Many organizations have implemented planning and scheduling into their maintenance operations to improve the utilization of their personnel, reduce unplanned downtime and more effectively manage their maintenance budgets. Every company experiences obstacles, roadblocks and resistance along the way, and some are more successful than others.

The concept of planning and scheduling maintenance activities is not a novel idea. In fact, this process has been around for years. In some form, all maintenance work is planned and scheduled. But who does the planning and scheduling, when does it take place and is the resultant work executed in the most effective, efficient and cost-conscious way?

This article will cover the journey one company took to incorporate effective planning and scheduling into its maintenance organization. The company, which has multiple factories in the upper Midwest, realized that it needed to address the way it managed its maintenance activities in order to remain competitive in a global marketplace. Work was not tracked accurately, spare parts were not associated with equipment, labor and material costs were not tracked to the assets, and budgets were overrun on most outages.  

The company's initial approach was to conduct an assessment of its current maintenance management processes, identify the major gaps and develop an action plan to tackle those gaps. The assessment took place in 1999 and ranked the company 437 out of 1,000, which was just out of the “reactive” scale. The corporate maintenance manager took the assessment information and recommendations into account to formulate his action plan.

Challenges Encountered

Buy-in to implement the maintenance manager's plan was not easy to obtain, both at the corporate and factory management level. There was resistance in changing the way maintenance had been managed for many years. Another challenge involved getting all the factories aligned. Every factory had its own ways of performing maintenance activities, and in order to measure the progress of this initiative, each would be required to follow the same template. These challenges all warranted training on what best practice should look like.

The Approach

The maintenance manager arranged a visit to an aluminum smelter in South Carolina that had been identified as one of the nation's best. Delegates from the company made the visit and observed the smelter's maintenance practices as well as the roles, responsibilities and duties of its planners. After seeing how the planner/scheduler worked at the smelter, the company created a planner position at each of its factories. The planners were selected from the maintenance workforce by seniority. It became evident early on that one planner was not adequate to support the maintenance efforts of the factories. Additional planner positions were posted at each location. Rather than basing the selection of individuals solely on seniority, additional criteria were established to obtain the best individuals for the role.

Training was provided to the new candidates, and aptitude evaluations were administered. Candidates were also presented with maintenance scenarios to develop corrective action job plans. These would be used to evaluate their ability to plan all aspects of a job. The results were well-qualified individuals promoted into the planning positions. Each factory hired two to three planners, depending on the factory size and maintenance workforce. Planning and scheduling was now up and running at each factory.

The Results

There were few successes in the beginning. The culture change in each factory was still ongoing. The factories expected the planning efforts to be perfect right from the start. The expectation was that the planners knew everything about each system and piece of equipment and would provide explicit details, when in reality they were still figuring out what to do. Leadership didn't always buy into building or following a schedule. Schedule compliance was low. Estimating efficiency was poor, with little effort in accurately charging time to the correct work order. Work orders were also scheduled without all parts and materials on hand. Needless to say, there was frustration.

However, each factory started establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to begin trending the progress. Some early measurements included the total number of work orders, the number of orders with no planned costs, the number of orders on the weekly schedule and the number of unscheduled orders. The discipline to capture this information weekly helped to set the expectation for all departments that they needed to contribute to make the transition a success. Key metrics were put in place and reported to demonstrate the trend of what maintenance was able to perform.

Early accomplishments in planned work, schedule compliance and downtime continued to improve over the years through better planning and scheduling. Between 2006 and 2009, the organization's percentage of planned work improved from 83 to 85 percent, schedule compliance jumped from 29 to 63 percent, and downtime decreased from 4 to 3.3 percent.

Between 2009 and 2013, the company experienced some major changes, including the attrition of a large portion of its workforce. A majority of the seasoned planners/schedulers left, and new employees moved into those positions. As a result, the gains the company made in the years up to 2009 were impacted, and momentum was lost. However, since 2013, the momentum has been renewed, and progress is again being made. After a significant drop, planned work is back up to 76 percent, schedule compliance is at 68 percent, and downtime is 1.18 percent.

The Path Going Forward

Although the company initially classified its efforts as managing maintenance, it has since formalized the endeavor into what it calls “operational excellence.” This initiative was built on a partnership between operations and maintenance for the common goal of the company. All personnel have been trained on what operational excellence means along with the roles and responsibilities of every individual within maintenance and operations. As personnel changes are made due to reassignments, attrition and retirement, new employees are coached on the concepts. The company is not complacent with what has been accomplished through planning and scheduling, but realizes that it must continue to improve in all aspects of management and productivity to remain ahead of the competition.