Managing Small Maintenance Jobs

Don Armstrong, Veleda Services
Tags: maintenance and reliability

There are two kinds of maintenance work that should not appear on weekly work schedules: genuine emergency or urgent work that is not identified when the schedule is prepared and small jobs that do not justify the time and cost of formal planning and scheduling. This article will examine the options for managing these small jobs.

Work Order Overload

Many organizations demand a unique work order be initiated for each and every job. Some maintenance computer systems provide no practical alternative. The number of work orders this policy creates can overload the planner, who is often the work order system administrator. When this occurs, the planner becomes solely an electronic "paper pusher" and does little or no planning. This leads to unnecessary delays on small jobs and frequently results in "work-arounds" such as charging excessive amounts of work to "standing" or "blanket" work orders or using open work orders for larger work to complete small tasks.

For example, at one operation where a work order was mandatory for any work to be done, the planners each processed more than 80 work orders per day. The great majority of work orders issued contained the same work description as the initial work request, with the planner adding no instructions on what work to do or how to do it. It took a minimum of 58 keystrokes to convert each work request into a work order, and much of this effort was to add various work order codes. None of this followed good database-management principles, so the information gathered was worthless. Neither the plant manager nor the maintenance manager was aware of this total waste of effort.

Better Alternatives

To provide the best service to maintenance's operating customers, there should be an efficient, managed process to complete small jobs requiring little time and materials. Among the alternatives include allowing tradespeople to charge materials and labor for small jobs to equipment location numbers (asset numbers). This is supported by good maintenance software and records a significant amount of important maintenance information, including time and date, the originator, the equipment location number, and the parts used.

Where the maintenance computer system does not support charging to equipment location numbers, a standing work order can be set up for each equipment location to capture small jobs. This requires considerable effort, so it is much more practical to select software that allows transactions to be charged to equipment location numbers.

Another option is to develop a simple process for obtaining stock materials, such as a pad on the stores counter where the equipment location number, part description and quantity are recorded by the tradesperson taking the materials. This information should then be transferred to the equipment location records (a clerical function). The process can also be used for emergencies, where additional details like the production lost and the cause of the event should be recorded in the operating log.

You should also consider using area or department standing work orders. This is a common process, but essential equipment-specific information, such as the parts used on equipment and standing work orders are commonly abused. I have seen operations where more than 50 percent of all maintenance work is charged to standing work orders.

Assigning Small Jobs

During normal working hours, the maintenance supervisor should receive the requests for small jobs, which should then be recorded on the daily schedule form. These can be assigned to tradespeople during work breaks to minimize the disruption to scheduled work.

It may also be appropriate to have key area tradespeople contact their operators to gather small job requests and allow time in their work schedules for them to complete these jobs each morning before starting scheduled work.

When preventive maintenance (PM) inspection routes are established, the estimated time for the inspections should be shown. There may be an allowance for small repairs and adjustments to be made during the PM inspection, and these should be recorded. "Found" corrective work that cannot be completed in the allowed time should be logged on the PM route sheet (or its electronic equivalent) for follow-up with a new work order.

Maintenance supervisors should maintain responsibility for all small jobs that are completed. They are accountable for this work and its quality.

Defining Small Jobs

Small jobs should be defined. A typical small job is one that requires a small amount of labor (less than one hour), uses little material (less than $200), can be done immediately, does not require a shutdown and does not involve any redesign. Again, it is the supervisor's responsibility to ensure these guidelines are followed. When the labor and parts for small jobs are charged to equipment location numbers and not to work orders, the maintenance computer system should be able to provide reports to indicate where the small job guidelines are not being observed.

It is important to know on which items maintenance dollars are being spent, but the cost of collecting this information through the use of unique work orders must be balanced against the value of this information. For many small jobs, an alternative to the use of work orders is the most sensible approach.

While any of the options for managing small jobs described above can be abused, so can work orders when they are mandatory for all jobs. Maintenance supervisors and tradespeople are driven to ensure the plant continues to operate and often believe that the time required to maintain accurate cost records interferes with that goal. Managers need to demonstrate that equipment-level cost information is important by using it to make decisions on equipment shutdowns, rebuilds and replacements, as well as by routinely questioning cost records that are not accurate or do not follow established guidelines.

If jobs such as replacing a small drive belt or repairing a leaky faucet can be done quickly and are in line with the small job guidelines, precious resources can be freed up for essential planning, and maintenance will be able to provide operating customers with the service they expect.