Successful Maintenance Planning Streamlines Operations, Saves Money

By Chris Matt, Managing Editor - Print & E-Media  

*Michael V. Brown, Management Consultant, New Standard Institute Inc., Milford, Conn.

*Michael Cowley, President, CE Maintenance Solutions, Buffalo Junction, Va.

*Tim Kister, Planning & Scheduling Subject Matter Expert, Life Cycle Engineering, Charleston, S.C.

For maintenance and engineering managers to improve their departments' efficiency and productivity, transforming front-line staff from reactive to proactive mode is a top priority. That culture shift is difficult, but these consultants say maintenance planning is one essential step toward that transformation.

What are the biggest benefits of having a planning and scheduling function?

BROWN: The first thing is, a planned job tends to go off without a hitch. The people are sent out to do the job and come back finishing the job without having to break to get parts and instructions. They're out there getting to the job, and they come back after completing the job. It's also easier to schedule a job when you have some idea of the amount time it will take to do the job. You know exactly how many jobs you can finish within a day. The part requirements for the job make it less likely to be a false start on the job.

KISTER: The main benefit or payback of planning and scheduling is, you increase the utilization of the maintenance workforce. Most of the time, with a lack of planning, they're doing it on their own schedules — they're not as efficient, and they don't have the right tools or equipment. To perform the activities, they have to coordinate with the area that they're supporting. As a result, we get a lot of inefficiencies. The benefit of the planning and scheduling function is to organize these activities so maintenance technicians can go directly to the work site. It's already been coordinated, so you minimize the impact on the area, and you maximize the productivity of your workers.

COWLEY: I use the term chaos (when discussing unplanned work). When you're in the chaos side, the cost of your work is four to six times higher than the other end of the spectrum. The reason it's four to six times the cost is kind of like when you call the plumber on a Sunday night. You woke him up out of bed. He has to wake up and figure out what your problem is. He may have to come out to look at it, he has to go find parts, and he comes back and works a little bit and finds something else is broken. The chaos is all of that lost motion.

What steps do managers have to take to build the case for creating a planner position?

KISTER: In my discussions with facilities, (I ask), "What are you providing?" In a hotel situation, you're providing rentable rooms. If it's in an education institution, it's reliable classroom facilities. You're providing a capacity there. A manager is saying, "This is a benefit you're going to get. I can provide you with reliable facilities that are going to meet your needs when you need it."

COWLEY: You can build it a number of ways. The three things I typically remind people is, the better your planning and scheduling, the lower the cost is going to be, the higher the quality is going to be, and the higher the efficiency of your work is going to be.

BROWN: Document emergency or breakdown work that's done within a site. It's a relatively expensive process to do emergency or breakdown work. It costs about three times what it would cost to do just a regular, scheduled job because it's breaking into what you're trying to accomplish within the day. Document the amount of time it takes to do the job right now and how much time could be saved if it was planned. There is a lot of travel time and waiting time with unplanned jobs. With a planned job, you head out to the job, you do the job, and you come back. And then document how often jobs are stopped to order parts or to wait for emergency delivery of parts. And document how much time maintenance supervisors spend each day chasing down parts.

What are the most important first steps in implementing a planner position?

COWLEY: The first phase without a doubt is to get management support and vision. For anything to be successful, it has to be top-supported and bottom-driven. The next thing you have to do is a little bit of training, and you have to find the people that set up the maintenance-planning function. The best way to do it if you're big enough (as an organization) is to have a full-time planner. That's typically for 15-20 trades people. That's a full-time job just to plan work for that many people. If you're not that big, the key is to have the function so somebody before next week gets here has to sit down and say, "OK, what do we want to work on next week? How many PMs (preventive-maintenance tasks) do we have coming up? Have we bought the filters for the air-conditioning PMs?" Anytime you do that stuff reactively, your cost goes up by four times.

BROWN: I would say, just start building plans. Plans for preventive maintenance work would probably be a very good place to start. (Then build) plans for common jobs and plans for big and complicated jobs.

KISTER: Figure out what the expectations or the objectives are for what the planner position would provide.

What characteristics are most important for an effective maintenance planner?

