Work orders are the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B. But there are millions of engines in the world, from rusted duds to high-powered studs. This article is about mastering the maintenance work order so your operation can run as smooth as a luxury sports car.
What is a work order?
A work order is a document that provides all the information about a maintenance task and outlines a process for completing that task. Work orders can include details on who authorized the job, the scope, who it’s assigned to, and what is expected.
Work orders are the engine of your maintenance operation. They power your team and move work from point A to point B.
Work orders are crucial to an organization’s maintenance operation. They help everyone from maintenance managers to technicians organize, assign, prioritize, track, and complete key tasks. When done well, work orders allow you to capture information, share it, and use it to get the work done as efficiently as possible.
Work order vs work request
While a work order and work request sound similar, they have a few key differences. A work request is used by non-maintenance staff to make the maintenance team aware of a task. For example, a machine operator might submit a work request when equipment breaks down. The work request is reviewed by a maintenance manager, who adds extra information, schedules the task, and assigns it to a technician. The work request is now a work order.
Types of work orders
There are five main types of work orders used in CMMS software, including general work orders, preventive maintenance work orders, inspection work orders, emergency work orders, and corrective maintenance work orders. Below are details of each type of work order and when to use them.
General work order
A general work order includes maintenance tasks that do not fall under the category of preventive maintenance, inspection, emergency, or corrective maintenance work orders. General work orders may include tasks like setting up new equipment, taking down equipment no longer in use, or painting.
Preventive maintenance work order
Preventive maintenance (or preventative maintenance) work orders are scheduled routine maintenance that is done on assets to prevent costly equipment failure and unplanned machine downtime. Preventive maintenance falls between reactive maintenance (or run-to-failure ) and predictive maintenance. Preventive maintenance work orders include resource requirements, instructions, checklists, and notes for each task. They are also put on a schedule to ensure the maintenance task is performed at a specific time interval.
Inspection work order
An inspection work order indicates when a maintenance technician needs to audit or inspect the condition of an asset. This is usually based on a predetermined period of time, similar to preventive maintenance work orders. During an inspection, a maintenance technician may identify a problem and then create a new work order to correct that problem.
Emergency work order
An emergency work order is created when an unplanned asset breakdown occurs and needs to be repaired right away. An emergency work order records and tracks reactive maintenance that is performed. The maintenance technician can add details in the work order about why the asset resulted in the unexpected breakdown, what maintenance work was done on it, and information on how to prevent the breakdown from happening again.
Corrective maintenance work orders
A corrective maintenance work order is created when a maintenance technician discovers issues while conducting preventive maintenance, inspection, general, or emergency work order tasks. Corrective maintenance is performed to identify, isolate, and solve the issue so that the equipment, machine, or system can be restored to its correct condition. Unlike an emergency work order, a corrective maintenance work order is planned and scheduled because the failure was identified in time. A corrective maintenance work order may consist of repairing, restoring, or replacing equipment or equipment parts.
What is the work order lifecycle?
Every maintenance work order has a lifecycle with three main phases – creation, completion, and recording. These phases can be broken down into six steps, including task identification, requesting a work order, scheduling the work order, assigning and completing the work order, documenting and closing the work order, and analyzing the work order to help improve the process for next time. Understanding each step and having a solid work order process ensures tasks don’t get stuck in one phase and turn into backlog.
How to write a good work order in six steps
Step #1: The task is identified
Maintenance tasks fall into two groups, planned maintenance and unplanned maintenance. Planned maintenance encompasses all the jobs you know of ahead of time, like routine inspections, and unplanned maintenance includes all the tasks you can’t foresee, like an unexpected breakdown.
Step #2: The maintenance request is created
The details of the job are put together and submitted to the maintenance team for further action. For example, when a machine breaks down, an operator creates a work request and submits it to maintenance. If a task is planned, a work order is created and triggered at the proper time.
Step #3: The work order is prioritized and scheduled
Some jobs are more time-sensitive than others. A burnt-out light bulb doesn’t need to be fixed immediately, but a broken conveyor belt might. That’s why you need to prioritize every work order that hits your desk.
After prioritizing, it’s time to schedule. Work orders can be scheduled based on a set deadline, planned maintenance triggers, or dedicated blocks of time. Setting a deadline keeps everyone accountable and informed so nothing falls through the cracks.
Step #4: The work is assigned and completed
It’s time to turn those words on a page into action. The work order is assigned to a technician, who completes the task. This can be a five-minute check of equipment, or it can be a complex repair job that takes several days.
Step #5: The work order is closed and documented
Once all the terms of the work order are completed, it can be closed. Managers may need to sign off on the work order for compliance requirements. Once closed, the work order is filed away. A properly organized work order log is crucial for building asset histories, reviewing past solutions, preparing for audits, and more.
Step #6: The work order is analyzed and/or reworked
Closed work orders contain valuable information. They can provide insight into your processes and systems that can be used to fine-tune your operation. Having a work order log also allows technicians to quickly spot any missed steps or alternate solutions if an issue flares up again.
