Let software take the strain28 April 2020

The equipment explorer in Ultimo

OE considers the extent of the application of CMMS (computerised maintenance management system) software, and what gains can be achieved

Computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) software maintains a database of information about an organisation’s maintenance operations, offering functions such as equipment data, labour time, work orders, scheduling and planning, vendor management, inventory control, budgeting and asset tracking, to list but a few. However, those unfamiliar with CMMS technology often have the same initial questions: why is a database useful, and is it only for those maintaining several sites and machines?

According to Wendy Snell, business support manager at CMMS vendor Ultimo, the principal components of a successful CMMS include a data platform, alongside access to a wide variety of different data sources to populate the software – after all, a system is only as good as the data supplied. “How you manage the lifespan of any asset impacts the smooth running and profitability of a company,” says Snell. “Using a CMMS to manage, maintain and present data in a way that is meaningful to different stakeholders enables quick decision-making that makes a business more competitive.”

If a company has maintenance activities, there is a need for a maintenance system. In such instances, asset maintenance is – and should be – considered a core process. Says Snell: “The important thing to remember is that you are digitalising processes that may have resided within an employee’s head for years. But what if that person left, or retired? By digitalising this knowledge, it can be retained forever.”

Among the benefits that Snell attributes to Ultimo CMMS is its scalability, which makes it suitable for businesses of all sizes, even those with just a few maintenance tasks to manage, or companies making the leap from paper-based activities.

Latest Ultimo developments include ‘smart images’ – integrations between technical drawings and the software – and new planning possibilities based on Kanban (a lean method used to manage and improve work across human systems). Moreover, Ultimo now offers standard templates based on Microsoft BI. Factors such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are also playing their part in development efforts.

“As a core business system, CMMS fits neatly with the IoT and AI, as it feeds both these trends to deliver what we call smart maintenance or smart facility. Ultimo has had functionality for usage-based maintenance for decades: the number of revs, operational hours, litres pumped, kilometres driven, and so on, determine the moment of maintenance intervention. IoT and sensor-based technology has only accelerated the collection and delivery of this data to the end user. You no longer have to wait for a malfunction or a part to wear out; you are made aware before failures happen," Wendy Snell, business support manager at Ultimo.

Louis Tuttle, head of sales at vendor Pemac, agrees that having a database of information about maintenance operations is beneficial. Indeed, the company’s sixth-generation CMMS, Pemac Assets, includes base components such as ‘asset register’, ‘routines or preventative measures?’, ‘work orders’, ‘history’, ‘service desk’, ‘stock module’ and ‘resource planning’. For those using the CMMS for compliance, obtaining an audit trail can be supported by additional modules such as ‘calibration’ and ‘contractor management’, as well as a `permit-to-work` system.

“The key to any CMMS is the ability to make better decisions; to deliver on a successful maintenance strategy and target,” says Tuttle. “Your CMMS needs to provide you with key data like mean time between failure [MTBF], asset availability, downtime analysis and compliance to plan [such as percentage of work completed on time].”

He adds: “In terms of suitability, you typically need a core number of people to get the full benefit in terms of planning. Having eight to 10 people in your maintenance department means you will see benefits from resource planning of 10-15%. However, as the business scales-up and headcount increases, benefits build. Likewise, the CMMS can grow with the business, as required.”

Pemac Assets includes base components such as ‘asset register’,
‘routines or preventative measures?’, ‘work orders’, ‘history’,
‘service desk’, ‘stock module’ and ‘resource planning’

Pemac Assets focuses on key areas such as usability, metrics, reporting, lean, integration and AI. Of course, the growing use of sensors means that information can be collected and transferred to CMMS software, making it easier to track information like alarm data or usage, as well as condition meter readings. This information can be configured to trigger routines or generate work requests, thus accelerating the reaction time to events on site, and reducing asset downtime and production losses.

“Technicians can schedule their interventions based on predictive maintenance analytics generated through AI and basically fix a piece of equipment or a component before it fails,” says Tuttle. “If an unexpected breakdown occurs, maintenance teams will be informed immediately through Pemac Assets. Benefits include reduced labour costs, greater uptime, the prevention of unnecessary maintenance, the prediction of equipment failures and the provision of improved data analytics.”

Among major development plans at Pemac is data visualisation. “We plan on taking data around asset breakdowns, opening work orders by location and permitting activities to create a holistic and instant understanding of machine performance, along with alignment of engineering to support the business,” says Tuttle, who cites smart mobility as another future development. “We have huge interest among clients in the area of mobility, to support both online and offline maintenance. Our vision is to have a safety permit system tightly integrated with maintenance – with mobile availability – allowing remote real-time issuing, approval of permits and subsequent release of jobs.”

Also specialising in this area is Spidex, which offers Mainsaver CMMS software. OE recently highlighted how E & JW Glendinning, a supplier of concrete, asphalt and aggregate products, had selected Mainsaver CMMS to support improvements in the auditability of its engineering operations.

According to Spidex, CMMS software can help a factory’s maintenance department become the engine room for performance improvement. “CMMS is useful – we would say indispensable – because maintenance is still very often seen merely as a cost centre,” says Andy Neilson, marketing and communications manager at Spidex. “However, the moment a maintenance department starts recording its activities in a CMMS, it begins to see clearly where recurring problems are happening. Once that information is to hand, immediate steps can be taken to remediate the situation.”

The home screen of Mainsaver CMMS from Spidex

He adds that it is important for a CMMS to be seen as ‘engineer-friendly’. “If a CMMS isn’t straightforward to enter and retrieve information from, it will fall into disuse.”

Maintenance technicians are on the front line of workplace risk, so Spidex has recently developed a number of ancillary modules to manage the health and safety aspects of the role, such as risk assessments, work permits, adverse event reporting, accident investigation and contractor management.

As for the near future, Neilson also sees CMMS technology aligning with digital trends like the IoT and AI. “IoT will be a super-connected world, and CMMS will have an important place in it,” he states. “We can envision a factory in which machines self-diagnose, are able to recognise different fault types, and send a notification via the CMMS directly to the relevant maintenance technician. It might even recommend the course of corrective action and which tools and spare parts will be required. However, until a machine can change a bearing by itself, you will always need maintenance technicians. And if you have maintenance technicians, you will always need a CMMS.”

Steed Webzell

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