BROWN: A good planner will be able to estimate how long the average person will take to do a job and has enough knowledge to determine the parts and materials that are required to do that job. That's probably completely sufficient. Someone who has done the job before or someone who has supervised people who have done the job before (can be helpful).

KISTER: One is, really put a lot of emphasis on having trade knowledge and trade background. It brings a lot to the table when you have an individual that has been out on their tools and know the things they have to deal with within that trade or trades. Having that technical knowledge (is important). The other part is, a good working relationship with the areas that he or she might be supporting. You can have all the technical knowledge, but if the people skills aren't there to communicate and understand what the requesters of the areas are asking for, that can be a very hard issue to overcome.

COWLEY: The No. 1 characteristic you need is an experienced craftsman. If you want an electrical planner for electrical work at your facility, he needs to have been there and done it. He needs to have burned the end of his screwdriver once or twice because he stuck it in the wrong place. The whole theory behind the planner is, if I have a crew of 10 people and I'm the planner, and I'm an experienced craftsman in the craft I'm planning, I can raise everybody's level of competence to the next level because I've made the mistakes. You have to have the credibility and the trust.

What is the role of managers, supervisors, and technicians in working with the planner?

KISTER: They are a support role. Good trade knowledge is necessary for the planner, but he or she doesn't always have all aspects of the trade skills that are out there. So from a technician perspective, the technician is that support. If I have a mechanical background and I'm dealing with an electrical issue out there in the facility, my resource is that electrical technician. Same thing with the supervisors. The supervisors are working on the day-to-day activities. Planners are working in the future. They work closely as a team. Engineering and maintenance managers are support to overcome barriers that the planner might get into, like budgeting.

COWLEY: It's going to be very close contact. The engineering managers, project managers, and maintenance managers, they have to provide the high-level direction. Somebody is setting the direction, and that is the role of supervisors, managers and project engineers. (They say) "Here's the path we want to go. Now, Mr. Planner, you get into the details and the minutia and begin to make the work happen."

BROWN: They work with the planner on determining what the optimal crew size for a job would be. If a planner says, "I want to put two people on this job," and they say, "No, we want three," they need to work that out. The optimal crew size needs to be negotiated. They need to provide feedback on problems encountered and suggest improvements in the job plan. When a job is completed, they should go back to the planner and say, "This didn't work, this worked, and we suggest this for the future to make the job go smoother." Then, let the planner plan and schedule jobs, and let management concentrate on management of the workers. If (managers) just concentrate on management of the workers and let the planner plan the jobs, I think they'll be in much better shape.

How has the implementation of CMMS impacted departments' planning functions?

COWLEY: The planning function can work well without a CMMS (computerized maintenance management system), but, in today's world, you're missing the boat (if you don't have one). (Without a CMMS) the planner can't properly go back and look at work history, he can't look back at asset history and asset utilization, and he can't go back and look at old PMs and old work orders easily.

BROWN: The CMMS is not necessarily a planning tool. You can own a CMMS and have nothing but breakdowns and emergencies. In that respect, it's not a planning tool. But the fact that plans can be stored and reused by the planner and other planners in a computerized maintenance management system, that's good. History of jobs that shows the parts usage and duration of the jobs that have been completed can be very helpful to a planner.

KISTER: A lot of times, the impression is the CMMS is going to be the answer to all of our woes. It's not. The CMMS is a tool that the planner uses. It has to have certain functionality, like equipment hierarchy, that's implemented properly and built properly in order to get cost, materials and labor associated at the right level. We're talking dollars and cents.

How do organizations demonstrate cost savings associated with having a planning function?

BROWN: The goal of a planning function is to get more work done in a day and cut down or eliminate breakdown work. So that's what you're trying to accomplish.

COWLEY: The better the planning and scheduling, you'll have improved customer service. You'll have higher quality control, and your people will be happier. You should see a reduction in material costs, and you'll probably see a reduction in some labor costs.

KISTER: The biggest thing is evaluating how productive are my workers right now. Do we see a lot of wait time because they don't have materials? The area they're supposed to be working in, is it available to them? All of that (waiting) is costing money. Doing a simple work sampling that says how efficient they are (helps generate payback).

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  posted on 9/23/2011   Article Use Policy

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