What should be in a work order?
A good work order will have 16 different sections to provide the necessary details for maintenance workers to effectively understand and complete the task at hand. The 16 components are listed below. Work orders are like anything else your facility produces – they must be made well and free of defects. If one part of the process is off, it can affect the entire line.
Asset: What piece of equipment needs work?
Description of issue: What’s the problem? What did you hear, see, smell, or feel at the time of failure or leading up to it?
Scope of work: What work is required to get the job done? What skills are needed?
Parts and tools required: Are there any parts that need to be replaced or special tools that need to be used?
Health and safety notes: What safety procedures and equipment are needed? Have there been any accidents or near-misses while working on a similar issue or asset?
Date requested: When was the work order created and submitted?
Requester name/department/contact: Who created and submitted the work order?
Expected completion date: When should this work order be completed?
Actual completion date: When was the work order completed and closed?
Expected hours of work: How many hours should it take to complete the work order?
Actual hours of work: How many hours did it take to complete the work order?
Task checklist: Is there a step-by-step guide to completing the required work?
Priority: How important is this work order? High, medium, or low?
Assigned to: Who will be doing the work? Is more than one person required? Is an outside contractor required?
Associated documents: Are there resources that can help the work order be completed more efficiently, like SOPs, manuals, diagrams, videos, asset history, purchase orders, or images?
Notes: Are there any other observations that might be helpful in completing the work order or reviewing the work order after it closes, such as the frequency of an issue, troubleshooting techniques, or the solution reached?
5 best practices for managing a work order
Just like company assets, work orders also need standard operating procedures (SOPs) to give you a baseline for creating, reviewing, and optimizing maintenance tasks. Five best practices for improving the management of your work orders are to establish your maintenance goals, KPIs, and maintenance metrics, define roles and responsibilities, decide on work order frequency, build work order triggers, and conduct work order post-mortems.
#1: Decide on goals and measurements for your work orders
Before setting up your work orders, it’s necessary to know what information you want from them. You can follow a four-step framework for this. First, start by identifying your organization’s maintenance goals. Second, define your maintenance KPIs so you know what needs to be quantified. Third, identify your team’s metrics and what they should be measuring. Fourth, use this information to guide your maintenance strategy.
#2: Define work order roles and responsibilities
Create clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each part of the work order process. Outline who can create, assign, prioritize, complete, and review work orders. This will help you avoid duplicate or unauthorized work and miscommunication.
#3: Decide on work order frequency
The frequency of when you should perform maintenance work will vary depending on the equipment and the operation it is performing. You can follow the manufacturer guidelines to help determine scheduled frequency and inspection so that assets do not fail unexpectedly. Creating a preventive maintenance schedule will help protect against costly reactive maintenance.
#4: Build work orders triggers
Determine the best way to trigger work orders automatically within your operational processes. This includes triggers that create the initial work request as well as follow-ups for failed PMs, compliance documentation, or extra work that needs to be done on the asset. There are five common types of maintenance triggers include breakdown, time-based, event-based, usage-based, and condition-based. It’s important to understand when and how to use each one to achieve maximum efficiency and reliability at your facility.
#5: Conduct work order post-mortems
Big projects and big problems deserve hindsight. Create a plan to find what went right and what went wrong on these major jobs. Then apply your learnings to the work order process.
5 benefits of using work order management software
Overseeing all the maintenance tasks across your company is definitely a challenge. Regardless of best efforts in trying to keep up with manual tasks, there will always be things that fall threw the cracks. Work order management software benefits maintenance technicians and facility managers by bringing overall efficiencies into operations. Five benefits of using work orders to manage maintenance tasks include having a centralized system where all the work order details can be found, no more need for paperwork, better budgeting and planning, easy access for maintenance workers, and regulatory compliance.
#1: You get one centralized system for all maintenance tasks
Work order management software allows you to create and track maintenance tasks all in one place. That means only one source to reference versus having to look through multiple systems to find the necessary information. With work order management software, maintenance teams can handle multiple tasks at a time, like assigning labor hours, estimating and monitoring labor and parts costs, and keeping track of safety procedures and downtime. With all work order information in one place, it becomes easier to schedule and prioritize orders according to need and urgency.
#2: You reduce your paperwork
Work order management software is able to record information automatically. As soon as you enter data into the work order, it gets saved by the system. This eliminates the need to manually enter data into paper records. In addition, maintenance technicians have 24/7 access to all the necessary work order information on their mobile devices or computers. Work order management software helps you save time by eliminating the need to sift through piles of files or clipboards in search of specific information. The system provides real-time tracking and record keeping throughout the work order process.
#3: You’re able to budget and plan more accurately
Work order management software provides a treasure trove of real-time data that enables you to accurately measure maintenance performance. Work orders keep track of every part of the process, including what work needed to be done, who did it, what did it cost, and how long did it take to complete. Having a work order management system is vital for keeping your records accurate and up-to-date. Using this information, you’re able to plan and budget better in order to reduce or eliminate stoppages and interruptions.
