CMMS gives maintenance a clear view

April 28, 2009
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, explains how your CMMS gives maintenance a clear view of the current situation.

Many contemporary CMMS software packages provide two key functions. First, the CMMS is a planning tool, from long-term capacity and capital planning, to medium-term budgeting and work planning, to short-term work order planning and scheduling. Second, the CMMS analyzes and reports on collected data and compares it to plan, which gives users much-needed transparency into maintenance operations on a real-time basis. Let’s explore some of the features modern CMMS packages use to maximize this transparency.

Business intelligence provides a user-friendly interface that gives insight into what is working and what isn’t working relative to plan. With its dashboards, graphs, alerts, reports, ticker tapes and other output formats, business intelligence makes it quick and easy for users to interpret the collected data and, in turn, make better decisions. However, like any software product, business intelligence is no panacea. In fact, business intelligence requires significant human intelligence to configure properly and ensure it’s at all useful.

For example, dashboards use speedometers, stoplights and gauges to alert the user when management’s attention is required. You’ll know when PM compliance is too low, a project is over budget, spare parts haven’t been delivered on time, and so on. This is great stuff, to be sure, but significant thought is required to determine which measures are priorities, how best to display them, what algorithm best defines each measure, how often the measure should be refreshed, appropriate upper and lower control limits, and many other configuration decisions. It’s well worth the effort needed to obtain this improved visibility into maintenance operations. But be wary. It requires a good understanding of what’s important to you and how to measure it.

Condition-based maintenance (CbM) functionality, either built into the CMMS or through integration with specialized software, achieves greater transparency in maintenance operations and provides insight into four key areas.

By monitoring the state of a process, CbM can alert you to when corrective action is required. For example, if a valve doesn’t open wide enough to allow the correct flow of raw material, production quality or volume might suffer. Visibility into the process will, therefore, ensure that you can react quickly to the situation. In some cases, an automated control loop can bypass the need for human intervention, although a record of the incident might be warranted.

Another dimension to consider for gaining transparency is monitoring the measures that are relevant to the product, such as critical external dimensions. If a problem with a given asset causes product defects, determine which metrics, such as a gradual loss of power, correlate with the defects. By configuring CBM to monitor the variables, you can better anticipate and correct problems before product defects appear.

The third transparency-producing capability is monitoring the environment through which products and processes pass. This can sometimes provide important insight into asset health. For example, if the ambient temperature exceeds an acceptable upper control limit, there might be a problem with another asset.

The fourth and most obvious dimension in terms of providing visibility into maintenance operations is monitoring the assets themselves, using measures such as downtime and performance. In some cases, this requires finding a metric that correlates well with higher-level measures, such as vibration, current drawn or the number of pieces that pass a proximity sensor every hour.

Partners and customers want transparency in the maintenance department. For example, when a maintenance customer initiates a work request, maintenance has an obligation to manage customer expectations. This includes acknowledgement that the work request was received, notification that the work has been scheduled and will be completed on a specific date, and status updates if plans must change. This level of transparency ensures business partners and customers will be satisfied that formal or implied service levels are met.

A few CMMS vendors offer advanced features that help provide transparency for customers and business partners. Those software packages include service level agreements, contract management, help desk and a full-service management module optionally accessible by the customer. Each of these features helps set expectations and track actual results for maintenance and its customers.

Mobile transparency is for technicians on the move. The increase in popularity of portable, connected devices extends transparency toward technicians, wherever they might be. Mobile devices and related software allow them to download all sorts of useful data that gives visibility into the location, status, equipment histories, as well as providing various analysis tools that help to diagnose problems.

Technicians can upload data such as root cause and remedy codes, time taken to complete the work order, spare parts used, and inspection measurements taken relevant to completing the work order. This provides transparency that allows planners and management to know whether work was completed to plan or, perhaps, that the job plan was unrealistic and requires modification.

Some CMMS integration points, including GIS, bar code and RFID capability, can increase the visibility potential of mobile solutions. GIS capability allows users to access maps on mobile devices, determines which assets are within a user-defined polygon drawn on the map, redlines assets that have been installed or mapped incorrectly, and many other features. This gives transparency, for example, as to what assets lie underground before work at a given location commences.

A bar code or RFID reader integrated into a mobile device allows technicians to scan equipment on a route and quickly and accurately identify them, which, in turn, triggers the downloading of work order history and other relevant information. Although somewhat controversial with technicians, some managers can gain visibility into the whereabouts and productivity of technicians in the field. The technology applies automatic date and time stamping when technicians scan the assets and enter work order information.

Even more contentious are managers who track the movement of technicians using GPS devices in their vehicles or mobile devices, or simply monitor the coordinates of assets scanned or reported as visited.

Transparency drives decision-making by exposing areas that are a priority for improvement. Many things drive the business. Examples include identifying opportunities for greater asset reliability, reducing energy consumption, greater product consistency, and a host of other possibilities. In general, visibility into maintenance operations helps find ways to reduce the total cost of ownership for every asset and increase the quality and quantity of output from operations.

Regardless of your business, transparency provides technicians, their supervisors, maintenance planners, and other stakeholders in operations and maintenance with a means to make more insightful decisions. The key is to pick a few high-priority measures that truly drive your business, and configure your CMMS to collect, analyze and report on any variances from expected results. Ultimately, the onus is on you, not the CMMS, to take timely and appropriate action that reaps the rewards of greater transparency.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

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