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.”
This article was written by Katie Allen, Fiix’s Sustainability and Social Impact Manager.
Waste. Garbage. Rubbish. Litter. Trash. Excess. These concepts are relatively new in our modern world. Waste was often synonymous with barren land and had nothing to do with the disposal.
Garbage — the act of throwing something away — was introduced in the early 1900s. Now, it’s a regular part of life— we buy, we use, and then we throw away. This is so common that we have entire waste management systems with teams of people and machinery dedicated to our garbage.
This used to be my job. I would advise the public on where to put items when they were ready to throw them out. I would pick through big, black garbage bags on grueling hot days, dissecting, weighing, and sorting what people threw out. I helped divert hazardous and electronic waste from entering the landfill. I even managed a vermicomposter.
But in all my years doing this work, I never once offered a way for people to fix their stuff so it didn’t need to be tossed out in the first place.
We focused so heavily on reduce, reuse, and recycle that we forgot the most important ‘R’: Repair — the act of looking after your stuff.
We were not the only ones to miss this. It’s not common to receive a maintenance or repair manual when purchasing a product. You often need to search the web to find a community post or a video on how to fix something.
Maintenance and repair is regarded as a mundane practice in our society instead of being recognized as a sustainable approach to product consumption and creation. While we focus on the next, new, shiny thing, we forget the infrastructure, products, and equipment we already have.
The 12th UN Sustainable Development Goal focuses most heavily on addressing this deficit with the circular economy. The goal states that, “Responsible consumption and production” will help us decrease our reliance on natural resources, increase sustainability reporting, reduce waste in all forms, and ultimately encourage lifestyles that are synonymous with nature.
While this is a highly ambitious and admirable goal, they are missing a critical component: Maintenance and repair. Maintenance is the primary method for life cycle management. While it is important to rethink the way we design products (and the machines that make them) and how we recycle them, we need to think about the way we actually use the product. This is key to understanding the circular economy and how we can use it to bolster our efforts for sustainability.
What is the circular economy?
The Ellen Macarthur Foundation is leading research on the circular economy and defines it as a system “based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.”
We currently function in a linear economic system based on a take-make-waste model. Many of the resources we extract are used and eventually wasted.
This system is problematic for many reasons. Its inefficiency is wreaking havoc on our natural world with mass amounts of waste and pollution, which also negatively impacts our most vulnerable societies. This system is depicted in the graphic below. It maps all our global resources from extraction to end-of-use. Minerals, ores, fossil fuels, and biomass make up everything from our homes to our food.
As Robert Kunzig points out, “Two-thirds of the material flowing through the economy, 67.4 billion tons in 2015, gets emitted as pollution or otherwise scattered or disposed of as waste.”
While these resources are essential components of our economy, we are witnessing colossal inefficiencies throughout the process resulting in what’s called externalities.
An externality is a cost or benefit of an economic activity experienced by an unrelated third party.
Waste, represented by the grey “end of use” bubbles at the bottom of the graphic, is the most obvious negative externality. Other negative externalities include air pollution, emissions, and the wealth gap.
The circular economy is all about accounting for these externalities. We can phase out waste and pollution from the beginning with responsible design. Through maintenance best practices, we can increase the lifespan of assets, keep material in use, and create greater value socially, environmentally, and economically. And through the regeneration of our natural systems, we can create a thriving, circular economy that works within planetary boundaries.
What is maintenance?
Maintenance is the best way to keep materials in use.
Maintenance is any activity—such as tests, measurements, replacements, adjustments, and repairs—intended to retain or restore a functional unit in or to a specified state in which the unit can perform its required functions.1
You can find examples of maintenance in all aspects of your life, from brushing your teeth to changing the oil in your car or washing your dishes. These are all forms of maintenance that keep us and our belongings functioning as intended.
In industrial settings, maintenance is performed through a variety of strategies that best suit the asset in question. Typically, these strategies are applied to some of the biggest machinery and equipment in the world. Some examples include managing air flow and air quality in electrical and HVAC units, replacing filters, cleaning bearings, pumping tires, and fixing conveyor belts, reactors, and pumps. This takes place in factories, food processing, and energy production facilities, data centers, and manufacturing plants.
Maintenance and repair strategies keep many of these operations running efficiently, supporting very large, positive outcomes across the triple bottom line of sustainability: People, Planet, and profit.
Benefits of maintenance
Click image to enlarge:
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation showcases the different elements of the circular economy in the map above, The smaller circles represent the most efficient solutions in terms of cost, materials, and resources.
