Maintenance Q&As

How to improve efficiency by shifting from a paper system to a CMMS

Answered June 25 2020

Technology continues to move at a breakneck pace throughout our modern society. One area that is still currently being transformed is the maintenance department. Although some organizations have made amazing strides in implementing technological tools within their companies, many others are still struggling with pen and paper systems.

Making the significant shift to a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can be daunting for a company that’s always handled maintenance requests in the same comfortable and familiar way. However, the potential efficiencies and cost savings are worth making the transformation.

Components of a Manual Pen and Paper System

Manual maintenance systems are usually a disorganized combination of word-of-mouth, phone calls, emails, and sticky notes. When employees in an organization discover maintenance issues, they may simply try to “catch” someone in the hall to let them know, send them an email or text, leave a voicemail, or even place a sticky note on their computer screen. Frequent phone calls to put in a work request lead to numerous interruptions for maintenance planners and supervisors, taking away hours of productivity. 

Frequent interruptions weaken productivity

The maintenance manager or supervisor may then collect these disparate requests and enter them into the spreadsheet, planning for the maintenance technicians’ workload for the next day. Perhaps the department starts the day by handing out lists of tasks to the technicians. Once assignments have been made, technicians head out with their toolboxes in hand and begin working their way through the list.

Trips back and forth from the field to the office take time away from tasks

During the day, however, a technician may realize that certain jobs are missing parts, require consultation with a manufacturer’s manual that is located back at the office, or reveal problems the individual is unable to solve. Perhaps, technicians simply jot these issues down on a clipboard and turn that information back into the office at the end of the workday.

The maintenance supervisor may need to take the results of the day, incorporate other requests that have come in, and schedule and plan the following day.

Hours spent manually assigning work orders skyrocket costs for organizations

By moving all of these tasks into an integrated, mobile system, a company can gain a great deal of efficiency within its maintenance department. Additionally, it’s important to consider the cost of labor per hour for each company. Consider, if a technician is paid hourly, and one hour a day is spent manually writing down and finding work orders, those numbers add up quickly.

For example, we found that the total economic impact of CMMS can save organizations upwards of over $400K in just one year. Before using a CMMS, this company spent hundreds of hours annually completing monthly reports on the status of assets across seven facilities. With UpKeep’s CMMS, the time spent on collecting asset information for monthly reports took 90 minutes. The time savings led to labor cost savings through increased productivity.

Advantages of a CMMS

Implementing any type of central computerized system promises to deliver efficiencies, but for a maintenance department, a CMMS has the potential to improve the department’s work processes tremendously. A CMMS is designed to streamline work orders, manage inventory, collect maintenance data on assets and labor, and generate analytics and reports that can lead to long-term, smarter business decisions. Here are the areas where a CMMS can make the biggest difference to an organization today:

Create a Historic Record of Maintenance Work

One significant advantage of automating maintenance activities is to be able to build a historic record of the maintenance work performed on each piece of equipment. This not only allows the maintenance technician currently working on repair to understand past work that has been completed, but it also allows the management to identify which assets are generating the highest maintenance costs. By having this information, companies can make smarter business decisions when it comes to repair or replacement.

Historic maintenance data also allows a company to have a more transparent view into a particular piece of equipment. It may help the maintenance team identify root causes of problems or recurring issues. Instead of misdiagnosing an asset as broken and spending exorbitant amounts on replacement fees, maintenance managers can more accurately diagnose the root cause of equipment failures.

The answer could be in the parts, which are much cheaper to repair than the costs of replacing a perfectly functioning piece of equipment. For example, FMLY, a facilities management company, was able to save hundreds of dollars in savings by using a CMMS to notice micro-leaks in pipes.

In addition, a company can manipulate the data to see the performance of individual technicians, which can provide the basis for personnel correction, employee rewards, or promotion.

Schedule Preventive Maintenance

If certain pieces of equipment require preventive maintenance such as filter changes, lubrication, tightening, or cleaning, these activities can be automatically scheduled into a CMMS. Uploading the suggested maintenance schedule from the manufacturer’s manual can result in automated work orders being generated on a regular schedule.

If preventive maintenance is based on usage instead of time, a CMMS can track machine hours or data points such as mileage in order to trigger work orders at a particular time as well, eliminating the need for an individual to schedule those recurring maintenance needs. For example, a berry farm in Washington uses a CMMS to automatically trigger work orders when a forklift has been used for over 5000 hours. Technicians grease the forklifts after reaching that amount of time of use, so that they can continue to operate to their full capacity. 

Open the Door to Predictive Maintenance

Companies that have shifted away from mostly reactive maintenance into preventive maintenance have the opportunity to begin exploring predictive maintenance technology. Instead of basing maintenance tasks on a time or usage-based schedule, predictive maintenance finds ways for an organization to anticipate potential asset failures before they occur, so that maintenance can be performed.

For example, a refrigeration unit that must stay within certain temperature parameters can be checked daily for potential performance problems. However, if an issue occurs after that daily check, it may still result in product quality issues.

Predictive maintenance, instead, uses a temperature sensor on the refrigeration unit, which can send an automatic alert anytime the temperature falls out of range. A technician can then be sent out when the problem presents itself, instead of too frequently when there is no problem or not at the time when the repair would be most beneficial.

Integrate Inventory Information

Repairing major assets may sometimes require specialized tools or replacement parts. In a manual pen and paper system, it can be difficult to access the availability or location of those maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO) items quickly.

Columbia Fruit, a harvester and packager of fresh frozen fruit, for example, was facing a problem of technicians simply ordering parts as they were required. They often discovered an excess of parts that had already been purchased but were difficult to locate when needed. Over time, this inability to find spare parts for particular repairs became extremely costly for the organization.

