How to Plan and Schedule Work Orders Like the Best Maintenance Teams

What happens when work order plans go wrong

The maintenance team at Century Aluminum was fighting an uphill battle from day one.

“The philosophy has been, ‘It’s what goes out the door that counts,” said millwright Linda Sibley in this interview with Reliable Plant, “not how well the machinery is running.”

Pumping out product, equipment health be damned, was obviously not a sustainable model. It fueled a culture of reactive thinking, leading to lots of breakdowns, data shortages, low morale, and much more.

“When you are in such a reactive mode, it’s next to impossible to do much planning. It’s all about putting out fires,” said maintenance planner Todd Harrison.

Needless to say, there was a hunger for change. But despite the maintenance department’s best efforts, the preventive maintenance program struggled to get off the ground. The reason progress stalled could be linked back to one thing: Poor maintenance planning and scheduling.

Probably one-third of the PMs are no good,” said maintenance manager Jim Doeffinger. “We waste time doing irrelevant PMs.”

No one wants to constantly take two steps forward and one step back. That’s why this post will go in-depth on best practices and simple frameworks for strong maintenance planning and work order scheduling.

How to get really good at maintenance planning

There are two ingredients you need to be really good at planning work orders:

  1. Clear goals for maintenance that align with the goals of the organization
  2. A way to prioritize maintenance activities based on your goals

All your work processes, schedules, training, and SOPs flow from your goals and priorities.

“You really need to go back to the fundamentals of the organization and find out what they’re objectives are for maintenance,” says Charles Rogers, a Senior Implementation Consultant at Fiix with over 33 years of experience in maintenance and reliability.

Four steps for aligning maintenance goals with business goals

A handy four-step process will help you align the organization’s goals with your maintenance plans:

  1. Confirm the goals of your organization. Your business may be looking to accomplish something really specific, like decreasing the cost-per-item. Or the goal might be a little less tangible, like entering new markets.
  2. Link maintenance KPIs to business goals. If reducing the cost-per-item is the big goal, maintenance could focus on reducing downtime and maintenance costs. If entering new markets is the target, you might want to standardize maintenance processes so they can be repeated at other sites.
  3. Choose your maintenance metrics. Set up metrics and benchmarks so you can track progress and measure success. For example, if you want to prevent unplanned downtime, you might track faults found and fixed through PMs on critical equipment.
  4. Plan maintenance activities to hit your targets. Let’s say your aim is to find problems with critical equipment before they cause failure. In this scenario, you have to figure out what your critical equipment is, how often it should be inspected, and what needs to be included in work orders for those assets.

How to get really good at maintenance scheduling

“Some people think a lot of scheduled maintenance is good and more is better,” says Charles.

“Those people are wrong. Doing PMs for the sake of filling a quota is costly and often increases the chance of breakdowns.”

The number of failed inspections per PM is the true mark of scheduled maintenance success, says Charles. Every problem you catch during a PM is an asset failure avoided.

And that’s the secret to really good maintenance scheduling: The constant tweaking of PM frequencies to find the right balance between too often and not often enough.

How to optimize preventive maintenance frequencies

The PDCA model (Plan, Do, Check, Act) is a framework for finding the right PM schedule over time:

  1. Plan: Create a baseline for PM frequencies by looking at recommended guidelines, repair history, criticality, and usage patterns for an asset.
  2. Do: Follow your plan consistently for accurate results.
  3. Check: Look at failure metrics for each asset to determine if your plan is working.
  4. Act: Fine-tune your PM frequencies based on your findings. Increase the frequency if an asset is breaking down between PMs. Reduce the frequency if your PMs don’t find failures or if the number of breakdowns between PMs is low.

Warning: This process is not quick. It takes a while to go around this cycle and implement improvements. But you will see improvements, including longer MTBF intervals, fewer labor hours, and fewer costs for spare parts and supplies.

How to convince people that maintenance needs to be done

“We would fight operations just to get a little bit of maintenance on a machine,” says Jason Afara, a Solutions Engineer at Fiix, remembering his time as a maintenance manager.

Although the tension between maintenance and operations isn’t going anywhere, a maintenance plan and maintenance schedule can’t reach its full potential without buy-in from production.

“This is where maintenance departments usually fail because they don’t have data to back up their asks,” says Charles.

“You have to be able to prove your case and show evidence that if you don’t do maintenance on schedule, there will be much worse consequences at some point—probably sooner than later.”

Creating a culture that chooses preventive maintenance over reactive maintenance doesn’t happen in a day. It can take years and a lot of conversations with everyone from CEOs to operators for it to stick.

Scheduling around seasonality and sudden production changes

In a perfect world, plans would never change and your maintenance schedule would run like clockwork. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The holiday season can lead to a huge spike in orders. A global recession could completely dry up demand.

When things shift at your company, your maintenance must shift too. One way to stay flexible is with your maintenance schedule. This doesn’t mean abandoning all the plans you’ve put in place. Actually, it’s the opposite, says Charles.

“This is when it’s super critical to understand your asset criticality and asset priorities,” says Charles.

Knowing the needs of each critical asset is what helps you create schedules and justify maintenance windows required to ensure healthy equipment.

“It also becomes very critical to understand how assets need to be shut down and started back up so that they function as best they can in those situations,” explains Charles.

