People have always understood the importance of investing in systems for maintenance management. Back in ancient Egypt, the first thing they did after building a pyramid was set up complex financial endowments to fund ongoing upkeep costs. And today, we have everything from open source CMMS software to commercial solutions backed by cloud computing. The great thing about all this history is that maintenance leads can look back, see the common mistakes, and avoid them.
Let's go through some common maintenance missteps and see how we can steer clear of them.
Maintenance management mistakes: cutting costs at all cost
Although there are many ways to cut costs, some of them do you more harm than good. When trying to decide how best to reduce spending, you need to look at the long-term effects.
One example is inventory. When choosing which parts and materials to carry in stock, you might be tempted to look for the cheapest ones. Although this does reduce your costs, but only in the short term. Cheaper inventory wears out more quickly and fails at a higher rate. In the end, you have to waste time and money replacing it more often and dealing with more serious failures.
A famous explanation of this reality is called The Boot Theory of Sociological Unfairness. Basically, buying cheap boots saves you money now, but because you have to replace them constantly, you end up spending more money in the long run. Instead of a nice pair that last ten years, you go through ten pairs in the same amount of time. The idea works for anything. It could be boots or it could be industrial lubricant. Paying more upfront saves you from paying more later.
Another example is overtime hours. If your department is over budget on hours, there's a temptation to cut them directly. And it makes sense: paying too much in labor? Cut the number of hours. But you're not attacking the root of the problem. You're only working on the symptom. Instead, you need to look at why your schedule is so unpredictable. In most cases, you can improve your schedule by increasing the reliability of your assets. And that starts with a solid preventive maintenance program with standardized processes and procedures.
Imagine you're spending too much on gas. So your solution is to just spend less. That means you're now walking a lot more. Everything takes a lot more time. It makes more sense to instead take your car in for a tune-up, to make sure it's running as efficiently as possible. In the end, you get the same number of miles out of it, but your overall cost of gas goes down. You fixed the underlying problem instead of just attacking the symptom.
Those are some fairly simple examples, and of course real life can be a lot more complex. When fixing root problems, you have to be careful and choose your tools wisely.
Maintenance management mistakes: waiting for things to break before you fix them
Here are some important things to remember about that old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." First, it's not that old. In fact, it only dates to the Carter Administration in the late 70s. Second, it's often bad advice. You can save yourself a lot of time, money, and heartache by fixing things before they break.
And the best way to do that is by setting up, scheduling, and tracking a preventive maintenance program. Once you've worked out a list of inspections and tasks for each asset, you set the frequencies. There are two ways you can go here, time or meter. The last step, tracking, is not the last step because you use the information you've collected to double-back in improve your inspections, tasks, and their frequencies. For example, you set up inspections and maintenance tasks on a forklift, but after running the program for a year, you see you're still dealing with breakdowns. Based on the types of problems and how often you're dealing with them, you can fine-tune your preventive maintenance. So tracking isn't the last step because you're always going back and starting again from the beginning, each time armed with more and better data.
One you're out ahead of the maintenance curve, life gets a lot easier. You see a lot of benefits, including:
- Less unscheduled downtime
- Less unscheduled overtime pay
- Less money spent on rush deliveries for inventory
- Lower total cost of ownership
- Longer life cycles
But here's one more thing to remember about that old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it": there are also lots of times when it's the perfect advice.
Maintenance management mistakes: not letting things break before you replace them
Preventive maintenance is not the best maintenance strategy for every asset. In fact, there is no one perfect strategy that works for every piece of equipment. You have to look at several different factors to work out which strategy works best.
What are those factors? If an asset is easy swap out, cheap to buy and cheap to carry in inventory, and there's no easy way to inspect, maintain, or fix them, and they have an overall low criticality, it's best to rely on the run-to-failure model. The all-time classic example is light bulbs.
Let's go through that list and see why. When a light bulb burns out, it's easy to replace it. You can screw them in and out of sockets without any special tools or techniques. They also tend to be cheap to buy and carry. They don't spoil or expire, and they don't need a special environment. Even if you wanted to add them to your preventive maintenance program, how would you inspect or maintain them? Can you look at a filament and know it's about to break? If you could see it was about to break, how could you fix it easily? The last factor is criticality. Is there any system in your facility where a lightbulb is the linchpin?
Maintenance management mistakes: using the wrong tools for the job
It's possible to hammer in a screw. And you can drive in a nail with a screwdriver. But why would you? Life is so much easier when you have the right tool for the right job. It's true for something as small as a screw or a nail but also for something as big as an entire maintenance department.
