always trying to catch up, and that impacted our credibility.”
The cost of bad maintenance data
That’s just it—when your data is off, it’s harder to go to bat for your team. It’s not as easy to justify buying a new piece of equipment, trade production time for maintenance or make a new hire if the data isn’t there to support that request.
It can impact your team on a day-to-day basis as well. For example, a technician might wait until the end of the day to log completed work. This gap in time could lead them to misremember how long it took them to do a job. Maybe they round down. No big deal, right? Except it is.
That one mistake could cause a domino effect. The next time you go to schedule that job, you plan less time for it. Now the technician is rushing to complete the work, increasing risk for both them and the machine. You’ll also lowball the cost of labor hours in your budget, putting you in a tricky situation with your finances.
Let’s dive into where your data can go wrong, and how you can audit it to start steering things in the right direction.
Where bad maintenance data begins
Bad data is often born from the best intentions. That makes it hard to spot. But there will always be a silver lining to go along with these issues—you have a data-driven culture. You know the numbers are key and the insight you get from them is even more valuable. That’s the most important ingredient for finding and eliminating bad data.
Here are two aspects of maintenance programs that most often contribute to bad or incomplete data.
Trying to boil the ocean
A lot of maintenance teams try to do too much, too soon with their data. Having the ability to track things is great, but if you don’t have a well-thought-out plan in place for what you’re going to measure—and why—you’ll run into problems.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. The advent of IIoT technology, like sensors that track every second of an asset’s behaviour, has introduced seemingly infinite ways to capture data. The trouble for maintenance managers doesn’t come from having too much data, but from not knowing how to pull out the data that matters.
Brandon De Melo, a Customer Success Manager at Fiix, puts it this way, “Let’s say you have a sensor that’s pulling machine data. That’s great, but you can’t stop there. You have to consider all the things that factor into that data, like downtime or other external factors that could affect it.”
Not thinking critically about metrics
Every maintenance team is held to certain KPIs—but are they the right ones? As Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s Director of Solutions Engineering, points out, it can be easy to get caught in a cycle of tracking a number like labour hours simply because it’s the metric that comes from your boss (or their boss).
It’s important to take a critical lens to maintenance metrics and really think about whether they should be measured.
“At the end of the day, you need to be measuring the metrics that support your department,” says Fergusson. “Not enough people understand why they’re measuring what they’re measuring.”
Where bad maintenance data lives
We know what contributes to bad data, but where does it show up? Bad data is really good at blending in with clean data, so it’s not always obvious. But knowing the telltale signs of inaccurate information will help you spot it without pouring over dozens of reports. Here are the most common places where you can find bad maintenance data.
In your storeroom
Bad data can lurk alongside bearings and motors on the shelves of your storeroom. There are a few ways this can happen.
Firstly, it’s easy to have an out-of-date inventory count if you have obsolete parts sitting on shelves. If you don’t check in on your inventory to make sure it matches up with what’s actually available, you’ll run into problems when you have to pay for a part you weren’t expecting.
And then there’s the danger of fudging the numbers to make the bottom line look better.
“Let’s say it’s near the end of the month and you have to replace a $3,000 part,” says Afara.
“Some maintenance managers will say, ‘You know what? Let’s just wait for that repair so it actually hits our books next month.’ It turns into a bit of a game.” This hesitation can negatively impact the whole business if what’s in the books is valued over what’s actually needed to improve production.”
In your preventive maintenance schedule
Every maintenance team has their regular PMs—but how many of them are actually necessary?
“Maintenance can get really emotional really quickly,” says Afara. “You’ll have what’s called an emotional PM, where the team is doing a regular check just because there was a failure six plant managers ago and no one’s changed it.”
When maintenance teams inherit PMs, it’s easy not to question it, but it’s easy to see how things can snowball and tell an inaccurate story of which work actually needs to be done.
In your work order and asset histories
It doesn’t take much for data to go haywire when documenting work. Attention tends to go to the wrong places when a plant’s priorities are out of sorts.
“What commonly happens is, there’s such a focus on technician time,” says Afara. “A message comes from the top that every minute needs to be accounted for, and the result is that technicians are just making up time on work orders to show that they’ve done the eight hours they’ve been asked to.”
As we touched on earlier, the root problem here is a lack of specific planning. You’re worrying about the metric at the expense of strategy, which results in data that doesn’t tell the truth and can’t be used to drive real change.
In your reports
Every data set has its spikes and dips. The important part is how you’re making sense of the fluctuations that show up in your maintenance reports.
“Do you actually have anything in place to explain why, for example, a drop can happen in September and then happen again in January?” says De Melo.
Without critical analysis or an understanding of what contributed to an anomaly in the data, tracking those fluctuations is useless. You need to understand what happened before you can begin to understand what you could have done differently.
How to audit maintenance data
Now that we have a clearer picture of where maintenance data can go wrong, how can you start fixing it?
The answer will be different for each team, but the right place to start is wherever you’re having a problem with no way to explain why you’re having it.
“Let’s say you can’t figure out why you have so much unplanned downtime, and looking at the data isn’t helping you at all,” says De Melo.
“In this scenario, you’d want to talk to the production manager and start asking questions like, ‘How is this being tracked? Is there a system in place?’ There will always be a process of tracking down the right information, but you can’t just sit there and just twiddle your thumbs, hoping that the answer is going to come to you.”
In terms of creating a data audit checklist, again, your best bet is to approach it from a strategic perspective.
