Peak condition: How to get the most out of your CMMS/EAM investments

Now more than ever, your CMMS is key to driving business health.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Elite athletes and amateurs aspiring to personal bests alike know that peak performance isn’t achieved by paying attention only to one muscle group, one motion, one technique, one discipline. Optimal performance demands a balanced approach to training and to maintenance of the body. Says U.S. distance runner Meb Keflezighi, a four-time Olympian (with a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens) and former winner of the Boston and New York City marathons: “To compete as well as I do, I’ve always had to do more than just run.”

In his 2015 book “Meb for Mortals,” Keflezighi wrote: “It’s true that I’m dedicated to eating well, recovering well, working on my running form, cross-training, and staying strong and flexible. But it’s important to realize that I don’t consider those ‘little things.’ They’re integral to being the best runner I can be; when done day-in and day-out, they’re like compound interest, building to something big over time.”

So it goes with maintenance management in a plant. Focusing primarily on one performance metric – be it unplanned downtime, maintenance spend year-over-year, PM completion rate, or another measure – may produce improvements in that targeted area in the short term, but for optimized maintenance performance for the long haul, a more-holistic approach is needed. And just as elite and amateur athletes today have access to better data than ever about factors ranging from oxygen consumption to sleep quality, so, too, do plants have access through their CMMS and EAM systems to a wider range of informative data. This data can provide a more-comprehensive view of asset performance as well as maintenance team performance – but only if organizations seize upon and are effectively able to use these tools.

How can your plant use CMMS and EAM tools more effectively to get the data needed to do all of the “little things” more effectively and achieve optimum maintenance performance? Following are best practices and lessons learned in three main categories – technologies, strategy, and team support – from several industry practitioners who have led efforts to take a more-holistic approach to maintenance management.

1. Technologies: Tailoring tools to deliver the functionality you need


A common complaint among some CMMS and EAM software users is that it can be difficult to find and display the most relevant, needed data in the most useful context. The online dashboard that’s most useful for a maintenance technician may not be the dashboard that’s most useful for the maintenance manager. And when users have to navigate through an array of drop-down menus every time they log in to enter or assess information – or, worse, when they have to work outside the software system to track certain data points – the frustration that ensues may make users less inclined to use the software beyond their minimum requirements of the system. It could even contribute to an increased likelihood of user entry error.

One way to help avoid these issues? Work with your software (or SaaS) provider to tailor the solution you’re purchasing to your organization’s needs and, after implementation, ensure that it’s delivering promised functionality – as any elite athlete would work with his or her coaches to tweak a training program. That kind of vendor-user collaboration may sound farfetched, but it doesn’t have to be, and it can prevent major headaches down the road.

For Jay Gnuse, information technology director at Grand Island, NE-based Chief Industries, an invaluable collaboration opportunity came in the form of being a beta user of IFS Applications 10, the newest version of IFS’ enterprise application suite, released during the IFS World Conference in Atlanta this spring. Chief, which encompasses seven companies serving industries including construction, agribusiness, and wastewater management, had used IFS EAM products since 2006 and had been running IFS Applications 8 since 2014, so Gnuse sought to leverage that long-standing relationship and familiarity with IFS products as he and Chief looked toward the company’s next EAM upgrade.

“When the opportunity came that we knew Apps 10 was coming out, I approached (IFS) and let them know that we’d be interested in being an early adopter,” Gnuse said in an interview at IFS WoCo. The chance to explore new features, ask questions about how and why new functionalities were developed as they were, request enhancements to the core product, and receive expert training made for a more-seamless upgrade, Gnuse indicates.

Through IFS’ online customer support center, Chief was able to create “cases” – IT tickets, essentially – with questions for IFS R&D personnel. “On that case, we’re describing everything as best we can. In some cases it starts out with, ‘This is what we think is happening; we’d like to see it like this; does it work like that?’ Many times R&D would come back to us ... and say, ‘Here’s a piece you didn’t understand, so you can do it that way,’ and then off we go. In some cases they’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, but why are you trying to do that?’...We would go back and forth, and eventually we would come to a point where they would say, ‘Yeah, I think that’s valuable for more than just Chief, so we’re going to do that.’ ”

Management of consignment inventory was one area that improved through this collaboration, when IFS made an enhancement to Apps 10 to deliver Chief’s requested functionality, Gnuse says. “We needed to be able to do it with serial numbers,” he explains. “They had the functionality to do just consignment inventory, but not with serial numbers. We had written some things outside the system to handle that, and now we’ll be able to eliminate that (workaround).”

