Imagine trying to manage a fleet of custom-built machines spread all over the country with nobody directly accountable for the maintenance. It's probably not as difficult as herding cats, but the adage might have applied to Hayward Baker in 2000.
That's when Don Lambert moved from the field into the central office as corporate equipment director for Hayward Baker's $50 million fleet, comprised of more than 3,000 specialty machines used in the company's foundation-construction business.
Each of the company's 13 branches was responsible for maintenance in its area, but the fleet was centralized, so there was no local accountability and, hence, irregular maintenance. Today, although the fleet is still controlled from the central office, fleet management has completely changed. Real costs are now available, making branches more accountable, with the financial incentives to back it up; complete equipment records are available and accessible from across the company, improving maintenance performance; and a centralized equipment database enables Hayward Baker to monitor costs and maximize utilization.
Lambert (with the help of Bryan Hassler, a Hayward Baker software engineer) turned around the fleet's management system through a customized database-driven intranet application called EquipNet.
"We looked at canned maintenance software," Lambert says, "but we had such a diverse fleet, none of them filled the bill. A lot of [our fleet] is either custom-made or internally made, so it's not standard-issue, off-the-shelf in most cases."
Hassler started with an Access database that Lambert had already built for himself, and based EquipNet on what Lambert wanted out of the system. The goals were to track all machine data and to eliminate duplication of effort, Hassler says. "[We wanted] to have one place, one portal, where people could go."
Lambert says despite Hassler's lack of an equipment background, he asked the right questions — and a lot of them. Hassler says the key to the development was Lambert's detailed design for how he wanted the system to work.
Each machine is assigned a three-digit class code, and a permission system controls levels of access to the deep data. Data that are tracked include hours, repairs, maintenance, modifications, utilization by machine, and machine location.
It took Hayward Baker about a year to fully implement the vision. Once Hassler built the database, temporary data-entry labor came and "pumped the data in," he says.
Mechanics or job superintendents can see what repairs are scheduled or request them. Work orders can be generated, and a machine's service history can be reviewed. EquipNet also offers a project manager a resource for equipment that he may never have used on a project, Lambert says.
"He can access specifications and see images of the rig working," he says. "He can also see schematics and transport data [attached to the machine's electronic history file]." The operating manual is included with some machines, too. "So much of our equipment is different that a new crew may never have seen it before," Lambert says. "There was a lot of lost time due to the learning curve."
Accessibility improved communication. Every Friday morning, two e-mails go out to each of the 13 branches. One lists each piece of equipment that is due for preventive maintenance; the other lists those needing repair. Each item is linked to EquipNet to enable clicking through to the data sheets.
Lambert has three equipment superintendents that "live EquipNet," he says, and travel across the country helping to solve equipment problems in the 13 branches. Their jobs have become simpler as Hayward Baker has implemented an internal equipment-rate policy tied directly to each branch's financials. Each machine has a rental rate built around its costs, which EquipNet now accurately tracks.
"The major metric is the cost-recovery rate," Lambert says. "If you don't recover your costs, it comes right off the bottom line. We measure expenses versus rental generated. Rental is applied to shop cost."
Lambert also introduced a system of credits against that cost in order to encourage internal rental. When a machine goes to another branch, 80 percent of the rental rate is credited against the owning branch's shop cost; 20 percent is credited back to the renting branch.
"Credits reduce cost," Lambert says. "That's a value to the [renting branch] because he won't be as likely to rent externally. It's costing [the owning branch] regardless if it is just sitting idle, so it's better to get some rental on it. Now we get a more efficient sharing between the regions.
The credit also serves as incentive for the renting branch to maintain the machine, Lambert says. "The rental branch is responsible for scheduled maintenance," he says. "It must come back to the owning branch maintained and in decent shape. The 20-percent credit helps keep them accountable for that." Normal wear and tear is covered in the owning branch's costs.
EquipNet's accurate data collection has also led to better utilization and bid estimates, Lambert says.
"We look at utilization by shop, and we track our equipment cost as a percentage of our operating cost. [EquipNet] gives us a much better ability to report our utilization." He's now able to identify underutilized pieces and either dispose of them or put them into a different region. Bid sheets pull rental rates directly from EquipNet.
Although Lambert says Hayward Baker has no "hard data" on operational improvements as a result of EquipNet, he says the system works. There's been a decrease in failure from lack of lubrication, increased engine life, and quicker repair before failure.
Preventive maintenance has been fine-tuned, too, which has benefited Hayward Baker's diverse fleet. As EquipNet compiles historical data, the company can change PM intervals.
"With one click of a button, we can change to a whole different schedule," says Hassler, "and that will save a lot of time."