“Sit with some key stakeholders, like plant managers and technicians, and do some brainstorming around what you want to improve and understand better,” says De Melo.
“Once you know what you’re looking for, you can build a checklist that makes sense.”
The best maintenance data is data with a purpose
Taking a critical and thoughtful approach to auditing your maintenance data ensures that everything you’re tracking and analyzing is being examined for a reason. This helps you understand how each piece of data is connected. Then you can make actual improvements to your maintenance program instead of making smaller, less impactful changes around the margins.
“If you really understand your maintenance activity, everything else is just going to flow in behind it,” says Fergusson.
“Your plant leadership may not understand maintenance backlog or OT, but when you tell them that delaying a maintenance window is going to cost another $250,000 in our plant maintenance budget because of X, Y, Z, and you have the right data to back it up, they’ll listen.”
When all is said and done, the data is the easy part.
“If you have the culture and the metrics and the right people and processes in place to track everything, and you just don’t have the actual data, no problem. You can get that up and running in a week,” says Fergusson.
“More often, though, it’s the opposite. You have all the data, it’s all flowing somewhere, and everybody’s looking at different pieces of it, but none of it’s building to a true story.”
What happens when the maintenance team is the only one that cares about maintenance?
There might not be a more common, or truer, saying in the world of sports than, “Defense wins championships.”
Although there are no championships to win in business, there are quotas to hit and money to make. And defence still matters. In this case, defence means maintenance. But when the maintenance team is the only one playing defence, they’re outnumbered and the losses pile up.
A faulty part goes unnoticed and causes a breakdown. That’s a loss. A machine isn’t lubricated properly and results in waste. Loss. A PM is missed and an accident happens. Another loss.
But a lot of these losses can be avoided with total productive maintenance. Total productive maintenance (TPM) is a defence-first mentality for business. The work order process is one of the cornerstones of this strategy. This article will explore how to create and optimize that process with TPM in mind.
What is total productive maintenance: A brief primer on TPM
Total productive maintenance is the idea that everyone has a part to play in improving the performance and quality of systems with maintenance. That includes the maintenance team, but also operations, production, finance, and other departments. When you have 100 eyes peeled for possible equipment failures or safety hazards instead of five or 10, they’re easier and more efficient to catch and fix.
An example of TPM in action would be an operator doing routine maintenance, like basic lubrication, or a plant manager creating an asset management policy. Neither person is on the maintenance team, but both use maintenance to have a direct impact on the health and performance of equipment.
There’s a lot more to TPM than we can fit in this article. If you want to read more, check out these articles on getting started with TPM and putting a TPM plan into action.
12 ways to use work orders to build a successful TPM program
How to get operations involved TPM
Work orders are the bread and butter of maintenance which also makes them essential for a good TPM program and getting operators involved in maintenance success.
Find a starting line: Work out the wrinkles in your TPM program by starting small. Focus on one machine or area of your plant. Look for equipment with a low criticality that requires regularly scheduled maintenance. Split the responsibility of the PM between maintenance and operations.
Designate a maintenance type for operators: This creates clear roles and responsibilities and allows you to track where extra training, information, or resources are needed to help operators be successful.
Write bullet-proof work request templates: Be very clear about what information is needed to help technicians complete a job. Operators will gain a better understanding and appreciation for what goes into maintenance.
Write a template for completion notes that leaves no room for error: Break this section of a work order into specific fields that helps you document exactly what happened on the job. Operators will be able to spot useful information in past work orders much easier. It will also make training requirements easier to create.
Build solid task lists: Find a balance between being detailed in your tasks and overwhelming operators with too much. Adding pictures helps you avoid information overload. Providing estimated times for each task is an extra bit of guidance that operators will appreciate.
Add as many visual aids to work orders as you can: In addition to pictures, add diagrams or videos if your operators are accessing the work order from a mobile device.
Highlight success with work order data: There might be resistance to your TPM program at first. There’s a lot of data in your work orders that help you prove that it’s worth it. Even something as simple as having fewer reactive work orders tells a story. Fewer breakdowns mean more throughput and less waste from post-failure startups.
How to get the rest of your organization involved in your plan
A true total productive maintenance strategy doesn’t stop at the edge of the production floor. It reaches into the offices of almost everyone at your company. Here are a few ways you can start bringing more and more people into the TPM fold.
Assist in design and/or procurement: Use common maintenance types and failure codes, along with request and completion notes, to help reliability and purchasing personnel build or buy equipment that won’t repeat the failures of past assets.
Advocate for more resources: Presenting a list of backlogged work orders, its labor hours, and the cost of not doing the work can help you highlight the scale of problems and convince your boss that you need some extra help.
Make maintenance accessible: Integrate your work order request system with the systems that everyone in your business uses, like email or Slack.
Identify inventory efficiencies: Use work order data to find out if the same parts cause breakdowns or failed inspections. Work with inventory personnel to find the root cause of the problem and solve it.
Celebrate your success: If you want people to c`are about maintenance, you need to prove it’s worth their attention. Work orders are a great source of success stories. They can help you draw a link between scheduled maintenance and failure prevention or clean start ups and higher production.
Everything you just read in three sentences
Talk with members of every group using work orders, from requesters in finance to operators, and find out how to make instructions and templates clear and accessible to each of them.
Piloting your TPM strategy on a small area of your organization will help you identify where it needs to be improved and how to scale the project moving forward.
Tracking good results from your work orders, no matter how small, will increase buy-in for your TPM program, or, in other words, bragging is the surest path to success.
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