Getting a CMMS is only half the battle

Every plant of significant size has a CMMS, or soon will. The economics seem irrefutable, so most plants bite the bullet, survive the implementation and get ready to watch their maintenance procedures become efficient and productive. But getting a CMMS is only half the battle. Today, you need handhelds to reap more of the advantages.

Every plant of significant size has a CMMS, or soon will. The economics seem irrefutable, so most plants bite the bullet, survive the implementation and get ready to watch their maintenance procedures become efficient and productive. But getting a CMMS is only half the battle. Today, you need handhelds to reap more of the advantages.

That’s because a CMMS usually resides on a distant computer or server, but maintenance people work on the plant floor. Without handhelds, someone has to spend time at a suitable PC to enter data manually. With handhelds, more CMMS benefits can be enjoyed on the plant floor (see sidebar, “Handheld CMMS functions”), and no one has to spend two hours at the end of the day inputting data.
The Sonoco Flexible Packaging Plant in Morristown, Tenn., is a 50,000 sq.ft. facility with 150 employees, running 24/7 making packaging for many national brands. The maintenance department has eight employees under Supervisor Mickey Reaves. In 2002, maintenance was primarily reactive, reports Reaves, and Sonoco didn’t have an organized inventory system for repair parts. The facility installed iMaint OnLine, a Web-hosted enterprise asset management system from DPSI (www.dpsi.com). It allowed maintenance employees to access the maintenance management and inventory control system from any computer with a Web browser and Internet access. This system let Sonoco track maintenance records, work orders and data collected from plant assets, but it still required manual data entry.

In 2004, the company added iMaint Mobile software and Pocket PC wireless PDAs with integrated barcode scanners. Each technician was assigned a PDA that connected to the system through a plant-wide wireless network. “We’re much more efficient in our work order processes,” reports Reaves, and no one has to enter information by typing it into a PC workstation. 

“All that work is done directly on our PDAs at the work location, and work orders in iMaint are updated instantly,” he says. “Each PDA has a detailed list of current preventive maintenance and work orders. It’s easy to generate new work orders or PMs on location, or combine repairs with preventive procedures when scheduled PM is about to come due.”

The system has also automated the parts inventory control system. “A big advantage is that when a tech scans a part out, inventory levels are instantly updated,” says Reaves. “Plus, an engineer troubleshooting a breakdown can know instantly if a needed part is in stock, and where it’s located.” No more than three of any part is kept in stock -- the system reorders parts as needed.

Reaves reports the gains in productivity and efficiency, plus improved inventory control, paid for the handheld equipment many times over and have enabled Sonoco to go from a reactive program to a proactive one.

Many CMMS software vendors are adding mobile capabilities, either on their own or by tight integration with specific partners. So when you’re ready to add mobile devices, Dave Loesch, director of maintenance solutions for one-stop solution shop Oracle (www.oracle.com), says you have to examine the offerings carefully. “Probably the biggest issue for maintenance users is the fly-by-night nature of mobile vendors and their integration with the CMMS vendors,” he asserts. “MRO’s customers were happy with Syclo until MRO came out with its own mobile platform. Datastream customers jumped on board with the Global PTM solution until Datastream took it in-house with 7i. Indus customers loved Future Horizons, which became iMedeo, which became Virynet.”

Why all the switching around? “The CMMS vendors are developing their own mobile platforms because they want the margins and their customers don’t like the multiple-vendor solution,” Loesch says. “The bottom line is that users can no longer afford to deal with these hodgepodge vendor solutions.”

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