It's easy to implement a CMMS without realizing the depth and scope of the project you've undertaken.

We all want to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is an effective way to do this in the maintenance function. The expense of maintenance, repair, and operations is often one of the top expenditures for a company. Proper CMMS implementation will enhance your maintenance department's performance — including response times, uptime, expense management, and other key functions.

Unfortunately, most CMMS owners have not unleashed the system's real power. A typical CMMS owner uses the system to replace a paper-based work order system. That may yield a measurable improvement, but limiting your use of the CMMS to any one function can cost you. Even if you have gone beyond a basic work order system, you may still be missing out.

For example, you can use your CMMS to identify what consumable supplies and equipment you need, what's in stock, how frequently you should replenish each item, and where you can get it. You can follow and trend a recurring problem and determine from the CMMS report if it happens only during a specific shift. If so, you can decide whether the problem is one of operator training and take steps to eliminate the costs associated with the problem. Let's look at an example of this process in action.

You look at a failure graph that your CMMS produced: It shows that motors tend to fail in a specific area of your facility at about 7 a.m. each day. Realizing that's when the first shift begins, you discover the source of the problem — workers have been bringing in space heaters. Plugging them in (along with normal startup activities) creates a voltage sag on one phase. So, you rebalance the single-phase loading, automate the HVAC to warm the area for half an hour before the workers arrive, and create a startup procedure that allows better staggering of loads.

Increasing uptime, tracking maintenance, reducing paperwork, and keeping an eye on the bottom line are goals all of us try to meet. Unfortunately, it's easy to implement a CMMS without realizing the depth and scope of the project you've undertaken. Sometimes, this is because people don't know what to look for in a system (see sidebar, above). In most cases, however, the challenge involves successfully implementing the system in a way that makes sense for your company. Let's look at some ways to do just that.

Garner support. Everyone involved with the CMMS purchase or implementation must understand the need for the system and the benefits it will provide. This is essential to motivating maintenance workers to train on a new system. Upper management must understand the financial investment and the potential return-on-investment. To keep everyone motivated and supportive, decide on what kinds of reports you want from the system and develop a schedule for delivering them. For example, you may want to publish a monthly uptime trend chart.

Examine your business practices. Preimplementation is the perfect time to examine your business process. If your basic process has flaws — and most maintenance processes do — a maintenance system will automate bad practices instead of establish good ones. That may take time you don't have.

Fortunately, the time saved by a CMMS implementation will allow you to handle this later — even though now is better. So, even if you can't do a thorough revamp of business practices now, implement with an eye to improving your business process and integrating best practices.

Communicate your business practices. Be sure everyone understands the business process. For example, production people (your clients) may believe a work request and a work order are the same. This is a common misconception that often results in political end gaming, friction, and hard feelings. Explain the workflow, focusing on how maintenance evaluates work requests, assigns priorities, schedules work, and monitors progress. Before discussing your business process, make sure it includes feedback for your clients.

Staff it. Assign a functional system administrator and create an internal help desk. The administrator is responsible for ongoing configuration and system maintenance. The help desk is especially valuable to new employees.

Collect data. In many cases, gathering data involves exporting data from an existing system into the new system. If you lack data, you could embark on a time-consuming mission to fill in all the blanks as soon as possible, but this approach is probably a poor investment of resources. Enter information as needed, and over time your system will have useful data.

As you begin to make better use of your CMMS, keep a log to document what you are doing. This will establish a solid record of your performance, while allowing you to trade tips with other users. If you don't know other users, ask your CMMS vendor for contact information.

Hinchey is a director with Datastream Systems, Greenville, S.C.

Selecting a CMMS

Two words to look for when selecting a CMMS are configurable and scaleable. A system's configurability is a measure of how well you can adapt it to your needs and how well you can integrate it with the software you already own. A system's scaleability is a measure of how easily that system can adapt as your company grows or changes its focus. You should be able to add or delete features as needed.

What about alerts? A CMMS must update you, automatically, on the status of key performance indicators. For example, it should tell you that lead times for parts are approaching if you haven't ordered them yet. It should tell you when a certain piece of equipment requires the same repair too frequently. It should do the drudgery of data digging for you and leave you free to do things that make the best use of your time.

A CMMS should enable you to efficiently track, monitor, and analyze all aspects of equipment and machinery. This includes equipment warranty information. For example, Barrick Goldstrike, a high-grade underground gold-mining facility in Nevada, uses the system to track all maintenance functions, including equipment warranties, vendor service calls, and planned equipment downtime. As a result of tracking warranties for each piece of equipment for the last six years, Goldstrike has been able to boost the facility's warranty claims from $500,000 per year to almost $5 million — on a $67 million maintenance budget. If a CMMS can't track warranty information for each piece of equipment, don't even consider installing it.

Examples of Business Process Improvement

Operations

A European glue manufacturer encountered excessive downtime and maintenance because pumps continually clogged. Examination revealed the operators were constantly running the pumps beyond the acceptable speed to increase production. When the plant manager discovered the problem, he made those operators responsible for first-line maintenance/repair — thereby slashing the number of pump failures.

Maintenance

A plant was experiencing long response times to machine failure calls. On paper, the maintenance plan in effect was admirable: Fix all machine problems so they won't occur again. In practice, however, it resulted in an unprioritized queue of waiting repair jobs. When the new plant engineer set up a first-response crew leader for each major area of the plant for each shift, the wait time dropped from 11 hr to 3 min. The crew leader answered each call and determined whether to do a quick repair to get the machine running or call someone off a lower-priority repair. Then, he would answer the next call.

Interdepartmental

To report a machine failure, operators filled out a paper form titled “work order” and threw it on a supervisor's desk with other papers. If the supervisor was out on the floor, he might not return to his office and see that paper before going home. As a result, accusations and hard feelings became common problems. A new plant engineer set up a special box for work requests in each area and published a work-request procedure. That procedure allowed operators to report equipment failure to any maintenance person, who would then report it to the crew leader for proper dispatch. As a result, work requests made their way into the CMMS for proper scheduling and allocation of resources.