When PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a global collection of consulting firms, surveyed leaders from a cross-section of industries in early May, just under half predicted the pandemic would have a negative effect on their companies. That’s much lower than the number from the National Association of Manufacturers’ survey from early March, where nearly 80% of manufacturers anticipated they would suffer loses.

The numbers raise important questions.

  • Why are leaders in manufacturing more concerned than other industries?
  • What is it about manufacturing that could make it more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19?
  • And most importantly, how can manufacturers effectively respond?

PwC provides some good answers in COVID-19: What it means for industrial manufacturing. It’s both an explanation of the specific challenges manufacturers face and a list of concrete steps they can take to overcome them.

What makes COVID-19 different from other business challenges?

According to PwC, most large companies already have in place a continuity plan designed to help them recover from various types of threats.

If your company were a car, the first part of the plan would add really good suspension and brakes so you could make your way around problems. The second part of the plan would add a strong bumper, reducing the amount of damage when you do hit something. The second part would also include things like your AAA membership, which would be there to help you get back on the road. 

What makes COVID-19 so challenging is that generally continuity plans are not designed to handle a multifaceted, continuous health outbreak. They’re designed for things like earthquakes and power outages. Here’s a quick example: Companies did not have a plan in place for switching all their employees to long-term remote work at the exact same time every school closed and every other childcare option disappeared. No one even considered this a possibility. No one was ready for COVID-19.

What makes COVID-19 tough for manufacturers specifically?

We can stick with that example and see why the pandemic is hitting manufacturers hard. While some other industries struggled to move everyone to remote work, manufacturing didn’t even have the luxury of trying. Of the 13 million workers employed by the industry, only a small fraction can work remotely. For their maintenance departments, the percentage is even smaller. For even the simplest maintenance task, technicians need to be onsite. You can’t change a light bulb over a video call. On top of that, there’s been a sharp decrease in demand for industrial products not only in America but globally. They can’t produce as much as they used to, and even if they could, there’s less demand for it.

How can manufacturers effectively respond?

PwC has a whole list of steps for manufacturers, and what’s interesting is how closely they’re related to the features of good equipment maintenance software. For many of these new best practices, the right CMMS software for manufacturing makes them easier to follow, especially for maintenance departments.

Cut costs with CMMS for manufacturing

PwC starts off by highlighting the current financial hardships as well as those just over the horizon. Because there’s no way to predict when things will return to normal and what that “new normal” will look like, organizations need to take a hard look at their finances. Suggestions include everything from refinancing loans to cutting underperforming divisions completely.

Maintenance departments, traditionally seen by other departments as cost centers, can implement maintenance management software to cut costs and deliver a quick, strong return on investment.

Set up and track preventive maintenance with maintenance management software

Unscheduled repairs can burn through entire budgets. The costs quickly pile up, including rush deliveries for expensive parts and materials, overtime for labor, and lost productivity, which many times can only be made up by running extra shifts. The best way to save money on costly repairs is to avoid them altogether, and the way to do that is with a preventive maintenance program. With regular preventive maintenance, you find small, cheap-to-repair issues before they have a chance to grow into large, expensive problems.

In fact, making the switch from on-demand to preventive maintenance let’s you do everything more cheaply. Because you know when maintenance is going to happen, you can make sure well in advance that you have the right parts and materials. No more rush deliveries. And you can also make sure the right people are available. No more calling in technicians for overtime. One more: you can schedule the maintenance for in between shifts. No more operators standing around getting paid to watch techs work on their equipment.

But traditional paper- and spreadsheet-based systems leave preventive maintenance programs prone to errors and missed tasks. It’s easy for things to fall through the cracks when everything is scribbled down on slips of paper or get looked over when everything is hidden somewhere in a spreadsheet’s endless rows and columns.