Here, maintenance makes up the smallest circle, and thus the most efficient and accessible solution. This is because, at its core, maintenance is about keeping the same equipment, materials, and assets in use. With rising costs of raw materials and end-of-life treatment, maintenance becomes a very attractive solution to kick-start the circular economy and build momentum in a more sustainable direction.
In Sobral and Ferreira’s 2018 article, they argue that the fundamental principles of maintenance — continuous improvement, improving performance, and increasing lifespan — are the foundation of Lean Thinking. The main objective of Lean Thinking is to improve society while eliminating waste. Maintenance and efficiency go hand-in-hand, creating positive outcomes beyond just eliminating waste. An effective maintenance strategy can result in improvements across the triple bottom line, as highlighted in the graphic below:
Socially, better maintenance practices can improve health and safety, the quality of workplaces, and the local community. In various studies, it has been reported that better maintenance is associated with lower injury frequency, and when done poorly, maintenance accounts for 10% of workplace incidents.
Environmentally, maintenance can improve air quality, reduce emissions, and reduce waste. It can also prolong asset lifespans, reduce energy consumption, and reduce water consumption. A preventive maintenance program can result in 20% savings in raw material usage. In the residential sector, regular maintenance can save up to 35% of energy costs. In vehicles, researchers found a 30% reduction in emissions following maintenance.
Economically, maintenance reduces costs, improves utilization, and aids with compliance. These are the most common indicators of success. In some instances, predictive maintenance can save up to 12% of costs and decrease downtime by up to 45%.
Measuring all the ways in which maintenance has an impact is critical to the success of any organization. Highlighting these efficiencies and giving maintenance the credit it deserves will help advance the circular economy.
Barriers to success
As it stands today, maintenance isn’t prioritized or recognized. The Maintainers, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., have long sung the praises of maintenance and repair. They examine our obsession with innovation and our disregard for the mundane.
Maintenance and repair, the building of infrastructures, the mundane labour that goes into sustaining functioning and efficient infrastructures, simply has more impact on people’s daily lives than the vast majority of technological innovations.
– Andrew Russell & Lee Vinsel
We are so focused on new things, whether physical or conceptual, that we fail to recognize the critical, overlooked, and the underpaid role that maintenance plays in our society. Failing to meet our maintenance needs can have catastrophic consequences. The ongoing cost of maintenance and repair is often undervalued when building infrastructure. That’s when things break, crack, and deteriorate.
In 2019, America’s infrastructure was given a report with a final grade of D+. A team of 28 civil engineers from across the country analyzed everything from energy infrastructure to railways and schools. They found that nearly everything was deteriorating to a point of concern, with most infrastructure approaching the end of its service life.
The impact of this is frightening, costing the US millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in GDP, while externalities are going unmeasured, costing us in pollution and health and safety.
COVID-19 showed us that it’s up to us to keep the world running, and when we stop, we notice. Technical maintenance is often seen as a cost centre rather than an opportunity to save money, time, energy, and waste. The current narrative surrounding maintenance is not exciting, nor is it measured properly, so we don’t understand its full value and potential.
Maintenance and repair need a rebrand and a re-education campaign. It must be considered as a key source of efficiency in the circular economy and we should be placing resources in these areas to understand how to improve practices.
Technology is helping with this rebrand. Tools, like a CMMS, help organizations track, schedule, and organize maintenance activities. Tracking data is critical. Analyzing that data using artificial intelligence can enable companies to find trends and areas for improvement. Utilizing technology can help bring light into what was once a black hole of information.
Driving the circular economy forward with better maintenance
There are three factors at play that will help us advance the circular economy through better maintenance.
First, the maintenance, reliability, and asset management space needs to recognize and prioritize the best sustainability practices from this line of work and measure it. Technology will be critical in capturing this information.
Second, circular economy research and advocacy must incorporate maintenance and repair as critical steps in advancing sustainability.
Lastly, organizations must adopt technology that enables these best practices. Without adequate data collection, measurement, or management, many of these benefits are lost and aren’t accounted for.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel as we reach for sustainability. We just need to look after what we already have.
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 is a scene in the movie Office Space where the three main characters take out their rage on a printer with a baseball bat. The machine is nothing but rubble by the end.
It’s an incredibly therapeutic two minutes. Probably because we’ve all been there. We’ve all dreamed of smashing our computer or phone because a piece of software has driven us crazy.
That includes maintenance and manufacturing software.
When Bryan Sapot, CEO of manufacturing software SensrTrx, asked his LinkedIn followers why the industry’s software can suck so much, it hit a nerve. It also got us wondering about the root cause of this frustration. Why does maintenance and manufacturing software suck sometimes?
