Organizations often bring in the maintenance department midway through a physical asset's life cycle, which is too late. They then pull maintenance out just before the asset's final stage, which is then too early.
But with the help of the right CMMS, the maintenance team can help deliver maximum value throughout the asset life cycle.
Before looking at how your department can help at every stage of the asset life cycle, it's important to nail down some definitions. For example, what's an asset? And then: what is the asset life cycle?
Definition of a physical asset
A physical asset is an integrated collection of components that require maintenance and repair followed by replacement.
Because that definition is so broad, it's helpful to look at some smaller categories.
With a service life of more than 30 years, these assets are durable, and they can go decades without needing maintenance or repairs. When they do fail, though, the consequences are high. Examples include metal roofs and concrete slabs.
Less durable than long-life assets, these have a service life of between 16 and 29 years. The consequences of failure are usually high, and examples include boilers, fire alarm systems, and exterior lights.
Less durable than long- and medium-life assets, these typically have a service life of fewer than 16 years. They're generally smaller, but they get more use. Failure consequences are usually low. Sump pumps are an example.
With a firm grasp on physical assets, we can now start to define the life cycle.
Physical asset life cycle
But before looking at the individual stages, we need to answer an important question: Does every physical asset pass through the same ones? Generally, yes. And equally as important, organizations tend to track every type of physical asset, at least on some level, throughout these shared stages.
But how much tracking depends on the asset. If you graphed the relationships, the higher the cost and criticality, the more involved and formal the tracking. A small replacement pump, for example, lives at the back of the supply closet, and you won't think about it until you need it. But for an asset like a boiler, there's a long process where you decide you need one, choose the replacement, and then plan out all the steps for installing it. Then you create a maintenance program with associated inspections, tasks, and KPIs.
The life cycle stages for physical assets are:
- Dispose and replace
Because we already know a lot about what the maintenance department does in the middle two stages, let's instead focus on the first and last.
Asset life cycle: acquire
Here, the organization realizes it needs a new asset and decides which one to get. Your department can help in three specific ways.
Because they're maintaining and repairing the assets, maintenance has a good idea of the real current capacity. Take a manufacturing plant, for example. Theoretically, the assets already in place can produce X number of items every Y number of hours. But to calculate the real, practical output, the organization needs to know the uptime and downtime numbers, which the maintenance team tracks in their CMMS.
Or, the organization has decided it needs a new asset, and it is now looking at different manufacturers. Again, because they've worked directly with the current physical assets, the maintenance team has a sense of their reliability. If you're always having issues with an asset from Company A, you can steer your organization toward Company B.
And it's more than just how often you have to repair an asset. It's also how easy it is to complete the repairs. The maintenance department knows which companies have the best documentation, support, and warranties.
Part of setting up the CMMS database is loading in all the support documents, so the department has a sense of which companies have the best documentation. And because the CMMS automates some parts of the purchasing processes, it's easy to check current lead times. They can see which assets are going to be the easiest to keep in parts and materials.
Or, even the most reliable asset and equipment eventually need to be inspected, maintained, and repaired. So now the question is how easy it is to do the work. Again, just from having a lot of experience, maintenance technicians can see which assets are going to present more challenges.
And these challenges can add a lot of time, energy, and safety concerns to maintenance and repairs. A quick, famous example: on most cars, checking the fuel filter should take about ten minutes. But there is a certain imported sports car where you have to jack up the car, crawl underneath it, and remove the floor plates to get to the filter.
A good CMMS lets you pack lots of information into both on-demand and preventive maintenance work orders, including customizable checklists and step-by-step instructions. When you want to know which company's assets are the most difficult to maintain and repair, there's a good chance all you need to do is check the length of the instructions in the average work order.
You could also check which work orders have the most task comments. Because there are many different reasons a tech would attach comments to a work order, it's not an exact science. But if the work orders associated with an asset have a lot of back-and-forth comments, it suggests it's a bit trickier to fix.
In the end, because they know which assets are needed, which companies to trust, and what to look for in an asset, the maintenance department and the reliable data it tracks using the CMMS adds a lot of value at the acquire stage.
Asset life cycle step: dispose and replace
Here's how we generally think about the last stage of the asset life cycle. As the asset approaches the end of its useful life, the organization needs to decide when to replace it. The calculation is simple in theory. At some point, it costs more to repair the asset than to replace it. In practice, though, there are many moving targets, making it tough to know exactly when to pull the trigger.
The maintenance team can help make things easier by looking at the associated costs it's tracking using the CMMS. Because the CMMS contains reliable data on an asset's associated downtime, parts and materials, and labor, the maintenance team can provide a clear picture of the cost of keeping an asset up and running. With that number in hand, the organization can more accurately decide when to dispose of and replace an asset.
But that's not the only way your department can help your organization make those decisions. And that's because there's more than one reason to replace an asset. In some cases, organizations replace assets that are working perfectly.
In some cases, it's because of new regulations. For example, a lot of older HVAC systems used freon gas. But when it was discovered that freon was contributing to the hole in the ozone layer, governments began phasing out its use. Now, unless you can retrofit your old HVAC systems, you need to replace them.
In other cases, organizations replace assets because they can get better, more efficient models. For example, a company might replace all its older boilers with more energy-efficient ones. Here, they're not looking at the maintenance costs. Instead, the deciding factor is all the money they can save on utility bills.
End of the asset life cycle: technological advances
Imagine you have a room full of typewriters. They work perfectly and suit your organization's needs.
Best of all, you're not worried about finding people to maintain and repair them. That's because a good CMMS hold all your critical asset data, including:
- Associated parts and materials
- Digital images, O&M manuals, and warranties
- Customizable checklists
- Step-by-step instructions
Thanks to those last two, most techs in the maintenance department can figure out how to work on the typewriters.
But what you are worried about is parts and materials. How much longer will you be able to buy ribbons? And when a part breaks, how quickly can you get in a replacement?
When you see that sourcing parts and materials is going to be an issue, the lead times are getting longer, and the list of reliable suppliers is getting shorter, you can warn your organization that it's time to start looking to dispose of and replace those typewriters.
The maintenance department can make important contributions to the organization at every stage of the asset life cycle. And it can do even more with the right CMMS solution.
If you've been looking to take the next step in asset management, or you already have a CMMS but it's failing to live up to what you were promised, now is the time to reach out to providers and learn more about your options.