Sometimes the hardest part of fixing an asset is first figuring out what's wrong with it. Replacing a broken part or adding in more lubricant is the easy part. It's knowing which part to switch out and where to add the oil that's the real challenge. When you're forced to troubleshoot, computerized maintenance management software keeps you on target.
Before looking at the how-tos and benefits of troubleshooting with maintenance management software, let's take two steps back and start with some basic definitions.
Basically, it's a process for finding a solution when you know there's a problem, but you're not sure where it's hiding. There's only four steps, but if you're not careful, you end up repeating the second and third without ever reaching the fourth. The trick is to work methodically and with the right support. When you do, it's a fairly straight line from problem to solution.
So, what are the steps? They're identify, plan, test, and resolve. First, you identify the problem. For example, the forklift won't start. You don't know why. You only know that it's not starting. Then you plan a response. Start with something easy. Maybe it's not in Park, and there's a safety feature that prevents you from turning on the motor when it's in Drive. Your response is to check if it's in Drive. Next, you test to see if your response worked. Will it start now that it's in Park? In this case, let's say it still won't start. And that's not uncommon. A lot of the time, you're not going to guess right the first time.
So, you double back to the response step. It could be that the battery's dead. You switch out the old battery for a fresh new one. Test one more time, and success! The forklift starts. You've reached the last step, resolve.
Defining maintenance management software
Good troubleshooting requires you to work methodically and with the right support. And nothing supports you as well as a software for maintenance management. But what exactly is it?
- Managing and tracking work orders
- Controlling and tracking inventory
- Tracking KPIs and generating reports
- Managing third-party vendors
- Scheduling and tracking preventive maintenance
- Managing assets and equipment throughout their life cycles
Modern platforms use cloud-based computing, which means everything is kept safe and up to date in one database, accessible from anywhere, at any time. No more chasing down scraps of paper or scrolling through old spreadsheets.
Troubleshooting with maintenance management software
Now that we've worked out their definitions let's look at how the two work together. Remember, troubleshooting is a process, and you need to follow these steps to make it an efficient one. You want to be moving in a mostly straight line, from problem to solution, not running around in circles. Here's how you do it.
Understand the system with maintenance management software, digital manuals and schematics, and an open request portal
Understanding the system means knowing how assets look and sound when everything is running smoothly. It's knowing the parts and how they work together. This is crucial because the fastest way to figure out what's wrong with an asset is to compare how things are when it's not working to how they are when it is.
Quick example: Your car's not starting, and there's a puddle of green liquid underneath it. If you don't know much about cars, you're going to waste time checking other possible explanations before randomly checking the engine coolant. But if you know engine coolant is green and that it's supposed to be inside the engine, not on the floor under the car, you can find the problem and work out a solution much faster. The more you know about your car when it's working, the faster you can fix it when it's not.
Maintenance management software helps here in two important ways. One, it's a great way to make an asset's manuals and schematics available to technicians. And not just theoretically available. Actually available. Instead of being trapped in dusty old volumes piled in the back of the maintenance department office, everything techs need to know about an asset is in digital form, which they can access and read on any computer or mobile device.
Another way this software helps is with an open maintenance request portal. When an operator notices a problem with an asset, they can quickly and seamlessly report it to the maintenance department. All they have to do is log in. They're not wasting time tracking down emails or phone numbers. And because the portal has maintenance request templates, operators know what information to include. Compare that to an email or voice mail. Instead of random bits of information spit out in a jumble, you get data that's standardized and complete.
How does this help? Because the one person who knows any given asset better than the maintenance department is its operator. They're an expert on what it sounds and looks like when it's running properly. And when they're able to effortlessly connect with the maintenance department, techs benefit from the operator's asset expertise.
Know the whole history with maintenance management software, accurate, up-to-date asset history, and reports
Start by knowing how things look when everything's running smoothly. Next, get an idea of how things tend to look when there are problems. Knowing an asset's maintenance history should give you a good idea of what's causing any current problems. History has a way of repeating itself. The trick is to look at the whole history, or at least as much as you can. Don't focus on just the last time you fixed an asset. Instead, take a wider view and look for trends.
Back to our car example, the one leaking engine coolant. The next time you have trouble with it, the first thing you're going to check is the coolant. Worked last time, right? But you might be wasting your time. If you'd looked at its maintenance history, you'd know that it only ever had an issue with coolant that one time. Usually when it doesn't start, it's a dead battery. You should be checking that first.
