Get proactive with your maintenance

Discover the secrets to successful proactive maintenance planning.

By John Reeve, manager/practice leader maintenance and reliability solutions, Cohesive Information Solutions

In brief:

  • Trying to escape the grasp of reactive maintenance is a complex problem involving software, process, and organization.
  • A proactive maintenance planner actively supports future work scheduling and reliability centered maintenance.
  • There can be many reasons why the planning process is not working. And it only takes one reason to cause a real problem.

Everyone seems to talk about the importance of work planning within the enterprise asset management (EAM) system. Vendors often discuss how the software supports workforce management, work categorization, and job planning. And EAM users frequently participate in user forums, attend training classes, and talk with other peer groups in an attempt to improve work order planning. If all of this is true, why are so many sites still struggling to fully implement maintenance planning?

Although some industries have the work management planning process finely tuned, others are stuck in a self-imposed, reactive maintenance mode and are unsure how to escape. Just because they have planners doesn't mean they are fully engaged in (or supportive of) future work planning. Rather they may be actively involved in reactive maintenance support. 

A proactive maintenance planner actively supports future work scheduling and reliability centered maintenance. Job Planners often assist with identification of recurring problems, faulty parts, and work order feedback. Plus, they participate in maintenance backlogs, work priority validation, job plan creation and PM library reviews.

The lack of proactive planning is illustrated in Figure 1 where Process A handles all work the same and Process B allows for proactive maintenance (Figure 1).

The lack of proactive planning is illustrated in Figure 1 where Process A handles all work the same and Process B allows for proactive maintenance (Figure 1)

This means we need to start identifying work that can be planned and begin making weekly schedules. But it’s not that simple.

There can be many reasons why the planning process is not working. And it only takes one reason to cause a real problem. When it comes to work order planning, you might encounter the following:

  • No formal job planner position exists. The maintenance staff sometimes performs this role but usually as a non-formal process with inconsistent results.
  • The planner position exists, but has no real training in planning/scheduling fundamentals or conceptual understanding of EAM system management, such as backlog management, work prioritization, and PM program design. Planners are afraid to estimate any work.
  • The planner position exists, but the planner has insufficient industry background in maintenance.
  • The organization seems to do an excellent job at dispatching emergency and urgent work. Unfortunately, this is all it understands. Therein it processes all incoming work the same.
  • Working-level supervision is not truly supportive of the work planning process. For example, there are many instances of self-inflicted reactive maintenance, and there is no process for weekly scheduling.
  • Maintenance workers and supervisors aren’t really helping the planners in terms of feedback. Job step instructions are perceived as not needed. Maintenance staff only sees the EAM system as a work order ticket generator. 
  • There’s poor foundation data. No standard PM or job plan library has been established. PM work orders are created on the fly. The maintenance backlog is inaccurate and poorly categorized.

Foundation data and process

The maintenance program needs to clearly define the role of the maintenance planner. This skill set can add efficiency to the maintenance organization and is absolutely critical to reducing reactive maintenance. In order to make more informed decisions within the EAM system, it’s important to have all of the supporting elements (Figure 2).

 In order to make more informed decisions within the EAM system, it’s important to have all of the supporting elements (Figure 2).

Typical conversation

Even though there are many books on the subject of effective planning/scheduling, no one seems to be discussing these real world problems. A conversation might go like this:

Planner / Scheduler We cannot perform any additional work, such as work order planning, as we are fully utilized at this moment. There is a significant amount of emergency and urgent work which requires our immediate attention. And we are the main point of coordination when it comes to the EAM system input, as well as output. If we start planning work, who will handle the daily breakdowns and urgent requests?
Interpretation of the above We need more staff before we can enter any additional time for jobs such as status updates, planning/estimating of routine work, refining PM/job-plan library, attaining work-order feedback, and reviewing the maintenance backlog. But is it really just a staffing issue?
Management statement We are not going to hire any more planning staff.

