Computers Improve PM

By Larry Stewart, Executive Editor | September 28, 2010

Trumbull's equipment manager, Bob Decker, and equipment engineer, David Alsing.
Trumbull's equipment manager, Bob Decker, and equipment engineer, David Alsing, issued laptops to mechanics running maintenance on jobsites so they could enter hour-meter readings directly through web-based fleet-management software.
Ronnie Falgout
Ronnie Falgout started managing preventive maintenance using Barber Brothers' construction management software, and consistent service cut the firm's need for engine rebuilds by half.
Chuck Clementi reviews mixer-truck data with mechanic Wayne Plymell.
Chuck Clementi reviews mixer-truck data with mechanic Wayne Plymell. Recording minor repairs revealed startling volumes of electrical repairs. Buying better parts cut maintenance costs 20 percent.

Detail Pays Off

Hour-meter and odometer readings, fuel consumption, and service labor are the foundation of smart fleet decisions. Lafarge Corp. Southern Division found that feeding maintenance data into TMT's Transman software helped measure the volume of small repairs that are often hidden under the "maintenance" heading. TMT's fleet-specific software drew attention to a serious problem.

"That system keeps track of every nickel you spend on a machine," says Chuck Clementi, maintenance manager. "On mixer trucks (he manages 53 of them), we were surprised by what we were spending on electrical systems.

"Now we're buying replacement components that are better for keeping the wiring harness water tight, using cords that are more acid resistant, and reducing the number of connections. Maintenance costs on those trucks have dropped at least 20 percent."

For information on how to reach vendors of dedicated fleet-management software systems like Transman, go to www.ConstructionEquipment.

Data-Acquiring Solutions



• Lube-truck system tracks fuels and lubes dispensed to each machine

OEM Controls


• Download hour meter or odometer to Palm

Wireless Systems



• Product Link



• Komtrax



• iSite



• TracSat

If you're committed to improving preventive maintenance, computer technology will pay for itself while achieving that goal no matter if you have five machines or 5,000. Computers can improve two crucial elements of maintenance: consistency (servicing every machine at intervals that extend component life) and quality (completing thorough maintenance with the right materials).

Time and again, even the most expensive dedicated fleet-management systems pay for themselves within months. Returns mount quickly in reduced data-entry time, more efficient parts inventory, warranty recovery, and more reliable machines. To get maximum return, the software must do more than just automate your current record keeping. Technology fully embraced will improve how you manage machines.

"Plan on investing more money than you thought in the implementation of a new software system," says Mark Ashdown, vice president at TMT Software. "In many cases, the cost of our services and implementation plans exceeds the price of the actual software product.

"We sell those services because they can produce the entire value of our systems within the first 12 months. For example, we usually save 10 percent in parts inventory. If you have $100,000 in inventory, you get $10,000 back ... right now."

Not rocket science

Computer scheduling and record keeping can improve preventive maintenance with very little investment. Cost varies depending on what you're doing now and how much you expect to accomplish. If you're tracking equipment usage and scheduling maintenance using pencil and paper or a chalkboard, the equipment-management module of your project-management software will probably improve the process at very low cost.

Construction-management software often comes with a module, or sub-program, for managing equipment costs and integrating them with estimating and project accounting. These add-on maintenance modules typically don't have refined work-order capabilities that help manage a shop or generate detailed reports like the ones that stand-alone fleet management systems use to simplify replacement decisions. But the modules can record how much each machine works and automatically signal when a unit is due for PM.

Barber Brothers Contracting, from Baton Rouge, had tracked equipment histories in file folders before construction manager Ronnie Falgout started using the equipment management module of their Bidtek system (now known as Viewpoint Construction Software).

"Our serviceman would pull folders and try to get maintenance done, but we were overlooking machines," says Falgout. "We've got 20 tri-axle dump trucks, and when I went to the file folders they could tell me when the last time the oil had been changed on only about five trucks. We were finding filters on machines that had year-old dates scratched on them."

