The COVID-19 pandemic has created sudden, sweeping changes in the economy, including shutdowns across industries. But when things slow down or stop, there’s still lots that needs to get done. Let’s look at some ways to handle unscheduled shutdowns.

But before we do that, let’s get a better understanding of why these current shutdowns are so challenging.

COVID-19 shutdowns

Facilities pull equipment offline for many reasons, some of them positive. For example, turnarounds are when organizations take equipment offline for repairs or replacement. In most cases, this downtime can be measured in shifts or days. Plant turnarounds, where the entire facility is offline, can last for weeks. Regardless of how long they run, there’s always lots of preplanning. Because organizations are in control of when turnarounds start, they make sure everything is in place and ready to go. They also know when things are supposed to come back online, allowing them to schedule everything from the delivery of raw materials to labor.

Shutdowns are different. Organizations can’t see them coming, so they tend to be unprepared. But even though they don’t know when most shutdowns are going to start, they can often make educated guesses about when they’re going to end. That’s because of the common reasons behind shutdowns, which are power outages and disruptions in raw material supply chains. For example, when a thunderstorm takes out the neighbourhood power station, local factories expect to be back online in a matter of days, if not hours. It’s the same with shutdowns related to supply chain issues. In many cases, organizations have a good idea of how long the disruption will last.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more difficult to make accurate predictions. No one knows when things are going to return to normal. Or even what the new normal will be. And it’s that uncertainty that’s making everything more difficult.

So, what’s the solution? Here are some things you can do to adapt quickly and deal with a COVID-19 shutdown.

Take equipment offline properly with CMMS software

Shutting down assets long enough to do basic maintenance and repairs is different than taking them offline for what could be a long time. A quick analogy: it’s the same with your car. Every day when you get home, you turn the engine off, take the keys out of the ignition, and lock the door behind you. That’s all you have to do when you know you’re going to get back in the car and drive it the next morning. But what if you were going to store it over the winter? Now you’re adding fuel stabilizer, changing the oil, checking fluid levels, chocking the tires, blocking the exhaust and intake, and prepping the battery. Just like with your car, you need to take assets offline properly if you want them to be there for you when you need them.

The problem some maintenance departments are facing is that their technicians may be unfamiliar with correct shutdown procedures. And it’s not surprising. Departments are focused on keeping assets up and running, not shutting them down. They know exactly how to turn them off, lock them out, work on them efficiently, and get them back online. But now, they’re being asked to do something very different.

Departments need to do two things: get the information techs need and then make sure they have easy access to it. In the end, getting the information will not be the challenging part. It should be both in O&M manuals and available from asset manufacturers. But how do you make sure techs can access it easily?

Pack data into work orders and templates

CMMS software makes it easy to pack a lot of information into work orders, including:

  • Customizable checklists
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Digital images, O&M manuals, and schematics
  • Associated parts and materials
  • Interactive site and floor plans

Technicians arrive onsite with everything they need to get the job done properly. If there’s a lot of information overlap between work orders, you can also use work order templates that are built into work order software. Once you have a template set up, you can use it to generate new work orders with all the information already included.

Make work orders accessible and up to date from anywhere

Now that your work orders have the right information, you need to get them into the right hands. With COVID-19, the best way to do this is from a distance. Instead of passing around paperwork, you can assign work orders through the CMMS software. Technicians log in and can see their tasks instantly, from anywhere, at any time. And because the platform runs on cloud computing, your data is kept in one database that’s always secure and always up to date.

Adjust your preventive maintenance schedule with CMMS software

If you don’t have a preventive maintenance schedule in place, now is the time to get one. You’ll likely never have this type of opportunity again. With equipment operators out of the way, you can move freely around the facilities, collecting the asset information you need. And once you have the data, you can send it to a CMMS provider who will set up your database and train your staff on the software. Remember, all of this can be done remotely, including the training.

If you already have a working preventive maintenance program, you’ll likely want to start adding and moving around PMs.

First, start scheduling all the preventive maintenance that you always wish you’d had time for. To jump back to the car analogy, let’s say your regular maintenance routine is to add windshield washer fluid, check the oil, and visually inspect the tires. Now that you’ve got the time, you’ll want to check all the fluids, replace the windshield wipers, and get out the tire gauge. For existing PMs, you can think about moving them around and adjusting the frequency. If an asset is not being used, it’s not going to need the same type or level of maintenance.

Screenshot of Hippo CMMS displaying Preventive Maintenance tasks scheduled in calendar dashboard
CMMS software makes this easy with the calendar view. Once you can see all the PMs at the same time, you can get a real sense of how to reschedule the upcoming weeks.

Control inventory with CMMS software

With things slowed down, it might be a good time for a hand count of your inventory. No matter how good your inventory tracking software is, you still need to double-check your counts periodically.

You should also think about resetting your par levels, the minimum and maximum levels of each type of inventory you carry. If you’ve adjusted both the type and frequency of your preventive maintenance schedule, your inventory needs are going to change. The rollers on a conveyor belt might have usually needed realignment or replacing every six months, but that was back when your organization was running three shifts. Now that the belt is idle, you won’t need as many parts for it on hand. Don’t set your levels too low, though. A side effect of COVID-19 is the disruption of supply chains. Parts that used to be available from suppliers overnight might now take days or weeks to arrive. Assume increased lead times and stock up accordingly.

And if you have more than one facility, you can start to look at ways to share inventory. Instead of having to wait on a supplier, you can likely get stuff from your other facility faster.

All of this is made easier with CMMS software. Because they include associate parts and materials, as soon as a tech closes out a work order, the software adjusts inventory levels in real-time. And when you go below a customizable minimum level on any part of material, the software helps you restock by automating part of the purchase order process.

Always make sure you are handling inventory shipments safely. In Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters recently released guidelines and best practices. There are still questions about how long the virus remains stable and infectious on surfaces, so you need policies and procedures in place to ensure safety. For example, enforcing social distancing when interacting with delivery drivers and using gloves when handling any related paperwork.

Track and report with CMMS software

For scheduled plant and maintenance turnarounds, there are always metrics. Organizations set goals and then track their relative success. Examples are zero harm, on budget, on time, and the ratio of planned to unplanned work.

For COVID-19 partial and full shutdowns, you’ll need to consider your definition of success and then track your performance. You can look at the percentage of PMs completed on time, for example. Or you could track how many back-burnered maintenance projects finally get closed out. For a partial shutdown, you can still look at uptime and the ratio of on-demand to scheduled work orders.

Screenshot of Hippo CMMS displaying how to track preventive maintenance tasks completion across categories

It’s important to focus on safety and the steps your organization is taking to combat the spread of COVID-19, and a big part of encouraging best practices is comprehensive tracking. For example, you can have all of your sanitation work orders set under the same category in the CMMS software, making it easy to pull them into the reporting module.

Prepare to come back stronger with CMMS software

Everything you do during the shutdown should be preparing you for the inevitable return to full capacity. Shut down your assets properly so you can bring them back online more easily. Perform maintenance now so they run more smoothly later. Manage your inventory so you have the right parts at the right time, now and in the future. Do everything according to all current best practices for safety.

CMMS software always makes good sense, but now more than ever, you need to take control of your maintenance operations. If you don’t have a CMMS yet or you have one, but it’s not delivering what it promised, now is the time to get the solution that’s right for you.

We’re here to help. We can schedule a remote live demo and walk you through all the key features for managing shutdowns.

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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