#4: You have easy access to information whenever you need it
Work order management software enables maintenance technicians to access work order information at their fingertips. Whether by mobile, laptop, or desktop computer, the information goes where they go. That means they have work order access no matter where they are conducting maintenance, such as in the factory or in the field.
#5: Easy to maintain regulatory compliance
Work order management software is required to comply with both national and international regulatory standards. All the work is already incorporated into the software, so this reduces the amount of time and paperwork it takes your maintenance team to prepare for an audit. Instead of getting stressed and spending hours in preparation, all you need to do is generate reports of previous work orders done through the system. In the long run, compliance becomes easy to trace and reduces exposure to noncompliance penalties.
Learn how to build work orders easier with software
Work order software vs pen and paper
Work orders have been managed with pen and paper since the day they were invented. Written work orders are cost-effective and familiar. Paper is a tool everyone is comfortable using. It takes next to no training, the upfront costs are fairly low, and there’s a paper trail for when you need to check past work.
However, this system has some serious flaws. Paper files are easily misfiled, lost or damaged. They are cumbersome and take time to find, retrieve, and sort. Inaccurate information is more likely to make its way onto a work order as details are often recorded after an incident. Response time to work requests is also slower. These factors, combined, make work less efficient and could cost you a lot of money down the line.
Some jobs are more time-sensitive than others. A burnt-out light bulb doesn’t need to be fixed immediately, but a broken conveyor belt might. That’s why you need to prioritize every work order that hits your desk.
Work order software vs whiteboards
Whiteboards are another old standby for maintenance departments. The cost of materials doesn’t stretch the budget too far and it’s certainly easy to have all work orders available to view and update in one, central place.
Like pen and paper, whiteboards have some severe limitations. Keeping records is a huge headache and it’s extremely difficult to extract information from any records you actually manage to get. This makes it almost impossible to create asset histories, prepare for audits, and build work order reports. The work order management process also gets bogged down as operators and technicians need to go to a central location to submit or view work requests.
Work order software vs excel spreadsheets
Excel spreadsheets are a step up from pen and paper and whiteboards. It makes records digital, so files are less likely to be damaged or lost. It’s also easier to search for information and create reports using this information.
But while spreadsheets raise the bar slightly, there are some factors that make it a shaky foundation for managing maintenance work orders. Some spreadsheets are locked into single computers, which makes it difficult to see up-to-date information on a work order. Even if they are cloud-based, spreadsheets don’t have the ability to automatically trigger work orders, which makes preventive maintenance extremely difficult to achieve. Inputting data and creating reports require long periods at a computer and know-how. There’s also a limited ability to track the progress of work orders, which leaves you a step behind.
Work order software vs CMMS software
Work order software is a stand-alone solution to creating and managing work orders. It ensures maintenance departments can assign work efficiently so it can been completed in a timely manner. Work order software also creates comprehensive work histories for each asset, and offers real-time updates on completed work and scheduled work. Many vendors also offer a mobile solution through an app, making it easier to document work correctly in real-time and make informed decisions on the spot.
A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) goes beyond basic work order management, and also includes a scheduled maintenance planner, asset profiles and management, and inventory management.
Finally, one of the biggest advantages of computerized maintenance management systems is their use of mobile and cloud technology. This kind of maintenance work order software allows everyone in maintenance to create, track, complete, and analyze tasks in real-time, from anywhere—whether that’s at the scene of a breakdown or a beach in Hawaii. Technicians can bring work orders, asset histories, documents, and images wherever they go. They are also notified of new work orders as soon as they are submitted or triggered. Reports mine the data in maintenance work orders for cost, efficiency, and other metrics. For those outside of maintenance, submitting a work request through a CMMS can give them a greater sense of ownership over that work. They can track the status of their requests and it eliminates duplicate work orders. This is a key way to grow TPM at your facility and reduces the need to get updates or clarification on the task.
While CMMS software is the way of the future, it comes with costlier upfront prices, requires exceptional training and culture to make the system successful, and often necessitates more advanced maintenance techniques. However, the long-term benefits of the system more than make up for any initial shortcomings. To learn more, read our blog detailing the top 20 benefits of a CMMS.
The bottom line
Work orders are a pillar of great maintenance. When managed properly, they give your team the stability and structure it needs to be efficient. A well-built maintenance work order and work order process makes it easier to establish a preventive maintenance program and react to unplanned maintenance. Roles are defined, workflows are smoother, tasks are tracked, and information is well-documented. Choosing the right tools and systems to manage work orders is the crucial final piece of the puzzle. When it all comes together, your operation can master the fundamentals of maintenance and look for new ways to grow and succeed.
Professional racing is a masterclass in efficiency. Teams don’t just dislike waste—they hate it.