Thus, an impasse. It’s sort of like a poker game — management versus the planning staff. Is it possible to come up with a solution without hiring more staff? What would you do? If there really is no time to input anything else, then this is a significant issue. This sounds like a lot of reactive maintenance. As a result of this organizational impasse, the following happens:

  • Every day the maintenance backlog grows in size including the number of unplanned work orders in this backlog and poorly categorized data.
  • The work orders are essentially managed at the working level, meaning individuals are performing individual actions. Multi-craft coordination is difficult. Job safety is up to the worker. Frequent trips are required to get parts, tools, and documentation, resulting in job delays.
  • Since reactive maintenance costs more in terms of labor, materials, travel time, safety incidents, and overall confusion from redirects, this impacts the maintenance budget.
  • Without a formal planning process, it is difficult to implement any automated scheduling techniques.
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First step: Do we have a problem?

To verify there is a problem, you could perform your own survey, and ask these questions:

  • Does management want a weekly maintenance schedule? Does it understand the benefit?
  • Other than emergencies, is any work planned?
  • How do you mark a corrective maintenance work order which has been “fully planned”? Does the system have this capability?
  • Are all PMs (job plans) defined? Are they fully planned and ready to go?
  • Do you have a maintenance backlog? Is it accurate? Are you conducting regular reviews of this backlog? Are the priorities valid or bogus? Do you have stale or duplicate work? What percentage planned is it? Consider that your target is for more than 90% of it to be planned. 
  • Have the planners ever been trained on methods for proactive maintenance? If you looked in their cubicles, are there any books on planning/scheduling and trending failures?
  • Are recurring maintenance problems being identified and managed within the EAM system?
  • Has the organization ever performed any EAM system benchmarking by visiting other sites or plants in other industries?

If the most of the above is answered as “no,” then there is a problem, and a formal assessment is warranted resulting in a remediation plan.

Remediation plan

Proactive maintenance is a complex combination of software, data, and culture. Innovative strategies will be required to change course. The secret, however, is to transform the entire organization through dramatic change by altering perceptions, roles, and procedures. If the organization is struggling to become more proactive, then a paradigm shift in thinking will be required.

You could start this dialog by assembling all stakeholders for a brainstorming session. One or more of the following approaches could be applicable.

