Issues faced by Maintenance Managers in Today’s Data-centric Work Environment

Note: All company and product names used in this document are the property of their owners.

Each maintenance department in each company must carefully manage its asset-related data. The data involved is crucial to the business. It is obvious that handling this data badly costs businesses untold losses in revenue. Severe as this is, it is just the tip of the iceberg of problems caused by bad data management practices. A business’s long term viability is often based on the historical data that it collects and uses in order to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated or that improvements based on past lessons are reused. In the medium and short-term it is necessary for businesses to rapidly react to new situations. A database of well-developed and maintained solution scenarios could provide a timely and effective foundation from which to build a reaction strategy.

In this post, we outline some commonly encountered issues with plants, facilities and all organizations with the responsibility to manage capital infrastructure while in continuous operation. This includes maintenance environments in chemical and petrochemical plants, paper mills, electric utilities, etc. For each of the issues, we provide a viable solution scenario, which is either currently available from TeamWork Group’s suite of solutions for data management, or is being contemplated as new development.

We welcome input and feedback on our choices of major issues and look forward to discussing other issues that we have not addressed.

Here are a few of the major issues facing the maintenance industry today:

  • The drive to quickly demonstrate short-term gains
  • Lack of a consistent standard for obtaining KPI measures
  • Ineffective preventive maintenance management planning
  • Inconsistent management of plant shutdowns, turnarounds and outages
  • Lack of understanding of the concepts of reliability-based maintenance
  • Non-existence of a complete asset-based work management system
  • Restrictions imposed by corporate IT governance-related mandates

While not exhaustive, this list provides us with a framework to discuss the reasons for each of these issues and to formulate rational solution scenarios for each. These issues are also not islands unto themselves––many of the factors that contribute to one of these issues are also the cause of others.

Demonstrating Short-term Gains

For the last 15 years, we have seen the complete transition of the maintenance workforce from using paper forms and filing cabinets to using spreadsheets and electronic folders and files in systems such as Sharepoint. In addition, the need for centralized data management, while ignored for a short time at the beginning of the personal computer era, was quickly filled by the use of ERP systems such as SAP.

So, all should be well from the perspective of data management,right?  Nope. Just ask any of the workers in any maintenance department today and you will hear the problems that they have. These problems are the subject of this document and are discussed as they arise.

A short-term approach to the problem of maintenance is a serious flaw in many companies today. Using spreadsheets to manage data in lieu of a carefully designed database is a short-term approach. Using an ERP, a system whose strength lies in accounting-related functions, to be the basis of an asset maintenance system, just because you already have it, is another example of short-term thinking. Placing all of your files into Sharepoint because it is there, is another example of short-term, quick-fix thinking. Modern data management allows us to store data and documents with the object (ex. Project, asset) to which it belongs. Sharepoint is simply an electronic filing cabinet. It is not an information manager.

In keeping with the notion of the long-term effectiveness of the plant, we need a long term data management solution. This solution ensures that every bit of information about each physical part of the plant or facility is stored in a manner that ensures that it can be easily and quickly retrieved and reviewed by a maintenance worker. Virtually every piece of data will have a thread that leads it back to an asset or a part of an asset. Asset Management is a long-term, cost-effective fix for a long-running, safely-operating plant.

Consistent standard for obtaining KPI measures

Key Performance Indicators are tools that are developed and used by plant and company personnel to ensure their path to better performance. The development of each of the measures for the KPI’s is dependent on carefully thought-out processes. A study of the current situation regarding KPI’s in the workplace unearths the fact that most are done with Excel spreadsheets. This means that data is being manually entered into a spreadsheet––without any audit trail to the source of the manually entered data. Sooner or later the spreadsheet data is discovered to not be reliable any longer.

The solution for this issue is discovered in the use of a long-term well designed, well maintained asset management database! All of your data is carefully maintained in your asset database. This should include any work that is planned for, or executed, on the assets in your plant. The data in this database now is the source for your KPI data. There is a direct traceability of data from the source to each of the measures in your KPI graphs. Any other approach simply postpones the day of reckoning––and no one wants to see a plant not perform at its peak of safety and effectiveness.

Preventive Maintenance Management Planning

It is quite logical that routinely performing maintenance on the components of your infrastructure will lead to better long-term results. You certainly do change your furnace filter at home routinely. You change the oil in your car routinely. Scale these preventive maintenance (PM) tasks up to an entire plant and you can see that the possibility for savings is mind-boggling. Yet, these PM tasks are too often allowed to be managed by simplistic scheduling models. These include time-based and meter-based models. Neither of these approaches allow you to factor in the possibility that other issues––such as seasonal (ex. inability to work in the winter), or conditional (ex. breakdown requires immediate action and a change in the cycle) require a more pro-active approach to the management of preventive maintenance work. Condition monitoring systems help to ensure that each equipment asset’s condition is known, but, these systems are seldom integrated with the PM management system. This integration is crucial and should not be left to people to do ‘when they can’. Environmental monitoring system as well provide a means for ensuring that equipment assets in need of PM work are quickly and accurately identified. The use of RFID tags should be used to help quickly and accurately identify an asset’s history as well as its performance record. This quick and accurate identification of issues will help you to also quickly identify whether an asset should be replaced or maintained in a different way.