Old-fashioned maintenance management
Maintenance leads used to run their departments using paper or spreadsheets, or a messy combination of the two. When paper and spreadsheets where the height of technology, departments were able to struggle along. It was better than having no system at all. But as new solutions became available, the problems with the old ones became more and more obvious.
Paper-based systems are a great way to lose data. Work orders exist on only one or two slips of paper, which means everything can easily (and literally) slip through the cracks. And because everything is written out by hand, they tend not to have a lot of data to begin with. Techs are expected to read between the lines. Departments rely heavily on the tech's experience and the teams collective knowledge.
Spreadsheet-based systems, on the other hand, are a great way to create data, but this makes it difficult to keep one version you can trust. Think about what happens when you email a work order on a spreadsheet. You start with one copy, but in the process of emailing it, you now have two. The one on your computer and the one attached to the email. And here's the problem with that: they're not connected, so any changes you make to one are not carried over to the other. Very soon you have two separate sets of data, and there's no way for the person looking at one to know that another, different version exists.
Modern CMMS software solve this problem by keeping all your data safe and up to date in one central database. Everyone is accessing the same date, and any changes are updated in real time.
But that doesn't mean every modern solution is going to be a good match for every department. There are two common mistakes you need to avoid when choosing maintenance management software.
Getting an open source CMMS that's not enough
Let's keep working with our the right tool, the right job examples. Let's say you need to drive in a screw. You get yourself a screwdriver, making sure it's the right kind. Flat, Phillips, or star. But about ten minutes into trying to get that screw in, you realize what you need is a drill, not a hand screwdriver. The tool you have is technically correct, but it's just not enough. People make the same type of mistake when they're looking to buy a CMMS. They know they need one, but they end up getting one that's underpowered.
It can be the case that you're getting an underpowered solution when adopting an open source CMMS. What is open source? According to opensource.com, "The term open source refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible." In terms of a CMMS, that means you're able to access the base code and modify it to suit your needs.
For some organizations, open source might be the best answer. But for others, the possible drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Open source solutions sometimes lack the full feature sets of their commercial counterparts. And they can also be less stable. Generally, open source products are backed by communities of enthusiastic volunteers. That's not the same as dedicated professionals whose jobs depend on designing and maintaining the best products possible.
There are also issues related to implementation and ongoing support. Remember, when you choose a CMMS provider, you're starting an ongoing relationship. They're going to be in charge of making sure your data stays both safe and accessible. And they're there to make sure you get up and running as smoothly as possible with the right training. Every time your CMMS project hits a bump, they're there with suggestions and support.
Getting a CMMS that's too much
It's also possible to lean too far over in the other direction, where you end up with a solution that's much more than you need. Instead, you adopt maintenance software that's always going to be too much. Maybe you needed a simple, powerful CMMS, but you ended up with EAM software you didn't need now and will never need in the future.
The first problem is that you're paying for features you never use. Modern CMMS solutions work on the software as a service (SaaS) model, which is basically like Netflix. You don't physical DVDs to play on your DVD player at home. Instead, you pay a set amount every month for access to the Netflix library of movies. It doesn't matter how many movies you watch; you always pay the same amount. The system is great if you watch a lot of movies. But what about if you don't even have a TV? Complete waste of money.
The second problem is that a more robust system takes more time and energy to learn, and techs are going to lose interest and motivation quickly if they don't see a connection between what you're asking them to learn on the software and what they're doing out on the shop floor. By asking them to learn too much, you're getting in the way of them learning what they could use. In the end, your implementation fails.
There's always going to be arguments about getting something you can grow into over time. You might tell yourself that even though you don't need it now, eventually you'll need all those features. But the logic only goes so far. We can keep using boots as an example. If you're a size 10, you don't buy size 14s hoping you'll grow into them. You might think you're planning for the future. but in the meantime, you're tripping over your own feet.
That said, it's often a good idea for an organization to implement a CMMS solution in phases, giving the maintenance team a chance to master features and workflows one at a time. But that's different that getting something that's the wrong size in hopes it fits later on.
Maintenance management mistakes: waiting too long to get the right CMMS software
This one is especially terrible. You're suffering for no good reason, and getting started could be as easy as filling in an online form. If you're interested in adopting a modern CMMS solution or you already have one but it's failing to live up to what you were promised, now's the time to reach out to solution providers and get the conversation started.
Once you've explained the challenges you're currently facing, they'll be able to explain the features and workflows that work best for you. Some of them you already know, but remember that the best CMMS providers live and breathe their solutions. They know what works and how to make it work best for you.