Here’s everything you need to understand and get started with preventive maintenance, from definitions of key terms and concepts to step-by-step instructions on how to set up, run, and improve your own preventive maintenance program.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is planned preventive maintenance?

All too often maintenance follows that old saying about the squeaky wheel getting the grease. You keep putting tasks off until you have some spare time, once everything settles down. But because you’re not looking after your assets and equipment the way you should be, things never really settle down. When you overlook small tasks for too long, you get problems eventually : production errors, work injuries, and asset damage. And every breakdown costs you twice. You pay to repair it, and you pay to catch up on all the lost productivity.

Planned preventive maintenance is how you break out of that cycle of reactive, on-demand work orders and finally get out ahead of the maintenance curve.

On the most basic level, it’s simple: by proactively checking and maintaining assets and equipment, you find small issues before they have a chance to grow into big, budget-busting problems.

What are the differences between preventive maintenance, a PM, and PMs?

Let’s start by clearing up any possible confusion when it comes to how we talk about preventive maintenance. Looking at the definition in Wikipedia, we can see that people often use the initials “PM” instead of the full phrase.

“Preventive maintenance (PM) is a routine for periodical inspections, with the goal of noticing small problem and fixing them before major ones develop. Ideally, nothing breaks down.”

It can be a bit confusing, though, because in other circles, PM means project management. And to make it even tricker, jumping back to the world of maintenance, a PM means a scheduled inspection or task that’s part of a preventive maintenance program. So, someone might say, “I have five PMs scheduled for this week.”

The good news is that no matter what you call it, you still get all the benefits. So, from here on in, we use PM to mean preventive maintenance and a PM or PMs to mean preventive maintenance inspections and tasks. So, examples of PMs are walking through the facility checking for things like water or oil where it shouldn’t be, opening a pump looking for signs of wear on the gaskets, or changing the oil on a motor.

And since we’re working through definitions, we can do two more: checklists and instructions.

Anatomy of a PM: preventive maintenance checklists vs preventive maintenance instructions

Let’ start with the first one, a preventive maintenance checklist. On the most basic level, it’s a list of things to check before closing out a preventive maintenance work order.

For most people, in most cases, we keep checklists in our head, running through them when we need to be sure we haven’t overlooked anything. Think about when you’re leaving your house. You stand by the front door and think to yourself, “I’ve got my keys and my phone and my wallet. Windows are closed and I set the alarm.  Alright, let’s go.” Once outside, you double-check that you properly locked the front door. It’s a short lis, and it never changes, so you never bother to write it down.

And what about when you head to the store for groceries? The list is longer and changes a bit each time. Best to write it down, even if just a few scribbles on a Post-it.

But when it comes to complex operations involving many steps and sophisticated equipment, the only way to ensure we’re doing it right is with a detailed checklist.

techs in yellow hard hats compare notesWith paper, it’s easy to lose data. Modern CMMS ensures data reliability

Benefits of preventive maintenance checklists

The benefits are related to standardization and speed. Preventive maintenance checklists ensure that no matter who is checking, they’re checking the same way.

Instead of everyone having their own special shortcuts and workarounds, there’s an established standard that everyone follows. Although it prevents people from cutting corners, in the long run it saves time. No one is stuck trying to work out their own methods on the fly. And no one is left picking up the pieces after a series of bad checks lead to the inevitable unscheduled breakdowns and downtime.

Another long-term benefit is that good checklists make it easier to train new staff, who can now independently follow the checklists instead of constantly asking more experienced technicians for advice and help.

Preventive maintenance checklist examples

Most checklists are pass/fail. For each statement on the list, you write down if it’s true or not. When you get to the end of the list, a predetermined number of true or false answers trigger a specific action.

Customs declaration cards tend to work this way.

  • Have you spent more than X amount of money?
  • Do you have more than 200 cigarettes with you or more than one bottle of alcohol?
  • Did you visit a farm while outside the country?
  • Answering yes to any of these questions means a longer conversation with a customs officer.

But if you check no to every question, you hand in your card and keep going.

Preventive maintenance instructions: definition, examples, and benefits

Here, instead of checking things, you’re doing them, step by step.

For example:

  • Shut down and lock out the blade.
  • Try to turn on the saw to confirm it is shut down and locked out.
  • Remove the casing in front of the blade.
  • Visually inspect the belt for signs of wear, including flaking and cracks.
  • If there are no signs of wear, replace the casing, making sure it is securely in place.

