Planning and Scheduling / Predictive Maintenance

Maintenance scheduling: How to get from ‘plan’ to ‘execute’

Doc Palmer explores how first-line supervisors play a critical role in making the scheduling process work.

By Doc Palmer, PE, CMRP, Richard Palmer and Associates

What is meant by “making scheduling work”? Anyone can make and hand out a schedule. But just because a plant is scheduling does not mean that its scheduling process is successful.

In the context of planning and scheduling routine work, success means that the scheduling process actually increases workforce productivity. It can also mean that the plant completes a better selection of work than it might otherwise complete. In making the scheduling process work successfully, the first-line maintenance supervisors who receive the weekly schedule play a critical role.

Plants in a mostly reactive mode easily respond to urgent operator calls to fix broken equipment on demand. Supervisors know how to “keep their crews busy and take care of operations.” These plants can be profitable. However, there is much more profit to be made in keeping equipment from breaking in the first place and not losing valuable production time.

Yet operators do not call for maintenance on equipment that has not broken. In fact, they resist giving access to work on equipment that is up and running. Furthermore, if the maintenance force is already busy, it has little time available to do non-urgent work even when it is identified.

Fortunately, many plants know that modern maintenance is about being proactive. Proactive maintenance consists of non-urgent work performed to keep equipment from breaking. Plants engaged in proactive maintenance develop and optimize PMs for proper lubrication and other routine servicing. Other PMs provide for simple inspections meant to detect equipment problems before operations notices them.

Proactive plants also employ PdM programs and advanced technologies to find otherwise-undetectable equipment problems. They do root-cause analyses on broken equipment and develop projects to remedy issues to prevent future failures. Operators do not call for proactive maintenance work. Management must establish the programs that call for such work.

Nevertheless, these plants often have trouble executing the proactive work even when they know about it. A metal alloy plant’s PdM oil analysis had revealed that a “smoothly” running gearbox had a problem and would probably have a significant failure in about a month. But after six weeks, the plant had still not worked on the gearbox, and it failed. The plant knew it should have done something but was not able to get around to it in time. Why? The maintenance force was simply busy doing a lot of reactive work. It had its hands full already. Of course, it made time to replace the gearbox after complete failure, but at a cost to production.

Fully loaded weekly scheduling is part of the solution for doing proactive work when crews already have their hands full of reactive work. But another big part is supervisor action. Fully loaded scheduling defeats Parkinson’s Law, which says, “The amount of work assigned will expand to fill the time available.” If plants do not give crews enough work, the work it does give them will take longer than it should, despite everyone being busy. However, experience shows that if a crew starts each week with a simple list (the weekly schedule) of enough work orders for 100% of its crew available hours, then it will complete more work than normal. Nevertheless, the supervisor must use the schedule. The supervisor is a critical piece of the process to make scheduling work.

The supervisor must use the weekly list of work. The list gives a sense of mission that the crew should complete a certain amount of work instead of just keeping everyone busy. The supervisor must actively assign work orders from the list as the week unfolds. The list cannot just sit in an office or on a wall. Scheduling Principle 5 from the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook states that supervisors should create the daily schedules. I have been guilty myself of thinking that this principle simply means that the planners and schedulers do not create the daily schedules. But this simplistic view is not enough.

A wastewater treatment plant recently told me that it had started fully loading weekly schedules but had not seen an obvious increase in its work-order completion rate. The rate was about seven work orders per person per week. The plant noticed, however, that schedule compliance was only about 25%. It correctly inferred that being below 40% meant that crew supervisors were ignoring the schedules. After investigation, it appeared that supervisors were simply receiving the weekly schedules and filing them in their offices. When management directed their attention to the scores, schedule compliance rose to about 50%, and the work-order completion rate increased to more than 10 work orders per person per week. And not only did the plant achieve an increased work-order completion rate, but also the extra work contained more PMs and other proactive work than normal.

Consider that every plant normally completes most of its truly reactive work, so naturally any extra work completed would be more proactive. The scheduling process started working at the wastewater treatment plant because supervisors started actively assigning work from the schedule. (Notice also that schedule compliance was also properly below 90%, suggesting both that the schedule was truly loaded to 100% and that supervisors were empowered to break the schedule.)

Supervisors are a critical part of making scheduling work. They must actively assign work orders and manage from the weekly schedule, which is their tool to use. When plants fully load weekly schedules and then empower supervisors to break the schedules but not ignore them, the scheduling process can work. The plant can complete more work and the overall work will contain more proactive work.