- January 29, 2005
I've read and seen a lot of material about advanced maintenance scheduling techniques, but the reality is that most maintenance people are still struggling with the basics.
As a former operations/maintenance coordinator who was sick and tired of operating in a reactive, firefighting mode, I understood the potential benefits of proper maintenance scheduling—the challenge was getting everyone on the same page. Industry experts suggest that in order to move from reactive to proactive maintenance, at least 80 percent of the work should be planned on a weekly basis and compliance to this schedule should be at least 90 percent.
For many, attaining this level of scheduling and execution of planned maintenance work is an imposing challenge. I, too, was a skeptic. I had seen my maintenance organization fall into a quagmire of never-ending emergency work and we were constantly struggling to keep our heads above water. Scheduling planned work seemed like a distant planet. But this was about to change.
A new maintenance manager was hired and his first decree was that planned preventive maintenance (PM) work was going to be the order of the day. When creating weekly schedules we had to schedule all due PMs first and then distribute the remaining labor hours according to priority. Having grown accustom to the daily regime of firefighting maintenance, I saw this as nothing more than a short-lived "make-work project"; however, the new manager had other plans.
His first order of business was to sit with Operations and explain what he was trying to do and the potential benefits the Operations group could achieve. His plan was to involve the Operations group in performing routine repetitive PMs as part of their normal rounds. While doing area walk-downs, Operators could check lubrication globes to ensure oil was present and replace it if it was down. They could also perform visual inspections as well as touch and feel components for heat and vibration, and check for abnormal noise, smell, and any process leakage. As a result, Operations started playing a more active role in ensuring the proper performance of their equipment. They would inspect safety guards around couplings and shafts and would report any abnormalities to the shift mechanic or to the shift electrician who would then determine the severity of the situation. They would also set up air blowers to help cool down a hot piece of equipment if the shift mechanic was busy on another job. They would even change filters on air supply coolers for key motors. A new policy also came into place: anyone could enter a request for work. No longer was this the realm of maintenance or production supervisors; anyone could initiate the procedure.
Using a team approach, monthly meetings were held involving representatives from Operations, the operations superintendent, an operations/maintenance coordinator, planner, maintenance supervisor, maintenance area technician, E&I supervisor, E&I area technician, area engineer, process control technician, and quality control technician. At these meetings, a process was established for reviewing the PM program. PM jobs were reviewed for suitability to the current operating conditions that existed in the plant. Many of these PMs were what the original manufacturers recommended and the frequencies were reviewed to determine if they were still relevant. Could a weekly, or monthly PM become a three-month PM or a yearly PM? Could weekly visual inspections of non-production related equipment such as HVAC be handled by Operations? Maintenance would still be required to attend to major PMs such as semi-annual inspections and when Operations detected a discrepancy from the expected norm, Maintenance would handle the subsequent work order.
As a result, maintenance slowly but steadily moved from a reactive to a proactive mode and maintenance efficiency was drastically improved. Equipment availability and reliability increased and downtime and all its inherent costs decreased. Schedule compliance was consistently around 90 percent, and when it wasn't, the reason could be easily identified and documented.
The Key Ingredients
Communication is key to successful maintenance scheduling—this involves everyone from the planner, scheduler, maintenance supervisor, craftsman, storeroom personnel, operations superintendent, to the operator who is responsible for securing and having the equipment ready for maintenance. Any breakdown in this communication diminishes the probability of success.
The role of each stakeholder needs to be clearly identified—what's expected and what the stakeholder brings to the table. Below is a comprehensive list of stakeholders, and the roles they typically play.
Planner ensures the work is properly planned with trade requirements, stores material, and directs purchase material and specialty service(s) identified on the work order. Any safety concerns or requirements are documented, as is the description of the work to be carried out.
Scheduler ensures that the trades are available to conduct scheduled work. The maintenance supervisor attends to the specifics as to who-what-where-when. The scheduler also ensures that the material and services are available and communicates this information to all concerned parties in Maintenance and Operations etc.
Maintenance Supervisor looks after the day-to-day activities comprised in the weekly schedule and assigns technicians, in a best-fit fashion, to the various work orders. The maintenance supervisor also determines the trade availability for the week using a simple excel spreadsheet and forwards it to the scheduler.
Craftsman carries out the assigned work and communicates the results, as well as any discrepancies in planning or scheduling of the work, back to Maintenance for further analysis.
Storeroom Personnel notify Maintenance of the receipt of goods and any deviation from the expected standards, such as damaged packaging. This affords Maintenance an opportunity to job stage and inspect the material prior to executing the work order and then finding out it is damaged.
Operations Superintendent must be informed well in advance so that the equipment can be released to Maintenance. This individual is aware of production schedules and can determine with Maintenance the opportune time to release the equipment.
Operator is responsible for securing equipment by performing the proper lockout and any block and bleed requirements. This includes any vessel entry preparations such as purging and gas detection.