About two years ago, Falgout started using EM, Bidtek's equipment module. Accounting people were already entering equipment hours based on operators' time sheets, and all of the company's machines were numbered in the system.

The EM scheduler reformed Barber's PM program. The software regularly prints a list of machines that are due for maintenance. Serviceman Ronnie Bottoms gets a weekly report of PM due.

"Within the last year or so we've taken scheduled maintenance pretty well in hand," Falgout says. "Things are getting done when they need to be done." As a result, demands on the shop for engine rebuilds have decreased noticeably.

"Ronnie's picking up parts in town every day now," Falgout says. "But with a little more of an inventory, he'll save enough time to get several more machines serviced every week."

Consistent scheduling can build bridges between the shop and the field.

"Before we started the push on preventive maintenance, it was just production, production, production. Seemed like the only time we could get a machine down for maintenance was on a Sunday afternoon," says Richard Byrd, equipment manager with S.W. Rodgers in Gainesville, Va. "But after we sat down to coordinate the maintenance program with our general superintendent, Don Rodgers, he communicated to the field people that when machines come due for service, we need to get it done. And so we have.

"It all starts with communication. Don has a maintenance schedule he can rely on, and the equipment department gets support from both the field and the main office."

Byrd used the maintenance module built into S.W. Rodgers' construction-management suite from CGC Systems to make the PM schedule reliable. It works much the same as Barber Brothers' Bidtek module. By organizing maintenance parts for the company's three servicemen, Byrd's equipment department is now able to service the fleet with three trucks instead of four.

Computers manage confidence

Computers not only encourage trust between people, but also build confidence in your data.

"What has happened to almost all companies is that they've stopped believing the data they're getting from the field is reliable," says Ashdown, "so they put their preventive maintenance on a 90- or 100-day calendar service interval."

The problem is that each hour-meter or odometer reading is an essential building block of a PM schedule. And managers learn that those blocks are crucial to calculating equipment costs. When they begin to insist on gathering that information accurately, some find that technology delivers best.

Hubbard Construction, Orlando, Fla., has used a bar-code system to track field service since 1997. The company equipped 12 service people with small bar code readers like the ones express-courier drivers carry. The service person scans the bar code on the machine to record the unit number before he does anything. Using the reader's keypad, the hour-meter reading and quantity of fuel and top-off fluids dispensed can be entered directly to the machine's history.

Hubbard requires service people to reconcile the amounts of fuel they pump into machines with the amounts needed at the end of each day to refill their service trucks. The bar code reader eliminates mistakes and does the math for them. Each service person can service one more machine every day. Hubbard says the system paid for itself in 18 months.

Of course, bar coding is not the only technology for collecting field data. Trumbull Corp. put data entry in the hands of master mechanics running equipment maintenance on their sites by equipping them with laptop computers. For most of the last year, the Pittsburgh-based heavy constructor has been implementing Web-based fleet software called Gearwatch from Profitool.

Trumbull's Gearwatch data resides on a secure Internet site. The company's 15 master mechanics in the field use laptop computers to log onto the private Gearwatch website. There they can review vehicle histories, and at least weekly they log on to enter hour-meter readings for each machine on their jobsites.

Equipment engineer Dave Alsing reviews their data entry and sends Gearwatch work orders to the master mechanics as PM comes due. The master mechanics then assign maintenance work orders to service people on their sites.

Knowing exactly how much each individual machine costs to operate—a summary of each maintenance input and how much the machine works—is the essence of equipment management. And it is the key to security for companies that rely heavily on equipment to make money. If you don't know, aggressive subcontractors, dealers, rental companies, and service vendors can lure decision makers into bad deals with attractive sticker prices. Knowledge necessary for wise decisions comes from technology.

Web Resources

TMT Software

Viewpoint Construction Software (previously known as Bidtek)

CGC Software