How to make maintenance planning and scheduling work for you

How to achieve dramatic improvements in maintenance productivity – fast.

By Doc Palmer, Richard Palmer and Associates Inc.

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How would you like to add 57 persons for free to your existing 100-person workforce to do extra proactive work? You can, by understanding how much of an impact planning and scheduling proactive maintenance can have for your plant.

A picture (or chart) is worth a thousand words, so take a look at this: Figure 1 shows a maintenance group at a grain plant making a dramatic increase in work-order completions. In a single month, the plant improved from completing only 238 work orders per month to 339 work orders per month, a 42% increase.

Considering that plants usually complete most of their reactive maintenance, all 101 extra work orders completed are, by definition, proactive. So planning and scheduling answers the question, “How can we complete more proactive work to head off reactive work when we have our hands already full with reactive work?”

Nevertheless, planning and scheduling programs frustrate most plants, and they do not achieve the great benefitfrom what should be a rewarding endeavor for maintenance. Most plants think that by providing great job plans, jobs will go smoother and the maintenance group will complete more (and better-quality) work. They also think that by providing great schedules, they will have better coordination between operations and maintenance so that the maintenance group will complete more work. Finally, most plants let urgent work go directly to the maintenance group and bypass planning to quicken the maintenance response. This thinking won't suffice to implement successful planning and scheduling programs.

Success depends on recognizing and addressing subtle issues in both planning and scheduling. To achieve the dramatic productivity increase possible through planning and scheduling, management must first understand why there is an opportunity. Then, management must understand and actively manage three precepts for proper planning and scheduling. First, planning should provide for ever-improving job plans. Second, scheduling should provide 100% loaded schedules as weekly goals. Third, planners should try to plan urgent work if the crews will not start it immediately.

The opportunity of planning and scheduling

To begin, consider why an opportunity exists for productivity improvement and the benefit such an improvement could provide. While it is hard to believe, productivity measurements of maintenance craftspersons at good plants shows so-called wrench time at only about 35%. This means that of the available labor for the day – the amount of time that persons are actually moving jobs ahead and aren't in nonproductive activities such as getting parts or tools, traveling about the plant, being in meetings, or being on break – is only about 3.5 hours out of a 10-hour shift.

This seemingly low rate is universal because humans feel “busy” at about 35%, and over the years plants adjust their labor capacity to “take care of operations” and keep everyone busy.

Nevertheless, in a matter of weeks, a proper planning and scheduling system can boost wrench time to about 55%. This is a 57% improvement. (The grain plant in Figure 1 achieved 50% wrench time in its 42% productivity improvement.)

Furthermore, suppose a plant had 30 maintenance persons; under these conditions, a 57% improvement in productivity would be the equivalent of adding an extra 17 persons for free to do extra proactive work. While some estimates are as high as $100/hr, consider $50/hr as a fully loaded rate for a craftsperson. The annual salary value of 17 persons would be nearly $1.77 million. Now consider the industry “1:10” rule of thumb, whichis that every $1 spent on extra proactive maintenance saves $10 on the bottom line (largely from improving plant availability and reliability). The extra $1.77 million opportunity yields $18 million in profit per year for the plant by using the extra free labor to do proactive maintenance.

Precept 1: Provide ever-improving job plans

The problem with implementing planning is that management usually oversells planning. Management tells craftspersons that they will get perfect job plans and never have to hunt for parts anymore. Of course, that is an impossible task. Many jobs run into unexpected situations, but because management promised perfect plans, these craftspersons insist that planners help find the extra parts or information needed. Consequently, planners usually become so involved in helping jobs in progress that they do not plan all the new work. Then they help even more jobs in progress because many jobs have no plans. Soon they do little advance planning at all.

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