After the stakeholders have been identified, good scheduling practices should be communicated to them. In his book, the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook, Doc Palmer, a professional certified engineer and a noted authority in the area of maintenance scheduling, details how to be proactive through good scheduling practices. The following is a quick overview of these key elements:
- Create job plans that providing the number of persons required, lowest required craft skill level, craft work hours per skill, and job duration information, which are necessary for advanced scheduling.
- Adhere to weekly and daily schedules as closely as possible.
- Develop a one-week schedule. Created by the scheduler, this schedule should be made for each crew, based on craft hours available, forecast that shows highest skill available, job priorities, and information from the job plans. It should assign work for every available work hour and allow for emergencies, high priorities, and reactive jobs by scheduling a significant amount of work on easily interrupted tasks.
- Develop a daily schedule one day in advance and should be created by the crew supervisor using current job progress. It should use the one-week schedule and new high priority, reactive jobs as a guide. The crew supervisor matches personnel skills and tasks.
From the Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook by Doc Palmer. McGraw-Hill: New York: 1999.
After roles have been defined, short daily scheduling meetings must be held to update and communicate deviations from the schedule. Planning and scheduling are crucial to maintenance management. Being proactive as opposed to reactive cannot be stressed enough.
Making It Work
Once the crews and their availability have been identified, the scheduling process can begin. The area or crew supervisor first completes a trade availability spreadsheet. The advantage of this spreadsheet is that it provides a common and consistent template that can be easily used with minimal training by all supervisors. Supervisors can record trade availability and time that is not available for scheduling purposes—including vacation and training time. The end result is the total available hours to schedule for each trade.
Because the supervisor has the best knowledge of the crew status, it makes sense to have the supervisor communicate the available crew hours to the scheduler who develops a weekly schedule. Based on the available hours to schedule, the scheduler can now insert jobs that are "ready to schedule".
The scheduler first schedules all "due PMs" for the period. Once that is complete the scheduler can view the remaining hours available to plan work orders by priority. Many enterprise asset management (EAM) and computer maintenance management (CMMS) systems track trade availability and the remaining hours, after work orders have been scheduled. They highlight, in red, where trade has been overbooked. In this case, the crew supervisor, working with the scheduler, is in the best position to decide which trades are appropriate for each PM. In some cases an apprentice or instrument technician could perform some of the electrical PMs. Similarly a mechanic or apprentice could be assigned the millwright PM tasks.
Work orders by priority are added until the EAM/CMMS system indicates that the trade time has been fully utilized for this particular crew. Many CMMS/EAM systems provide the option of exporting the schedule to the MS Project for further manipulation. However, it is not necessary for users to use MS Project to perform scheduling. The crew supervisor can simply take the list of scheduled work orders and simply assign the work orders to the tradesmen on a daily basis.
Scheduling cannot happen in a vacuum—it is imperative that weekly scheduling meetings take place involving the following individuals: scheduler, maintenance or electrical supervisor(s), operations supervisor (or representative), and engineering. Communication between these individuals in determining which work orders make the schedule as well as the availability of the equipment to be released to Maintenance is crucial. Production runs and demands are vital; just ask a marketing manager who has had to deal with an irate customer as a result of a delivery being late because of poor scheduling or worst—equipment breakdown!
Daily scheduling meetings help plan for the upcoming day and provide a means to review the events of the past twenty-four hours. This allows for any new "urgent" work orders to be addressed. This meeting involves the following individuals: scheduler, maintenance/electrical supervisor(s), operations supervisor (or representative), and engineering. The communication that takes place at this meeting allows first line supervisors to assign the work for the day and provides Operations direction as to which equipment needs to be released to Maintenance. Contingency plans are formulated where equipment cannot be released.
Following this meeting the maintenance supervisor can hand out the work orders to the crew for the day and post a daily schedule of the work that is taking place. Bear in mind that maintenance technicians are not sitting idly by waiting for work assignment from the morning meeting. They will be performing PM work orders or working on carry over work from the previous day.
The daily schedule provides collaborative information as to what is happening or about to happen on the plant floor. It helps formulate a big picture view of what's happening and the potential impact of each individual maintenance technicians' activities.
Many organizations have tried to address their maintenance scheduling woes by introducing new and sometimes very advanced technologies. The reality is that trying to automate something that's broken will cause even more frustration and finger-pointing. The potential benefits of scheduling automation are best achieved by first establishing a sound communication foundation that supports scheduling business processes. By sticking to these basics, most organizations can achieve significant improvements in their maintenance scheduling capabilities.
While attaining 100% maintenance schedule compliance may seem as difficult as "pushing string uphill", it should still remain an ultimate goal. It all starts by putting together an effective PM program with cross-functional communication so everyone is in the loop. By moving closer to this goal, organizations will become more proactive in their approach to maintenance.
About the Author
Lorne MacDonald has over twenty-seven years experience in maintenance and manufacturing, in various roles including contingency planning and scheduling, primarily for major pulp and paper companies. During the past six-and-a-half years at PopWare, MacDonald has been actively involved in enterprise asset management consulting engagements at a number of large North American and European manufacturers. For more information, please visit http://www.pop-ware.com/support/software_downloads.php.