Drive Maintenance with Work Orders

May 26, 2015

Reprinted with the permission of Equipment Manager magazine, the magazine of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals.

Call it what you will, but the work order unquestionably functions like a conveyor belt. It keeps machines moving between the work site’s often harsh environment and both internal or external maintenance shops where they are again prepared for the front lines.

Different equipment professionals describe work orders in different ways.

Leigh Dennis, CEM, manager of fleet services, Carolina Sunrock LLC, says a work order is “tailored to fit the cyclical nature of preventive maintenance.”

Larry LeClair, CEM, fleet manager at A.J. Johns, says a work order is a single place where you can access all present and historical repair information relevant to a specific piece of equipment in the fleet.

If preventive maintenance is considered an alert that something needs to happen, according to Stuart Falknor, product manager for HCSS Equipment 360 software, then the work order is the concrete completion of that idea, a physical documentation and tracking mechanism that is proof you’ve completed it.

Open AEMP’s CEM training manual and you will find this definition: “The work order is the financial and operational control mechanism for all shop activities performed in-house or outsourced.”

“Our industry is evolving at an exponential rate,” Dennis says. “Referring to current industry standards, the term ‘preventive maintenance’ is actually a compilation of traditional PM procedures, inspections and condition monitoring. To this end, work orders provide the real-time machine data and inspection metrics that drive the cyclical preventive maintenance process.”

Dennis explains that work order data, in combination with closely related condition monitoring programs, are most effective in activating, resetting and analyzing PM service intervals. “To prevent machine failure, an equipment management system relies on this combination to adjust PM cycles to match operating conditions and forecast component life,” he says.

By having a record in one place of hours of service, priority status and oil analysis, for instance, you are able to go back, pull the work order up and see what type of services have been done to that particular fleet unit, according to LeClair.

Among the key components of any work order, he says, “is having a priority work number to associate that work order with a piece of equipment. It is important to us to establish the priority of how we want this work order to move through the system, the status of it, the due date, scheduling and any kind of basic information, such as the model number, machine size, whether it is an excavator, backhoe, dozer or roller.”

Other key components include oil analysis information, hours of service, repair logs and a description of the type of work to be done, such as transmission rebuild, brake overhaul or something as simple as changing air and fuel filters, LeClair says. 

Of course, for equipment managers the most important component is the cost ledger, he says.

“You want to be able to record all the costs associated with that unit,” LeClair says. “Did it make or lose money? A machine with a bunch of costs attached to it within a calendar year most certainly will attract the attention of top management.

“Last year we ran into that situation. We had four excavators, all from one manufacturer, and among all four we only put 341 hours on them during the year. However, we spent a total of $118,591.42. Our hourly rate didn’t even cover the cost of repairs,” he says.

Needless to say, those machines were taken out of the fleet and sold.

For HCSS’s Falknor, breaking down the key components of a work order is similar to a journalist’s organization of a story: You have to identify who, what, when, where and why.

“The ‘who,’” Falknor says, “is who completed the work order, who did the work on it, who do I follow up with if there are questions?”

The “what” answers such questions as, “Did we do labor codes that break down into more codes we can track later on? What parts were used, for example? Did we put any detailed notes or pictures against that work order?”

The “when,” Falknor says, doesn’t mean just a date or signed stamp of when the work was done, but information specific to the equipment, such as hour-meter readings or odometer readings. “That tells the ‘when’ story in the equipment’s life,” he says.

“In our business, the ‘where’ is the location of the repair, which affects costs, which gives us the option of doing the work on site versus doing the work in the shop versus a couple of different locations. That affects costs and sometimes the quality of the work,” he says.

Finally, there is the “why,” which could be as simple as the product description, according to Falknor. “The master cylinder was leaking when it came in. Or, the glass is broken. The reason could be obvious, but the ‘why’ defines the problem,” he says.

Fleet professionals have to do some homework before they set up a work order system, says Dennis, such as whether they will be working in the system of record or in a secondary system.

“The answer will determine the overall administrative efficiency of your system,” he explains. “The closer everyone works to the source, the better informed everyone is at decision-making time.”

You have to determine what level of detail you want to work with, he says. Your metrics and goals for improving workflow and efficiency must be well thought out.

Third, says Dennis, everyone from executive management to technicians and system administrators has to buy into the idea.

Another key consideration is ease of use. “I don’t think you can stress ease of use enough,” Falknor says. “If it’s not easy for shop personnel to use, it will get
discarded very quickly.”

