3 maintenance planning tools to stop firefighting

David Berger explores best practices for moving to a more-proactive asset management environment.

By David Berger

Asset managers pride themselves on being great problem-solvers. Unfortunately, for some this translates into a lot of firefighting, or a reactive management style. The good news is that the trend is away from firefighting and toward a more-planned environment.

Decades of automation have brought improvements to information systems, operational equipment, and telecommunications through the internet of things (IIoT). For maintenance departments, automation has spawned new opportunities for becoming less reactive. Information systems such as your CMMS and specialized software can help reduce the incidence of unplanned downtime. In addition, better analysis tools are able to determine the root cause of problems and recognize recurring themes. Moving to a more stable, planned environment can pay big dividends in increased productivity, higher-quality work, and improved service levels.

Just how easy it is to move to a more-planned environment will depend on how big your fire trucks are. If the majority of your maintenance work is unplanned, then there will be a major cultural and strategic shift necessary for operations, marketing, and maintenance. Senior management must be sold on the benefits of increased planning as well as on investing in predictive and preventive maintenance. Without top management support, the probability of making any significant progress in changing the culture is very near zero.

The best way to convince senior management that a cultural shift for asset management is needed is to present a plan with operations that outlines savings for a given level of investment. To that end, three planning tools can be used: the strategic plan, the budget, and a work program.

The strategic plan. An asset management strategy must provide a long-term game plan complete with measurable goals and objectives, in light of the operations and overall business strategies. Once you draft a strategy, you’ll plan a program for meeting established targets, and you’ll propose a measurement system for helping manage the program using your CMMS. Then you’ll have a solid framework to present to top management that explains how you will benefit by moving to a more-planned environment.

The budget. Top of mind for most senior executives is how to squeeze more profit out of the company through reduced costs and increased sales. Once a strategy is formulated, a budget showing costs and savings of implementing the plan must be prepared. To present a budget to top management without first selling an asset management strategy leaves seemingly arbitrary budget cuts as a viable option for top management, especially if the current system appears to have worked in prior years without short-term consequences. This, in turn, fuels the firefighting mentality so prevalent in North American industry.

The work program. The work program reconciles the annual workload with the available workforce to achieve the most effective resource utilization possible, given the proposed strategic plan and budget. A detailed work program on your CMMS will include a description of the planned maintenance tasks required for each piece of equipment, the standard time for completing the work, when each task is scheduled throughout the year, and what the resource requirements are in terms of labor, materials, and tools. These requirements can be costed and reconciled back to the budget. In addition, the savings resulting from following the work program can be tied to the goals, objectives, and targets within the strategic plan.

Any other value-added activities that maintenance staff will conduct must be documented – these might include work on capital projects, assisting operations, or performing nonmaintenance work. Times should also be allocated for other activities such as participating in special projects (e.g., implementing new systems) or safety meetings.

If senior management tries to cut back on the budget, something must drop off the work program, and the resulting impact on your ability to meet the promised targets in the proposed strategic plan must be demonstrated. This may cause senior management to think twice about cutting costs, as you have made it clear what the consequences will be.

Reactive vs. preventive vs. predictive maintenance


Your work program must allow for a certain percentage of reactive or failure-based maintenance work that results from unplanned equipment breakdown. Over time, the share of reactive work should decline to ideally about 20% of total workload, depending on the company size, industry type, age of equipment, and so on. To eliminate reactive maintenance altogether may be a costly proposition. Let’s look at a simple example.

Suppose your local hydro company instituted a preventive maintenance program for replacing light bulbs for street lamps. Assume that the life of LED light bulbs is calculated to be approximately 10-15 years. Therefore, as part of its work program, the maintenance department plans to replace all the light bulbs on a given street by issuing a single work order after 10 years.

The preventive or use-based maintenance approach saves money and improves customer service as compared with the reactive approach. With the reactive model, a maintenance truck and crew must be dispatched; parts must be issued; and the street will be in darkness each time the public complains that a single light is out. This situation must be weighed against the cost of replacing some light bulbs prematurely. The greatest benefit-to-cost ratio will undoubtedly be achieved through a mix of reactive and preventive maintenance – for example, replacing the bulbs every 12 years or after 100,000 hours of use.

Predictive or condition-based maintenance is really an extension of or improvement on preventive maintenance. It is based on the theory that equipment is operating efficiently when measurements of vibration, heat, pressure, tension, speed, alignment, and so on fall within an acceptable bandwidth. As the equipment wears, measurements drift beyond established control limits, and major or minor maintenance is required to bring the equipment back to optimum operating conditions. 

Some CMMS vendors interface their software with the data collection and diagnostic components of predictive maintenance packages to generate work orders. However, most CMMS vendors avoid capturing and analyzing reams of data directly from shop-floor data collection devices, as interpretation of the data can be highly specialized and/or hugely data-intensive.

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