During the past three decades, company operations management has greatly evolved. Fluctuating economic conditions, increased market place competition and a move toward computer technology are largely responsible for companies across all sectors adopting a “smarter” operations approach. In order to remain profitable and competitive, companies recognize the need for increased business efficiency through resource, material and time savings. A key aspect of effective operations management is efficient work order management. The following are ten tips for improving that process:
1. Consider making a shift from paper-based methods of operations management to digital formats.
Spreadsheets offer an excellent work order management solution for small and some medium sized operations that process less than 20 work orders monthly. A spreadsheet are created using a computer program such as Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3. When using spreadsheet software, data arranged in columns and rows can be captured, displayed and manipulated data. Spreadsheets are designed to hold numerical data and short text strings as well as display data relationships graphically. On the other hand, for larger facilities – those managing more than 20 monthly work orders, a work order tracking software like a Computerized Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) is a more optimal choice because these systems can track work orders, quickly generate accurate reports, and instantly determine which of their assets requires preventive maintenance or repairs. Recent innovations in the software include secure cloud-based interfaces, mobile accessibility through smart phones and tablets and going completely paperless making these systems even more attractive to businesses.
2. Differentiate between reactive and preventative maintenance
Reactive maintenance is conducted when a piece of equipment unexpectedly fails. In this case, operations cease until the piece of equipment is repaired. Sometimes, this may require that a needed part be ordered if it is not in stock. On the other hand, preventative maintenance involves checking equipment while it is still working with the purpose of conducting tune ups and replacing small parts to prevent unexpected break downs and failure. Since preventative maintenance can be scheduled during operations downtime and when the necessary parts are on hand, disruptions in operations are minimized and equipment lifespans can be extended.
3. Implement a preventive maintenance plan
It is important to develop a preventative maintenance plan for the purpose of lessening unplanned reactive maintenance. In doing so, costs can be reduced, resources can be better allocated, and time management can become more efficient. By scheduling preventative maintenance, facility managers can deploy technicians to work on equipment pieces based on low usage times and also by facility location such that multiple pieces can be serviced at the same time.
4. Associate the work order to assets
When planning a preventative maintenance schedule and then later when reviewing all maintenance history, linking work orders to assets can be a beneficial strategy. This involves associating a building and location with its equipment (i.e., rooftop units such as exhaust fan, air handler, air conditioning). By establishing these associations, managers can reduce technician time and also identify equipment based on its location in their maintenance history reports.
5. Establish and use templates and standard operating procedures
Since efficiency and profitability are primary goals, it makes sense that maintenance managers implement procedures that aid in this process. Creating checklist templates and protocols for maintenance removes the guess work for technicians and ensures they are compliant with operating standards for each piece of equipment. Standardized work order templates reduce errors and confusion while increasing the likelihood that they will be processed as they should be.
6. Use mobile devices to manage work orders
Mobile devices are an excellent work order management tool by adding time saving portability to the task. With mobile access, maintenance managers can submit work orders in the field without having to wait to return to their desktop computers to do so. In other words, work orders can be sent on the go shortening response time. When using a CMMS, technicians can create, modify or update a work order directly from their phones or tablets. As well, these systems have integrated camera and bar coding capabilities which reduce error and once again, save time when ordering parts. With mobile access bar code scanning, it is no longer necessary to search equipment manufacturer databases with key words and filters for manuals. Instead, work orders can be accurately created when a bar code is easily scanned with a smart phone or tablet.
7. Set realistic due dates
Because time is money, setting realistic repair time is vital. By accurately estimating the amount of time a piece of equipment will be out of service, maintenance managers are able to make alternative scheduling plans with the goal of maintaining overall operations.
8. When possible, assign work to internal technicians
Since repairs can be costly, it is best to seek the most cost-effective way of having them done. Large companies with numerous assets will likely find having their own in-house technicians to be the most affordable solution in terms of time saving and overall cost. In-house technicians are readily available thus minimizing equipment down time. Using this approach, maintenance managers are able to manage accountability, monitor time to complete, record labor costs as well as observe repair trends and plan for the future. For small operations, it may be more cost effective to use third party technicians rather than hire in-house service providers. By having several pieces of equipment serviced at once (when utilizing a preventative maintenance program) makes subcontracting servicing an optimal choice.
9. Track outside expenses from suppliers and vendors
In an effort to assess whether an in-house repair technician is warranted, keeping track of outside expenses from suppliers and vendors along with the cost of equipment downtime can be helpful. When the costs of utilizing third party repair services (including purchasing their parts) exceed the cost of hiring a staff technician, the solution becomes clear.
10. Track and record all costs, parts, supplies, labor, outside contractors
When assessing overall operations costs, those costs related to supplies, labor and outside contractors are important factors to consider. By tracking these costs across time, maintenance managers are able to make informed decisions about how to best allocate funds and resources in the future.
Keeping a company’s equipment running efficiently is probably the most important objective of maintenance managers. Simplifying and expediting work orders is a means to attaining that goal. Being knowledgeable about a facility’s assets and their locations, developing a scheduled preventative maintenance plan, creating standardized work order templates and incorporating mobile device technology can minimize error and unnecessary equipment downtime. Moreover, these strategies aid in extending equipment lifespans and improving time management and labor utilization and ultimately, reducing overall costs and increasing profit margins. Finding the optimal work order vehicle, be it a spreadsheet or a CMMS, is an important first step toward achieving operating efficiency.