Information Management Is Key to Maintenance Performance

Bob Schindler

Information management is one area that is often overlooked. It’s actually one of the more important areas, but it lacks glamor and excitement. It requires steady, regular and planned effort, so we naturally gravitate toward the areas that give us the periodic rush of adrenaline that most fix-it types crave. Unfortunately, if you ignore the benefits of information management, you get more opportunities to work long hours under stress to fight the fires and “be the hero.”

My personal idea of a hero is someone who quietly and consistently does the unglamorous drudge work behind the scenes that prevents those breakdowns and lays the groundwork to reduce their effects when one does occur. This unsung hero grinds through the manuals, reads the spec sheets, peruses the trade magazines and spends hours asking the vendors questions about their products and services.

Our information hero then spends more hours compiling the information gleaned into usable formats and posts it where the supervisors and technicians can quickly find it when it is needed. The job of being the information hero is rarely recognized or rewarded, but it still needs to be done if you want to get the maximum from your technicians.

We all talk about wrench time and maximizing productivity, but achieving it is not an easy, overnight event. You go out of your way to find good people. You buy them good tools. You supply them with a safe work environment. You even try to get them some technical training. So why do you deny them good information that will make their jobs easier and improve their performance? No one does it on purpose, but again it is the drudge work that we all unconsciously avoid.

The solution is to get organized and get started. You may not be the right person for information hero, but look around your shop and see if there is a Superman hiding behind his Clark Kent persona— someone who can and will grind through the necessary tasks for you. Once you establish guidelines, much of the work can be done by office staff, so don’t overlook those resources for the job. Administrative assistants are accustomed to managing vast amounts of information, so your maintenance and reliability data is just another format to them that they add to the mix.

Your guidelines and framework should be simple, and the files themselves should be easily accessible by those who need the information. Something as simple as file cabinets married with a file tree on your plant network can work. I like to keep hard copies of manuals, drawings and some procedures that you can carry to the worksite or to the shop, so those go into a file cabinet. Each item should be labeled with the cabinet number and file name so they get back home. Add that to a file tree with folders and equipment files that are all in standard format, and you have a good place to start.

Build your file tree based on functional locations, systems, process flow, alphabetical order or whatever makes sense to you and your people. (Don’t forget to have a place for the generic stuff.) Use the names that are common to everyone or that you want to become common, and then label the equipment that way to reinforce it. Create some standard templates for master data forms, and you are in business to collect, collate and store information.

Have a master data document for each piece of equipment that acts as a gateway to everything you ever want to know about that piece of equipment. You put in all of the standard, basic information like manufacturer name, model, serial number and capacity at the top, and then add a short description of where it is and what it does. Insert links to other documents, and it acts as the doorway to all relevant information. You can even use it as an equipment history document for modifications, updates and special knowledge items that don’t fit anywhere else. The uses are only limited by your imagination. Keep in mind that human nature says that if it isn’t simple and easy to use, it probably won’t be used.

Once your troops see a value in it, they will use it as the first-choice place to look, so back it up regularly and review it at least annually to make sure the data is still relevant. There needs to be a mechanism for adding new info and comments so you get the experience of your techs available for everyone.

Don’t worry about grammar or spelling, since you can always edit that later. If your CMMS or EAM system has the capacity for this function, great! If not, or if you are a small operation without those programs, this is a way to hang onto the data that can help. Even a link to a relevant original equipment manufacturer or service provider’s Web page may be the key to saving hours of downtime. Having the data and the links easily accessible saves the trips to the job site armed with flashlights where you try to read a nameplate that has probably been painted at least twice. When you stack the deck in your favor, this is one of the cards that you want in your hand.

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