We sat down with Bryan, Scott Deckers (Fiix’s Director of Customer Success), and Rob Kalwarowsky (host of the Rob’s Reliability Project podcast) to talk about it. You can watch the full video below or download it as a podcast. You can also scroll down to read the top reasons these experts think maintenance and manufacturing software can suck and how to avoid the pitfalls when searching for software.
Software is almost certainly doomed to fail if you’re not crystal clear on the reason you want it. When you don’t know what you want to achieve or what problems you want to solve with software, it usually ends with a system that doesn’t work for your team or your organization.
What the experts are saying:
“If you’re going to search for any tool, you need to know what you’re going to do with it. Too often, we see people saying, ‘Somebody told us we need to buy a CMMS, so we’re buying a CMMS’…That’s not the type of buy-in or leadership you want to see.”
– Scott Deckers
What you can do about it
Like any repair job, you need to know what’s wrong before you can fix it. That’s why the first step is to determine what problems software will solve. There are three steps for doing this:
Gather a team of people who will use the software and ask them what’s wrong. People won’t use the software if it doesn’t solve their problems. This post has a few tips on who to include in this consultation stage.
Dig deeper into the problems. Here’s where you can apply root cause analysis to your project. Keep asking why until you find the real reason for a problem.
Align your goals. Figure out which problems are the biggest and which ones will have the largest impact on both your organization and people.
#2. The data sucks
What it means
If there’s a problem with your data, you’re going to have a problem with your software. There are three potential problems you can have with data: It’s inaccurate, it’s the wrong kind, and there’s too much of it. Because software often relies on data, having these issues can make it look like the system itself is to blame.
What the experts are saying
“Less is more…If you have to sift through all these different metrics and all this different data to try to find something meaningful, then you don’t have any meaningful data.”
– Bryan Sapot
“If you’re not actioning work, not actioning improvement projects, not using the data to run the equipment better, then why bother? How is it going to improve your processes? What are you going to do with this information?”
– Rob Kalwarowsky
What you can do about it
Bad data is really good at blending in with good data. That’s why the secret to exposing bad data is a laser focus on one part of your operation. Look at one piece of equipment or one task and ask yourself these questions:
Am I collecting the right data? Does it tell me something I can act on?
Am I collecting too much data? Can I find what I’m looking for in a few seconds?
Is my data accurate? Do my records match what’s happening in real life? Am I recording data incorrectly because there’s no easy way to log it?
#3. The buy-in sucks
What it means
Your software project is going to fail if you can’t get buy-in from the people using the software. Period. When people don’t want to use the system (or don’t know how to), it ends in one of two situations: The software is used incorrectly or not used at all.
What the experts are saying
“The shop floor leadership is arguably more important to making sure software sticks, making sure it’s driving value, and making sure everyone knows the value it’s driving.”
– Scott Deckers
“You can put the most beautiful application out there on the floor that’s so easy to use and requires a minimal amount of input, but if you don’t have the leadership…and the structure in place, and people understanding why it’s there, it doesn’t matter.”
– Bryan Sapot
What you can do about it
Leading change and driving software adoption is a huge topic. In fact, we hosted a whole webinar about it. If you’re short on time, we distilled a few tips from the discussion:
Tell people what’s in it for them. Finding out what users care about, what pains they have, and what goals they want to achieve. Then tell them how software is going to help them with these things. Back it up with numbers. Tell people that they’ll save an hour a day instead of saying that they’ll be more efficient.
Select a software champion. This is someone who will lead and advocate for the project. The perfect champion is also a user of the software so they understand both the benefits and challenges.
Have a detailed plan. Having a software implementation plan takes a lot of uncertainty and fear out of change by making roles, timelines, and expectations clear, which makes it easier for your team to commit to change.
Do lots of training. People forget about 75% of what they learn after just six days. Don’t rely on just one training session to turn your team into pros at using software. Make time for regular training and account for growing pains as users learn a system on the job.
Promote your successes. While success doesn’t erase every frustration people have with software, it makes those problems seem a lot smaller. Keep track of every win you accomplish with software, no matter how small, and tell everyone you can about it.
#4. The processes around software suck
What it means
Poor processes lead to software letdowns. For example, CMMS software can be an easy way to create and execute PMs. But if you have no process to follow up on a failed PM, your whole preventive maintenance program will crumble.
What the experts are saying
“Technology is only as good as the systems in place beneath it. A hammer doesn’t swing itself.”
– Scott Deckers
“You need to worry if you’re doing the right processes the right way before you worry about measuring them with software.”
– Rob Kalwarowksy
What you can do about it
Building solid processes has a lot to do with a couple of points we’ve already covered: Defining the what and why, and starting small to find gaps.
