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Logging, studying, and analyzing wrench time is a sensitive subject in the world of maintenance. Some industry experts reject the idea of performing wrench time studies while others support the idea of performing them. In this article, we’ll explore reasons to track — and not track — wrench time, and show you different ways to track it effectively.
Typical wrench time is 35%, and world-class wrench time is 55% in a manufacturing plant. But simply tracking wrench time will not improve wrench time. The best way to improve wrench time is to improve maintenance planning and scheduling, according to Doc Palmer, a professional maintenance planner. In other words, less reactive maintenance and more preventive or predictive maintenance. Hiring a maintenance planner and using PM scheduling software can help you do this.
If you’re not tracking wrench time to improve wrench time, why should you track it?
There are a few reasons:
A more productive maintenance team has a higher wrench time percentage. Technicians do more hands-on maintenance work rather than wait for parts and work requests to come in. However, you can also track increases in completed work orders to measure improvements in productivity. For instance, Palmer says that by implementing a preventive maintenance program,“ a plant completing 1,000 work orders per month can complete 1,570 work orders per month with the same workforce.”
Seeing how long it takes for technicians to complete work orders is insightful for improving reliability and scheduling. For instance, if you notice that a non-critical piece of machinery requires time-intensive PMs and repairs — more so than a critical asset — you can consider replacing the asset or rolling back PMs. Maybe you schedule PMs less frequently or only perform maintenance when the asset breaks down.
Tracking wrench time and other time dedicated to completing a project on a specific asset can improve the accuracy of bookkeeping. For instance, some capital assets require large repairs that can be depreciated. When technicians track time, this time can be assigned a monetary value and be depreciated along with parts, contracted labor, and other resources needed to make the repair.
One reason you should definitely not track wrench time is to check whether technicians are doing their job. This creates distrust and a stressful work environment. So, if you decide to track wrench time, it’s important to articulate to technicians why the organization tracks wrench time: Not to micromanage, but for one or more of the aforementioned reasons.
With the reasons to measure wrench time in mind, there are a few reasons why you might not want to. Some of the potential downsides include the following.
One of the primary reasons why you’ll want to be careful with measuring wrench time is the fact that it can easily upset your technicians. It’s easy for them to see it as a sign that you don’t trust them or that you feel they aren’t working hard enough.
Additionally, since wrench time studies measure the average amount of time your technicians spend with their tools, it could make underperformers look better while underrepresenting the efforts of higher achievers.
While part of a maintenance technician’s job is to use tools to maintain equipment, they have many other duties as well, including:
These tasks are often left out of wrench time analysis, which means the results of your study may be misconstrued to show (falsely) that your team isn’t busy.
On top of not representing important tasks, wrench time itself may be misleading if it’s used improperly or misinterpreted.
For instance, if a task takes a long time to complete, it will reflect a higher-than-average wrench time percentage. However, if a technician takes longer than they should to complete a task, they are actually less productive, even though a higher wrench time would be reported. In this case, wrench time measures how much work is done regardless of whether it was effective.
These potential drawbacks don’t necessarily mean you should avoid wrench time studies altogether. However, they do show how important it is to use wrench time wisely. It’s meant to help you find obstacles in daily work routines and see how they might be resolved.
There are a few different ways to track wrench time and perform wrench time studies.
According to Ron Moore, the author of many maintenance management books, this is when “an analyst with a clipboard and a chart is broken into 10 to 15-minute intervals observes technicians and determines whether or not they are working on the job. Not working typically has to do with traveling to and from the job site; waiting for parts, permits, access, and tools; waiting for start-up checks; and taking part in other activities.” Work sampling is typically used to determine whether productivity has increased.
This is when a reliability consultant follows the activities of a single technician in a single day. DILO is beneficial for discovering specific details about barriers to productivity because the consultant has the ability to ask the technician questions about their likes and dislikes. DILO is more targeted and qualitative while work sampling is more broad and quantitative.