A second consideration in a work order system setup, says Falknor, is that the system has to have the right balance between the needs of management that wants to track accounting and costs, and the needs of technicians. Both have to be balanced against each other to maximize the technician’s wrench time.

“Ultimately,” says Falknor, “the whole point of the system is to be more efficient and maximize wrench time. If the short-term goal of gaining reporting costs and accounting analysis is done at the cost of wrench time or if it places a burden on the technicians, then you haven’t made the right decision.”

For example, he says, the ownership or accounting department wants a detailed balance or wants a million different codes for brake repairs versus undercarriage versus breakdowns of drums and cylinders.

“They want these for detailed cost accounting,” he says. “The balance is, do you want your mechanics to take 20 or 30 minutes entering time and keeping track of all those detailed codes just for the benefit of some report?

“We see that as a top-down system versus a bottom-up system,” Falknor says. “A top-down push is never as successful as a groundswell of technician support that says we’ve got to find a better way to be more efficient.”

Many times, he says, the balance can kick one way or the other. It depends on the person clamoring for the system.

To get a work order system in place requires the involvement “of a lot of people from the top down,” Falknor says. “Many times, people think that mechanics aren’t smart enough to do this. We come at it from another angle. We buy into the idea that all of our software is based on the worker’s knowledge concept. They know technology nowadays, so don’t be afraid to put them on a computer or a tablet and hope that they will do a good job for you. They will—as long as the new system is easier to use than the old system, that is. Don’t be afraid of getting everyone involved.”

The last consideration, Falknor says, is solving the problem of collecting meter readings. “Almost every
system is dead without current and continued meter readings coming into the system. That problem has to be resolved.”

One reason that recording accurate readings remains a problem, Falknor says, is the widespread belief that GPS solves the problem. “But I would say that only five percent of our equipment has GPS. That leaves 95 percent of the remaining equipment that may not be getting accurate data. Most information is entered by hand in the field. We have to find better ways than that for the work order system to work.

“The shop isn’t on an island,” he says. “We believe there are seven or eight different ways to get information into our system from other software packages, whether that is GPS or OEM telematics systems. That information is available from electronic entry time on heavy job systems. We’ve got electronic entry that the foreman or operator can make on a daily or weekly basis.”

In fact, says Falknor, the fuel truck driver is typically, next to GPS, the person who touches the equipment most often.

“If we can find a way to get him to capture meter readings electronically, that data can feed our maintenance system very well,” he says. “Those are great ways to get meter readings into the system without 100 percent GPS.”

When you consider the big picture, Falknor says, maintenance software allows fleet managers to be proactive rather than reactive in the shop.

“If there’s a sticker on the windshield that says service is needed every 10,000 miles, the operator will wait until 10,000 miles before contacting the shop,” he says. “With software you’re getting continuous readings from several places, so if you know that 10,000 miles is coming up, you can plan that service at 8,000 miles on your own terms. The software allows you to do a lot more maintenance by planning. You can get the right technician on the job. You can get parts that are needed in advance. You can decide whether to repair the unit or buy another one. You don’t have to wait until the equipment is a smoldering pile of fire on a work site.”

Another benefit of software that most people don’t think about, says Falknor, is that if given the time to work with the owner on data, it balances the cash flow for the shop.

“That eliminates big checks from having to be cut. Owners get frustrated when they don’t know a $100,000 undercarriage replacement is coming,” Falknor says.

From an outside perspective, “it really gives the rest of the organization more confidence in the shop because they know the shop is on top of things,” he says. “Project managers and operations alike will have more confidence in knowing that the right piece of equipment is available to them and that it will work properly.”

At A.J. Johns, LeClair says, maintenance software helps keep a forward maintenance flow of a lot of equipment.

“It’s not that hard if you have 150 software programs built and designed to keep the flow of work orders and equipment moving,” he says. “In our situation most software records our tag registrations, warranty registrations, anything that is actually involved with that piece of equipment. We have access to that information at one desktop instead of having to look at four different places.”

Although balancing the work order system between administrative needs and technician needs can be done, he says, “we haven’t hooked up that part of the program yet.”

“You attach accounting codes to everything you have in the software, and it ties into our business system, which at this point, we are changing,” he says.

“There are total plans to pull all that together,” he says. “We are moving in steps to get to the stage where we can remove human error from the process as much as possible. We are still moving in that direction. There are two other modules for our software that we haven’t purchased yet, but we do have a plan in place to achieve all this in the next two years.”

Describing a work order may differ, but in the end, it remains the driving force behind getting things done.