Every millisecond of a pit stop has a purpose. Every component of a car is analyzed to ensure it’s functioning at its best. Strategies are designed to get from point A to point B as fast as possible.
When you translate this mindset to the shop floor, you achieve a lean maintenance strategy. Lean maintenance is the merciless reduction and elimination of waste at every stage of your maintenance program so you can go further, faster, while spending less.
This guide outlines the basics for building and measuring a lean maintenance strategy, including:
What is lean maintenance
The types of waste in maintenance
A formula for creating a lean maintenance strategy
Metrics for tracking lean maintenance success
What is lean maintenance?
Like lean manufacturing, lean maintenance is the continual process of identifying, reducing, and removing waste from maintenance activities. Waste is considered anything that doesn’t increase output, decrease costs, or otherwise boost productivity.
There are a lot of examples of waste in maintenance, including:
Money spent on a part that becomes obsolete before it’s used
Time spent clarifying the details of a maintenance request
Effort spent collecting maintenance data you never use
It’s often difficult to spot waste in your maintenance program. That’s why a lean maintenance strategy can’t work without iteration. Iteration is the practice of making small changes over time to find the best way to set up processes and activities. In other words, lean maintenance is not a one-and-done project. It’s a way of thinking and acting that takes years to build.
What are the benefits of lean maintenance?
Odds are, you’ve uttered the words, “What a waste of time,” or “What a waste of money,” in the last couple of weeks. Lean maintenance eliminates those moments. And while there are a thousand things you could be referring to, most of them can be grouped in these four main benefits:
1. Cost savings
A lean maintenance strategy reduces direct costs (labor and resources) and indirect costs (the money you lose in downtime or lost production). For example, you might discover that you can reduce routine maintenance on an asset from once a week to once a month, cutting labor costs by 75% in the process.
2. Efficiency gains
Efficiency is another word for getting more done in less time. Lean maintenance strategies help you find activities and processes that take too much time so you can modify or eliminate them. Voltalia’s maintenance team is a great example of this benefit in practice. The company noticed that one of its service teams spent 40 hours a week driving from the office to an off-site facility. The solution was to build a satellite office near the off-site facility to save time.
3. Maximized potential
When machines and people are not bogged down by unnecessary duties, they can operate at full capacity and perform to the best of their abilities. Tom Dufton’s maintenance team is a perfect example. Tom, a maintenance manager, noticed his skilled maintenance technicians were spending a lot of time assisting production. He used this data to advocate for extra operators so his team could get back to maintaining equipment.
4. Employee engagement
Removing unnecessary work and administrative tasks helps employees feel more engaged with their work. It also gives them time to up-skill and do high-value work. One way this translates into real life is with new maintenance software. If technicians don’t have time to learn the system, your big investment in technology could be for nothing. Eliminating extra tasks elsewhere will give your team time to learn, ask questions, and get used to new technology.
The three types of waste in maintenance
The first step in eliminating waste is to find it. There are three main areas in a maintenance operation where waste shows up: Environmental, financial, and human potential.
Environmental waste occurs when raw materials are used inefficiently or disposed of because of inefficient maintenance activities.
Examples of environmental waste in maintenance include:
An increase in scrap or rework after equipment maintenance
Overuse of fuel by improperly maintained vehicles or unnecessary transportation to and from a worksite
Overstocking parts for maintenance due to an outdated inventory purchasing schedule
The impact of environmental waste from maintenance includes:
More pollution and trash
Higher carbon emissions
Increased safety hazards
Some strategies for reducing environmental waste in maintenance include:
Frequent inventory cycle counts and just-in-time purchasing to ensure your storeroom isn’t flooded with unused inventory
Grouping scheduled maintenance together in one time period to cut down on travel
A mandatory check from a second technician after repairs or replacements prior to production to ensure start-ups don’t result in scrap or rework
Financial waste refers to the extra costs from inefficient maintenance. It also includes lost production from unnecessary downtime.
Examples of financial waste in maintenance include:
Conduct frequent maintenance team meetings to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions
Automate activities you do frequently, like creating work orders or reports
Eliminate or reduce scheduled maintenance that has low rates of follow-up work
Train machine operators to do routine maintenance tasks
Creating a lean maintenance mindset
The first step in creating a lean maintenance strategy is to ask the right questions, challenge the way you do things, and be willing to change. This is a lean maintenance mindset and it’s essential to make lean maintenance strategies work long term.
There are four changes that’ll help you shift to a lean maintenance mindset:
1. From small details ? Big picture
There will always be days when your team is reacting to everything—putting out fires, getting last-minute requests, and racing to catch up on backlog.
But a lean maintenance mindset prevents this from becoming the norm. It allows you to build maintenance activities around business and production goals, and deprioritize or eliminate work that doesn’t connect to these goals.
For example, you might spend an hour every week creating a report. But if that report doesn’t help you eliminate waste, that time becomes waste itself. You can either spend time building more useful reports or do other waste-eliminating work.