Approach Explanation Significance, Impact, Benefit (10=High; 1=Low)
Require operations involvement for emergency and urgent work For reactive maintenance, operations or dispatch should create the work order in the EAM system, approve the request, make the work group assignment, and establish direct contact with the maintenance supervisors. Conversely, job planners should not be responsible for coding emergency/urgent work within the EAM system.  Significance: 9
Paradigm shift
Culture change
Create a chief planner position A chief planner would be the first to see all incoming work and then make assignments to the job planner. He would help standardize process and business rules. The chief planner would also filter planner-feedback forms. This person would also create the weekly schedule and oversee backlog trending. Significance: 7
Supports gatekeeper concept
Split planning staff roles If the operations department is not in a position to filter and process all reactive maintenance directly, then consider creating a work order coordinator position, and a proactive planner/scheduler. The work order coordinator would need to have client industry experience and familiarity with EAM system interaction, such as work group assignment, prioritization, and status changing. The proactive planner/scheduler however would receive advanced training in P&S, SQL and database table relationships, KPI/metrics definition, ad-hoc reporting, foundation data responsibilities, failure/problem code hierarchy refinement, and failure analysis techniques. This later position would also be a higher-paying job. Significance: 10
True paradigm shift
Request work order feedback There needs to be a well-defined process whereby the technicians regularly provide feedback on CM and PM work. Workers have valuable insight as to what was wrong, how it should be fixed, and how to prevent this from occurring again. If this data is entered as actionable data, then this can be automatically routed to various staff positions for review and action. This technique is extremely useful to setting up and optimizing your maintenance program, and it supports failure analysis. The goal is to enhance work force productivity and reduce reactive maintenance. The PM or maintenance strategy should also be reviewed and adjusted at work-order feedback time. Significance: 10
Tip-and-trick
Real ROI
High-value rewards if this WO feedback is successfully leveraged
Make use of contractors to knock down the backlog If the levels of reactive maintenance are very high and the existing maintenance organization is overwhelmed, it may be necessary to involve a contractor for a short period of time. Although initially expensive, this would allow the permanent staff to focus on proactive maintenance and get ahead of the curve by studying the causes behind these unplanned breakdowns, using failure analysis techniques and GIS to visualize recurring problems, to come up with improved maintenance strategies. Significance: 9
Immediate change
Initial cost increase, but expected long-term savings
Validate PM and job plan library Conduct review of the current PM library and define your asset maintenance strategy. Verify priority assets/systems and determine failure modes. Review historical failure data. Establish risk-based maintenance strategies based on most likely failure modes. Significance: 7
As a one-time review this can be tedious work, but a critical step
Establish dedicated PM crew A dedicated PM crew should include specific staff skilled in this PM strategy or work area/zone. This crew will provide expertise and familiarity with the tasks and provide valuable feedback. Significance: 8
Visible impact
Create fix-it-now crew Create a cross-functional, fix-it-now crew. This crew could be staffed to handle reactive maintenance, preferably after hours. Significance: 8
Visible impact
Involve operations department on backlog review Data ownership is always important. The EAM system and work order backlog needs periodic review. In the case where a backlog has gotten out of control, bring a member of operations full-time into the maintenance management team until resolved. Have this person lead the backlog reviews, including priority, validity, work group assignment, work type, status, and duplicate identification. Related goals should be to minimize self-inflicted reactive maintenance and false priorities. There needs to be a level of trust between operations and maintenance. Significance: 7
Culture change
Expand level of trust and understanding between departments
Create a true knowledge base within the EAM system
Use maintenance staff runners In some cases, especially linear assets, it is helpful to send out a runner to first size up the job. This person should always communicate with the job planner once the assessment is made. The job planner, or the runner with mobile device, would then enter the work estimate (labor and materials). In an ideal scenario, the chief planner would take a cut at work for next week and then send the runner out to size up all of this work, in one road trip. This is a best practice as opposed to sending out a runner for each individual job across multiple days. Significance: 9
Efficiency improvement
Improves communication between maintenance staff and job planners
Improves accuracy of work order plan
Centralize planning staff Planning staff may currently be located in different facilities or departments. And, depending on how embedded a planning staff is in terms of bad habits, you may need to institute a significant change in the planning process. By relocating all job planners into one room/facility, you can quickly enhance communication, facilitate change, and standardize process. After a period of time, they can be decentralized again. Significance: 8
Paradigm shift and culture change
Helps standardize process and procedure
Create EAM system training Odds are the initial EAM system training was minimal and only software-focused. Create a new curriculum that blends software with process. Explain leading practices, the end game, and why input is critical. Include job planners, maintenance supervisors, operators, and technicians. Significance: 7
Tip-and-trick

 

John Reeve is manager/practice leader maintenance and reliability solutions at Cohesive Information Solutions (www.cohesivesolutions.com). Contact him at jreeve@cohesivesolutions.com or (423) 314-1312

To achieve operational excellence, it is insufficient to just have a plaque on the wall. There needs to be a plan with a specific set of actions, backed by upper management and understood at the working level. Motivation is important, but a comprehensive roadmap that connects all of the dots with real world solutions is sometimes necessary.

Trying to escape the grasp of reactive maintenance is a complex problem involving software, process, and organization. Changing culture is hard, and it may take months or years to change the course, especially for large organizations with multiple work groups. As an organization, if you do not think boldly, then you will forever be reactive. Whatever solution is chosen, the results must be verifiable and sustainable. What’s important though is to understand the problem and then act.