Plan work orders that cover all the nuances of each equipment and each task. Build airtight SOPs with this information so delays don’t make stopping and starting equipment even harder.

Everything you just read in three sentences

  1. Having crystal clear goals for your work orders will give you a clear direction for all your decisions around maintenance planning and scheduling.
  2. Never set your maintenance schedules in stone and always keep looking for ways to optimize each work order so you’re doing it at the right frequencies.
  3. Your work order plans and schedule won’t always be popular with everyone, but having proof that they work will help you justify your strategy and allow you to follow through with it.

Source: https://www.fiixsoftware.com/blog/maintenance-planning-and-scheduling-best-practices/

A short guide to designing work orders for better preventive maintenance, data, and more

How a bad work order can wreak havoc

A few words can make or break a maintenance team. Work orders are proof of that.

“In the past, bad decisions were made because we didn’t have accurate work order information,” said Tim Davison, Asset CARE planner for MillerCoors, in this case study by Reliable Plant.

A failure-prone fan at a MillerCoors site is proof of this. The fan failed three times in 18 months. A vibration analysis had found anomalies a month before the third failure, but maintenance wasn’t scheduled or prioritized before the fan failed.

The lesson: Work orders weren’t set up properly, causing important maintenance to be missed.

If this can happen to one of the world’s biggest brewers, it can happen to anyone. That’s why this article is going back to basics and exploring strategies for creating world-class work orders. It will provide the building blocks for great work order processes, from start to finish.

Five key strategies for managing maintenance work orders

Just like every asset at your company, your work orders need standard operating procedures. SOPs give you a baseline for creating, reviewing, and optimizing every job you do.

#1: Deciding on goals and measurements for your work orders

It’s important to know what information you want from a work order when you set them up. Work order and maintenance metrics deserve their own article entirely, but the chart below will give you a good framework to start from.

#2: Define 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 your work order frequencies

OEMs and the knowledge of veteran staff usually decide the frequency of scheduled maintenance. This can give you a good baseline, but it’s not an exact science. Decide how often to review frequencies so you can spot work you’re doing too often or not often enough.

#4: Build work orders triggers

Outline how work orders can be triggered at your operation. 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.

#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.

How to create work orders in nine steps

Creating and optimizing work orders means reviewing, tweaking, and optimizing thousands of fields. Pro tip: Start small. Pick one field, review one group of work orders with it, and apply improvements to them as needed. Then move on to the next group.

  1. Naming conventions: These are the labels you use to identify the maintenance type, work order, and asset being worked on. Great naming conventions have three things: Consistency, clarity, and meaning for the people reading them.
  2. Description of issue and scope of work: Be as specific as possible with these fields. Instead of saying that there was a leak, identify how bad the leak is and where it is on the machine. Be clear about the skills, tradespeople, contractors, and permits needed.
  3. Required parts and tools: Add information that can help technicians locate parts or supplies faster parts as well as best practices for using them. Use these lists to build emergency kits for critical equipment that can be accessed quickly after breakdowns.
  4. Health and safety notes: Include a list of required PPE on every work order and note common risks, safety procedures, and accidents/near-misses associated with the work. Add compliance information for equipment where necessary, including follow-up tasks.
  5. Requester and date requested: These fields offer a glimpse into the source of problems. For example, are the right people requesting work? Were there too many requests on one day?
  6. Expected and actual labor hours: Elevate this section by adding the amount of time expected for each task. Cross-reference the notes of completed work orders and zero-in on tasks that took longer than expected so you can tweak processes as necessary.
  7. Task lists and associated documents: Eliminate vague task lists at all costs. Don’t stop at “Lubricate bearing.” Add the type of lubrication and amount. Use every chance you get to attach manuals, SOPs, or other resources that might help to work orders.
  8. Assignment and priority: The priority of the work order and the people it’s assigned to should match the type of maintenance being done. Define exactly what different priority levels mean so everyone on the team is on the same page.
  9. Notes: Work with experienced technicians to add notes to common work orders or failure modes so this knowledge can become standardized and accessible.

How to make maintenance work orders that give you better data

Information from completed work orders is your main tool for optimizing processes. Getting that information can simply mean making a work order field standard (like labor hours or parts used). Other sections require work to ensure you’re getting the data you’re looking for.

  1. Failure codes: Limit the list of failure codes to only the most common ones to avoid “other” becoming the default for technicians short on time.
  2. Completion notes: Every technician has their own way of describing the work they did. Standardize and streamline the process by giving specific prompts or questions. For example, ask if any tasks took longer than expected and why.
  3. Costs: Provide technicians with a template for noting extra resources that were necessary so it’s easy for them to fill out and easy for you to calculate additional costs.
  4. Follow-up actions: Describe the proper follow-up actions for common scenarios, like a fault found during a routine PM. This will streamline the process for technicians, and help you track compliance issues, potential failure, PM frequencies, and more.

Everything you just read in three sentences

  1. Move slowly by starting with work orders you do most often or on assets with the highest criticality.
  2. Consistency is the key to good habits, scalable success, and good, clean data, so make sure all your processes are airtight, like work order templates and follow-ups guidelines.
  3. Balancing clarity and being concise in work orders is key so technicians have all the information they need without being overloaded with extra work they see as nothing but a chore.

Source: https://www.fiixsoftware.com/blog/short-guide-how-to-create-maintenance-work-orders/