Maintenance management software helps by making collecting and accessing work order history a breeze. Instead of rifling through old paperwork or hunting through spreadsheet files, you're only ever a few clicks, taps, or scrolls away from the data you need. And with autogenerated reports packed with KPIs and easy-to-read graphs, you can quickly know everything you need to about an asset's maintenance history.
Maintenance management software is great at keeping data safe, accessible, and up to date. With traditional maintenance management systems, this is impossible. When everything is written down on paper, the only way to keep it safe is to lock it up in the maintenance department's office. Even then, it's fairly easy to misplace a few pieces of paper here and there. As soon as a technician walks out of the office with a paper work order, there's a good chance it's getting misplaced. For the scraps of paper that do survive, there's no good way to collect and leverage the data. Need to know how often an asset has been worked on, how much it cost in labor and parts, and the most common required maintenance tasks? You can find out the answers, but be prepared to sit down with a stack of paperwork, a calculator, and pen and paper. Strong coffee is optional but strongly recommended.
For departments that use spreadsheets, there's always the problem of keeping the information both accessible and up to date. As soon as you email someone a spreadsheet, there are now two copies, the one on your computer and the one on theirs. Changes you make to your copy don't transfer over to their copy. You're not sharing data; you're creating unconnected, increasingly different versions of it. Modern maintenance management software keeps everything in one central database where it's updated in real-time. There's one master version of the data. Everyone with the right software permissions can see it. No one has to scroll through old email attachments to track down the latest version.
Leverage your insights with maintenance management software, work order templates, and customizable instructions and checklists
Once you've gone through the related work order histories and worked out a list of likely culprits, you can start to streamline future troubleshooting efforts by creating helpful checklists. So the next time an asset needs maintenance, you've got a handy list of things to check, in order from the most to least likely cause of the problem.
Back to our car example. Looking back at the work order histories, you can see that when it doesn't start, it's usually because of problems with the battery. Usually, but not always. Sometimes it's the alternator. Once, it was the coolant. The next time it doesn't want to start, you first check the battery, then the alternator, and then the coolant.
The trick here is how you write the instructions and checklists. Avoid being vague. For example:
- Check battery
- Check alternator
- Check coolant
It's better to include all the steps to make sure nothing gets skipped. The instruction to check the battery can be broken down into:
- Check battery charge using meter
- Inspect posts for signs of corrosion
- Inspect case for swelling and bloating
- Check case for unusual smells
The more specific your steps, the better.
Maintenance management software gives you a simple way to build these lists and then make sure everyone follows them. With work order templates, you can easily set up templates for specific assets. When there's a problem without an obvious cause, you can generate a data-packed work order template with just a few clicks. Work order software means technicians have everything they need to close out efficiently, including:
- Customizable instructions and checklists
- Asset work order history
- Associated parts and materials
- Digital pictures, schematics, and O&M manuals
Really good software even has interactive floor plans.
Complete root cause analysis with maintenance management software and preventive maintenance scheduling
It's not enough to figure out what caused a breakdown. You need to figure out a way to prevent it from happening again. Root cause analysis is the process of finding the problem behind the problem. The generally accepted advice is to ask yourself why five times, each time moving closer to the original source of the problem. Once again, back to our car example. Seems the battery is dead again.
One: "Why is the car not starting?"
Answer: The battery is dead.
Two: "Why is the battery dead?"
Answer: Because the alternator is not functioning, the battery was drained.
Three: "Why was the alternator not working properly?"
Answer: There was a broken part inside it.
Four: "Why did this part break?"
Answer: The alternator is old, and all the parts are prone to breaking.
Five: "Why hadn't it been replaced?"
Answer: Current best practices are not being followed.
Once you know the root of the problem, you can take steps to prevent it from happening again. Instead of just charging or replacing the battery every time it's dead, you start following best practices for when to check and replace the alternator.
Maintenance management software makes this easy. Once you know the steps you need to take, you can schedule them in the software as preventive maintenance work orders (PMs). Unlike demand work orders, PMs are done before assets break down. It's like changing the oil in your car. You don't wait for the engine to seize before you change the oil. Instead, you do it proactively.
Once the PMs are in the software, they're easy to find and track, hard to forget. You can even set the software to send you reminder emails.
Choosing the right software for maintenance management
It's often the case that finding the cause of a problem is much harder than fixing it. But with good maintenance management software, you can move quickly through the troubleshooting steps. Now the question is, How do you know which software solution is going to work best for you? What are the must-have features and what are just fancy bells and whistles?
If you're looking for answers, this article is a good place to start.
It's also important to reach out and speak directly with providers. When you're looking for the right software, you need to see it in action to understand how it works and how it can work for you.