Once Columbia Fruit implemented UpKeep’s mobile-first solution, the company was able to resolve this problem. Now, technicians can see what parts are available and where they are located when they are working on a particular asset. They no longer order excess materials or incur as many overnight shipping charges for urgent repairs.

Access Checklists and Manuals Quickly and Easily

Another advantage of a CMMS solution is the ability to upload a manufacturer’s specification sheets, checklists, and instruction manuals, so they can be easily accessed in a work order. Essentially, when a technician arrives at a service location, the individual should be able to scan the identification code of a particular piece of equipment and pull up everything that is needed to make the repair.

Besides checklists and manuals, this may include details from the reporting individual, pictures, and links to the asset’s history. In addition, the technician should have a single place to record the work that was performed, as well as any other issues that were discovered.

A Simple Way to Attach Asset Photos

One simple yet extremely helpful component of a digital system is the ability to take photos and attach images to individual work orders. In some cases, companies may gather work order requests from a wide variety of employees who may not know the particular name or model number of the faulty equipment. Being able to snap a picture on a smartphone and attach the image to a work order gives the maintenance department much more accurate information in terms of the problem that needs attention.

In addition, maintenance technicians working on a particular piece of equipment can also take pictures to illustrate the work that was completed or to clarify a question about another potential problem discovered during the work.

Total Economic Impact of Using a CMMS

In order to paint a clearer picture of the potential return on investment that a CMMS solution could make on an organization’s efficient levels, UpKeep commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study. The study was designed to provide a better understanding of the benefits, costs, and risks related to switching from a manual system to a CMMS. Forrester conducted extensive interviews with several employees at a company that has used UpKeep’s solution for years.

Quantifiable Benefits

Forrester found that the UpKeep customer gained the following risk-adjusted present value (PV) quantified benefits during a period of three years.

Reducing labor time

Technicians reduced the amount of time spent on filing work orders and locating asset data by 90%. Moving away from a manual system meant that technicians didn’t have to walk across the plant to record and retrieve information from their workstations. Everything was accessible on a mobile device. For this company, the savings amounted to $511,141.

Avoiding downtime

The organization increased preventative work orders by 50%, which reduced production downtime. As the organization added assets to UpKeep, it improved the monitoring of asset performance and could better plan for preventative maintenance. The savings from avoided production downtime amounted to $683,391 for this business.

Decreasing reactive maintenance

The company saved more than 3,000 hours of unplanned reactive maintenance work. Preventative maintenance work led to fewer asset failures. The savings were $157,477 for this organization.

Accelerating report generation

Companies need data to make good decisions. With UpKeep, the time spent on collecting asset information for monthly reports took 90 minutes. Before UpKeep, monthly reports totaled hundreds of hours annually because the company operates seven facilities

Increased equipment life cycles

In addition, the studied company also found that many of its assets had less wear and tear, resulting in greater life cycles for critical equipment. Warranty information was easily stored and accessed, resulting in better management of claims against warrantied equipment.

The company also has an accurate “paper trail,” which will help the management team understand the status of their plants and plan for future investments and needs.

All of these benefits came with the following risk-adjusted PV costs:

  • Training costs. One dozen facility managers invested two workdays learning how to use UpKeep.
  • Subscription costs. The organization pays a monthly fee per user for access to UpKeep’s solution.

The results of the TEI found that, over three years, the company reaped benefits of nearly $1.4 million and spent $331,189 to do so.

What to Look for in a CMMS

If you are convinced that a CMMS is right for your organization, it’s time to embark on finding the right system for your company. Here are some tips on questions you should ask during the research phase of the process.

Does the solution fit the needs of my business?

A wide range of CMMS solutions are available today. Some are designed for small, start-up organizations, while others are really for multimillion-dollar corporations. It’s important to understand what features your company requires, so that you can pick the solution that meets all your needs at an affordable price.

What resources are required to implement the CMMS?

Anytime you select a technology solution, you want to make sure that your return on investment will be significant enough to justify the initial and ongoing costs. Be sure to consider what resources in terms of hardware, software, and labor would be required before choosing your solution.

Will the solution grow with my business?

Since it will take some investment of time and training to get your maintenance team up to speed on any new solution, you want to make sure that you’ll be able to stick with whatever CMMS solution you pick for the long run. Be sure to evaluate your vendors for their ability to grow with your organization into the future.

How to Implement a CMMS

Once you’ve selected your CMMS partner, it’s time to begin the implementation process. Here are some key steps to make implementation go as smoothly as possible.

Assign a champion and, if needed, an implementation team.

Unless the CMMS implementation is part of an individual’s job responsibilities, it will be very difficult to see it through to successful completion. If your organization is large enough to warrant an implementation team, be sure to include members from all affected departments and divisions.

Establish a long-term plan with short-term steps.

The champion of the implementation team should start by prioritizing the key areas that need to be addressed. If these are not readily apparent, the company want may want to step back and conduct some research in order to discover the highest priority areas. Establish manageable phases within the long-term plan so that your team can achieve some levels of success quickly.

Share successes with your team.

There’s nothing quite like removing a pain point, reducing downtime, or decreasing employee stress to put some fuel behind a new technology solution. If people within the organization are starting to experience greater efficiencies quickly, your team will have much more support to implement future phases of the plan.

Establish KPIs and track progress.

It’s critical to measure those indicators that are most important to your business. These may include things such as equipment downtime, controlling inventory costs, or the number of work orders completed on schedule. Be sure to establish these key performance indicators early in the process and report progress against them regularly.

Commit to ongoing continuous improvement.

As the maintenance department discovers the benefits and results that a good CMMS system can deliver, there will be opportunities for continuous improvement throughout the facility. As markets and technologies change, it’s important to continue to improve the processes and procedures fueled by your CMMS.

Asset Management Questions & Answers