The benefits are the same as with checklists. Technicians complete their tasks consistently and correctly. The whole department saves time because junior techs require less supervision, no one has to make up solutions on the fly, and because technicians do the work correctly, there are fewer breakdowns and less unscheduled downtime.

Why is routine maintenance important?

It’s important because of all the benefits it delivers, including:

  • Reduced unplanned downtime from asset failure
  • Better margins and profits thanks to less unscheduled downtime
  • Longer asset life cycles and less unnecessary maintenance and inspections
  • Fewer injuries thanks to increased safety
  • Fewer interruptions to vital operations as timely, routine maintenance ensure fewer large-scale repairs
  • Easier compliance with rigorous OSHA standards

A bit more on the topic of OSHA: Organizations should always put employee safety first. It’s hard to imagine something worse than an accident that injures an employee. On top of that, accidents can be expensive in terms of real dollars and intangibles like costs to reputation.

What are the specific steps to setting up a preventive maintenance program?

Because everyone is starting from a different spot in terms of their current system and how much they already know about their assets, there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all process. But two elements are generally true for everyone: you need a structured approach with clearly defined steps and goals. And, a good CMMS makes the whole process, from start to ongoing, much easier.

1. Find your team, get them on board, choose your targets

Before anything else, it is important first to establish who will be involved in the preventative maintenance project. Depending on the size of your organization, likely choices include maintenance managers, maintenance techs and/or people from the accounting or finance departments. Additionally, it is critical that the people involved are invested in developing the program.

What does it mean to be invested? It’s not just that they’re going to be affected by the project. Invested means that they believe in the project’s success. In some cases, the project sells itself. The maintenance techs, for example, love the idea of less paperwork and more efficient workflows. But there might be some holdouts, too. People who feel that the current system is good enough — even though it’s not. You need to work at convincing them, developing and nurturing buy-in. Often, all it takes is explaining to them specifically how preventive maintenance makes their job easier.

In other cases, you need to tailor your message to the person’s specific concerns. If it’s a tech, talk about how PMs take the pressure off; no more running around putting out maintenance fires. But for someone in the accounting department who’s concerned about the initial startup costs, you need to focus on the long-term return on investment.

One of the final steps of creating a preventative maintenance plan is determining a goal for the project. Examples of PM maintenance project goals are reducing reactive or corrective maintenance costs by X% or decreasing equipment downtime by X%.

Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. You need to look at specific metrics that you can use to track your progress accurately. It’s true that a good PM program reduces stress, but how can you measure a feeling? You need to find measurable things that are connected to stress and track them instead. For example, unscheduled overtime hours and maintenance emergencies that require you to call in techs when they should be off.

2. Collect your facility assets and equipment data

The most time-consuming aspect of setting up a preventive maintenance program involves going through a facility and creating an inventory of all the assets and equipment.

It takes time, but it’s critical. You can’t plan to look after what you have if you don’t first know exactly what you have.

As part of this process, it’s important to collect asset and equipment make and model, serial numbers, specifications, identification numbers and fixed locations. The more data you can collect on each asset and piece of equipment, the better. You can also make notes about the relative shape of assets and equipment, giving you a good idea about what needs work and how quickly.

It’s important to know not only what you have but also where you have it. Part of the process of collecting asset data should include locations. Knowing the locations of critical equipment in need of preventive maintenance can facilitate efficient preventive maintenance scheduling because technicians can be deployed to service several pieces within proximity in a shorter time frame as opposed to the time required to service items spread throughout a facility.

maintenance technician in orange hard hat looks at tabletAsset location is a key piece of the data puzzle.

For example, you might have two presses and two pumps in your facility. But the pumps aren’t beside each other. Instead, they’re far apart from one another; but each one is close to one of the presses. When setting up your schedule, it doesn’t make sense to have a tech maintain both presses on the same day. Instead, you schedule the PMs so they match up with the assets’ locations.

Once you have the data, it’s time to get it into the CMMS. There are several options, including completing the work in-house, bringing in outside auditors, or some combination of the two.

3. Develop preventive maintenance inspections and tasks

Once you have a list of assets and equipment, it’s time to chart out how best to maintain them, including fleshing out their inspections and tasks and setting the PM frequencies. Generally, that’s weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. But there are also lots of assets that you need to look at based on usage instead of time.

