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Build a Well-Oiled Machine with CMMS-Backed Work Order Management Workflow Efficiency

By Jonathan Davis | June 10, 2019

When you're running a maintenance department, what's the difference between being effective and being efficient? They both mean you're getting things done, you're getting results. But when you're efficient, everything goes faster, smoother, and costs you less blood, sweat, and tears.

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time. - Steven Wright

Don't misunderstand. You can run a maintenance department with old-time paper- or spreadsheet-based systems. And if your department is small enough, you might be able to pull it off without too many headaches. But the system won't scale. It groans and creaks just a little bit more every time you add another asset or technician. At some point, you'll be stuck pouring money and energy into it to stay effective. So, for anything beyond the smallest, most basic operations, you need to invest in workflow efficiencies, and one of the best and fastest ways to do this is with a dependable, full-featured CMMS software. The good news is the payoffs can be huge.

One way to try to understand the benefits of CMMS-backed efficiency is to look at the numbers. But when American Machinist says, "Switching from manual methods to a feature-rich, computerized maintenance management systems can help save up to 18% in repair costs, reduce HVAC energy consumption by 20%, and save at least 15% of time spent processing information," what does that actually mean for you, day to day? What does "15% of time spent processing information" actually mean on a practical level? You can't pick that number up and turn it over in your hands to get a feel for it. What's the easiest way to understand it?

Let's try to put a face, your face actually, to these numbers, and look at how an efficient CMMS-supported workflow affects you from even before you leave for work to when you take a quick break for lunch.

At the kitchen table: CMMS keeps data accessible

Old-time manual systems

No matter how early you wake up to get a start on the day, your department is trapped on bits of paper or in a bunch of spreadsheets, so there's no way for you do anything until you're in your office, sitting behind your desk. (It's possible you could try to look at some spreadsheets on a mobile device, but how much pinch zooming and resizing can you endure?) That doesn't mean things haven't been going on at the factory without you. Some sleepy third-shift operator might have damaged an asset. Some overlooked pump might have seized. But there's nothing you can do about it yet.

Let's not pretend life without a work order software is like living in a cave. Obviously, if something really, really bad happens, for example the factory roof falls in, someone will call you on the phone. No one is going to look up at a gaping hole in the roof and decide it can wait until you come in. You're not completely cut off from work as soon as you drive out of the parking lot. But there are lots of little things and some not-so-little things that will get delayed because no one wants to call you in the middle of the night or over the weekend. Basically, even if you don't have a CMMS, you don't have to worry about being out of the loop when it comes to major disasters. But when you're offsite, you are out of the loop for all those smaller problems that don't warrant an after-hours phone call but can start to add up.

Full-featured CMMS

No one is suggesting you have to start working before your regular work hours, but if you wanted to, you could be sitting in your kitchen enjoying your first cup of coffee while reviewing that day's schedule. Or, you could be checking the most recent work order requests. With administrative permissions, you'll be able to check the request queue and decide which tickets to accept and reject. That way, you can hit the ground running as soon as you get to the office. Remember, you don't have to; it's better to spend breakfast chatting with your kids or reading the paper or just taking some quit time to stare out the window, but the important thing here that with a CMMS, you can check in on work when you want. Because everything from past work orders to PM schedules, from asset history to interactive floor maps are in one central database, the data is accessible from wherever you are, all the time.

From the parking lot to your desk: CMMS keeps you a step ahead with accessible, up-to-date data

Old-time manual systems

Remember how everything was trapped on paper or inside spreadsheets? It's not a long walk across the parking lot, but there's always the chance you'll run into the CEO. What if they ask you if there were any problems during second or third shift? Worse yet, what if they ask you how you're going to fix a problem you haven't even heard about yet?

Full-featured CMMS

Of course you haven't been looking at your phone during the ride in to work. That's both illegal and dumb. But if you had peaked, you'd be prepared to answer the CEO's questions. Even if you don't bump into anyone in the parking lot, you're still way ahead of the game. With all the info you can easily access from the CMMS, you walk into work already knowing what's on your plate for the day.

Keep in mind that you'll know all about the new tickets and open work orders as well as all the scheduled PMs. A good CMMS makes setting up a preventive maintenance schedule a breeze, with your choice of time- or meter-based, and fixed or floating PMs. All of this information is available at a glance, too. If your CMMS has a clean, easy-to-use interface, you can get the big picture by looking at a calendar view.

Not only can you access lots of information, but also you can be confident it's up to date. Modern CMMS platforms use cloud computing, which means all your data lives inside a database on one server. It's not really one, actually. There are lots of backups. But there's one master version of the data. Whenever someone uses the CMMS to update data, for example closing out a work order, the master version gets updated. It's the opposite of when you email a spreadsheet. You're not actually sending the spreadsheet; you're sending a copy of it, which means there are now two copies, the one on your computer and the one on the other person's computer. As soon as either one of those files get changed, you no longer have two copies. You have two separate, different versions. One of them is the current, correct version, while the other one is just out there causing confusion.