Many organizations have technicians track wrench time for every work order with a mobile CMMS. With this software, technicians can easily start and stop tracking wrench time within a work order. If you can educate your technicians on why you track wrench time — and get them to accurately track it — you’ll have a wealth of additional data for improving maintenance operations.
Regardless of how you track wrench time, in every case, it’s important to articulate to technicians that wrench time is tracked or studied to remove annoying barriers for them — not to see whether they’re working.
As you measure wrench time, you’ll likely find your technicians’ work routines interrupted by various obstacles. Some common causes of low wrench time include the following.
The time it takes technicians to secure the parts and equipment needed to complete work orders is time that they aren’t spending working. If parts aren’t readily available, it slows down maintenance work processes.
For instance, if a technician has to wait to check out a specific tool from the storeroom, that would reduce wrench time. Your maintenance planner or scheduler should make sure that tool is available as soon as the work order is assigned.
Traveling from one site to another often eats up a lot of time, but some travel time is unavoidable. However, in many cases, it can get excessive.
Often, that time might result from poor scheduling. Technicians end up zigzagging throughout a facility moving from one job to the next, traveling more miles than they strictly need to in order to complete everything. As such, work order assignments should take asset location into account.
In addition, technicians often have to travel back and forth between the worksite and the storeroom in order to secure tools, parts, schematics, and so forth. This is ultimately the result of poor planning, and it wastes time.
Ideally, when technicians arrive at a worksite, it should be shut down and ready for them. There shouldn’t be any waiting time here (or any disputes with production crews), but it is often the case that there is a delay.
Often, this results from poor communication with operations. If they don’t know in advance that they need to have a machine locked down for inspection or repairs, it will typically cost extra time once the maintenance crew arrives.
Many time inefficiencies result from a reactive mindset, whether that’s on the part of your maintenance team or your production process. If maintenance crews are only reserved for repairing equipment when it breaks down, they’ll be highly underutilized, and that will be reflected in a low wrench time percentage.
This is not to say that the sole purpose of shifting to a proactive mindset is to make sure your maintenance team has enough to do. The goal is to have your maintenance team support reliability, which is ultimately a more effective use of their time than waiting for something to go wrong.
Most of these causes of low wrench time ultimately come down to poor maintenance planning. It takes effective planning practices to make sure spare parts and tools are available, equipment is taken offline on time, and travel is kept to a minimum.
Shifting from a reactive mindset to a proactive one requires effective maintenance planning practices to support it.
With a solid understanding of what causes low wrench time, it becomes more apparent how you can improve it in your facility. It largely comes down to improving your maintenance planning.
Effective MRO storeroom management entails having the right spares and tools in stock in sufficient quantities. It also involves making sure those parts and tools are available when needed. Doing so helps prevent delays and thereby improves wrench time.
To avoid a situation where your maintenance team has to wait for an asset to be taken offline, you’ll need to coordinate with operations. Clear communication with operating crews on when equipment needs to be locked out and why can help expedite PMs.
Repeatable procedures help standardize processes, including work orders. Maintenance checklists can play a major role in making sure your technicians:
Where possible, your procedures should be written for the lowest skill level among your personnel. That way, you’ll have more flexibility on work order assignments.
You likely already have a floorplan for your facility. If you don’t have a copy with asset locations marked out, it may be worthwhile to draw one up. Doing so can help your maintenance team account for travel times when scheduling work. By planning routes and assignments based on asset location, you can improve wrench time by minimizing travel time.
It’s important to remember that wrench time is nothing more or less than how many hours your workforce is spending with their tools working on equipment. It doesn’t measure whether that work is effective, and it doesn’t tell you how reliable your facility is.
That said, it can be worth measuring when you need insight into the obstacles your technicians face each day or when you need to account for working hours spent on maintenance tasks. Done well, it acts as one of the measuring sticks you can use to gauge your facility’s productivity.
This article was updated with additional information in July, 2020
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