3 ways to upgrade your CMMS for 79 cents

Had a great time last week at the Noria Reliable Plant Conference in Columbus, Ohio. As always, I picked up lots of good ideas listening to speakers and discussion leaders. The display booths were also a great place to get a clear, hands-on understanding of the latest developments in lubrication management, analysis, technology and gear.

One of my favorite ideas came from a presentation by Dale Constantine, Maintenance Manager of Step Energy Services in Calgary. Dale, like a lot of enlightened maintenance professionals, has a problem with repairing the same malfunction over and over again. In fact the title of his paper was “Changing Maintenance Professionals from Parts Changers to Diagnosticians.”

Dale introduced a simple tool for capturing the learning that can occur if maintenance people turn their thoughts to permanent solutions. They can do this as they get equipment back online after correcting a failure or executing a preventive maintenance work order. He says to keep a lot of 79 cent red pens available where the maintenance teams pick up their instructions and work orders. Ask that they always have their red pens with them on the job. And when they finish a work order, in addition to entering the work that was done in their usual ink color, they enter any changes to the work instructions in red.

Changes may be corrections or expansions to the repair process. They may also be explanations of what is going wrong and what kinds of operations, maintenance or engineering changes might be made to improve the situation or prevent future failures. In short, the red ink points up not just the needed repairs to the equipment, but also to the procedures for equipment operation and repair. Of course safety, ecology and productivity suggestions are welcome at the same time.

Red-lined work orders and job instructions have their completion information entered into the CMMS just as normal orders do, but then they take an extra step. Red-lined orders are reviewed weekly by a cross-functional team of production, maintenance, and engineering people. The team assigns the task of confirming and installing the suggested improvements to the appropriate groups. Spot bonuses are available to reward great suggestions, and a monthly newsletter publishes the successes of the program and its participants. Bonuses are payable after the changes have been installed, so there is a built-in incentive for follow-through.

It seems to me that this bargain-basement approach to enhancing complex systems will benefit maintenance operations three ways, enhancing the CMMS in each:

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at smcgroarty@putman.net or check out his .
  1. Since they are critics as well as users, the maintenance and reliability staff members who use the work orders and job instructions from the CMMS will read them more thoroughly and critically than they would otherwise. They will also do so with an eye to permanent problem solving, rather than part swapping. This means the users will do a better job of performing the repairs that are already specified in the CMMS. There should also be a tendency to take better care of the paper that accompanies a job and to deliver it back to the source, since it now carries the tradespeople’s thoughts on it.
  2. As co-writers of the CMMS data, the users will make it their business to install clear, useful changes to the information in the system. Knowing that the cross-functional team will carry the ball for changes they understand and agree with, tradespeople can make suggestions to operations, training, maintenance, and all other functions that affect equipment operations. Moreover, since they are made in the context of a repair and replacement order that costs money, the suggestions will come across with at least the beginnings of intelligible business cases attached.
  3. As long as everyone’s work is being reviewed, the tradespeople will, if instructed to do so, comment on the time and material estimates that accompany the work orders to the shop floor. If time allowed to do a job is inadequate, an increase will be recommended, especially if the job just took longer than the estimate. On the other hand, if time allotments are too long, tradespeople will be able to score personal financial gains by recommending shorter times and reduced material usage as cost reductions.

Dale’s suggestion is going to require major cultural shifts in most organizations, but the payoff is obvious. Also the chances for success are enhanced by the simplicity and transparency of the process. Complex changes to large systems are not needed. Plant-wide acceptance is not a prerequisite either. Some of the tradespeople can quietly opt out without diminishing others’ ability to make a difference. Hopefully when the bonuses and congratulations start, the holdouts will join the effort. In most plants, the right 10 people should be able to show progress.

Not a bad bet, considering the size of the opportunities and the fact that the ante is a red stick ballpoint.

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column, Strategic Maintenance.


Great idea. Thanks for sharing that. Great to see a plant with a cross-functional team, and what a great use of that team's time. And anything that can be done to continuously improve the data in the CMMS is always a step in the right direction.
Mike Bacidore