4 Key Elements for Maintenance Program Success

Daniel Roessler, Accruent; Andy Ruse, Accruent

A 2017 Aberdeen Group report indicates that, in the manufacturing industry alone, more than $50 billion is lost annually due to unplanned downtime. Many companies continue to struggle to benchmark maintenance performance and implement effective maintenance programs that drive measurable improvement. Effective maintenance programs reduce downtime, extend equipment life and minimize repair time when equipment outages do occur.

The same Aberdeen Group report concludes that best-in-class manufacturers (identified from the top 20 percent performance scores) have 90 percent overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and an 11 percent maintenance cost reduction year over year, which gives companies a maintenance performance target. How do companies achieve success?

This article covers four foundational elements of maintenance management program success: streamlining the work order management process, empowering with technology, converting historical and real-time data into asset and maintenance intelligence, and shifting from a reactive to proactive maintenance model. By embracing the changing maintenance landscape and focusing on these four key elements, companies can reduce downtime, improve productivity and lower maintenance costs.


Maintenance departments face several challenges in pursuit of excellence. The first step in building a successful maintenance program is identifying and prioritizing the key areas to be addressed. Many of the maintenance issues shown in Figure 1 are common across industries and companies.

Figure 1. Common maintenance challenges

These challenges significantly impact maintenance performance as well as overall business results. In the manufacturing industry alone more than $50 billion is lost annually due to unplanned downtime.

A company’s priorities define their maintenance program goals and subsequent approach. Figure 2 reflects typical maintenance program goals.

Figure 2. Common maintenance goals

There are many components to maintenance program success. However, four key elements that build a strong maintenance program foundation are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Four building blocks of maintenance program success

Companies have differing degrees of maintenance complexity to overcome and are at various points on the maintenance program development curve. Some organizations are operating in a mostly reactive mindset and do not have effective preventive maintenance (PM) programs in place.

Others have already started PM programs and are realizing the positive impacts of the transition from reactive to proactive maintenance. The gap between these companies in relation to proactive maintenance may be wide, but both still have opportunities to improve their maintenance performance. Even small incremental gains related to these key elements can have a major business impact.

Work Order Management

At the heart of most maintenance programs is a work order system. Work order management is how a company handles maintenance activities from the request through execution, completion and recordkeeping.

Many factors influence the methodology a company uses to manage work orders, such as size of operation, number of technicians, etc. There are three main approaches: paper-basedsystems, spreadsheets and an automated computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) or enterprise asset management (EAM)system.

Using a paper-based approach can be adequate for small operations but does make it difficult to search equipment and maintenance history. For example, looking up history on a pump may mean a technician sitting in the shop thumbing through a large binder. Paper-based work order management adds to labor inefficiency and does not align with the sustainability values or green initiatives of many companies.

Spreadsheets are another common methodology. These can be difficult to maintain for midsized to large operations with many assets. They also tend to make real-time accessibility a challenge. For example, a technician in the field cannot look up and retrieve work order or equipment history easily. Revision control of maintenance spreadsheets can also be a challenge depending on how the file is owned, shared and updated.

A CMMS or EAM system is another way many companies manage work orders. A CMMS is the most robust work order management solution and gives on-demand access to asset and maintenance history. A parts list and various documentation can also be linked or associated to assets and/or work orders, which can be helpful. The downside of a CMMS is that for workers who are not tech-savvy, the learning curve can be steep, and they often resist moving to an automated system.

The work order management process is critical because all maintenance activities require a work order. Whichever methodology is employed, it is important to give thought to the overall work order process and how key elements of that process will be handled. Good work order management strategies streamline the maintenance process while delivering maximum organizational value.

The basic elements of work order management are shown in Figure 4. The initial step is a maintenance request, after which work orders are assigned, and work is scheduled. The maintenance work is then completed, documented and closed out.

Figure 4. Basic work order management process

This basic work order process should not seem intimidating. It is simple and straightforward but somewhat misleading. In reality, there are many considerations and complexities to each of the work order process steps. For example, when a maintenance request is made, it must be determined whether it needs urgent attention.

