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Planning For the Unexpected
Facilities focus groups have spent a great deal of resources preparing for catastrophic emergencies, and with good reason. But in addition to such dire situations, maintenance and engineering departments also must prepare for emergencies related to unscheduled shutdowns of needed equipment that have occurred or are imminent. Not all work treated as an emergency fits this description, but it is the most expensive category of work done.
A goal for zero emergencies is not realistic; the cost of getting there exceeds the cost of the emergencies themselves. But improvements are possible if managers have three ingredients:
Knowledge. What kind of emergencies do facilities tend to have? How many? What tends to cause them?
Goals. What is the desirable level of emergency maintenance work? A realistic goal is less than 10 percent of total maintenance labor hours for most situations, including — and especially — non-stop operations. Their downtime is much higher than intermittent operations.
Plans. What pieces of equipment or systems are the first, second and third priorities in emergencies? What strategy will managers use to reduce emergency occurrences — preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM), historical record analysis?
The cost of maintenance labor charged to emergency jobs might be only a fraction of the cost of lost operations or other work normally done during shutdowns. But managers should carefully define and document downtime costs to act as a catalyst for future corrective actions that reduce or eliminate these costs.
The best way to eliminate downtime costs is to use documentation to sort out the causes of the interruptions by number, type, cost and duration. Then, if the cause cannot be designed out of the equipment, managers can go after the causes in the order of importance, one at a time, with a well-designed PM or PdM.
The cost of emergency breakdowns is in the billions of dollars annually, so any program established as an alternative must pass the return-on-investment test if it is to survive over time.
As technicians schedule and complete each planned repair or PM job, managers can compare costs to the former emergency repair cost to determine whether the PM effort succeeded. In many situations, the PM approach has resulted in saving more than10 times the cost of the maintenance work through reduced job interruptions.
The only information not predictable about emergency situations is when they will occur. Most experienced maintenance and engineering managers can predict all other factors — location, craft, type of work, tools, equipment and materials needed — after giving some thought to the most likely occurrences. Managers can do much to prepare so workers can handle these occurrences with minimum downtime.
Thomas Westerkamp is a maintenance management consultant and CEO of Productivity Network Innovations.