Windshield time: How to schedule maintenance at off-site locations

April 6, 2021
Doc Palmer says bundle work orders for remote sites, and try these methods for estimating and scheduling travel.

Extreme travel to off-site locations for maintenance is common for a lot of companies. Sometimes you might have to drive several hours or longer to a remote site just to complete a ten minute maintenance task. How do we figure such “windshield time” when creating advance weekly schedules? Let’s look at three practical methods.

About the Author: Doc Palmer

Before we start figuring, though, let’s consider the overall objective of weekly scheduling, namely to help us increase maintenance productivity beyond normal levels of simply keeping everyone busy. Fully loading weekly schedules to 100% of the crew labor forecast defeats Parkinson’s Law, “the amount of work assigned expands to fill the time available.” Accordingly (and interestingly), a crew achieving 40% to 90% schedule compliance of a 100% loaded schedule is almost 50% more productive than a crew achieving 95% schedule compliance of a 65% loaded schedule. The fully loaded crew has a challenging mission of work that they are allowed to break here and there when real life happens. The under loaded crew simply stays busy and can easily handle real life. Yet, the former crew is more productive with the challenge on top of simply handling reactive work.

So we would like to fully load schedules with the best selection of work to start the week. A plant with all its work on-site knows there will be some travel here and there to different pumps, valves, shops, break rooms and the like, but most of the craftpersons time will not be in a travel mode. Schedulers do not allocate specific time for travel. Nevertheless, schedulers do “bundle” work orders, especially for convenience of lock out tag out.

In other words, if we know we are going to work on a certain asset or system, the scheduler finds out if there is anything else we can do while we are there. The scheduler gathers those related work orders together. Backlog research to bundle work orders is the “gold” for supervisors. What a helpful feature of the scheduling process!

There is even a more tremendous need for bundling of work orders for maintenance forces with extreme travel situations. If we have to travel for hours to a remote site to do a little maintenance task, is there anything else we can do while we are there??? Yes, we want to bundle work orders and make the best use of the time once we are there. So it’s immediately obvious that we do not want to include the entire travel time on each work order as if we are going to do it on its own. We should always estimate the labor time for each work order as if we were already there. Track actual travel time separately and charge it to the remote site itself, not the work order or the asset.

Now let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of building a weekly schedule. The easiest way to create the schedule is to fully load the schedule without any consideration of the travel time. Load it up 100% but instead of expecting 40% to 90% schedule compliance, look for 30% to 80% (or even 20% to 70%) schedule compliance. That was easy.

With a little more effort, you could look at the normal travel time we experience every week and deduct that from the total labor forecast. Then load up the remaining hours 100% and expect 40% to 90% schedule compliance.

With even a little more effort, you could fully load the schedule without any consideration of the travel time, but then examine the schedule with regard to the remote travel it suggests would be necessary. Then adjust the work order loading and the travel loading until they match together for 100% of the labor forecast. Then expect 40% to 90% schedule compliance.

But don’t stop there. Over time, use the actual travel time charged to different sites to help management evaluate options of locating crews closer or farther from sites. Use the actual travel time charged to different sites to help reliability engineers evaluate maintenance strategies to do enhanced preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, and even project work that might lead to needing fewer maintenance visits altogether.

Consider the three methods above to consider windshield time. In all cases, we still fully load schedules to give our crews enough work to challenge them, but not overwhelm them. Achieve greater than normal productivity. Be a great company.

Palmer's Planning Corner

This article is part of our monthly Palmer's Planning Corner column. Read more from Doc Palmer.

About the Author

Doc Palmer | PE, MBA, CMRP

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information including online help and currently scheduled public workshops, visit or email Doc at [email protected]. Also visit and subscribe to

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