If it is off-hours, will it be a request that warrants calling in technicians for overtime? Is the information in the work order request complete? Many work orders do not have adequate information in the initial request and require follow-up conversations with the requester. Maybe a work order is initiated as part of a preventive maintenance program? How is a PM handleddifferently?

Examining the work order assignment step, supervisors typically consider who is available and what skills are required. They also consider how much time they think the maintenance tasks will take and where it fits within other priorities before scheduling the work. Likewise, there may be potential operational considerations that impact scheduling.

For example, the maintenance activity may require an outage, or backup equipment may need to be placed in service prior to the work. Some maintenance tasks require special tools or equipment, complicating work scheduling. For instance, if a boom lift is needed, it might need to be scheduled or rented depending on company businesspractices.

As a precursor to starting maintenance, technicians often want to review equipment and work order history. These histories can help indicate the maintenance issue upfront, so a technician knows where to start and whether to replace or repair. Once a technician begins the repair and maintenance activity, the ability to quickly check parts availability can be valuable. When maintenance work is finished, the completion time is then recorded.

The final work order management step is to document any updates (e.g., redlined drawings, photos of equipment or repairs, etc.) and then close the work order.

Numerous considerations go into the maintenance work order management process, which can make it much more complex than the basic depiction in Figure 4. Why is it important to focus on the work order management process? The benefits of a strong, comprehensive work order management process are shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Benefits of good work order management

Empowering with Technology

There are many technology terms related to maintenance, such as CMMS/EAM, internet of things (IoT), mobility and analytics. These incredible technologies can help companies meet and exceed their maintenance performance goals. The application of digital technologies to functions such as maintenance is already improving plant performance, minimizing downtime and reducing operating costs.

With so many technology options, it can be difficult to know what to apply or when to apply the solution to support maintenance program success. There is no single right answer as to which technologies are the best. For one plant, artificial intelligence may not make sense to apply, but for another it may be the technology that drives them forward.

Some of these technologies represent equipment and philosophy changes. For example, robotics that replace human functions have been embraced in many discrete manufacturing plants. Technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and digital transformation may be applied directly to plant operations but still have noticeable impacts on maintenance.

When workforces are empowered with these technologies, it can increase labor efficiency, reduce downtime and improve asset intelligence. CMMS technology has been around for years and has an established presence. There can be a hesitancy to embrace newer tools until they are widely proven with significant runtime. Despite this caution, technologies have gained considerable traction.

Where is the value in adopting modern technologies? That is dependent on the specific technology, but below are some examples of how some of these technologies deliver value.

CMMS or EAM systems are often considered the foundation of strong work order management programs. They tend to deliver a high return on investment when implemented properly. One of the essential benefits is that, over time, they create an asset and maintenance management history.

The history within a CMMS can be used to spot trends, establish metrics, schedule preventive maintenance activities and speed time to repair. A CMMS can also deliver many other benefits like extending equipment life, reducing downtime, and improving planning and labor productivity.

Mobility adoption can make a huge difference in labor efficiency, time to repair and other key maintenance metrics. Consider a technician who can call up key information on a mobile device without having to walk back to the shop. How many steps and how much time can be saved?

In addition to the value of delivering data to a technician where they are, mobile capabilities can enable the technician to record information more accurately. For instance, if a technician can record work order completion from a mobile device, this will result in a more accurate completion time that can be used for more precise planning.

Robotics are widespread in many discrete manufacturing operations and applied in some continuous operations. They can help support operational consistency and be used to improve safety by handling high-risk activities. A challenge for maintenance departments is that robotics can change the skill sets that maintenance technicians need. In the past, technicians were specialized, with expertise in dedicated disciplines like mechanical or instrument and electrical.

Robotics maintenance is a blend of skills, requiring technicians to have multi-discipline maintenance knowledge and take a more comprehensive approach to repair. Robotics tend to save operational costs, providing consistency, improving speed and efficiency, etc. However, the upkeep requirements on robotics can be high, potentially increasing annual maintenance costs.