2. From getting it done ? Collecting data as you go
A lot of maintenance teams operate in survival mode. Complete the task and move on to the next one. No time for any extra steps.
But a lean maintenance strategy hinges on data and taking the time to collect it. Those five extra minutes it takes to complete extra fields on a work order adds up. Having a lean maintenance mindset means building a buffer in your schedule to account for this. It also means everyone knows the importance of these extra steps and isn’t pressured to fudge the numbers to make up for lost time.
3. From big changes ? iterative improvements
Everyone wants to see big wins as quickly as possible. Our brains crave a finish line and tangible results.
But that’s not how lean maintenance works. Instead, it depends on making small, consistent improvements. If done right, it’s a process that’s never truly finished. The best way to tackle this shift is to give yourself and your team small goals and milestones, track progress, and celebrate success.
For example, you might want to cut out unnecessary steps in your scheduled maintenance. In lean maintenance, you’ll examine your work orders once a month to reduce delays and increase wrench time by 10% to 15% across the entire year. It’s crucial to track progress, celebrate it with your team, and get suggestions from technicians on how to keep winning. Technicians will feel a sense of ownership over this metric and will be invested in making progress.
4. From “that’s the way it is” ? “Is this necessary?”
It’s easy to accept the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to change. And it takes a lot of work.
But lean maintenance is all about challenging business as usual. You need to look at everything your team does with a critical eye and make changes if something no longer makes sense. This requires you to adopt a win-or-learn mentality instead of a win-or-fail mindset. Your team will be able to question things without blame or punishment.
For example, you might have done a PM at the same interval for a decade. But everything has changed in that time, from the equipment to the technician doing the work. You need to question how the PM is done as well. Should it be done more or less? Is it even necessary anymore?
Building a lean maintenance strategy
Building a lean maintenance strategy follows a three-step formula:
Understand what you’re currently doing and how you’re doing it
Find areas of waste and eliminate them
Create processes that allow you to do steps one and two over and over again
Step 1: Mapping your maintenance process
This step is about knowing how your team currently operates so you can find the work you’re doing too much of and work you’re not doing enough. This stage involves documenting your maintenance processes, including:
Key information about equipment, like criticality and failure modes (this FMEA template can help you collect this data)
What inspections and repairs are done, and how often
What an emergency looks like and how your team reacts
Step 2: Identify opportunities for improvement you can act on now
The next step is to find out where you’re spending too much time, money, or energy. Here are a few ways you can spot waste hiding in your processes:
Look at specific processes with members of your maintenance team. Ask them what part of the process takes the most time or where they face challenges when completing work. Use this insight to make activities easier and remove roadblocks.For example, something as small as misidentifying lubrication can lead to wasted time, breakdowns, lost production, and buying too many supplies. Colour-coding lubrication and bearings can eliminate this waste altogether.
Identify tasks that consistently take more time or money than planned and conduct a root cause analysis to find out why. This is more helpful than slashing costs, which can do more harm than good and doesn’t address the real reason for the waste.For example, labor costs for a weekly work order are twice as high as you’ve budgeted. An RCA might find repair times are longer than expected because different technicians are doing the work. You might tweak the schedule to put the same technician on the job so they can familiarize themselves with the work and do it faster.
Audit your planned maintenance work to make it more efficient. We outlined the steps for auditing your PMs in a separate article, but the main takeaway is to question the need for all regular maintenance and the frequency, timing, and resource for each task.For example, a PM might be triggered every 10 days, regardless of how much the asset is used. That can be a waste of time and money. In this situation, try triggering maintenance based on usage, like after every 100 hours of production.
Develop KPIs and metrics around the growth and success of your team. This data will allow you to find wasted potential on your maintenance team.For example, you might track turnover rates or knowledge-sharing opportunities on your team. These stats can uncover complex processes or areas of low productivity that you can correct. The end result is better morale and a higher-performing maintenance team.
Step 3: Build a long-term vision
The core vision of your lean maintenance strategy will always be to improve maintenance bit by bit so it supports business goals. But those goals may change, as will the things you need to improve.
This step is about documenting what you’ve iterated on, the impact of change, and what might come next.
If your iterations produced a negative result, don’t immediately jump back to the way things were. Instead, think about what caused the negative result and see if there’s another iterative improvement. It can take a few tries to get it right.
Choosing metrics for a lean maintenance strategy and tracking success
While every project will have different KPIs and metrics based on your desired outcomes, here are some best-practice metrics to start with:
Human potential waste
Maintenance costs (by asset, type, task, etc.)
Raw material usage
Equipment downtime (planned and unplanned)
Carbon emissions/energy use
Rate of corrective maintenance after inspections
Time spent on production support
Travel times to/from sites
Response rates to breakdowns/emergencies
Time spent on administrative tasks
Raw materials disposal (ie. oil)
Clean start-ups after maintenance
Number of steps in a maintenance process
While this isn’t a comprehensive look at lean maintenance metrics, it does give you a good foundation. And you don’t need to track, measure, and improve every metric. Choose metrics you can realistically collect and ones that connect to production and business goals.
