Software

Optimize your CMMS with value-added features

David Berger reveals potential for decision-support functionality in your CMMS.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

With complexity on the shop floor, within facilities and in the field growing, there comes a need for more comprehensive support systems that help management and front-line staffs make better decisions. Well aware of this trend, the more progressive CMMS vendors worked hard to incorporate superb decision-support functionality into their product offerings. This includes advanced condition monitoring features; workflow capability; superior analysis and reporting tools; mobile solutions; and the ability to more easily integrate with other key operational applications. The CMMS features that support operations optimization are described below.

Condition monitoring

If the objective is optimization, one of the most critical functions is to monitor and control the condition of four aspects of operations:

  • Products
  • Processes
  • Environment
  • Assets

If optimization is the goal, management must change the corporate culture to take advantage of the powerful systems at their disposal.

Certainly, low-level operations management systems such as human-machine interfaces (HMIs), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and proprietary data collection systems built into operational equipment are capable of tracking the four aspects. However, operations personnel seem to be more concerned with the first three aspects than the assets themselves. They seem to rely heavily on maintenance personnel to deal with monitoring or at least the control of key assets.

Competition, tension and role ambiguity between operations and maintenance is nothing new. But with far more sophisticated and better integrated monitoring and control systems, it’s getting harder to separate the duties of maintenance and operations management. Unfortunately, human behavior takes much more time and effort to change than technology. For example, why is there so much resistance by union leaders to implement programs such as total productive maintenance (TPM), where operators are trained to take on greater responsibility for minor maintenance of their assets, such as inspections, adjustments and lubrication? The opposition stems from a power struggle at the management level and a fear that jobs will be lost or dramatically changed at the technician and operator levels.

If optimization is the goal, management must change the corporate culture to take advantage of the powerful systems at its disposal. Long gone are the days when maintenance technicians sit around reading the paper, waiting for a call from the field or shop floor to deal with a downtime problem. Condition monitoring capability allows operators, technicians and engineers to react more quickly to abnormal or potentially suboptimal situations, regardless of source. There must be better cooperation between operations, maintenance and engineering at every level in the organization, and a new definition of roles and responsibilities that match the new reality.

Workflow

A sophisticated workflow engine some CMMS vendors offer enhances the condition monitoring capability, in that data can be routed and actions taken in a manner predefined by users. For example, if a pressure reading strays outside user-defined control limits, the CMMS can initiate a work order automatically or send an email to the appropriate maintenance supervisor with the current pressure reading. Workflows can be triggered on the basis of condition or trend in any variables, such as when both temperature rises more than 10% above normal and the pressure exceeds 100 psi. In this way the CMMS keeps constant vigilance to optimize operations through quick response.

Workflow isn’t only useful for monitoring shop-floor measures, but it also can be useful as a management tool. For example, if PM compliance dips below say 90%, an email can be sent to the maintenance manager. If it drops below say 80%, an email can be sent to the plant manager. If PM compliance goes below, say, 70%, an email can be sent to the COO and so on. Thus, a workflow engine can be used to set up any user-defined transfer of data and actions, based on virtually any user-defined event, condition, measure or combination thereof.

Analysis and reporting

Collecting a constant stream of information from thousands of points in the field or the shop floor doesn’t in and of itself optimize operations. In fact, many companies experience information overload when they first implement advanced CMMS packages. It’s not clear what they should do with all the new data. CMMS vendors know this phenomenon only too well. Some vendors help by providing lots of tools, templates, samples and predefined reports to assist users in extracting knowledge out of the plethora of data. Other less helpful vendors try a marketing spin that they don’t supply tools or templates, but their software is flexible enough to allow users to build whatever reports a user wants, when they want them, as if the two are mutually exclusive.

One of the hottest features of many software packages including CMMS applications is the dashboard user interface. The dashboard allows users to configure the look and feel of a personal home page on the CMMS, including table summary reports, key performance indicators, alarms and warnings, key messages and links to relevant information. The user can configure display formats, such as a speedometer or stoplight graphic depicting budget variances as in the green (favorable), yellow (cautionary) or red (unacceptable) range or status. The appropriate range for each is user-definable. If the graphic shows movement toward the red range, the user can double-click on the graphic to provide a more detailed variance report. The user can zoom in on what is causing the variance with a series of successive double-clicks. Ultimately, if the dashboard is configured properly, users quickly can identify problems, determine the root cause and take appropriate action. Dashboards can provide the visibility needed to help optimize operations through better decision making.

Mobile solutions

Another useful tool for optimizing operations is the mobile device. Some users mistakenly think of a mobile device as simply a small remote terminal with access to the CMMS. This doesn’t do justice to the power of the mobile solution. In fact, field or shop floor workers are completely alienated by mobile solutions if they have to scroll through reams of data on tiny screens. However, companies experience significant improvements in productivity if the software renders properly on the small screen, provides only the information required to do a job and is configured to take advantage of the powerful features of a given device, such as taking and attaching pictures, recording GPS coordinates or reading RFID or barcodes.

Integration

One of the most important trends in the CMMS industry is the bridging of the many islands of automation that exist within operations. This includes field and shop-floor data-intensive systems mentioned above — HMI, SCADA and PLC systems — as well as many other systems such as time and attendance, asset tracking/locating, calibration, quality control, manufacturing execution systems (MES), building management systems (BMS), geographic information systems (GIS) and ERP systems. Integration of systems means greater accuracy and timeliness of shared data because it’s entered only once at its source. Additionally, data storage and data entry costs are lower because there’s less duplication. Most importantly, users have easier access to the data required to make better decisions, regardless of where that data resides.

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Some CMMS vendors have integrated their product offerings with these applications by incorporating the software into their CMMS. Others have acquired or been acquired by a company such as an ERP provider or plant automation company that offers one or more of these applications. Still others have formed partnerships with various companies that can build the appropriate interfaces to ensure seamless integration between partners. Finally, some CMMS vendors simply build the required interface as the need arises.

Email Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at david@wmc.on.ca.