Tailor your maintenance program for each asset

David Berger says optimize your maintenance program for different work types.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Your CMMS is a marvelous tool for planning and scheduling maintenance activities, as well as tracking your maintenance history. But one of the greatest strengths of your CMMS is often underutilized — the ability to optimize your maintenance program for all of the relevant work types.

Maintenance management, along with maintenance planners if you are large enough to cost-justify them, must determine the best mix of breakdown, preventive, predictive, and non-maintenance work, whether the work is done internally or using outside vendors.

Define work types

There are only three possible maintenance policies that define how all maintenance work is initiated, regardless of the asset class.

Failure-based maintenance: This maintenance policy is triggered by a mechanical breakdown or failure of some kind, such that the asset is not fulfilling its intended purpose. For example, replacing light bulbs when they burn out would be considered failure-based maintenance.

Use-based maintenance: When maintenance is triggered by an interval of time or meter reading, or by the recurrence of a given event such as a rainfall, then it is considered use-based maintenance. An example of this maintenance policy is replacing light bulbs in your facility on a rolling cycle of, say, once every year.

Condition-based maintenance: The third way maintenance can be triggered is by satisfying one or more conditions, such as reaching or exceeding an upper or lower control limit, or matching a specific trend or pattern. Following the theme above, an example of this policy is replacing light bulbs when the electrical resistance or heat output is measured and reaches a given set point, meaning the light bulb will be failing soon. Condition monitoring can be online real-time, or part of a regular manual inspection using appropriate handheld equipment.

Maintenance personnel also perform non-maintenance work with such work types as follows.

Capital projects: When assets are added or modified in a significant way, maintainers are frequently asked to help with the project. Participation in planning and executing capital projects can be useful for the maintenance department, given that they are the most likely recipients of the workload that will surely follow, to maintain the new or modified assets.

Demand work: Although this term is used loosely in most companies, demand work should really refer to tasks that are requested by the internal or external customers and that are neither maintenance work nor capital projects. This includes tasks such as moving a piece of equipment, fabricating a simple jig, or assisting with a production changeover.

Area assurance: This very unproductive work type is relevant to maintenance personnel who must be physically available to react to downtime or maintenance requests emanating from a given area. For example, operations may insist on having an area mechanic that is given few or no distractions, such as other work types. If the equipment jams or a component fails, the maintainer responsible for area assurance will spring into action and resolve the problem. Operations might be perfectly happy to see the maintainer sitting around and reading the paper all day, because it means uptime was maximized.

This work type was made famous by the lonely Maytag repairman commercials of the past 30 years, which implied that the ultimate image of success for a maintenance department is maintainers sitting idly with equipment always running. But why not maximize uptime and minimize maintainer idle time while on area assurance? The two are not mutually exclusive.

Optimize your maintenance program

To get more out of your CMMS, determine the optimal maintenance policy for each asset or component, starting with assets and components that have the most catastrophic consequences if they fail — your critical assets. Determine which of the three maintenance policies yields the greatest benefit at the lowest cost. If consequences of failure are extremely high, consider installing redundant equipment. This works well if the cost of redundancy is outweighed by the benefits of lower risk of failure.

If redundancy proves too expensive an option for critical equipment, explore adopting condition-based or use-based maintenance policies. As in the light bulb examples, condition-based maintenance policies are typically the more expensive route to implement. However, the higher cost of fully automated or even manual condition inspections may be outweighed by the lower risk of a costly failure. This, of course, assumes that the condition monitored is an accurate predictor of failure and that there is adequate time and means for taking action when an alarm is triggered. Sometimes, multiple conditions require monitoring to improve the accuracy of predicting failure, which, in turn, may affect the cost effectiveness of a condition-based maintenance policy.

David Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto officeDavid Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto office. David has written more than 200 articles on a variety of topics such as maintenance management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. In Plant Services magazine, he has written a monthly column on maintenance management in the United States, as well as three very extensive reviews of maintenance management systems available in North America. David has done extensive work in the areas of strategy, information technology and business process re-engineering. He can be reached at
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Use-based maintenance can be easier and less expensive to implement as a policy, but only if frequencies are optimized. Imagine how costly it would be to change the oil either too often, because of the cost of labor and materials, or too infrequently, because of the reduced engine life or suboptimal asset performance.

The CMMS provides ample diagnostic tools to fine-tune the intervals and optimize the cost of a given maintenance policy based on historical data. Performing Pareto analysis on problem, root cause and action codes will provide you with a breakdown of the most costly assets including the root causes. Further investigation of root cause may lead to a change in the frequency of use-based maintenance or an adjustment to the interval for condition-based inspections. If necessary, it may even lead to a change in maintenance policy, such as moving from failure- or use-based maintenance to condition-based maintenance, assuming an adequate predictive condition trigger can be determined and measured cost-effectively.

Another opportunity to optimize the maintenance program is to examine the nature and amount of non-maintenance work that is done by the maintenance department. For capital projects, maintenance should be involved early in the planning and design phases to avoid costly maintenance expenditures in the future due to bad design and execution.

For demand maintenance, all work requests should be funnelled through maintenance, as internal customers cannot be expected to sort out what is appropriate. However, guidelines should be established as to what work can be done cost-effectively by maintenance staff and what work will be done by others.

Maintainers must focus on their primary objective, which is maximizing the availability, reliability, and performance of assets, at minimal cost. For example, no one wins if maintainers sacrifice completion of planned maintenance activities in order to help move some tables and chairs in the cafeteria.

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If you have a maintenance function that resembles area assurance described above, then optimizing your maintenance program should definitely include finding ways to keep area-based maintainers busy when they are not called to action. This might include conducting inspections, performing trend analysis, making adjustments, and working on small repairs or capital projects within the area. Some companies have gone as far as eliminating area assurance and either training operators to do minor adjustments, inspections and simple fixes, or simply hiring trained maintainers to be operators.

Finally, optimizing your maintenance program should include using the CMMS to compare the cost of doing maintenance and non-maintenance work internally, versus using contracted resources. This requires careful planning and scheduling for all work types in order to avoid a chronic overtime problem and to make effective use of contracted services.