Asset-management programs and software are getting a lot of press these days. Every maintenance engineer and his site manager are writing a white paper and/or book about the value of asset management to a company’s bottom line. There are measuring tools and concepts galore, all intended to provide an instantly successful maintenance process. Much of this content makes achieving reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) and condition-based maintenance (CBM) sound relatively easy and commonplace. This fosters a misguided concept that RCM and CBM are commodities that can be purchased and implemented in short order.

In order to explain how to gauge where a company’s maintenance program stands and where its goals need to ultimately lie, we need another catch phrase that is all encompassing of the total maintenance-management-process approach and ultimate goal. How does Quintessential Asset Management (QAM) sound?

In this article, I’ll outline the five levels of asset-management development a company usually passes through leading to more advanced processes such as CBM and RCM to eventually achieve QAM.

Let’s define Quintessential Asset Management as the culture, processes and tools required to efficiently maintain an enterprise’s equipment for optimum production. Like anything else in business, it’s all about profitability or bang for your buck. Like anything else, there are trade-offs.

It’s wonderful to have real-time data and dashboards at your fingertips when you want to make a decision, but achieving this level of technological sophistication requires discipline over a period of time despite business trends that tend to ebb and rise. Maintenance is not unlike a safety or quality program that might get put on hold or abandoned during periods of slow business.

Companies may cut back and lose top-notch, irreplaceable experience that comes back to haunt them when business picks up, instead of being patient and thinking in the long term. During these slow periods when a company has the available human resources, those who would be process “champions” will dedicate themselves to value-added projects like maintenance improvement not only for the benefit of the company but also for their careers.

The word quintessential comes from ancient physics as the fifth element that holds the other four elements of earth, wind, air and fire together. Think of maintenance as the fifth element that brings and keeps a profitable asset-driven business together. In modern English, quintessential has come to mean the model of a concept. For example, you may have heard people say Joe Montana was the quintessential quarterback. He may not have been flashy, but he got the job done by being efficient, reliable and interacting well with his teammates.

In embarking on your QAM journey, the first questions to ask yourself are where is your company’s maintenance program and where do you want to take it. An enterprise needs to establish a valid benchmark of where it stands, set realistic goals and then evaluate its progress honestly and openly at predetermined intervals.

The development and maturity of a maintenance program isn’t unlike that of a human being. In its infancy, everything is reactive. The machinery breaks, and the production people are screaming for attention. Since there’s not a maintenance history to draw knowledge from, repairs are more challenging.

As a program advances and the technicians learn the equipment and start figuring out preventative measures, it moves toward adolescence where it needs more structure. Then as technology and information systems around maintenance and asset management develop around automated communication processes and historical data, the challenge becomes the move toward proactively and productivity.

When it’s mature, decisions need to be made based on experience that can push efficiency even further. It is at this level where RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) can be effectively implemented. A few years of historical data and a comprehensive asset-management software system need to be in place before an organization can begin to decide which equipment is truly critical. RCM methodologies can now be used to maintain equipment while developing trends showing where they might save money by doing less maintenance or even running some equipment to failure. Once these processes are in place with a plan to monitor and further improve them, QAM has been achieved.

Level 1- Disruptive/Reactive

Everything has to start some place, and maintenance is no exception. There is no equipment history to fall back on, and all maintenance is reactive. Some enterprises start manufacturing or servicing products that don’t acknowledge maintenance until it literally bites them in the balance sheet. Some welder or machinist will do minor repairs on failed equipment, and service representatives will be called in for major issues. As time goes by, the failures start really creating production problems and can actually cause a viable business to fail.

Level 2- Folders and Spreadsheets

In level two, companies start hiring maintenance mechanics and might even allow one to sit behind a desk a certain percentage of the time in order to plan maintenance and keep records. It is at this stage that calendar and operational time based PMs are put in place and technicians start keeping an equipment history. Many companies only move to this level to appease some quality standard for their industry such as QS or ISO. Many companies stay at this level indefinitely, perhaps due to a prevailing notion that if a technician isn’t turning tools on a broken machine, he’s wasting time. More proactive planning and management are not seen as value added items.

In this screen shot, notice that the graphical representation of the equipment structure is hierarchical and navigable.  The equipment records and work-order screens are scalable. Shown is a more mature representation of an equipment object with documents attached. This can be simplified dramatically to only show the fields and tabs in use.

Level 3- Basic CMMS

At last, a computerized maintenance-management system (CMMS) has been approved and a team has been assigned to investigate the costs and approaches required to follow through on that commitment.  There is support from management for the project, and a few champions have stepped up to take the lead on software selection and implementation.

Many companies make the mistake of paying good money for a CMMS but cut corners on implementation. This is an example of what’s called stepping over a dollar to pick up a dime. They consider the time required to collect and input pertinent data as time the technicians could be applying to the equipment instead of realizing you have to put good data in to get good data out.

On the other hand, other well-meaning implementation teams try to do too much right out of the gate. They want to use every available field on a fault report or work order before they even understand many of the key performance indicators (KPIs) they ultimately want to monitor. Letting a system evolve to some extent always makes the best sense. Time is money, and it requires time to enter data in the system. Having a technician fill out a field that’s not necessary is a waste of time.

As the maintenance system develops, using a particular field may make more sense but is not available because it’s already being used and full of impertinent information. Poor implementation also results in a situation where the equipment isn’t set up correctly or the information entered into the system is based on guesswork. It makes sense in many instances to be patient and wait for work history to identify needs. A well-designed maintenance program will optimized with age.        

