Managing Maintenance

Maintenance software pumps up productivity, lowers costs and eases audits

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The productivity gains offered by high-tech laser technology can get a boost from another high-tech system: A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

A CMMS – not to be confused with CMMs (coordinate measuring machines) for laser cutting – automates the work of managing all aspects of maintenance operations on the shop floor and throughout a production facility. That means a CMMS can be used to enhance maintenance for everything from tubing for individual laser devices to HVAC systems for a whole building.

A comprehensive CMMS package simplifies any number of maintenance responsibilities, including scheduling preventive maintenance (PM) tasks and procedures with automatic reminders; creating, managing and analyzing work orders; monitoring asset costs and performance; tracking parts inventory; and monitoring meter-reading data in real-time.

Built-in reporting capabilities in a CMMS also ease the burden of documenting equipment maintenance history – whether to satisfy internal demands for budgeting purposes or to meet regulatory requirements and prepare for government safety audits.

Many modern CMMS solutions today are cloud-based, which allows access to the software through a web browser regardless of the device used, such as a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. CMMS providers typically also offer compliant data hosting services and guarantee a certain level of uptime, reducing the burden on IT departments for the protection and maintenance of the software application.

Regardless of whether maintenance operations have depended on spreadsheets, service contracts – or even hand-written notes – a scalable CMMS can be adapted to the unique demands of any enterprise. To reduce downtime and realize productivity gains from a CMMS, the system must offer several basic features and capabilities. 

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The main menu of a CMMS can be a powerful resource for users and managers alike, as it tallies active versus overdue work orders, maintenance requests to approve, tailored charts and key performance indicators (KPIs), and enterprise and site-specific messaging.

Preventive maintenance

Marketplace pressures that demand around-the-clock operation of laser equipment can make it difficult to halt production cycles. But prudent PM management is much less costly than the expensive repairs and loss of uptime that occurs when machinery begins slowing down – or worse, stops working altogether.

A CMMS can generate a PM calendar to keep tabs on machine components before they break down. For instance, the calendar can be set up to alert technicians to check the compressed air lines for a laser cutting machine on a monthly basis. It can be set up to be viewed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually or in any other customized time frame. The calendar can also be viewed for each individual piece of equipment according to specifications.

The PM calendar also enhances the care of laser equipment, even if a company relies on service calls from manufacturers to handle maintenance tasks. The calendar not only notes planned service appointments, but the CMMS documents exactly which repairs or adjustments were made to specific machines, creating a searchable history that is highly useful when making decisions about showing proof of incomplete repairs, negotiating annual contracts, or managing or replacing capital assets.

In addition, the PM calendar can remind managers and technicians when it’s time to refresh skills and professional certifications, which helps improve machine performance, promotes worker safety and facilitates compliance with government regulations. It can also be set up to present detailed instructions from operator manuals or updates from manufacturers with just a few keystrokes.

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A CMMS with Smartware’s integrated Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) solution allows the creation, maintenance and monitoring of safety programs tied to assets and equipment, for example, to assist with internal and regulatory safety initiatives.

Work orders

Because every company organizes its workflow differently, it is important that a CMMS offer flexibility in handling work orders. A best-of-breed CMMS enables users to manage, view or research work orders through a variety of filtering options, such as by asset/equipment, work order type, location of machinery, problem codes or repair personnel assigned to the job. Work orders can also link to spare parts to seamlessly adjust inventory and trigger purchase orders.

Maintenance requests can also be processed through an optional approval process before being converted into a work order, or the CMMS can automatically generate work orders for preventive tasks. At the same time, when a work order is needed for corrective maintenance, authorized users can manually create it in the CMMS.

Most importantly, a CMMS offers a cohesive, organized system for managing work orders – a contrast to the often hit-or-miss process of generating work orders on the fly when machinery malfunctions.

Parts inventory

When it comes to lowering costs, one obvious arena where a CMMS makes a difference is with its ability to track asset and parts inventories. A CMMS with an advanced inventory system enables users to code and scan any number of parts so they can be pulled according to work orders and PM calendars. Parts can also be reserved for future work orders and a CMMS can automatically refresh the available part quantity. In other words, if 10 parts are pulled from a total supply of 100, the CMMS changes the inventory to show 90 parts on hand. Having an accurate, just-in-time inventory across the enterprise eliminates the need to keep expensive spare parts on hand.

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A CMMS can automatically generate a PM calendar to help technicians keep tabs on machine components before they break down – whether it is daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or any other time frame.