An integrated asset management database is, once again, the primary tool that will enable an effective and enduring PM Work Management program to be implemented and maintained. The history that is collected in such a database ensures that there will be fewer surprises in the form of unexpected and un-safe events in an operating plant. Such a database will have an integrated, schedule-based, preventive maintenance, work management system. This system will also be the same one that is used for managing routine maintenance work as well as work in special projects such as turnarounds, and outages. Such a system goes far beyond the scope of existing ERP approaches to maintenance management.

Management of Plant Shutdowns, Turnarounds and Outages

Most operating plants need to be periodically shut down in order to permit maintenance crews to access and repair the plant’s assets. The work done leading up to and during the shutdown is often called a Turnaround. Managing short-duration and high-intensity projects such as turnarounds, in an asset-centric environment such as plants and facilities, requires a synergy between project management and maintenance management that is pretty hard to find in off-the-shelf systems such as ERP or Scheduling systems. Consequently, plants today are extremely heavy users of tactical tools such as Excel, MS Project, etc. These tools permit a quick development of solution scenarios. However, in the longer term, these solutions become huge maintenance headaches.

The reasons for this include the absence of standard data integrity management processes that are integral in well designed database solutions. Some of the benefits of an integrated turnaround management tool are:

  • Asset focused: This ensures that the work and operation history of critical plant assets are an integral part of the system used for planning the work and scheduling the work to be done on these assets. Amazingly, NONE of the popular systems in the marketplace today seem to recognize, let alone support this relationship with assets.
  • Includes a detailed work plan and estimate development tool: This requires a system of breaking down work into component pieces while remaining aware of the asset relationships based on the actual processes in the plant. A group of assets in the same process may, potentially be worked on at the same time, based on the fact that the process has to be shut down for work to be done on even one of the assets.
  • Use of resource-limited scheduling process: This ensures that a reasonable, workable schedule that includes the availability of assets, is the basis of the project work. Again, ERP systems are woefully incapable of supporting a logical and resource-limited process that integrates hundreds of different contractors that each provides their own resources.
  • Work execution tracking is a commonly ignored aspect of many systems: The evidence of this is the huge number of Excel spreadsheets that are employed in assigning work to crews and collecting progress and actual hours from crews.

TeamWork Group’s TeamWork Solutions suite of apps completely addresses all issues that a turnaround manager encounters in managing the turnaround, shutdown or outage project, as well as the assets in the plant. More details on the specific aspects of a sound turnaround management system’s components will be discussed in a future blog.

Understanding of the concepts of Reliability-centered maintenance

RCM is a proven approach to ensuring that maintenance work is done on assets in a timely manner. The right things are maintained at the right time. TeamWork Solutions automatically assimilates all of the work that is done on each asset in the plant. This includes capital work, routine maintenance work, preventive maintenance work, inspection work and condition monitoring-based work as well as turnaround work. Current systems do not address the management of planning, scheduling and the execution of all of these types of work. This makes the task of RCM-based computations extremely hard and forces the organization into onerous, error-prone and incomplete data entry operations.

TeamWork Solutions, by managing ALL of the work in an operating plant provides a readily used platform for the computation of all of the KPI and other RCM-based measures. The flexibility of the TeamWork Solutions platform enables us to help maintenance management to develop new measures quickly and effectively.

Complete Asset-Based Work Management System

An operating plant is composed of operating units that are themselves composed of processes, each of which involves a slew of assets. Assets are pumps, exchangers, heaters, boilers, condensers, fin-fans, etc. Each of these has to operate in peak condition and in concert with other assets in order to ensure that the plant is operating at peak efficiency. While many maintenance management systems exist, few of them are strongly focused not only on maintaining a list of the assets but also on the inclusion of operating and maintenance information about the assets. Building a work and history management system based on your assets is a crucially important aspect of a great data management system for your plant.

TeamWork Solutions has at its core a suite of asset-management tables that allow the plant to build effective and complete work management processes on top of the asset data. This closes the loop of data and ensures that workers are always aware of each of the different aspects of factors that affect a particular asset, whether it is working or in the shop for repair.

Corporate IT Governance

In the chaos of new system development and failed installations in the 1990s and 2000s, corporations have evolved in-house governance system to ensure that strict controls are maintained on company systems. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and TSX regulations have contributed to a closer scrutiny of processes that are associated with the financial management of corporations.

A downside of the governance practices that have evolved to meet these needs is that the pace of change in a maintenance organization’s data management tools is excruciatingly slow. This results in – you guessed it – an explosion in the use of spreadsheets to accomplish what a good data management system should.

Cloud-Hosted Systems

In order to help organizations to explore the latest in modern maintenance management data technology, we now host our application and database on secure managed servers that are accessible online. The cost of using these solutions online is a fraction of the cost of bringing them in-house and building a support structure for them. Once a customer is familiar with how the systems work, they can decide to bring it in-house or continue to use it online. Either way, the unknown of how the system will perform with real data is completely removed and leaves the company with a much less risky proposition when looking for the best maintenance management system.