Currently, one of the most popular technology terms is internet of things (IoT). This is a broad term characterized by connected devices and systems with the goal of delivering real-time intelligence. One IoT example is a vibration monitoring system connected to an alarm system that can initiate a predictive maintenance work order.

If historical data indicates that equipment will fail when vibration reaches a certain level, then by alarming and initiating a work order prior to that event, unplanned downtime can be avoided, saving significant money. This is a single, high-level example, but there are many others of the broad capabilities of IoT and how it can deliver value to maintenanceprograms.

Embracing modern technologies empowers employees with better real-time and historical asset and maintenance intelligence. The benefits of this are better labor efficiency, improved decision making and enhanced overall maintenance performance.

Gaining Asset and Maintenance Intelligence

Good data is vital to companies optimizing performance and making strong business decisions. One of the first challenges that organizations must overcome to build a better maintenance program is to start collecting relevant maintenance information.

The first question for organizations is what asset and maintenance information is important. Asset and equipment history can provide valuable information during the maintenance and repair process. For instance, knowing when equipment was purchased and how long it has been in service might be a good indicator of whether it will be a repair or replacescenario.

Detailed information on previous work orders related to the equipment can be extremely helpful in suggesting the problem before the maintenance work is even started. A parts list, reference drawings and documentation are other examples of data that can be valuable to the maintenance process.

After a company determines what information is needed, the next step in the process is building a history or library of maintenance information. Organizations may choose to do this in several ways, but one of the most common is using a CMMS or EAM system. The benefit of building this history in a CMMS is that it is available in the same system that handles work order management, enabling ease of accessibility.

As maintenance and asset data is collected, it is imperative that it is available to the people who need it. This can be a large and diverse group of many different users from an offsite manager to a field technician. It is not only about availability but also about format. The granularity that a technician needs is likely much greater than that which a vice president needs.

While collecting data is the first step, the information’s value is increased when transformed into intelligence. This is done by evaluating the data for trends and then acting on those trends. For example, if data analysis shows that the last three failures of a pump have occurred shortly after it has been in service for 2,000 hours, then scheduling a preventive maintenance (PM) activity at 2,000 hours may prevent that pump failure.

Scheduling the PM is an action, and that is an essential part of converting data into intelligence. Actionable data is fundamental to driving an effective maintenance program.

Maintenance intelligence and the corresponding analytics improve decision making, enable metrics to be established, facilitate maintenance and asset performance measurement, and support predictive maintenance implementation.

Transitioning from Reactive to Proactive Maintenance

The final building block for an effective maintenance program involves transitioning from reactive to proactive maintenance. Reactive maintenance can best be defined as a “fix it when it breaks” approach to maintenance.

Companies that react when a problem occurs rather than acting prior to the issue see a high volume of unplanned downtime, shorter equipment lifespans and higher maintenance costs.

While many organizations want to build a more proactive maintenance program, it can be challenging. There are several keys to the reactive to proactive transition. At the basic level, it cannot be done until a company is collecting maintenance and asset intelligence. This is the reason that CMMS systems are so foundational to maintenance performance. They are one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to gather maintenance information.

As previously mentioned, having the data is not enough. Companies should invest in analyzing the information and identifying trends that allow them to plan and schedule effective PM work. A longer-term goal is to shift to a more predictive maintenance model in conjunction with PM activities.

Unplanned downtime events may not be eliminated completely, but shifting to a proactive approach where companies anticipate and act on issues before they occur can reduce unplanned downtime, increase labor scheduling efficiency, enhance equipment reliability and lower maintenance costs.

Building a Foundation for Success

Maintenance challenges are similar across industries and organizations. Each company must establish its maintenance priorities and goals, and then build a maintenance program accordingly. There is no “one size fits all” answer, as maintenance success has many factors.

However, there are elements fundamental to building a good foundation for maintenance success. Four key elements are work order management, empowering with technology, gaining asset and maintenance intelligence, and transitioning from a reactive to proactive maintenance approach. These building blocks can deliver key benefits such as reducing unplanned downtime, increasing labor efficiency, extending equipment life and lowering overall maintenancecosts.

This article was previously published in the Reliable Plant 2019 Conference Proceedings.

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