There are two ways to create success plans around each metric and push your lean maintenance strategy forward. The first is to go small. Pick a few metrics and focus on improving specific areas of your maintenance operation. For example, if you want to reduce maintenance costs, choose your top 10 most expensive tasks. Focus on reducing waste in these activities.
The other method is to go broad. Aim for a goal that includes improving several metrics. For example, the ultimate target might be increasing efficiency through better standardization across sites. As part of this project, you can standardize the processes for work requests, reporting, and parts purchasing. There are several metrics you can use to build your project and track its success. This includes the number of steps in a maintenance process, time spent on admin tasks, response rates to breakdowns, and raw materials usage.
It’s essential to share your wins, regardless of your approach. The whole point of lean maintenance is to make small gains that add up to big ones over time. Showing off your success keeps momentum high, increases buy-in, and helps you advocate for more resources to expand your lean maintenance program.
Lean maintenance is ongoing
At its core, lean maintenance is about tying maintenance practices to business needs. This will likely ruffle feathers, but it’s a critical step to move maintenance from a cost center to a value driver. And when you do that, the world begins to open up for the maintenance team to be seen as a true business partner.
Every day, meat processing plants need to make sure the metal detectors in their machines are working. It’s a simple check to ensure there’s metal where there should be and no metal where there shouldn’t be.
This process involves running test balls through the machine. It takes about 45 minutes to complete (25 minutes of manual labour and 20 minutes of admin time). It’s routine maintenance— the type most people don’t give a second thought to.
It’s also an example of how tweaking maintenance processes can boost production efficiency. Instead of a manual check, the inspection can be done with an automated test-ball shooter. A button is pressed, the balls roll out on their own, and the task is wrapped up in five minutes. The result is more than 160 hours of extra equipment availability per year.
This is just one example of how companies can leverage maintenance to increase production efficiency. This article outlines several other strategies for bolstering production efficiency using maintenance, including:
How maintenance impacts production efficiency
Five ways the maintenance team can boost production capacity
How to measure the impact of maintenance on production
What is production efficiency?
Production efficiency is a measurement used mostly by manufacturers to determine how well (and how long) a company can keep up with demand. It compares current production rates to expected or standard production rates.
A higher rate of production efficiency delivers three critical outcomes for manufacturers:
Reduced resource usage: Efficient production systems produce the same number of goods with fewer resources
Higher financial margins: Efficient production means higher margins throughout the supply chain
A better customer experience: Efficient production allows products and services to be regularly and dependably delivered to customers
How to calculate production efficiency
The calculation for production efficiency compares the actual output rate to the standard output rate. The formula can be applied to either manual or automated work.
When it comes to industrial processes, the calculation takes quality into account. Let’s say you produce 50 units in an hour, but only 30 are useable. Your rate of production for that hour is 30 units.
The following formula is used to calculate production efficiency:
Production Efficiency = (Actual Output Rate / Standard Output Rate) x 100
For example, a manufacturing company receives a new order of 100 units. The standard rate of completion for 100 units is 10 hours, or 10 units per hour. However, the company took 12 hours to complete 100 quality units. In this case, the production efficiency formula would look like this:
Actual Output Rate = 100 units / 12 hours (8.3 units/hour)
Standard Output Rate = 100 units / 10 hours (10 units/hour)
Production Efficiency = (8.3 / 10) x 100 (83%)
In this instance, output and productivity levels are below capacity.
How maintenance can increase production efficiency
Proper equipment maintenance is essential for increasing production efficiency. It ensures your total effective equipment performance (TEEP) is as high as it can be. Using preventive maintenance to keep assets operating at their best helps to:
Limit equipment downtime: If equipment is checked regularly, you can find and fix failures before they cause big breakdowns that disrupt production. Having a solid preventive maintenance schedule also allows you to coordinate with production so planned downtime is done quickly.
Establish a corrective action system for failures: Having a strategy to find, analyze, and fix failure (aka a FRACAS) allows you to target recurring issues at their root. You can spot and eliminate problems that impact equipment availability and product quality the most.
Coordinate better shift changeovers: Better changeovers between maintenance shifts means communicating the right information to technicians quickly and accurately. This includes a run-down of what work needs to be done, when, and any obstacles that might get in the way of that work.
Ensuring standard operating procedures are clear and maintained: SOPs train operators to do routine maintenance so machines can be operated with fewer breakdowns and accidents.
Five things your maintenance team can start doing tomorrow to increase production efficiency
There are a lot of projects that take months or years to complete. But getting quick wins is also crucial for building momentum and proving the value of your maintenance team. So, here are five things your maintenance team can start doing tomorrow to increase production efficiency.
