Optimize maintenance workflows

David Berger reveals four triggers that pull your maintenance staff to work.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

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Most CMMS packages are designed with the work order as the primary focus of the system, from work initiation to the collection and reporting of data following work execution. But simply having a CMMS does not therefore imply your maintenance workflows are optimized. There are numerous ways to design key processes and configure the system in support of a given workflow. This column looks at some tips and traps in setting up and optimizing key maintenance workflows.

Work initiation

One of the key elements of any maintenance workflow is how work is initiated. Workflow optimization must start with an assumption that 100% of your maintenance workload is planned. If this is true, then you will have sufficient time to develop standardized job plans, properly prioritize work, pre-define optimized process flows using the CMMS workflow engine, and establish sensible business rules for approvals, exception handling, alarming, and escalation that ensure workflows are optimized.

In order to ensure 100% of your maintenance workload is planned, you need to categorize the work into four buckets, namely, fail-based maintenance (FBM), use-based maintenance (UBM), condition-based maintenance (CBM), and non-maintenance work. These are the only means of initiating work done by maintainers.

Suppose, for example, in reviewing maintenance history and using cost/benefit analysis for critical equipment, you determine that the optimal mix of the four triggers of work done by your maintenance department is as follows:

  • 20% FBM (maintenance triggered by equipment failure)
  • 50% UBM (maintenance triggered by time, meter reading, or specific events such as a snow storm or environmental spill)
  • 20% CBM (maintenance triggered by one or more condition indicators)
  • 10% non-maintenance work (capital projects, demand work such as hanging a picture and corporate improvement initiatives).

Armed with this knowledge, the next step is to develop standard job plans for each of these categories, starting with the most critical equipment and components. Each job plan provides a step-by-step procedure on how to prevent, inspect for, diagnose, or fix a problem. As well, each job plan states the labor skills required, estimated hours for each task, spare parts and tools required, safety or special instructions, engineering drawings or other visual aids, and any measurements that will be taken.

When maintenance work is triggered, a work order associated with the appropriate job plan is released for scheduling. Triggers can be automated, like time-dependent UBM tasks, such as quarterly lubrication, or triggers based on online, real-time meter readings prompting CBM tasks, such as monitoring temperature. The more processes can be automated through preventive and predictive maintenance, the easier it is to plan and schedule the work, and thus workflows will be optimized.

However, depending on your industry, you may have to deal with a significant percentage of your work that is triggered by external demand, manual inspections, or random failures or events. In these cases, standard job plans may still be relevant, but, typically, additional information is required from the initiator, such as problem code, problem description, level of urgency and relevant measures. In order to help optimize the associated workflow, CMMS vendors use a variety of electronic forms to collect data from the work requestor as described below. Note that terms, definitions, and intended use of the forms are far from consistent in the industry.

Work request: This is the most common form completed typically by those in operations, engineering, or other departments. It can be used to initiate demand work or FBM. A work request is essentially a work order with the status of “work request.” However, not all work requests will become separate work orders; for example, there may be multiple work requests received for what eventually becomes a single work order, such as multiple people across multiple shifts complaining separately about a noise, vibration, and smell, that turns out to be the same problem with a single piece of equipment.

Service request: There is not much difference between a service request and work request, except that the former is used more in the service sector at facilities such as utilities, hotels, property managers, municipalities, and airports where the requestor is more likely an external, third-party customer, or when maintenance is performed by a contractor. Service requests can be handled online or through a centralized call center. Maintainers are dispatched once the service request becomes an approved and scheduled work order, or immediately if deemed a true emergency.

Fault report: This form is more specialized in that it is used to report equipment failure in more detail. Although fundamentally a work request, the fault report focuses on detail around the nature of the failure, so that the maintenance organization can properly diagnose the problem and react accordingly. Ultimately, fault reporting will help track the history of equipment failures in order to make adjustments to maintenance policies and the work program.

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