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Interfaces: The final frontier for CMMS

Feb. 4, 2020
David Berger says learn to integrate your CMMS with other systems to keep both costs and errors down.

Although most modern CMMS packages have undergone dramatic improvements in functionality, they will never be able to incorporate the entire feature set required by a given organization. This is especially true as we move towards Industry 4.0, digital transformation, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Thus, CMMS vendors have become quite adept at building interfaces to bridge the numerous islands of automation that have always existed.

Asset Manager

This article is part of our monthly Asset Manager column. Read more from David Berger.

Recognizing the importance of interfaces, numerous technical standards have been created over the years for database design, graphical user interface, communications, and so on. Vendors and users fully understand that the lack of integration drives higher costs through greater inefficiencies, higher error rates, reduced effectiveness, and increased dependency on multiple vendors for support.

As complicated as building technical interfaces can be, it is usually the human element that presents the greatest barrier to integration; that is, will all parties agree to collect accurate information, be willing to share their data with others, and understand the benefits of tighter integration?

Suppose, for example, you are trying to implement centralized purchasing in a multi-plant environment. This can be done quite easily from a systems perspective. The real problem is getting all parties to agree on a part numbering convention, the name and location of suppliers of a given part, the quantity and location of parts to store, the expected lead time for receiving parts, and who will be responsible for managing the supply chain. Department managers are often unable to rise above their silos and see the big picture. The loss of local control may lead to lack of buy-in from local management groups and therefore the project to centralize purchasing is put on hold.

Another factor affecting the pace and cost of integration is the lack of shared performance targets and incentives when implementing new systems. Without a focus on clearly defined quantitative goals, it is no small wonder why a diverse group of managers across an organization focus on installation of hardware and software rather than implementation or optimization of the install. Furthermore, you can be sure that if managers shared incentives for improved return on capital employed, reduced downtime, improved service levels and other higher level goals, they would be scrambling to find and exploit integration opportunities.

Typical interfaces


There many interfaces for a typical organization, from shop floor to executive offices. Described below are the typical points of integration for an asset management system.

Shop-floor or field data collection. This is perhaps the most complex and data-intensive interface for an asset management system. A large plant may collect thousands of data points every minute describing the temperature, volume, and other measures. The data is collected automatically through smart equipment connected through the internet, with devices such as programmable controllers attached to numerous sensors, or manually through RF radio-frequency (RF) devices, barcode scanners, data entry terminals, and so on. Similarly, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) devices collect data in the field, for example, in remote oil and gas pumping stations. Either raw or summary data is ported into a CMMS from the shop floor or field in order to analyze trends for predictive maintenance, meter for preventive maintenance triggers, report on material or labour usage, monitor parts received or picked, and other key functions.

Condition monitoring. In some cases, data is first analyzed by an intermediary such as a condition monitoring system vendor specializing in a given condition (e.g., vibration analysis) and/or a given industry (e.g., pipeline integrity software). This is a real benefit to a CMMS vendor because condition monitoring can be very data-intensive and highly specialized. For a large complex process manufacturer, there are numerous shop-floor data collection devices that make process monitoring and control a challenge. As well, third-party tools such as statistical process control (SPC) software can help sift through the data to monitor trends, alarm certain conditions, provide a real-time graphical view of the process, and produce management reports.

Troubleshooting database. Although there are not very many vendors of software that can perform knowledge-based diagnostics using artificial intelligence for troubleshooting purposes, no doubt this will change in the future. Expert systems can help sort through the relationship between problem, cause and action codes, to help maintenance workers troubleshoot a problem quickly and effectively. This is not much different than the simplistic troubleshooting guidelines included in most operating manuals supplied with consumer electronic products. These are usually in tabular form giving the symptom (e.g., display does not light up), probable causes (e.g., no power), and possible actions (e.g., check that the plug is in).

Reliability-centred maintenance (RCM). Although RCM has been around for a while, third-party vendors of RCM software have been slow to emerge, offering products for example, that assist management in making repair/replace decisions for equipment. Such vendors use statistical analysis techniques on information pulled from engineering data and the equipment history module of an asset management system.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). One of the oldest interfaces for a CMMS vendor is linking to an ERP system. Seamless integration of these two systems is a critical means of achieving a high return on capital employed. Large multi-nationals are spending multi-millions on ERP systems, but are in many cases missing potential return on investment (ROI) through the asset management link. Some companies have discovered that implementing the asset management system prior to implementing ERP will generate high returns early.

Although many ERP vendors have maintenance modules, only a small fraction of these vendors have both a sophisticated ERP package and a comprehensive asset management system. This is because most ERP packages started with an emphasis on accounting, finance, and sometimes operations. Few ERP packages began with a focus on engineering or asset management software. Key interfaces between ERP and CMMS packages include procurement, accounts payable, payroll, human resources, budgeting, management accounting, and financial reporting.

Supply chain management. There are a number of vendors emerging with more specialized supply chain management or logistics software (e.g., warehousing, truck routing). This interface is helpful when multiple companies partner closely along a supply chain, such as your company, a maintenance services provider, and a spare parts supplier.

E-commerce. EDI, an early form of E-commerce, gained considerable momentum decades ago in the automotive industry. Today, there are many generic interfaces available and much experience in implementing third-party, e-commerce products. E-commerce over the internet or sharing an intranet with suppliers/customers is essential for companies big and small to reduce the time and cost of quotations, procurement, delivery, confirmation, and payment.

Project management. MS Project and Primavera are two popular examples of project management software that interface with CMMS packages. However, only the more sophisticated asset management systems allow features such as both uploading and downloading of scheduling data, and scheduling simulation.

Workflow. Many CMMS vendors have jumped on this bandwagon over the years. Some vendors have chosen to write the workflow engine themselves, while others are integrating third-party software into their applications. Workflow provides a tool to help streamline processes such as approvals, exception handling, job planning, and alarming. Look for a software package that provides a library of standard workflows so users do not have to build them from scratch.

Document management. For large organizations that need to share drawings, manuals, and other documents across the enterprise, there are vendors of document management software that have successfully linked their products to asset management systems.

Image-based software. Asset management systems have long been able to attach an image like a CAD drawing to work orders, equipment history records, etc. Some organizations, however, require greater sophistication and integration with third-party products such as geographic information systems (GIS), Google Maps, and 3D rendering software.

Computer-based training (CBT). Another emerging point of integration is training aids such as embedded training videos, wizards, simulated training environments, and performance training.

Desktop. A key interface for any asset management system is integrating word processors, spreadsheets, and calendars such as MS Word, Excel, and Google calendar.

Reporting and analysis tools. There are a host of third-party software products that help report on and analyze data to support management in making decisions. These products include report and graphics generators, dashboards, decision support systems (DSS), executive information systems (EIS), and on-line analytical processing (OLAP), all of which provide a multi-dimensional view of business data across the enterprise on an ad hoc basis.

About the Author: David Berger
About the Author

David Berger | P.Eng. (AB), MBA, president of The Lamus Group Inc.

David Berger, P.Eng. (AB), MBA, is president of The Lamus Group Inc., a consulting firm that provides advice and training to extract maximum performance, quality and value from your physical assets, processes, information systems and organizational design. Based in Toronto, Berger has held senior positions in industry, including for two large manufacturers, and senior roles in consulting. He has written more than 450 articles on a variety of topics such as asset management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. Contact him at [email protected].

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