At its most basic level, a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) is a work order tool that helps you get the right people on the job. But, like an iceberg, 90% of its functionality lies beneath the surface.

When the first CMMS packages appeared in the market, maintenance managers used the software for work order generation and scheduling. Someone would create a request for maintenance work, the maintenance group would enter the request into CMMS, and voila; out popped a work order. Unfortunately, the software did little more than automate a paper process.

Subsequent generations of CMMS could compile all relevant maintenance data, including equipment repair histories, associated labor hours, and spare parts levels. The data are valuable for producing "trending" reports, which show a historical view of the department and its performance, allowing personnel to make informed decisions.

Today's CMMS programs can have hundreds of users across several sites. These users are responsible for managing equipment and labor needs as well as purchasing and budgeting activities. These powerful software packages are now the engine for a comprehensive maintenance management program. Let's explore ten features of CMMS software that go beyond basic work order functions.

Tip 1: From preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance. Maintenance personnel have long managed Preventive Maintenance (PM) programs with a CMMS. The computer holds the scheduling limits of a PM task and routinely generates a work order when the required date or meter reading occurs. The system works fine for noncritical assets that require only routine maintenance. For more critical machinery, a CMMS can control a Predictive Maintenance (PdM) program. Using PdM techniques, you can establish a tolerance level in the CMMS for a piece of equipment. If the system sees an "out of limits" input, the CMMS automatically generates a work order and prevents the problem from growing worse.

For example, suppose you are responsible for daily checks of breaker temperatures. One day you find the breaker's temperature exceeds 200 degrees F. When you enter that reading into the CMMS, the system automatically recognizes that the value falls outside the preset temperature range and the system immediately generates a work order, which sets the repair cycle in motion.

Tip 2: Making repair/replace decisions. Deciding whether to repair or replace a piece of equipment is a common problem for many companies. With a CMMS, historical information about a piece of equipment's performance is only a few mouse clicks away.

Once a work order is complete, that information becomes part of the "history" for that machine. Over time, each asset has its own time line, detailing the history and tracking the costs of the repair (see Fig. 1, on the original article's page 54). This historical information allows you to compare the costs of maintaining a piece of equipment versus replacing it.

Tip 3: See what isn't getting done. Another decision-making tool of a CMMS is a "backlog" report. This report shows the work that is either in progress or as yet unassigned. If the scheduled work exceeds the available labor hours, the backlog report is a good tool to justify new staff, reassignments, or the addition of contract help to get you "over the hump."

Experienced managers know one of the most difficult requests to upper management involves a request for new staff. With a carefully managed CMMS, the information in the "available hours versus required hours" report is objective evidence a manager may not otherwise have. However, more staff may not be the best solution. A realignment of responsibilities may be more appropriate. For example, suppose your staff spends considerable time running conduit, which takes away from the time allowed for maintenance tasks. By purchasing a conduit bender, you can reduce the labor hours associated with these tasks and better use your workers time.

Tip 4: Vendor accountability through warranty tracking. With a CMMS, if you encounter a problem with an item, you don't have to go digging through file cabinets to find warranty information. Instead, the warranty information becomes part of the equipment record when you enter the item into the database. A side benefit of some systems is the vendor receives a charge for the repair; automatically.

A CMMS can also provide you with detailed data to back up your claim. For instance, if a vendor questioned the frequency or nature of repairs on a piece of equipment, a work order history could quickly illustrate its maintenance history. The system can track non-warranty vendor service items, such as test equipment calibration.

Tip 5: Determining the value of a PM program. As an industry, we are now seeing that an effective PM program needs ongoing refinement to maximize equipment life and reliability. A CMMS facilitates this process by providing historical data on failure rates and their correlation (if any) to the PM task. For example, suppose you create a PM routine to overhaul a complex conveyor system every six months. After a year, you notice the frequency of breakdowns actually increased. You would then take that information from the CMMS and go "back to the drawing board" to find a PM technique that will achieve the desired results.

Tip 6: Getting control of your inventory. Spare parts are an integral part of the repair process; therefore, you need to keep a tight control on your spare parts inventory. One benefit of better inventory control is having the right spare parts on hand. With a CMMS tracking "parts used" versus "parts on hand," it's easy to ensure you're prepared for any planned task (see Fig. 2, on the original article's page 54 and Fig. 3, above). Once the supply reaches the assigned "minimum" level, the CMMS generates a purchase order for approval.

Keeping the right parts available means fewer emergency "rush" orders. This saves you time and money. But, it also saves you the embarrassment of not being ready when you finally get that precious downtime after three months of trying to schedule work.

Tip 7: Make maintenance schedules available to other departments. When a CMMS generates a work order, it clearly identifies the person and department who initiated the request. If other users of the system need to get in touch with the originator of the work request, their contact information is readily available. Monthly or quarterly reports identify the work your group performed for other departments, the date of the repair, and the cumulative cost (see Fig. 4, on the original article's page 56). For facilities that charge other departments for maintenance, this feature is indispensable.

Tip 8: Gathering data for certifications. Achieving ISO or QS 9000 status, or meeting FDA or OSHA guidelines, are critical factors for any organization. Many CMMS packages offer "ready-made" reporting functions for certification purposes. These certifications are often steps to Total Quality Maintenance (TQM). In most cases, achieving TQM status is not financially or logistically possible without the support a CMMS provides.

Tip 9: Break equipment down by its component parts. To better show the makeup of equipment, a CMMS program typically provides a hierarchical relationship between parts in a piece of equipment. For instance, service entrance switchgear would break down into sub-assets, including a breaker. The breaker has its own subassets, such as the frame and the contacts.

A more detailed view of a piece of equipment leads to more accurate repairs and maintenance. Workers have more information and can find necessary parts within a complex system.

Tip 10: Budgeting within a CMMS. A CMMS can create financial statements to highlight budget information. This allows you to pinpoint areas needing attention, before costs get out of control. For example, you may normally spend a certain amount of time maintaining DC motor brushes each quarter. Now let's say you're 30% over budget; is this because of a price increase, too much wear, additional DC motors, or unnecessary changes? A CMMS can help you answer these questions. Or, suppose you are under budget in your training. You don't have any training scheduled for the rest of the year. However, if you still have training funds available, you could squeeze in a few more classes.

The CMMS is a great tool for managing data. These ten tips are just the tip of the iceberg. You can explore new ways to make use of your CMMS by meeting with your staff on a regular basis to discuss new ideas. With enough exploration, you may find some real treasures beneath the surface.