Managing maintenance 07 April 2011

Computerised maintenance management systems – CMMS – are helping to breathe new life into enlightened plant operations, as Brian Wall reports

In recent years, maintenance strategies have undergone something of an evolution, with enlightened plant management regularly thinking in terms of managing plant assets, using a range of innovative methods and technologies to control maintenance work for maximum efficiency and minimum cost. Essentially, the approach covers maintenance planning and scheduling, job plans, spare parts alignment, and supply and logistics, in order to manage the 'what', 'when', 'who' and even 'how' of maintenance work. The goal is an effective maintenance plan that can easily be communicated and executed throughout an organisation.

Which brings us to CMMS (computerised maintenance management systems), which are increasingly being used not just by maintenance managers on plants, but also by fleet, facilities and service managers in a very wide range of industrial situations. Why? Because fully functional CMMSs can facilitate planned maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM) and corrective maintenance (CM) for pretty much anything.

Most importantly, they ensure that tasks are prioritised, scheduled and completed efficiently, and with minimal disruption. They can also make running costs and work order histories for all assets instantly available. And, a properly configured CMMS can also ensure that health and safety standards and procedures are followed at all times, so reducing the risk of accidents caused by maintenance itself.

What's more, while CMMSs were once the preserve of larger organisations, they are now more frequently regarded as an essential part of managing assets, plant and equipment maintenance etc, almost whatever the scale of site. That's partially because of falling prices and greater availability of simplified systems, but it's also due to increasing management expectations and the demands of compliance.

"Information technology, including CMMSs, plays a pivotal role in any asset management strategy, helping to create an integrated system that enables maintenance managers to better control all aspects of a department," states Phil Burge, communication manager at SKF. "Once the initial process of work identification, where critical plant data is gathered and analysed, has been carried out, work requests can be submitted to the CMMS, and be efficiently combined with other predetermined planned and corrective maintenance activities."

In practice, this approach to asset management can help companies realise significant improvements in their maintenance operations. For example, Burge points to Allied Mills (part of Associated British Foods), which has been able to turn its perception of maintenance on its head, he says, thanks to 'asset efficiency optimisation' work undertaken by SKF.

Total reversal
"The implementation of SKF's maintenance programme has meant that the ratio of unplanned versus planned maintenance at the plant has been completely reversed," states Burge. "Planned work now accounts for 90% of the total, while significant reductions have also been made in Allied Mills' stores value and stock holding costs."

Equally, new concepts introduced by SKF have seen Allied Mills' CMMS transform into a manufacturing tool, which has greatly enhanced the company's overall efficiency. "In essence, the new maintenance strategy, underpinned by the CMMS, has helped the organisation work smarter, rather than harder, leading to increased productivity and, ultimately, profitability," explains Burge.

According to Ceri Birth, marketing manager at CMMS specialist Simplisys, there are a number of paybacks for senior executives, as well as works and engineering managers, line supervisors etc. She cites: reducing maintenance costs through improved asset management; spotting equipment trends early, with online reports and customisable KPIs (key performance indicators) and dashboards; and moving from scheduled or preventive maintenance to needs-based predictive maintenance, with conditioning monitoring.

For Birth, it's also about dealing with the day-to-day difficulties of managing multiple work schedules, as well as the nuts and bolts of reducing failure rates and improving reliability. And she observes that user report spending less time locating and managing spares inventory and more time improving productivity and plant uptime.

That said, there are still plants that choose to use manual systems, she acknowledges. "Paper-based systems can, and do, help identify [maintenance] jobs that need attention. However, that is where it ends. There is no retained history. Once the job is completed, it is erased, over time, from memory. This lack of historical knowledge has knock-on financial implications, as there is no knowledge of the true cost of maintenance on any given asset. Staff productivity is also often reduced, with more time needed to search through paper files for information on previous faults. Then plant downtime increases, due to missing scheduled or planned maintenance dates."

So what does Simplisys offer to alleviate that situation? Birth points to its eMaint X3 CMMS system, which includes a set of tools designed to help plant engineers and managers "increase their financial return on assets, improve labour productivity and reduce equipment downtime and inventory values". The system also offers the ability to manage work requests more efficiently, through its customisable work order tracking system.

Cambridge connection
One beneficiary of implementing the solution is the maintenance department of Trinity Hall, the fifth oldest surviving college of the University of Cambridge, which currently provides educational and residential facilities for around 330 undergraduates and 250 graduates. Russell Waller, head of buildings and services, has more than 1,600 assets under management, of which 900 are locations within the college campus, with a further 700, such as building management systems, boiler plant, electrical distribution boards and ventilation equipment.

"Trinity Hall was previously using a basic helpdesk solution for logging maintenance requests from college members," says Waller. "That had no ability to schedule planned maintenance tasks against assets or to record actions and financial history against each asset. Furthermore, it was not possible to configure the helpdesk software in line with the development of our own management systems," he states.

This situation was exacerbated when the authors of the incumbent system went into administration, meaning there was no further support for Trinity Hall's plant management system. After a review of available CMMS solutions, Waller chose eMaintX3 as the replacement. "eMaint's ease of customisation and ease of use; the fact that it contained the functionality we required; and its ability to support further development, all made it the most logical choice," he says.

There's a message here, and it is absolutely in line with the experience of maintenance engineers across many plants. It isn't necessarily the most sophisticated systems that offer the best results: most important is simply choosing a system that meets the plant needs.

Rapid payback with CMMS
Planned and proactive maintenance is central to ensuring that expensive plant assets operate at optimum efficiency. However, the complexity and mounting number of assets within many organisations often makes management an increasingly time-consuming and difficult exercise.

A CMMS will help to overcome such problems, but most of us believe there is a trade-off between cost and functionality. However, it doesn't have to be that way, according to Steve Driver, director at IBM business partner SRO Solutions, explains.
He cites IBM's CMMS Maximo, which is used by giants such as BP and Ford, but is also modular and designed to benefit much smaller organisations. "Many will think the IBM badge puts the solution out of their reach, but we have proven this is simply not the case," he says.

By way of example, Driver points to 160-employee Vital Energi, which builds and operates combined heat and power and district heating schemes. Its earlier spreadsheet-based operations and maintenance processes made it difficult to handle maintenance engineers' workloads and provided little visibility for management.
"After implementing Maximo, they experienced a significant improvement in engineers' performance, due to the way they managed planned maintenance," explains Driver. "They also saw the incidence of [inefficient] break/fix maintenance jobs fall to just 5% of their total maintenance workload."

Driver also references DP World, which operates the container terminal at Southampton. Clearly, equipment breakdowns there can cause massive problems, delaying goods in transit, and incurring heavy maintenance and repair costs. Again, the requirements was improving maintenance performance, increasing efficiency and reducing operating costs.

"When they installed Maximo, they enjoyed a 10% increase in proactive maintenance, coupled with a 10% reduction in actual breakdowns, saving them significant time and money," asserts Driver. "The workflow-based management process that Maximo brings enables much tighter control of maintenance scheduling and costs."

Brian Wall

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Related Companies
IBM (UK) Ltd
Simplisys Ltd
SKF (UK) Ltd
SRO Solutions Ltd

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