Resolve organizational issues with these CMMS tips

Aug. 3, 2004
Tips on using your CMMS to resolve organizational issues

Getting the most out of an ever-changing organizational structure requires a flexible CMMS that can support numerous possible configurations. Your CMMS should be a help, not a hindrance, regardless of which organizational decision makes sense for your business.

For example, one company may use a dispatch desk to screen and enter work requests on a 24/7 basis and pass them to specialized maintenance planners electronically. Another company simply may use resident mechanics on day shifts to take work requests directly, with mechanics entering data after-the-fact. A third configuration may allow users to access work requests online via the Web, thereby feeding the pool of maintenance planners directly.

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The possibilities are endless, but the better CMMS packages help with most solutions to organizational issues, some of which are discussed below.

Departmental coverage
A common organizational issue facing maintenance departments surrounds the debate about centralized labor pools versus decentralized or distributed resident mechanics. Production supervisors, anxious for an immediate response to downtime in their production area, can criticize centralized maintenance shops. When influential production managers get their way, the result is a resident maintenance mechanic stationed near a key production line, regardless of the mechanic's utilization rate.

This makes sense if the cost of downtime exceeds the cost of having the mechanic sitting around idly, waiting for a breakdown. It's also possible to assign the mechanic some project work to increase productivity. However, it's imperative that the mechanic record every bit of work done to ensure the CMMS reflects a complete equipment history.

Using resident mechanics can be of benefit because they become more familiar with the equipment in their area. This can become a disadvantage, however, if an individual quits or is absent, because no one else is as familiar with the equipment. A comprehensive CMMS with full equipment history and advanced analysis capability is an obvious advantage when someone unfamiliar with the equipment needs to fill in or take over. This underscores the importance of resident mechanics entering all of their work in detail.

Reporting relationships can become a problem with resident mechanics. A fully decentralized approach requires that mechanics report to a production supervisor with a dotted-line responsibility to a maintenance supervisor.

In the distributed approach, this dual reporting function reverses and the resident mechanic becomes accountable primarily to the maintenance department. The advantage of the distributed approach is that utilization tends to be higher, without sacrificing response time. Your CMMS should accommodate both possibilities; otherwise your system might be driving suboptimal business decisions.

Another issue is the total number of maintenance technicians required for proper coverage of production departments. A good maintenance planner or supervisor using the CMMS scheduling module can strike a balance between maximum utilization of technicians and minimum response time.

Functional coverage
Probably the most important issue regarding functional coverage is whether the technicians should be trade specialists (e.g., plumber, welder) or cross-trained generalists. Although specialists excel in their particular craft, the tradeoff is reliance on a single person or a small number of people for a particular specialty.

Another disadvantage is poor utilization when there is insufficient backlog for the specialty, even though other areas may be severely backlogged. Using generalists, on the other hand, allows immediate reaction to downtime, using any available person. This keeps overall department utilization high and minimizes response time.

The downside to generalists is summarized by the phrase "jack of all trades, master of none." Cross training, such as teaching mechanics basic welding, provides generalists with ammunition for combating this reputation.

Regardless of which approach you favor, it's important to keep an inventory on your CMMS to record which technicians have what skills, competencies and certifications, as well as what training has and will be done. This allows maintenance planners and supervisors to assign people with the right qualifications for the job.

A functional issue plaguing maintenance shops for many years is whether they should establish special preventive maintenance crews. The major advantage of this approach is efficiency and timeliness. However, a major problem with PM crews is diffusion of responsibility: that is, no one person is fully responsible for a given piece of equipment. This may lead to mechanics blaming PM crews, and vice versa, when equipment is down unnecessarily. A CMMS can help alleviate this problem through sophisticated condition monitoring and predictive maintenance functionality.

Finally, staffing by function (number of electricians, plumbers, and so on) must be consistent with optimized resources utilization. Equipment history and work backlog on the CMMS can be used to help make this determination.

Shift coverage
Any company that runs more than a single-shift, five-day-a-week operation must deal with shift coverage issues. This includes, for some companies, when to do preventive maintenance on equipment. Options are PM on the night shift, on weekends, or during the day shift.

The seniority issue complicates this: Many companies can't get senior technicians to work the off-shifts. Thus, the more junior employees are left alone to care for equipment. This is a scary proposition for production management each morning at start-up, especially following a weekend.

To some extent, job rotation and staggered shifts can alleviate this, although it can lead to further disruption, diffusion of responsibility and potential problems with security of tools and inventory. The solution must include a balance of senior people across each shift, and a clear definition of who is ultimately responsible for each piece of equipment. The CMMS can be used to keep track of exactly what work has been done on each shift to maintain continuity across the shifts. Some CMMS packages allow users to make shift notes so that if jobs are left in process at the end of one shift, the following shift knows what work remains.

Support functions
Many companies struggle to identify what support functions are required for the maintenance department and how best to staff them. For example, many make the mistake of putting junior staff in stores, purchasing or maintenance planning functions. This produces much resentment and frustration for senior technicians who must, during an emergency repair, circumvent a stockkeeper who doesn't know what or where the parts are. Similarly, a junior maintenance planner finds it difficult to tell a senior worker what to do.

One solution to this problem is using only senior technicians for these jobs. For example, someone on light duty for medical reasons, or someone who is retired or close to it. Additionally, a high-end CMMS is an excellent tool for staying on top of the job regardless of seniority. It can, for example, identify the location of parts, quantity on hand and on order, part status, usage history and so on.

Finding a home for maintenance purchasing can sometimes be controversial. It's not really important where the maintenance purchasing agents reside or to whom they report, so much as their level of knowledge and experience. Here, too, a CMMS can deliver a wealth of knowledge to the desktop of a purchasing agent in terms of vendor and spare part information.

Contact contributing editor David Berger at [email protected].

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