Modern equipment management software make scheduling and tracking preventive maintenance programs a breeze. Everything is inside one central database, which means it’s both safe and accessible. Once a PM is set in the software, you can have it recur according to the calendar or have it triggered by a meter reading. When PMs are due, the software can send out email notifications. You can also easily track from inside the software which ones have been closed out. And you can see all the scheduled work in one place in the calendar view.

Some manufacturers have had to partially or completely shut down production because of COVID-19. In those cases, CMMS software makes it easy to quickly adjust the preventive maintenance program.

play or pause preventive maintenance
In the case of a partial shutdown, technicians can focus on the remaining lines, while maintenance on idle lines can be back-burnered. In the case of a complete shutdown, the entire preventive maintenance program can be stopped, with technicians focusing on any long-overdue maintenance. Regardless of how maintenance departments choose to use their time and resources, CMMS software makes it simple to put those decisions into action.

Generate reports automatically with maintenance management software

The first step to cutting costs is tracking them down. If you don’t know where your budget is going, there’s no way for you to redirect it.

Traditional methods for reports are both painfully slow and completely unreliable. Slow because they rely on manual methods; even when you’re using spreadsheets, you’re still copy and pasting from cell to cell. Unreliable because copy and paste into the wrong cell just one time and all your numbers are off. And that’s actually the second place you’re going to introduce bad data. The first is when it’s getting entered into the work orders. Because entering data using paper or spreadsheets is slow and tedious, people tend to make a lot of small errors or not even bother to include all the required data.

Modern equipment management software makes capturing and crunching data quick and easy. On-demand and preventive maintenance work orders are created, assigned, tracked, and closed out inside the software. You can then pull that data into the reporting module and generate reports automatically. Tell the software what you want to know, and it delivers easy-to-read graphs and easy-to-understand KPIs.

auto generated reports to help fine tune preventive maintenance programs
Once you able to see the maintenance big picture, you can start to find places to cut costs. For example, organizations often have trouble deciding when to stop repairing equipment and replace it completely. Once you know which assets are costing you the most in parts, labor, and downtime, you can make repair-or-replace decisions with a lot more confidence. You don’t have to worry about throwing out value or throwing good money after bad.

Strengthen your supply chain with CMMS for manufacturing

PwC warns, “Manufacturers should expect continued weakening links in their supply chain… Brace for continued supply chain bottlenecks both nationally and internationally, especially in those jurisdictions hardest hit by COVID-19.” For maintenance departments, it’s going to become more difficult to get parts and materials, and even when they are available, it’s going to take a lot more time to get them shipped.

That means inventory control is more important than ever, and modern equipment management software makes it easier than ever with customizable par levels, automatic tracking and low-level alerts. Setting the par levels is also helped by the software; because you’re running a reliable preventive maintenance program, you have a good idea of which parts and materials you’re going to need, and when. You can also use the asset maintenance and repair histories to help you project future use. If you’ve replaced a belt on the assembly line three times in the last six months and the lead time for shipments in one month, you can work out the best time to place your next order. As soon as you hit your min, the software automatically warns you. How did it know you’d hit the min, though?

Work orders come packed with the info techs need to close out efficiently, including:

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

And associated parts and materials. As soon as the tech closes out the work order, the software automatically adjusts the inventory levels. Even with longer waits, you can reliably have the right part, at the right time, at the right price.

Next steps

PwC encourages companies to find a balance between short- and long-term needs. Many will be focused on immediate steps they can take to keep the lights on, “But companies should also be looking to the future. Which assets, people, capabilities will they need or want then?” Maintenance management software helps organizations meet the current challenges created by COVID-19 while at the same time help position the organization for a faster recovery.

If you’ve been thinking about upgrading from paper or spreadsheets to a modern CMMS, or you have a software platform that’s failing to deliver what it promised, it’s time to reach out to providers and talk with them directly. No one knows the industry as well as the people who are in it. They’ll be able to work with you to ensure you find the solution that works best for you, now and in the future.

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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