Other factors and functionalities worth considering in evaluating CMMS or EAM offerings:

  • Does the software allow users to make trial adjustments to individual job plans to explore how costs and time lines may change if certain parameters or inputs are modified?
  • As companies increase their focus on aftermarket support and selling of performance and services, what kind of functionality is available for tracking aftermarket service work and customer support?
  • How does the offering support robust supply-chain transparency both in terms of inventory received and maintenance management?
  • How does the offering help team members more easily meet (likely expanding) work documentation requirements? How easy is it to analyze work performed based on the shift, crew, or individual executing the work; the project that the work supported; or the time period during which work was done, for example? How easy is it to compare this data across facilities and create relevant reports?

In the course of Chief’s early-adopter use of Applications 10, the company submitted more than 200 questions and requests through the support center, Gnuse says. “We’ve gotten a ton of information, which really helps us better understand how to use IFS,” he says. “Some of the times there are parts of IFS (Apps) that we didn’t use because we just didn’t really understand why they did what they did. Through this we’ve learned more about how it’s supposed to work.”

Gnuse readily acknowledges that there are risks inherent in running a beta program – risks likely to give executives pause about signing on to be part of an EAM tool’s vetting process. But the promise of extensive vendor support and training, and the fact that the venture would be cost-neutral vs. doing a regular upgrade, helped sell Chief leadership on the initiative.

2. Strategy: Know what you want to achieve


Identifying key questions you want to answer through use of your CMMS/EAM solution – and how these answers will support business initiatives – also can lend focus to your software procurement and use initiatives. For industrial building materials company James Hardie, a management change several years ago brought about a new emphasis on figuring out exactly where maintenance dollars were going and how maintenance spend and labor hours could be used more efficiently, says Donnie Stillwell, reliability engineer at the company.

With that charge in mind, James Hardie began an overhaul of its CMMS use, with a goal of standardizing data entry so that data from plants across the country could be more readily compared.

“The No. 1 thing (we found) was that the data stunk,” Stillwell says. “We had inconsistent and inaccurate data, so the big thing that we had to do was standardize the way that people input things and recorded things – the words that they used and the abbreviations they used and then what piece of equipment in the hierarchy they tied it to.” As athletes and trainers like to say in reference to nutrition, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

A key finding after James Hardie’s reporting standardization effort: There were significant variations from plant to plant in the cost and time spent on a given activity. “Even regarding like environmental compliance, things that are legally prescriptive of what we have to do, (they would) take four times as long and cost twice as much in one facility as in another,” Stillwell says. Part of this, the team discerned, had to do with the use of different contractors; part resulted from what Stillwell calls “accepted inefficiency.” In any case, the discrepancies wouldn’t have been clearly identified without the cleaned-up CMMS data on work orders and other maintenance activities.

“We pulled the data from our CMMS to document the activity and our hours and then we used our ERP (system) to validate the dollars and put that into an Excel tool that we built,” Stillwell notes. Armed with that validated data, Stillwell’s reliability team was able to go to plant maintenance managers as well as corporate management and present a compelling case for targeting specific activities at specific sites for efficiency improvements – so that maintenance staff could have more time for more productive activities.

The next step, Stillwell says, is to use CMMS data on maintenance activities to take a closer look at the effectiveness of established PMs at James Hardie facilities.

“We have been challenged to say, ‘What time-based PM can go away and be replaced with PdM?’ ” he says. Excessive intervention into a machine’s operations – not unlike unnecessary or premature medical intervention for an athlete – can introduce new problems to the machine and jeopardize rather than support asset health. It can also be inefficient from a cost and time perspective.