1. Optimize the frequency of your PMs
A preventive maintenance schedule can be a good example of having too much of a good thing. Going overboard on preventive maintenance can affect production efficiency in two ways. You can either waste valuable time preventing non-existent failure. Or you can increase the risk of failure by meddling with a perfectly fine component.
These guidelines can help you find the right balance between too many PMs and too few:
Use equipment maintenance logs to track the found failure rate on preventive maintenance tasks. Start with PMs that take the longest to do or cost the most.
If a PM leads to regular corrective maintenance, keep it at the same frequency.
If a PM rarely identifies failure, try increasing the time between inspections. If the found failure rate exceeds the frequency of the PM, tweak your schedule so it’s better aligned. For example, an inspection might happen every two weeks. But a failure is usually found every six weeks. In this case, plan for the PM to happen every 4-6 weeks instead.
If a machine experiences frequent breakdowns between inspections, try shortening maintenance intervals. You can also modify the trigger for maintenance, changing it from a time-based trigger to usage or performance-based trigger.
2. Identify machines that can be maintained while running
Some routine maintenance can be done while a machine is still operating. Find out if there are any assets that can be safely worked on while being used for production. The key word there is ‘safely’. This might mean that some work can’t be done because certain areas of a machine aren’t safely accessible while it’s operating. In this scenario, determine if partial maintenance is possible and if it’ll have a positive impact on the performance of the equipment.
It’s also a good idea to track rotating or spare assets and swap them for production equipment when possible. That allows you to do regular maintenance on these machines without sacrificing productivity.
3. Make equipment capabilities transparent and clear
Create an iron-clad list of instructions for operating equipment and common issues to be aware of. You can use a failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) to create a list of common failures experienced by each asset. This can also include warning signs for breakdowns.
Having this information clearly outlined and easily accessible gives operators a chance to notice the early signs of failure and notify maintenance before it gets worse. Employees will be empowered to observe and identify any potential problems, and report them accordingly.
4. Use work order data to identify where your team can be more efficient
Work order data can tell you what jobs can get done quicker and how to minimize the risk of asset failure so you can boost production efficiency. Look for these telltale signs of broken processes in your work orders:
Unavailable parts and supplies: If this issue is delaying maintenance, review the purchasing process for parts and supplies. That includes making sure your cycle counts are accurate and the threshold for purchase approvals is low enough that inventory can get replenished quickly. You can also create parts kits for frequent repairs or emergency repairs on production equipment so your team can locate and retrieve parts quickly.
Misidentified/misdiagnosed problems or missing instructions: Make sure task lists, failure codes, and descriptions are clear. Attach photos, manuals, and other documentation to the work order.
Diverted resources resulting from emergency work orders: Emergencies can always be avoided. Analyze your work order data, find tasks that are too big, and break it down into smaller jobs to reduce the risk of major disruptions.
Scheduling conflicts with production: See if maintenance can be scheduled while production is happening or if work can be done at an alternate time, like evenings or weekends. You can also consider giving operators minor maintenance responsibilities associated with the work order.
Lack of adequate worker skillset: Work order data can show you if the person/people assigned to the work may 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.
5. Find the biggest obstacles for your team and eliminate them
You can learn a lot from the data that comes from your equipment and work orders. But sometimes, you just have to ask the people who are doing the actual work. They will be able to tell you what barriers they face when completing work. Acting on this information is crucial to continually improve your maintenance processes. All those improvements can add up to a huge boost in production efficiency.
For example, your technicians may spend a lot of time going back and forth from the office to retrieve manuals, asset histories, or other materials that help them on a job. You probably won’t know that just by looking at work order records or wrench time reports. Armed with this information, you can figure out a solution. Maybe that’s creating areas throughout your facility where files can be accessed for nearby assets. Or it could be digitizing those files so they can be accessed through a mobile device.
Here are a few questions to ask your technicians to find any roadblocks:
What tasks commonly take you away from a machine?
Are information and parts easily accessible? If not, why?
What information would help you complete work more efficiently?
Are there processes or systems that are hard to use or you think could be improved?
Is there anything that frequently keeps you from starting a task on time?
Four ways to measure the impact of maintenance on production efficiency
There are many ways to measure how your maintenance efforts are affecting production efficiency. The most common metrics are the following:
Found failure rate on preventive maintenance
This metric will help you measure how efficient your preventive maintenance schedule is. If your found failure rate is high, it means you’re cutting down on unnecessary maintenance while preventing major disruptions to production.
Unplanned asset downtime (last 90 days)
This number tracks the amount of unplanned equipment downtime and compares it to the previous 90-day period. Because each minute of downtime lowers your production efficiency, this number highlights how maintenance is contributing to healthier, higher-performing assets.
Average time to respond to and repair breakdowns
This stat quantifies all the work you’ve done to prepare for emergencies. Breakdowns will happen. Having a plan to quickly and safely fix these failures will help you reduce the amount of time production is stalled.
Compare the amount of useable products coming from the equipment prior to and after maintenance is completed. If the machine is running better after maintenance, it’s proof that your team is increasing production capacity in a meaningful way.