On the factory floor: CMMS increases time on wrench

Old-time manual systems

Work orders are getting generated and assigned, but it's a slow process with a lot of back and forth. Techs go out the door with work orders, but then come back before closing them out.

Here's likely why: A ticket came in from an operator, and it Looks like a belt is out of alignment and  rubbing against an edge of the machine. Not only will this eventually damage the belt, but it's throwing the timing off for other assets. You write up a work order and assign it to one of your newer techs. About ten minutes later he comes back, sheepishly admitting he can't find the asset. It's another five minutes for you to draw a map on the back of the paper work order before he's out of your office. When he gets to the asset, the operator needs to take time away from his own responsibilities to explain to the new guy exactly what went wrong the last time the belt was misaligned. Eventually, they get everything fixed.

Remember, we're looking at the difference between effective and efficient. It's not that the tech was unable, in the end, to fix the problem. It's that they needed a lot of extra time to do it. Not only that, but they also needed extra help from both you and the asset operator.

Or consider this situation: You get word that a pump has seized. When the tech goes out to fix it, they realize the one part they need is two days away in your supplier's warehouse. All your inventory levels are tracked "manually," which means when people notice there's only a few parts left in a box they should let you know so you can order more.

That pump! You remember it getting fixed only about a month ago. It could be you were sent defective parts. Or, it could be it wasn't fixed properly last time. You'll need to go through your paper records looking for the old work orders. Even if your system is a bit more updated and you have spreadsheets, you're looking at a lot of clicking around to find the information. Wasn't there some Youtube video you saw about writing a cell formula or a macro or something to search through a bunch of spreadsheets. Now all you have to do it track down the video and watch it again...

Full-featured CMMS

Everything is running much more smoothly. When you assign work orders, it's all done through the CMMS, which means no one has to come to your office to pick up bit of paper. Everything they need to close out the work order is sent to them through the CMMS, including:

  • asset information
  • digital O&M manuals and schematics
  • step-by-step instructions
  • customizable checklists
  • associated parts and material

On a really good CMMS, there'll even be interactive floor plans. Armed with this information, techs never need to wonder where to go or what to do once they get there. Time on wrench goes up. More work orders get closed out. Remember that pesky pump? Using the CMMS, you can quickly check to see when it was last fixed and who fixed it. In fact, the whole asset history is right there, including all the current warranty information.

At your desk eating lunch: CMMS helps you digest with automatic reports

Old-time manual systems

Let's go for the low-hanging fruit here. You can't even eat your lunch until you've cleared away a bunch of papers. Even then, how can you enjoy your meal when you know you've got to spend all afternoon trying to put together reports? If you're working from paper work orders, you'll need to break out your calculator and start punching in some numbers. Actually, it's not really some numbers. It's a bunch of them, scattered across many, many pieces of paper. Need to know the average amount of time from opening to closing out work orders? You'll need to collect all the paper work orders, go through them one at a time calculating how long each one was open, then add them all up and divide them by the total number of work orders. Honestly, the math is not hard, which makes the whole process worse. It's mind-numbing work. If you're using spreadsheets, hopefully you've worked out a system for pulling out the data. The catch is you have to be absolutely sure every file is there and up to date. Is there one you remembered to email to yourself but then forgot to download into the right directory on your desktop? Unfortunately, this small mistake just skewed all your numbers. And if at the end of the quarter or year, you make one giant report based on all your smaller monthly reports, you've just skewed the number in that one, too. 

Full-featured CMMS

CMMS platforms are great at keeping data safe and accessible. They're also great a crunching numbers. What sorts of numbers? According to Efficient Plant magazine, you should use your CMMS for insights into inventory, human resources, compliance, and failure analysis. A good work order software will auto generate customizable reports full of KPIs. You can even set the CMMS to automatically generate the reports, for example weekly or monthly. And not only can your CMMS do this quickly, because it's using a complete set of up-to-date data, you can trust that the reports are accurate. It's not going to make your tuna sandwich magically taste like sirloin steak, but having one less thing to worry about is going to help you relax and enjoy your lunch more.   

Next steps

Now that we've firmly established that effective is fine but efficient is so much better, it's time to really think about getting a CMMS if you don't already have one. Or, if you do have one but it's not helping as much as you'd hoped, it's time to start looking for a new one. It's more than just numbers on a page. Just think of how much better each and every day can be for you and your department.

cmms roi calculator

 

Topics: work order management work order tracking


Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis started out writing for textbooks before branching out to video games and marketing collateral. He has a master’s degree in journalism and a certificate in technical writing.


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