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Why you need to accurately document the history of your maintenance activities

Aug. 21, 2013
Accurate equipment history means better maintenance decisions.

In a television commercial where an individual is negotiating to purchase a used car, the scene expands to show an animated fox prompting the buyer to ask the seller for the Carfax. The seller then usually changes his selling approach and price. What is so powerful about this commercial? It focuses on the history of the car.

The report lists the past owners, odometer reading, reported damage or repairs, service history, and many other special pieces of information about the vehicle. As a car buyer, I have made my decision to proceed or pass on purchasing a car based on information in this report. The entire report is basically the equipment history of that vehicle. Sure, there are gaps in the report when events are not documented properly, but that happens in many situations.

This leads to the importance of accurately documenting the equipment history of our factory maintenance activities. Years ago, as I was growing up on a dairy farm in northeast Ohio, my father maintained a status board in our shop for every piece of equipment with an engine. My mother maintained a detailed journal of major equipment expenditures dating back to when they entered farming in the late 1940s. At the time, I did not understand the importance my father placed on documenting maintenance work on our equipment, but his background in factory maintenance from the ’30s and ’40s is what drove his need for accurate equipment history. From his records he knew all the details of his equipment, allowing him to make educated decisions for maintenance, repair, and replacement. A smart guy, my father.

Years later I entered the field of maintenance before computers became the norm for maintenance work orders and databases. This was the time of file cabinets and file folders, when traditional manual systems to record equipment history were commonly referred to as “the fat files.” The fattest file is where maintenance focused its attention. Equipment history was documented religiously for each piece of equipment, and documentation was considered part of completing the work activity. The maintenance technicians understood the value of capturing accurate history on their equipment and how that information would help them in the future to predict failure trends, typical repair times, and runtimes. We now refer to these as mean time to repair (MTTR) and mean time between failure (MTBF), along with other acronyms. The need for and the time to document the information in the file folder for the equipment was not questioned; it was done.

As maintenance moved into the computer age, it was evident that the understanding and discipline to capture equipment history began to deteriorate. The work-performed information I documented as a maintenance technician became more important to me when I became a maintenance planner. Our computer system only handled text input and sometimes the feedback from the maintenance workers was difficult to comprehend, required additional translation, and delayed the timely documentation of the work history. Planning departments of the ’80s consisted of old hands that still followed the discipline of capturing the details of the work performed.

Through attrition, the old hands slowly left and new planners came in, many of whom do not consistently follow the standards or processes. This set the stage for the deterioration of the accuracy and thoroughness of the equipment history. With upgrades to the CMMS/EAM software and additional tasks assigned to planners the deterioration of the quality of equipment history gathered steam. When I go on site to work with companies I routinely conduct a review of their equipment history files and ask about the level of confidence and accuracy of their equipment history. My observation and their response are consistently “poor to bad,” and there are many reasons why it is in poor condition. I see evidence of this in many forms.

What is our expectation of equipment history? As one of the foundational elements of maintenance management, it should include all the maintenance activities for a specific asset. Equipment history is essential for refining the preventive and predictive maintenance program. Reliability engineering relies upon it for evaluating and analyzing current conditions in order to direct necessary improvements. Equipment history should capture the magnitude and nature of repairs for specific assets. The environment, application and usage at the installed location are normally the primary reasons for high maintenance costs.

What has contributed to the deterioration of equipment history quality when the expectation is so clear and hasn’t changed from the old fat files? Many factors have contributed to this situation:

  • inadequately implemented equipment hierarchy in the CMMS/EAM
  • a lack of defined processes for completing work orders to capture actual work performed 
  • a lack of established coding in the CMMS/EAM to accommodate capturing the information for analysis
  • inadequate or no training of maintenance personnel on how and where to document their work activities 
  • inconsistent leadership that does not hold maintenance personnel accountable for documenting the work performed.

If these factors are not addressed, equipment history will continue to lack the level of detail necessary to make educated decisions on how and when to perform proactive maintenance. The maintenance activity has to be collected and transformed into useful and meaningful information that can be analyzed and applied. If this doesn’t happen, the entire maintenance program will deteriorate to reactive maintenance.

Tim Kister, CMRP, is a planning and scheduling senior subject matter expert for Life Cycle Engineering (LCE) and has co-authored, “Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook; Streamlining Your Organization for a Lean Environment.” Contact him at [email protected].

Technology has developed many tools in the maintenance arena that assist in the timely and accurate capturing of maintenance data. Mobile handheld devices are one example. But if the foundational mechanisms and disciplines are not in place to turn data into usable information, all the high-tech tools are for naught.

Change must occur to transform the current trend of equipment history inaccuracy to a database that is trustworthy to make educated decisions. Reliability engineers will then have reliable information to analyze and make informed recommendations for maintenance activities that will improve the entire operation of the facility. So, what change needs to happen?

  1. Evaluate the current equipment hierarchy structure. Is it defined sufficiently to allow good history capture and analysis? Take the necessary steps to make it usable.
  2. Evaluate the configuration of the CMMS/EAM to receive the data being collected. Are the required codes defined for the failure analysis fields? Will the software interface easily with new data-gathering technology?
  3. Specific work management processes need to be developed defining specific steps and who performs each step to document work order completion comments, codes, and readings.
  4. Train all maintenance personnel on how and where to enter the information and then conduct spot checks for accuracy and consistency. Establish the expectation that equipment history documentation is part of performing the maintenance activities and will be accurate.

Changes such as these are often met with resistance. However, when leadership provides clear and open communication explaining the whys and expectations for accuracy of equipment history, understanding and acceptance will follow. Just as we may use a Carfax report to provide us with information to make smart decisions in purchasing a car, maintenance groups can have the assurance that their equipment history is accurate and can say, “Show me the facts.” Important maintenance decisions can be made with confidence based on accurate data analysis.

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