Now, with less variability in maintenance activities within and across sites, the reliability team is better equipped to compare preventive vs. predictive approaches to maintenance on specific assets. “(We’re looking at) when we did (a PM) on a three-month frequency, this is the time, labor, material, and downtime cost, and when we do it as PdM, what is that result, and we can compare those two,” Stillwell says.

3. Team support: Get everyone moving in the same direction


Technological capabilities, of course, will get an organization only so far when it comes to deriving business benefits from CMMS/EAM tools. Getting maintenance and operations teams as well as executive staff on board with use of these tools is crucial, too.

“I can remember the words coming out of (a) maintenance manager’s mouth: ‘How are you going to use this to make my day worse?’ ” Stillwell recalls about his company’s initial push to overhaul and optimize its CMMS use. “That’s when we had to kind of switch gears to education, to show we’re going to use this activity to show where the (maintenance) dollars are actually landing to try to get you more so you can have more activities that are productive, and once we sold a few guys, then it flipped the script,” he says.

Education about what was being done and why, as well as consistent updates about progress, findings, and gains achieved so far, was vital to ensuring the success and sustainability of James Hardie’s drive to use its CMMS to tie maintenance costs and activities to business objectives.

“As a corporate group, we work directly with plant managers and maintenance managers,” says Stillwell. And while these site-level managers with whom technicians worked more frequently were the primary messengers and educators about the company-wide CMMS initiative, Stillwell’s team took its message to team members directly when need be. “We had some troubles in that department and had to do some direct communication with teams – ‘Hey, your guy’s not helping me, so I’m going to leap-frog him and go right to the floor,’ ” he says.

Some amount of resistance to change when you’re asking people to change their work processes is inevitable, but how change leaders address an impasse with specific team members can make or break the overall effort.

“Hold people accountable for your expectations,” said Tod Baer, CMRP, CRL, senior plant specialist for reliability at Minnkota Power, at Mobius Institute’s CBM Conference USA in Orlando in November. “Reinforce the good behavior, but also deal with the bad behavior. You’re going to have that 10% or 15% (who are going to be resistant to change), and you may have to have some options for them” if they refuse to move in the direction the organization is moving, Baer said.

Making it easier for people to use the tools you want them to use will go a long way in building buy-in and in getting the results you want. For Grand Forks, ND-based Minnkota, this meant streamlining failure and repair codes in support of the company’s root-cause analysis (and, ultimately, failure prevention) efforts.

“Our failure codes are basic to focus operators on that problem – you don’t need 25,000 codes,” Baer said. “They only have 30 to pick from. With our repair codes, we have 15 different repair codes that when the maintenance technician or plant technician goes to close out that work order, they choose that code of maintenance that was performed (such as recalibration or replacement).” Then, the reliability engineer reviews the work order and assigns one of seven statements – for example, old age or training failure – as a failure cause.

As Bryan Christensen, CEO of Lehi, UT-based Limble CMMS, notes, “Everyone wants to work in a well-run shop.” Building team buy-in for more-effective use of asset management software should involve addressing the emotional “why,” Christensen says – as in “Why is using these tools as you’re asking me to good for me, too?”

“When you start talking with your team members and you hear about overtime or having to work on Christmas …you hear these horror stories, (and then) you explain, well, look, a good system can help prevent these things from happening,” he says. With standardized CMMS data that yields a more-accurate and more-comprehensive picture of asset health, organizations can make smarter decisions about maintaining and running their assets, allowing for better allocation of labor and monetary resources.

“Most people want the company they’re working for to succeed,” Christensen says. “But what they care more about ... is how is (this) going to make their life better?”

Getting the most out of your CMMS/EAM tools – being able use these to drive maintenance efficiencies and give upper management a clearer view of how maintenance fits in with the company’s business objectives – necessitates a holistic approach. It encompasses working with vendors to get the software functionality your teams need, regularly reviewing and refining your goals, and continually selling all stakeholders on your efforts. It’s a multifaceted approach, like that taken by any athlete in serious pursuit of best performances, that will yield optimal results.

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