For example, you can set a PM to check your AC units in late spring. But you would set PMs on a pump based on the number of cycles. Every 10,000 cycles, you visually inspect the seals and add lubricant. A PM based on run-time hours works well for something like a forklift, where you change the oil after so many miles.

Where can you find all these numbers? When an asset is fairly new, you can follow the owner’s manual and the manufacturer’s recommendations, but as time goes on, you need to revisit some of your PMs and update them based on their repair and maintenance histories.

When setting up the PMs, make sure to include associated parts and materials. If you need to assign the work to a specific team or tech, include that information as well.

Here again, the right CMMS helps. A lot of your PMs contain similar checklists and instructions, and you can add them quickly using templates. Enter the information once and then add it to other PMs in just a few clicks. You can also quickly include:

  • Related parts and materials
  • Digital images, schematics, and O&M manuals
  • Interactive site maps and floor plans

The goal is to include everything the techs need to close out the PMs efficiently.

4. Train your maintenance team on the CMMS

If you want a successful program, you need techs who consistently use the CMMS because that’s where the PMs live, inside the software. Having staff that buys into the software, adopts it, and uses it ensures the highest ROI.

There are many ways to increase your chances of a success implementation. First, make sure the techs understand the benefits of the program. They’re not going to be willing to go through the training if they can’t see the point of the program to begin with. You need to show them the light at the end of the training tunnel.

Once they’ve bought into the program, give them as many ways to learn about it as possible. Modern CMMS providers offer many training opportunities and resources. Training sessions can be onsite or online, with training walking techs through the software. Make sure they also have easy access to additional videos, manuals, and other documentation. In the end, the best way to learn is hands-on. The sooner they have access to the software and can start to experiment with it, the better.

Many organizations have trouble when they adopt an all-or-nothing mentality. They want to go from zero to one hundred with the CMMS software. Instead, it makes more sense to gradually introduce new features and workflows over time. Train techs on a limited subset of features, let them build some experience and confidence before introducing more complex ones. Everyone must learn to walk before they can run.

5. Analyze – adjust – improve

Things change, and stuff happens. No matter how well you plan out your PM schedule, you need to eventually go back to double-check and update. In some cases, you need to add or adjust inspections and tasks. In others, the frequency needs adjusting.

The right CMMS software makes this process easier. Using the reporting module, you can quickly see which assets are costing you the most to keep up and running. From there, you can jump into the asset repairs and maintenance histories to find any ongoing issues.

If the forklift brakes have been giving you trouble once every four weeks, you can reset the associated PMs for every three weeks.

What are the maintenance metrics and KPIs for preventive maintenance?

It is essential to ensure that all plant and facility equipment is covered by a cost-effective overall preventive maintenance program. An effective preventive maintenance program will reduce the amount of unplanned work to less than 80% of the total resources expended for all equipment maintenance activities.

But it’s not enough to just have a plan. The effectiveness of a maintenance program depends on its execution.

An effective preventive maintenance schedule should deliver a significant drop in emergency downtime and an increase in overall productivity. The total breakdown downtime for equipment, a plant, or even an entire facility indicates the level of effectiveness of a PM program.

The cost of repairs includes the cost of labor, materials, extra labor hours as well as any direct or indirect maintenance cost. This plays a major role in indicating improvements after implementing a PM program. How does it cut materials costs? When work is scheduled in advance, you have time to order the parts and materials you need and have them shipped at the lowest possible cost. But when things break down without warning, and you don’t have the right parts in inventory, you’re forced to use expensive overnight delivery.

What are the things I need to remember about preventive maintenance programs

We’ve covered a lot of information, so here’s a quick summary of some of the highlights.

Preventive maintenance software streamlines every aspect of your preventive maintenance program, including development, scheduling, and tracking. By helping maintenance departments find small issues before they grow into large problems, the software cuts costly downtime, increases profits. What is the importance of a preventive maintenance system? Because without it, you’re only ever reacting to problems, never getting out ahead of them.

Without a structured PM program, you’re stuck relying on run-to-failure and on-demand work orders. Scheduling resources and controlling inventory are challenging when you can never plan beyond the next surprise breakdown. As critical facility and production equipment gets overlooked, downtime and repair costs rise.

The solution? CMMS software helps you develop, schedule, and track a PM program that cuts downtime and boosts asset and equipment life cycles. Data-packed preventive maintenance work orders include everything technicians needs to close out efficiently, including customizable step-by-step instructions, associated parts and materials, digital copies of O&M manuals, images, and schematics.

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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