Asset hierarchy structure is one of the most basic elements of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). It's also often overlooked. When a company's asset infrastructure is evaluated, the CMMS hierarchy often scores poorly when assessed against best practices, and setting up the hierarchy properly ends up as a part of many project scopes. Here are some of the issues I've encountered when working on these projects.

Who's Responsible for the Data in the Hierarchy?

This question usually prompts a lot of discussion. The CMMS manager is in charge of the program administration, security and functionality. However, the reliability engineer (RE) is in charge of the information in the CMMS system. Of course, this is only true if your organization has an RE. If not, a senior engineer would have this responsibility.

What's Being Tracked and How Is the Information Managed?

Often, management doesn't really know. One of the most common problems in CMMS systems is the misuse of what are usually called cost points or placeholders (charge codes.) These are nothing more than unneeded charge codes for planners to assign work orders. Sometimes these charge codes are used when someone can't identify to which equipment a work order should be assigned. Sometimes they are used when emergent work comes up, and everyone involved just wants to get it done quickly. The best practice is for work orders to be written to the lowest maintainable item. The use of charge codes is strongly discouraged. Writing work orders to these placeholders creates data that clutters up your system and makes it much harder to find when researching particular equipment history. Years of this type of data creates a lot of rework later and may even drive the need for outside help to clean it up.

When Was the Last Time Your Hierarchy Was Validated or Optimized?

Most companies don't track their assets very well. The core of a hierarchy is the information (in this case, the assets) that resides in it. The first step in hierarchy optimization is to validate the asset hierarchy. You need to know which assets really exist versus the information stored in your CMMS. Performing hierarchy equipment validation often results in adding or deleting 10-20 percent of the assets. A common cause of this is flawed management of change (MOC) controls. Lots of equipment found "retired" or "inactive" on the floor still shows as "active" in the CMMS because the MOC process was not fully completed.

Is Your Equipment Information Accurate?

Supervisors, reliability engineers and your CMMS manager should conduct random audits of the information in the system. Quarterly audits by different departments are recommended. Engineering controls specified in your MOC guidelines should be in place to ensure equipment assigned maintenance actually exists and to verify that equipment information is correct and matches what is in the CMMS. The more audits you conduct, the more accurate your asset information will be and the more reliable your data will become.

Is Your CMMS Hierarchy Structured Properly?

Another common deficiency in asset infrastructure work occurs when a company does not or cannot track equipment history because its CMMS hierarchy was not structured properly. An improperly structured hierarchy leads to unreliable or erroneous preventive maintenance and corrective work history as well as incorrect maintenance expense and budget reports for supervisors and managers. Equipment maintenance may be scheduled improperly or not scheduled at all for equipment that needs it. Equipment data required to perform various risk failure analyses may be incorrect or not reliable. It's easy to see how an asset hierarchy that is out of order can waste time and money.

When creating a structured (tiered) asset hierarchy, a good standard to follow is ISO/DIS 14224 (Petroleum, petrochemical and natural gas industries). Although this standard does not address all major industries, the basic structure and philosophy is appropriate for many (metals, pharmaceuticals, food and others). Most structures I've seen illustrate four to five levels, while ISO recommends anywhere from seven to nine. Creating as many levels as your CMMS allows will enable you to assign proper divisions, systems, parent equipment and even parts for each asset.

Why Get Your Asset Hierarchy in Order?

Once your asset information is verified, optimized and placed in a structured hierarchy, your engineering and maintenance teams will be able to find the correct history and schedule and perform applicable maintenance. With more accurate data, your employees can focus on continuous improvement activities that will yield performance gains. The next time you look at your CMMS program, ask yourself if the information you are seeing is accurate and reliable. What's in your asset hierarchy?