Four levels of enterprise operations

Achieving smooth data transfer requires examining enterprise operations at four levels.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) integration refers to the smooth data transfer across various hardware and software systems. Many points and levels of data transfer exist within and outside an organization.

Level 1 integration, the maintenance department

The maintenance department must ensure that at least the basic CMMS modules are fully integrated. At a minimum, this includes work order control, preventive maintenance (PM), spare parts inventory control and equipment history modules. The spare parts inventory control module is the most controversial of the four because there often is considerable corporate pressure to adopt the inventory control module used by operations. In most cases, this is unacceptable. A CMMS is crippled severely if one cannot check on spare parts status and availability while opening and scheduling a work order.

Maintenance departments that have not been allowed to purchase a CMMS spare parts inventory control module, or have older software that does not provide the capability described earlier, become frustrated. Hence, of all integration points, a fully integrated spare parts inventory control module is most critical.

Some CMMS vendors offer purchasing and account payable modules. These are not as critical for integration within a maintenance department. It's usually adequate to provide a bridge with the software used by the purchasing and accounting departments. However, maintenance should be able to issue an electronic purchase requisition if it's determined that parts are needed after checking availability on the work order screen.

Another integration point is shop-floor data collection, although this system can be controlled by production. Many CMMS packages offer, for example, the ability to accept meter readings electronically for the PM module. This can be a real time saver for a company having a large asset base. When the meter reading matches a trigger point for a given PM routine, work is scheduled.

Some maintenance departments use hand-held devices such as barcode readers and keypad terminals to record work order data automatically, including labor hours and/or parts usage. The latter is accomplished by technicians downloading work orders from the CMMS onto the hand-held device, recording start and stop times, and scanning bar coded parts as consumed. Online, real-time access to host data is possible using infrared technology.

More controversial is the practice of bar coding equipment sub-assemblies and parts for scanning by maintenance employees during routine PM inspections. This is done to validate whether or not a maintenance employee really performed the work. Not surprisingly, many workers find it intimidating.

Integration with predictive maintenance (PdM) software and expert diagnostic systems is one of the more recent CMMS developments. Like the more simplistic automated meter readings, PdM provides a front-end trigger for PM and, in turn, reactive maintenance where necessary. PdM includes lubrication, vibration, infrared and other analyses.

Expert systems interpret PdM data collected automatically by maintenance personnel or outside contractors. The expert system then predicts failure and the information is fed into the PdM module to trigger the appropriate PM or reactive maintenance work order.

Additionally, expert systems are used to troubleshoot. Some systems use the CMMS equipment history as input, including problem, cause and action codes recorded on work orders. Links are established between assets or components and a list of typical problems, probable causes and the action taken for a given root cause. The expert system continually adds to its knowledge base as new problems, causes and actions surface.

Level 2 integration, other maintenance departments

A CMMS is crippled severely if one cannot check on spare parts status and availability while opening and scheduling a work order.

– David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Building a corporate-wide database requires a concerted effort. All plants must follow corporate policies and procedures when initializing databases so that every maintenance department can access, understand and use the data. Where separate numbering and naming conventions are deeply rooted at the plant level, cross-referencing a corporate-wide coding system can be a reasonable compromise. This feature is available on some CMMS packages.

One advantage of integration among maintenance departments is that each one can search the corporate database for a given part before purchasing from an outside vendor. This minimizes enterprise-wide inventory levels and improves lead times. Another advantage is that the reliability of a given brand of equipment or component can be determined by accessing its history at another plant. Also, any plant can copy PM routines from other plants for equipment instead of writing it from scratch.

Level 3 integration, other departments

The most important interdepartmental interface is access to the purchasing and accounts payable systems from the CMMS inventory control module. The most logical transfer point of transfer is for the CMMS to send an electronic purchase requisition to the centralized purchasing system, or from a purchasing module within the CMMS, to the host-based accounts payable system.

Accounting departments may request other important interfaces. Labor and material costs charged to various cost centers within a CMMS must be transferred, at least in summary form, to the enterprise resource planning (ERP)-based general ledger module. Activity-based costing is most effective when data is collected seamlessly across an enterprise, including ERP and CMMS software. Fixed asset accounting may also be ERP based, but it will require adopting a uniform numbering convention.

The human resource (HR) department requires payroll and personnel information. Time sheet data can be filtered for in/out clock times and sent to the payroll system on a batch basis. Relevant employee data maintained on the CMMS can be uploaded to the information system. Sometimes this latter flow is reversed and the personnel department takes ownership of maintenance employee data.

Integration with the production department can be the most difficult interface when online access is required. For example, a bar-code-based time and attendance system, in which hourly employees scan in and out of work centers, can be shared by maintenance to determine which machines and work orders are being worked on, by whom and for how long. Similarly, both production and the CMMS equipment history module can share online downtime data recorded by a program logic control or human machine interface.

Another production-related interface is the downloading of production schedules from the ERP system. This provides maintenance planners with the scheduling windows for conducting PM work.

A popular interface offered by some CMMS packages allows CAD drawings of equipment to be transferred from the engineering system to the CMMS for attachment to PM and reactive work orders. Once captured by a CMMS, users can manipulate drawings by adding, for example, grease points or points of clarification.

Many other level 3 integration points exist across the organization. These include enterprise-wide workflow, project management, statistical process control, video or computer-based training, graphics and reporting tools, bar code label printing and so on.

Level 4 integration, external

Most CMMS vendors have built in the appropriate interfaces using electronic data entry and, more recently, the Internet to accommodate the electronic transfer of quotations, purchase orders and invoices for spare parts and contract maintenance purchases. Some companies have dispensed with the requirement for invoicing, and instead pay automatically on receipt of goods from approved vendors. This assumes that a maintenance department has prime responsibility for purchasing.

An enterprise might also have direct access to a vendor's catalog and order-entry system. Tight controls must be established to ensure only authorized users have access to an approved list of products.

David Berger is a principal with Western Management Consultants in Toronto, Canada. He is a certified Management Consultant and a registered Professional Engineer. He is Founding President of the Plant Engineering & Maintenance Association of Canada, past President of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Society for Industrial Engineering, and a past Vice President of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He can be reached via email at david@wmc.on.ca.

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