Protective Investments

Dedicated software streamlines the task of performing preventative maintenance on sophisticated welding equipment


file of safety helmet and drawing on wood table with group robot welding automotive industrial backgroundPreventive maintenance is a necessity – not a luxury – for keeping sensitive robotic welding equipment operational and profitable. And preventive maintenance (PM) is the very heartbeat of a modern computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

That fact, alone, makes a CMMS a worthwhile investment for companies using robotic technology. While senior managers in the executive suite as well as owners of mom-and-pop enterprises may accept this fact, they also need to look at the big picture to see the full scope of benefits a CMMS offers and to understand what kind of return on investment to expect from purchasing one of these systems.

Data-driven decision-making

A CMMS is well known for enhancing business operations by producing PM alerts and automating work orders (WOs) to reduce downtime and increase productivity – especially with today’s easy-to-use, cloud-based systems that can be accessed anywhere, even from a mobile device.

Beyond those basic functions, however, executives and business owners too often overlook the rich store of data in a CMMS that can be easily mined for making decisions about asset purchases, capital budgets, new hires, outsourced repairs and spare parts inventory – and to ease regulatory compliance efforts, as well.

An old-fashioned air conditioner illustrates how a CMMS helps take the guesswork out of setting priorities for one of the more costly items in a company’s budget: asset replacement. Suppose it’s time to consider retiring a 10-year-old AC unit in one area of a facility. But the WO history in the CMMS shows fewer repairs were made to that unit in the last five years than to a newer unit in another location in the facility. Keeping the older unit allows the money that would have been spent on its replacement to be used for other, more productive purposes.

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Trend analyses, like this one generated from a CMMS, can show a forecast of future maintenance events, the likelihood of such an event as well as historical details.

And if this logic works for making decisions about relatively simple devices such as AC units, imagine how it applies to analyzing more sophisticated – and expensive – assets like robotic welding cells. For instance, manufacturers’ service manuals provide initial templates for preventive care of robotic equipment. But guesswork can come into play if technicians are not familiar with all the subtle steps involved in ongoing maintenance.

By contrast, the CMMS solution can clearly document every repair in the WO history along with showing the ratio between PMs and corrective maintenance work. Managers can pull up reports with key performance indicators, including age, frequency of failures and rising/falling repair cost factors on a robotic asset. They can also analyze the performance of similar pieces of equipment, such as comparing a robotic device with a nozzle cleaning station to a device without one. All of this hard data from the CMMS can be used for a host of business decisions.

Preventive maintenance, the “heartbeat” of a CMMS, is a necessity for keeping sensitive robotic welding equipment operational and profitable.

Outsourcing maintenance

Some companies may choose to outsource maintenance of robotic equipment rather than manage intricate work on MIG guns, contact nozzles, guard doors and reamers in-house. The CMMS proves value in this case because it not only produces PMs for other traditional assets (like HVAC systems), but also provides data on the performance of outside vendors.

CMMS reports on the activities of these external contractors will show the frequency, quality and cost of actual work completed in a specific timeframe, such as a 12-month period. Those reports can be used for making informed decisions about whether to negotiate, replace or renew the maintenance contracts with various vendors – or to stop outsourcing maintenance altogether.

Savvy staffing and safety measures

By some estimates, 75 percent of the cost in a semi-automatic welding operation is labor – which means staffing practices must be as efficient as possible. Pursuing the PM strategies innate in a CMMS not only lowers equipment downtime, but employee overtime, as well.

In addition, analyzing staff labor resources through the lens of the PM calendar ensures that team members are neither over nor underutilized. For example, a CMMS equipped with job planning capabilities enables managers to move less urgent WOs to different times of the day or week so team members can be assigned according to their workloads, reducing the burden on key staffers. This is also where the importance of CMMS design comes into play – drag-and-drop functionality makes tasks such as job planning far easier for users, regardless of technological aptitudes.

The level of employee skills and training plays a critical role in operating robotic welding cells. PM notices can be set up to schedule and inform employees about participating in training sessions or the need to update skills, and a CMMS can maintain data on staff training and certifications. By helping managers stay abreast of employee capabilities, the CMMS contributes to the bottom line.

Besides maintaining a cache of information on employee skills and performance, a CMMS provides the basic tools to implement a safety program and to schedule and perform most safety-related tasks, including job safety analyses, fire alarms, drills and evacuations.

A CMMS also connects material safety data sheets and lockout/tagout information to WOs and equipment. The safety program should also link all safety tasks to PMs, WOs, assets and equipment – and the CMMS should have safety checklists specifically for fire inspection purposes. Using the CMMS to promote safety helps prevent accidents that exact a toll on the business and the lives of valued employees.

In addition to these capabilities, a CMMS helps companies save money by simplifying the tedious work of maintaining a parts inventory and complying with government regulations and audits. When all aspects of a robust CMMS are taken into account, it becomes clear that these systems are worth the investment.

Smartware Group Inc.

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