Laying the Groundwork For a Computerized Maintenance Program
August 01, 2001

By Staff
Appeared in Building Operating Management/FacilitiesNet

Most facility owners would agree that a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) can increase the efficiencies of their operations, protect the initial capital investment and boost productivity. But what they may not realize is the extent to which an effective CMMS is a process rather than a piece of software. Ideally, the process drives the software, and the software is made to fit the process.

With this methodology, no two facilities will have exactly the same CMMS because no two facilities have the exactly the same mission and set of operating conditions. Educational institutions may be looking to save money, while data centers may be spending substantial sums to assure reliability.

For example, work that Syska & Hennessy is undertaking for New York Presbyterian Hospital centers on implementing a complete CMMS for a 10 million square foot hospital with over 20,000 pieces of equipment over four sites, while efforts for a manufacturing client centers on moving its operations from Pennsylvania to Honduras-two widely disparate situations that obviously require customized treatment. Developing a CMMS is a significant undertaking, one that requires specific technical expertise. Owners wouldn't think of designing a facility themselves; similarly, they shouldn't consider developing a maintenance management plan without calling in the experts. Rather than an added expense, working with maintenance specialists can save untold time and money.

A case in point is a turnkey CMMS for a 2.5 Million Sq. Ft. midtown office building in New York City. Within three months the property had a fully functioning preventive maintenance and repair work order generating/tracking program-normally a year's effort.

The Facilities Standards Manual-Laying the Groundwork
At the heart of an effective CMMS is a Facilities Standards Manual (FSM). This is a tool to organize an enormous amount of data about the facility and its equipment. The FSM not only guides the collection and centralization of all data critical to facility operations and maintenance, it sets the stage for the all-important process of benchmarking, which ultimately leads to improving facility operations and productivity.

First off in a FSM, is the "smart" equipment numbering scheme. One, and only one, number is given to each piece of equipment. The "smart" number easily identifies the site, building, floor, and equipment type for every item. This type of location-based system is a must particularly for large multi-site facilities. Also in the FSM are shop designations, work order types and cost centers.

One of our major contributions to this stage of the CMMS is a specially developed work order system, which categorizes jobs according to importance and response time. Work orders are issued on the basis of some dozen categories from emergency and do-it-now to repair, corrective and preventive maintenance. By labeling and tracking work orders, owners can assess whether maintenance dollars are being wisely deployed.

Determining minimum maintenance is another key component of an FSM. Virtually every piece of equipment must be examined and a judgment made as to the minimum maintenance level. Administering maintenance below the minimum level falls in the category of "don't even think about it," and will only eat away at the life cycle of the building.

The Process of Benchmarking
Equipment data should be collected using the FSM as a guide, with standardized data collection sheets for ease of entering the data into a central data base in which operations and maintenance efforts will be recorded. Once baseline data is collected, benchmarking can begin, with a series of monthly reports tied to the facility's mission. Here again, benchmark parameters may differ greatly between facilities. A commercial office operation may be interested in minimizing nuisance calls while a hospital might be working toward eliminating emergencies and optimizing manpower effectiveness. But providing the baseline data is there, virtually any equipment or employee performance parameter can be measured.

The results are compared to industry standards and then benchmarked against the facility itself for the truest measure of success. In areas that fall below performance standards, innovative measures to rectify the situation may be required.

For instance, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), which was looking to protect its investment in a Penn Station improvement project, the objective was to produce preventive maintenance orders tailored to maximize the life expectancy of the equipment while minimizing system downtime. As a result of benchmarking efforts, the team was able to zero in on a way to cut out-of-service time for station escalators. Through non-traditional maintenance frequencies that require escalators to be stripped down every six weeks, the process enabled the LIRR to optimize service for equipment that receives extremely heavy public use.

In another example, New York's Central Park Zoo was looking to maximize its tight operating resources. Every repetitive task, from marble cleaning to painting, along with their specified frequencies, were programmed into the computerized maintenance system. Work orders were written in such detail that even new hires had sufficient information to perform the required task, reducing management time and effort.

The result has been minimal breakdown of equipment, pride from workers who were involved in CMMS implementation, a facility manager who knows exactly what his employees should be working on, and happy penguins who are assured that the temperature of the water will always be just right.

Completing and Updating the Database
When it comes to computerized information, more is more. Again, during the design phase it's important to develop a Critical Spare Parts List for all equipment: the facilities team must solicit manufacturers' recommendations on critical spare parts, as well as name and location of vendors and lead time involved. Maintenance supervisors should be interviewed to determine their wish list for spare parts to have on hand.

Warranty information for both parts and labor is also key and should be printed on all work orders. And substantial effort must go into assuring that the database is always up to date, with demolished equipment removed from the system and replacement equipment added.

Buy-ins...and the Small Stuff
Is that all there is to it? Definitely not. The FSM and/or CMMS is destined for immediate failure unless there is a buy-in at all levels of the operation. Here's where process comes in. We spend considerable time interviewing everyone from upper management to clerks, and the specs that result are a combination of everyone's input.

To give legs to the FSM and the CMMS, certain conditions apply. The work control center must be the linchpin of organized maintenance. Most importantly, there must be one phone number for all work requests. This allows all facilities data to be centralized, and the database to be continuously updated as work orders, inventory, purchase orders, etc. come in.

And to be effective, you have to sweat the small stuff. For example, paging systems should be abandoned in favor of more efficient two-way radio communication where the parties can immediately connect and resolve situations with maximum convenience. And though it seems trivial, a work control center must have a visible, easy-to-use bin system-prominent placement of mailbox bins for staff to receive orders and return completed paperwork. Failure to implement this seemingly small detail can often come close to derailing the entire maintenance program.

An effective FSM and CMMS may use the computer to optimize the process. But in the end, 90 percent of the effort comes down to conversation, consulting, coordination and factoring in the needs, objectives and mission of the institution...and the people who run it.