Advanced meter monitoring

As industrial laser technology advances, manufacturers are increasingly adding meters, monitors and sensors to ensure optimal performance and reduce maintenance problems on sensitive equipment. In some shops, technicians read these meters and keep a logbook to record maintenance activity. In others, the information from monitors is manually entered into a computer program where a machine’s actual performance can be compared to the performance values set by the manufacturer; then appropriate adjustments or maintenance tasks are performed to align equipment to meet specifications.

But what if technicians could get instant and automatic access to readings from sensors and monitors? That capability is available when using a CMMS combined with an OPC interface. OPC – which stands for open platform communications – is a conduit for transporting and translating data, enabling all types of hardware, software, applications and technology devices (whether mobile or stationary) to communicate seamlessly across their various platforms and programming languages.

With an OPC interface, data travels directly from the laser equipment to a CMMS for instant action and analysis. Data analysis could include a range of measures, such as hours run, cut counts or temperature levels. The CMMS can flash a real-time alert to the technician if a machine is heating up too quickly or another problem is detected, and a work order may be triggered automatically. The instantaneous data flowing through an OPC interface also increases the capability of a CMMS to identify when a malfunction is a false alarm.

Besides the ability to analyze live data from different systems on the shop floor, using a CMMS with an OPC interface also gives managers access to reports with larger and more precise historical analysis of maintenance data – a distinct advantage in terms of reducing operating costs and making informed decisions about PM schedules or equipment purchases.

Condition-based maintenance

Besides using a CMMS with an OPC interface, another aspect of analyzing real-time data from equipment while it is running is the strategy known as condition-based maintenance (CBM). This approach is based on servicing machinery according to its condition, not necessarily a calendar. The concept is similar to doing an oil change when it’s obvious a car needs it, rather than waiting to change it at the six-month mark (or at whatever interval is recommended in the owner’s manual).

Here is an example of how CBM works in a manufacturing facility: Suppose the vibration detection system monitoring a compressor shows it is out of alignment. The data on that imbalance is forwarded in numerical form to an OPC server where the CMMS retrieves it and turns it into an action alert. The CMMS not only tracks the compressor’s maintenance and repair history, but also sets up a CBM task if the alignment falls below tolerance levels, and issues a work order to make the adjustments. CBM uses the combined vibrational analysis and corresponding maintenance tasks dictated by the CMMS to fine-tune the compressor’s performance.

CBM is not simply a strategy; it also involves the purchase of hardware and investment in monitoring technologies, such as a thermal camera to pick up a heat signature in a motor. If a company decides to invest in equipment-based monitoring hardware, it only makes sense to tie machine operations data to a CMMS so ongoing maintenance can be tracked. Keep in mind, too, that CBM does not replace the need to continue performing regularly scheduled PM checks for routine maintenance based on the machine manufacturer’s recommendations and the information gathered over time by the CMMS.

Multiple data views and reports

The volume of maintenance information contained in the CMMS database can be put to best use when viewed from different angles and channeled into reports. A powerful CMMS provides views of work orders, parts, assets and equipment purchase orders, and overhead data. That information can then be transformed into various types of reports, such as work orders by site, vendor repair costs by asset or labor hours, and other categories.

Summary reports created by the CMMS help facility directors and operations managers analyze maintenance costs to plan capital budgets and review vendor repair contract costs, replacement parts purchases and asset investments. For more advanced analysis, using a corporate reporting tool built into the CMMS, such as SQL Data Views, gives users access to raw maintenance data for complete data mining.

Safety audits

Operators of laser equipment understand the critical importance of safety measures when working with this high-powered technology. In fact, in early 2015, the Laser Institute of America renewed its alliance with OSHA to help protect workers from exposure to beam and non-beam laser hazards.

Being able to document safety precautions, however, can present a challenge to shop floor managers. Using a CMMS that addresses OSHA compliance can meet this need by helping managers implement and monitor safety programs, perform safety tasks and provide proof of completion for safety inspectors, as well as stay on top of employee trainings and certifications. A CMMS with these capabilities not only helps a company pass regulatory inspections and avoid fines, it also serves to ensure worker health and safety.

Tapping into any one of the many features of a CMMS can go a long way to cutting costs and increasing workplace efficiency. But the ultimate goal of investing in a CMMS is to prolong the lifespan of valuable equipment assets at minimal cost – and to improve the bottom line.

Smartware Group – Bigfoot CMMS

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