By Greg Norris, B2W Software
Equipment experts say synergy between people, process and technology can cut costs and increase uptime
Software for equipment maintenance provides powerful opportunities to cut costs and increase uptime, but success is not as simple as downloading applications and handing out tablets. Synergy between people, processes and the technology itself define the companies that achieve the fastest and strongest ROI.
“A growing number of contractors are realizing that traditional maintenance programs based on spreadsheets, paper and personal knowledge in the heads of mechanics and managers are holding them back,” says John Kane, product manager at B2W Software. “They’re shifting to a more proactive and technology-driven maintenance management culture.”
That transition includes evaluating and adjusting maintenance processes to leverage technology. These contractors also define company-specific objectives, get buy-in within the maintenance team and across the company, and track key performance indicators (KPIs) to make data-driven decisions and improve continuously.
Jeff Bremer, vice president of fleet at GeoStabilization International (GSI), and Tom Garrett, vice president of administration at Kubricky Construction, have implemented B2W Maintain and made concurrent process changes to support the technology. Between them, they manage more than 1,600 pieces of equipment.
“We started with identifying what the existing processes looked like, so we could identify and define which ones needed improvement,” explains Bremer. GSI is based in Colorado and provides geohazard mitigation services throughout the U.S. and Canada and in New Zealand, and specializes in emergency landslide repairs, rockfall mitigation and grouting.
Kubricky Construction is a member of the D.A. Collins group andis based in New York. The company provides a variety of civil and bridge construction, pavement, site development and utility services throughout the Northeast U.S.
Kubricky’s Garrett says defining goals is important. Cutting maintenance costs and increasing uptime were obvious ones at the company. Kubricky was also seeking to eliminate what Garrett called siloed interactions between the shop and teams in the field. “We wanted communication and data going back and forth freely between the two sides, so that everyone knows what’s going on,” he adds.
Bremer notes that it is important to establish effective maintenance codes at the outset. These codes bring structure and consistency to how a company records the type of work being performed and the reason it is being performed. “You do a lot at the beginning setting up the system so that down the road you have good, actionable data,” he explains.
Selling the Why
‘Why do I have to do this?’ is a question contractors can expect when they implement new maintenance processes and technology. Bremer and Garrett agree that involving the maintenance team in developing processes and articulating the benefits to the company and to the individuals impacted are vital.
“A leader may know where a company needs to be in terms of maintenance processes, but you can’t just take the team and magically transport it there,” says Bremer. “You have to change in progressive steps and you have to sell the why to get buy-in along the way.”
At Kubricky, demonstrating opportunities for improved efficiency was important. Highlighting how new processes and technology make day-to-day tasks easier was another important strategy. “‘Easier and simpler’ is a lot easier to get a buy-in for than ‘harder and more complicated’,” says Garrett. “That’s where technology comes in; you need process change, but technology can ease the angst of new processes.”
At GSI, Bremer relies on a tool he calls RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) to bring structure and visibility to activities, roles and responsibilities within the maintenance group. Dozens of activities ranging from creating and scheduling work orders to processing inspections and updating warranty information are listed, and the roles or individuals responsible for, accountable for, consulted on or informed about those activities are identified. The document evolves continuously, as the company makes process changes.
Getting Preventive and Data Driven
A more proactive approach that automates preventive maintenance is a goal for most companies that adopt maintenance management software. That is because preventive maintenance can be up to five times less costly than corrective maintenance and it limits unplanned downtime. Contractors can also minimize the follow-on costs of that downtime: disruptions on the job site and the need to rent or own replacement equipment.
Maintenance requirements and intervals for each piece of equipment are entered into the software program at the outset. Meter readings, such as the number of hours a machine has operated, then trigger the software to generate notifications when preventive maintenance is due. The readings can come from inspections or field logs, or they can come into the maintenance software automatically from telematics technology on the equipment.
Bremer says those interval notifications should also include specific instructions. “A lot of companies get to the point where their system can tell them when to service a piece of equipment, but without a definition of what ‘service’ means at that interval,” he explains. The instructions should include the specific activities that the mechanic must complete, such as replacing components or pulling a fluid sample, as well as the parts and equipment needed.
Hitting preventive maintenance targets has a secondary benefit beyond cost savings and uptime. “The morale of the maintenance team goes up when you’re not constantly fighting fires and dealing with emergency issues that you had no idea were going to come up,” Bremer contends. “We saw a noticeable decrease in stress levels.”
Access to data on maintenance activities and costs is another benefit of software and process changes “If you’re not measuring something, you don’t know if you’re doing well or getting better,” say Garrett. Maintenance costs as a percentage of revenue, emergency versus preventive items or hours, planned versus unplanned work, overtime hours and response times for repair requests are common maintenance key performance indicators (KPIs) at Kubrick, GSI and other companies. Contractors also track down days as a percentage of work days, idle time as a percentage of operated time and other data.
Bremer and Garrett have achieved significant improvements in these and other KPIs. They credit a shift in culture that has allowed their teams to optimize maintenance software. They also confirm that the process is an ongoing one.
“You have to practice and get to the point where your culture develops a kind of muscle memory; that this is how we do it now as opposed to backsliding into how we used to do it,” says Garrett. “This takes practice, and it takes monitoring to make sure the changes you are making are taking effect.”