Establishing the environment

Dec. 15, 2003
Complement the CMMS experience with the elements that foster maintenance excellence

Buying a computerized maintenance management system is like purchasing a fine bottle of wine to complement a great meal. The wine just doesn't have the same impact in the absence of mood-setting ambience, great service, high-quality food, value-based price and stimulating companionship. Similarly, to achieve maximum benefit, it's important to understand the key elements that complement a feature-rich CMMS.

Strategic alignment and measurement of success

The NASA space program and two Gulf Wars helped to sell the business world on the strategic importance of good maintenance. As technology grows more sophisticated at an alarming rate, we desperately need maintenance to be at the strategy table to ensure its alignment with business objectives. Forward-thinking corporate brass realize that investments in capital assets must be maintained properly to make good on the corresponding business case.

The maintenance strategy must align with both the operations strategy and overall business strategy. A CMMS offers two main functions in support of strategy, namely, planning and control. The budgeting module translates the maintenance vision into a short-term and long-term budget. Performance targets define success in terms of asset reliability, supply chain management and labor effectiveness, among others. Without clear goals and objectives, maintenance may not be supporting the definition of success the business requires.

The control aspect of a CMMS provides a scorecard on how well asset care managers are doing. Reports show analysis of variances to plan, which, in turn, can be used to explain why maintenance strategy goals and objectives are, or are not, being met.

Business alignment starts with maintenance, engineering and operations forging a stronger partnership. This implies greater participation of management not only in strategic planning, but on the shop floor as well. Preparing the maintenance strategy and resultant budget should follow a structured methodology to ensure operators take ownership of targets for equipment health and the quality and quantity of output. How much involvement operators should have in maintaining equipment is an important question addressed in the strategic planning stage.

Global reach along the supply chain

Companies big and small must consider the entire supply chain on a global basis. Whether outsourcing to Asia, dealing with international suppliers or shipping product around the world, companies must think globally. For maintenance operations, the CMMS plays a key role in managing the MRO supply chain efficiently. Features and functions such as enterprise-wide inventory control, multiple warehouses, e-procurement and a universal parts book allow global access to information, provide opportunities to standardize on best practices and help achieve economies of scale.

Strong leadership

Most companies have learned the lesson at some point over the past 30 years that simply purchasing and implementing any new computer system brings no guarantee of improvement. It's strong leadership, not software, that ensures setting meaningful targets in light of strategy, data is input consistently and accurately, and variances are explained and corrected. But the most important contribution a strong leadership team can make is motivating real changes in behavior to get the most out of the CMMS software.

Capable workforce

The technology explosion brings other opportunities for a highly skilled workforce that knows how to diagnose, analyze and resolve problems. In the past, maintenance involved single-function solutions, for example, a mechanical solution to a mechanical breakdown or an electrical fix to an electrical fault. Today, our problems are multifunctional and multidimensional and they require a multi-skilled individual or team to resolve. For example, downtime from a given piece of equipment could stem from any number of sources, such as mechanical, electronic, software application, operating system, network or communications.

Some high-end CMMS packages can assist in determining staffing needs in light of a more complex work environment and, in general, support a learning organization. Employee skills inventory, employment history, training plans, availability table and other features are found in the human resources module of a modern CMMS.

Planned environment

Historically, North American companies have adopted a firefighting reactive management style. Marketing departments make constant changes to production schedules as a knee-jerk reaction to fluctuating customer demand, resulting in delivery delays and production inefficiency. The operating departments were, therefore, reluctant to give up capacity to permit asset care managers to conduct proper planned maintenance. This cycle fueled a firefighting mentality.

The latest trend is toward proactive management, which implies a more planned environment. Automation has brought improvements to both information systems and shop-floor equipment. Numerous planning and control tools are available to better schedule and track production including forecasting, material requirements planning, statistical process control, barcode-based shop-floor data collection, and process monitoring and control systems. Production equipment has become more flexible and better integrates with planning and control systems, CAD/CAM and CIM.

For asset care departments, automation has spawned new opportunities to become less reactive. CMMS modules such as work order control, predictive maintenance and condition monitoring help reduce the incidence of unplanned downtime. As well, better analysis tools, such as reliability-based asset care, can determine the root cause of problems and recognize recurring themes. Thus, a good CMMS is critical in moving to a more stable, planned environment.

Process evolution and continuous improvement

In the name of customer focus and cost-efficiency, businesses are looking for every opportunity to fix broken processes and build new sleek ones. Regardless of which buzzword or three-letter acronym is in vogue, every company has, and will, always strive to simplify its processes, improve its quality and provide better service along the entire supply chain.

Maintenance processes are no exception. An effective implementation methodology ensures that processes are considered properly whenever changes to equipment, information systems or organizational structure are contemplated. Probably the greatest potential lies in coupling a new information system installation with an initial examination of processes around the system requirements. Many companies are guilty of preparing system requirements for CMMS, predictive maintenance, HMI, MES and many other systems in isolation of any reengineering or process streamlining.

Employee involvement

Management and labor have learned some hard lessons over the years, with most companies concluding that cooperation yields mutual benefits. This trend suggests the wisdom of greater employee participation in improving and managing the work environment. For example, quality circles and suggestion plans began in the late '70s to involve workers in identifying and resolving problems. Gain-sharing, profit sharing, employee ownership and process simplification programs implemented in the past decade also have resulted in improved relations.

The CMMS is an effective means for sharing information among workers and management, from both maintenance and operations departments. Many data entry screens and reports can be geared to the needs of the workers on the shop floor to facilitate whatever participatory approach is chosen.

Contributing Editor David Berger can be reached at [email protected]


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