You need a plan of where you want to go with the system before you set up the implementation. Lay out phases and goals with timelines. Benchmark where you’re at and schedule intervals of honest evaluation. Hire the right consultants to help you. They may or may not be the software vendor. Be sure to have your best maintenance people on the core team who are getting input from the technicians and in-house subject matter experts.

What to Look for in a CMMS?

Obviously, the first thing you want to make sure of is whether the company providing the software is going to be around for a while and has a structured product-improvement model. You want it to be scalable so your program can grow into the tools the CMMS has to offer, including KPI dashboards, trending and possible real-time data-capture feeds from machine-operation software.

Is the input simple and does the navigation feel intuitive? Other important facets are equipment structures that allow quick visibility of cost roll-up. You will also want preventative-maintenance tools that provide scheduled work driven by calendar, accumulated value such as machine hours, and events such as all maintenance due for a shutdown. In addition, it’s good to have fault reports that can be put in quickly but have the capability to be followed up with lots of planning detail as well. Equipment history should be accessible quickly and easily.

Along with CMMS implementation, this is a good time to introduce simple, less expensive conditional components such as oil sampling and infrared thermography. A year into a CMMS project and with simple conditional checks, there should be enough information to start developing and harvesting KPIs and trends.

Built-in navigational tools including this PM for Object Structure table enable you to see each the PM for each particular piece of equipment as well as all PMs for the equipment in its structure. IFS PMs can be to the specific object of a route and can be generated in several ways including calendar, criteria data (accumulated values such as hours and cycles as well as minimum and maximum limit values), and events such a planned shutdowns.

Level 4 - Integrated CMMS

In level four, a maintenance organization begins to seriously consider how its CMMS interfaces with other systems in the company, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), equipment monitoring and project-management software. If a maintenance team is cutting purchase orders and doing material requisitions in an ERP while doing double entry by manually recording the costs or actually duplicating them in the CMMS, it’s time to consider investing in an integrated package or pay for direct interfaces.

If a company has been planning ahead in earlier phases of development and selected a software package that offers both ERP and CMMS functionality (called enterprise asset management or EAM), it can more gracefully, cost effectively and efficiently move toward greater integration without bringing in armies of high-priced consultants and systems integrators.

 If a plant has a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, it’s time to start considering a direct interface of data (hours, strokes, alarms). Pretty much all the monitoring programs and some CMMSs are compatible through OLE Process Control (OPC) interfacing. It makes sense to have remote sampling and real-time monitoring feed directly into the CMMS in order to cut back on the man-hours necessary to collect and enter data and to avoid misreading that leads to junk data in the CMMS.

During the integrated CMMS phase, a maintenance organization can also look at integrating its maintenance-software tools with project-management software that can deliver equipment directly into its CMMS. This is a huge step toward greater efficiency and the ability to manage assets over its entire lifecycle from engineering, installation, commissioning, operations, maintenance and straight through the decision to refit or replace. Machine installations, plant expansions and relocations all have asset-management relevance. True Asset Lifecycle Management (ALM), or what’s referred to as “cradle-to-grave” tracking, begins at the design and/or installation level.

The Equipment Object Cost screen shows real-time costs on the equipment with a single click. Notice the Houston facility is highlighted showing the cost of work against the facility itself and the cost against the equipment within its structure. Clicking on any object in the structure will give you the associated real-time cost analysis without running a report.

Condition-Based Maintenance?

A condition-based program can be incorporated into the maintenance program in order to garner value by doing less replacement before failure and requiring less preventative-maintenance hours. We’ve discussed oil sampling and infrared thermography, which can be relatively inexpensive. Some other prevalent types include vibration monitoring and analysis, ultrasonic noise detection and non-destructive testing. These are all areas that require specific expertise and assessment on their potential value before implementing.

A lot of people want their CMMS to do this specific data collection and analysis for them, but this is impractical. No software can do everything effectively, and you should question anyone who says he can. The CMMS just needs to have the ability to have the data attached to it. Let the specialist specialize where it makes sense and don’t fall into that “one-size-fits-all” pit.

Level 5- Quintessential Asset Management

Now you’re at the QAM pinnacle. You have all the tools in place to actually implement RCM. You can decide what is truly critical equipment instead of what seems like it would be according to tribal knowledge, but really isn’t. You have dashboards and key performance indicators that are real time and at your fingertips. You can make repair/replace decisions quickly and easily. You can make “run-to-failure” decisions with accurate data.

IFS Maintenance work orders are seamlessly integrated with IFS projects, which allows an installation, upgrade or expansion project to be planned, created and monitored using IFS Projects while still having the ability to drive costs from work order to the equipment. You can also deliver the new equipment directly into equipment structure using Project Delivery. 

QAM is a model of how an asset-management program develops. You can throw all the buzzwords you want at it, but it comes down to common sense and a plan. While the right technology is important, it is your organizational culture that will really separate the wheat from the chaff and determine if you get to RCM or not. A company needs a vision of where it’s going and how to get there, other than a few rows and columns on a budget spreadsheet. The people, processes, dedication and discipline are what make a maintenance program successful. Software, monitoring equipment, reliability premises and performance indicators are just tools that automate, guide and gauge your success.

About the Author

In his role as a business consultant for IFS North America, Jerry Browning helps IFS customers get the most out of IFS applications functionality for maintenance, enterprise asset management and asset life-cycle management. He has more than 25 years of maintenance and asset management experience, along with an academic background in electronics and electrical engineering at Ohio University and the University of Houston. He was part of the esteemed AEGIS program in the U.S. Navy.