Maintenance has the opportunity to drive production efficiency
Maintenance often gets talked about as an expense. A necessary evil. A cost-center. But the reality is, good maintenance can drive your business forward. When you keep the machines running, you can do more, faster, with less. That means happier customers, a better bottom line, and more profit for everyone in the supply chain. It’s a true win-win-win.
In order to turn maintenance from a cost centre to a business driver, you need to reorient maintenance as a business function and start asking how maintenance can drive production efficiency. From there, a world of opportunity opens up.
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
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.
Maintenance teams do a lot of great things. There’s no debate about that. But what happens when no one hears about it? The answer: Nothing good.
When maintenance teams don’t measure their success and promote their wins, it leads to everything from low morale to layoffs as the budget gets sliced and diced.
How do you stop this from happening? Show the impact of maintenance. But how do you do that? And what if no one cares? We talked to three Fiixers to answer these questions. You can watch the full conversation below, download and listen to the audio version, or skip down a bit to read a summary of the discussion (with time stamps next to each question in case you want to fast forward and hear the full response).
Five big tips for telling your maintenance team success story
Why is it important to talk about the things your maintenance team does well (1:18)?
It’s all about building a great culture, says Jason Afara, a solutions engineer at Fiix. Celebrating these successes creates a culture of collaboration. Because the entire team is recognized, it promotes team success over individual success and improves conversations about troubleshooting and brainstorming to solve problems. Jason talks more about how he created this sort of culture as a maintenance manager in this article.
What should you do when other departments aren’t aware of the impact of maintenance (2:38)?
The key is breaking out of the “What have you done for me lately” relationship between maintenance and the rest of the organization, says Jason. Metrics like work order completions or health and safety data highlight where maintenance is spending their time and the impact this has.
What can go wrong if you don’t talk about your maintenance team’s success (4:11)?
When the maintenance team isn’t vocal about its wins, it can come back and bite the department at budget time, says Scott Deckers, Fiix’s customer success manager. When maintenance doesn’t share its successes on a regular basis, business leaders can’t see the return on investment. Maintenance is then one of the first things on the chopping block when budgets are cut.
How should maintenance teams be defining success (7:02)?
Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s lead solutions engineer, suggests starting with metrics that connect maintenance to operational success. Some of the numbers to track include clean startups and failed inspections. Both of those measurements showcase how the maintenance team prevents loss and increases production capacity.
How do you create a culture where maintenance successes are shared and celebrated by everyone in an organization (10:31)?
Every conversation you have with someone outside of maintenance, whether it’s in the lunchroom or boardroom, is a chance to create that culture, says Scott. Spread the word about maintenance and its importance to the company every chance you get. Look for opportunities to tie maintenance to the goals of other departments or the goals of the company.
What are some strategies for sharing maintenance wins with business leaders (12:11)?
It all starts with cold, hard facts, says Jason. You always have to be prepared with numbers to back up the story of your maintenance team’s success. Show why spending time and money on maintenance is worth it. One example is being able to connect the actions of maintenance to increased throughput.
What happens if no one cares about your maintenance team’s success story or if it doesn’t get a positive response (14:09)?
If you’re not getting the reaction you’re expecting, you’re not presenting the information the right way, says Stuart. To ace the delivery, you have to know your audience. Find out how they’re being evaluated and what long-term and short-term success means to them. Then, tell that person how maintenance helps them achieve their goals.
How do you tell your maintenance success stories to those outside your company (19:19)?
Scott points to three avenues for promoting your maintenance team’s wins outside your organization: Professional associations (like PEMAC or SMRP), industry podcasts (who are always looking for both listeners and guests), and networking opportunities offered by vendors.
How can maintenance professionals tell their own success stories (21:03)?
If you want to talk about what you’ve done well, talk about what your team has done well, says Jason. Some examples of that include:
Explaining how you set up your team to be successful after you’ve moved on
Identifying the steps you took to improve communication between departments
How do you tell the story about a loss (24:38)?
No team wins all the time. But embracing those failures is a sign of maturity for maintenance teams, says Stuart. It allows you to properly analyze and prevent them from happening again. Then, you can tell the story of a solution, not a problem. When building this story, ask yourself, how can I use what I learned to systematically eliminate the cause of failure?
Bonus footage: Fiix customer Tom Dufton talked about how he was able to hire an extra team member by identifying gaps in his maintenance program. You can check out the clip here (skip to 20:26 for the details).
When the maintenance team wins, everyone wins
Scoring wins is important for the maintenance team. But becoming an all-star operation means going the extra step and talking about those successes across your organization. And don’t stop there. Create a culture of winning by celebrating every team’s accomplishments. When production has the perfect shift, celebrate. When you ace an audit, celebrate. And when the inevitable losses put a stumbling block in your way, celebrate it as an opportunity. You can always learn something from the things that go wrong and turn that into a win down the line.