First, identify the processes you want to facilitate, track, and improve with maintenance and manufacturing software. The word ‘improve’ is very important here—if you only monitor processes and don’t improve them, the software will most likely disappoint.
Then go to work auditing these processes. Break processes into smaller chunks to see where they might be broken. For example, in the webinar, Rob mentions that it’s important to make sure you’re doing the right PMs, in the right way, and with the right frequency.
The ultimate takeaway: Maintenance and manufacturing software is not a silver bullet
It’s not the software’s fault. That’s the big lesson we’ve learned after looking at all the reasons maintenance and manufacturing software can suck. Software is often touted as a silver bullet solution. This is a recipe for disaster. It takes a clear objective, full buy-in, solid processes, and great data for software to help your team. Building up this support system will help you use software as a tool for improvement and take your business to new heights.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Move slowly by starting with work orders you do most often or on assets with the highest criticality.
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.
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.
The average maintenance department handles 45 work orders every week. That’s over 2,200 work orders every year. Or a new request every four hours. In other words, the maintenance team impacts your business almost constantly. And that impact is huge.
For example, the average cost of an unplanned downtime incident is $17,000. If only 5% of scheduled maintenance work orders prevent downtime, it could mean saving millions of dollars.
There’s just one problem: Work orders rarely get the attention needed to make this potential a reality. Take common work order metrics, like planned maintenance percentage, for example. They can be useful for maintenance teams, but they don’t tell you much about the impact work orders have on business. And businesses are suffering because of it.
Companies can’t tell if they’re hiring the right people, making the right decisions about capital expenditures, or promising their customers the right things without knowing if work is being done the right way.
That’s why it’s time to stop looking at work orders as just a task on a to-do list. When you put thousands of them together, they tell a much bigger story about human behavior, asset performance, processes, and more. It’s time we read that story.
Why bad work orders are bad for business
Broken work order processes are one of the quickest ways for minor maintenance problems to get out of hand. For example, at Liberty Oilfield Services, poor work orders led to massive amounts of missing inventory and unnecessary costs.
The team at Liberty was getting “just a fraction of what really happened. There was no failure analysis, no context, no insurance for our mechanics,” in the words of Jack Featheringill, Liberty’s US Maintenance Manager.
For Rambler Metals and Mining, bad work orders processes were wasting everyone’s time.
“Whoever was finishing up their 12-hour shift would have to write pages of notes,” says Scott Britton, GM of Operations at Rambler. “Writing those notes could take up to an hour, and the next person would have to spend the first part of their shift going over the notes.”
The issues that poor work order processes cause often spill off the shop floor and into other parts of the business. You just have to look at the problems Liberty and Rambler had to see the potential ripple effects.
How inaccurate records and missing inventory affect a business
When finance, purchasing, and maintenance aren’t working with the same information (or any information), it could cause:
Lower throughput and higher operating costs: Missing the spare parts you need is the cause of 50% of all unscheduled downtime, and keeping parts you don’t need in the storeroom adds an extra 12-20% on average to a company’s operating costs.
Undershooting on your CapEx planning. It’s easy to miss the warning signs of asset failure if you don’t have context around inventory purchases. That leads to some nasty surprises when looking at the final numbers.
Allocating resources to the wrong places: If you’re missing the whole story around parts, failure, and performance, you’ll never know what sites need more people, money, training or tools.
How handwritten notes and wasted time affect a business
When maintenance processes are broken, it usually causes inefficiencies to pop up across your organization, like:
A massive backlog bill. Spending almost 10% of your shift creating work orders (like Rambler did) means less time on the actual work. The result is deferred maintenance, and every $1 in deferred maintenance costs $4 in future capital renewal needs.
Unexpected delays at the worst times. Spotting bad habits (like the same part wearing out) is almost impossible without standardized work orders. Adjusting maintenance plans becomes difficult and the results are inevitable—a breakdown during production.
Missed follow-ups and failed audits: Mistakes and burnout are inevitable when work orders are complicated and time-consuming. Failed PMs without follow-ups are sure to follow, as are break downs, compliance issues, safety risks and increased costs.
Enough with the doom and gloom. Good work orders can also have a huge positive impact.
Dredging company Callan Marine reduced downtime (which can cost over $1,200 an hour) just 90 days after starting to track maintenance costs and activities in work orders.
Optimizing work orders led to a 50% average increase in asset performance, according to data collected from Fiix customers.
Next steps: Getting really good at work order fundamentals
Now that we know how big of a deal work orders are, it’s time to get really good at them. That starts with a good foundation. The next part of the work order academy will take a look at how to build your work orders so that they become the superstar of your maintenance team and the ace up the sleeve for your company.