Integrating your maintenance system

IFS Australia and New Zealand managing director Rob Stummer debunks the myth that maintenance systems are getting more complex and difficult to manage.

Times have turned hard in the mining sector in Australia and many companies will be looking to reduce costs, in particular their IT costs in 2009.

Maintenance systems are essential in the mining sector where the cost of equipment is significant and the amount of ‘downtime’ needs to be kept to a minimum. However, there is a perception that maintenance systems are getting more complex and difficult to manage.

Some maintenance managers might argue the case that they want to keep their Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) software separate from their company’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution to ‘keep things simple’, but there are benefits to integrating the two.

EAM software allows maintenance managers to write-up work orders, schedule personnel and manage other aspects of its department, but integrating with an ERP solution ties it to other departments, making inventory, purchasing and communication with the entire company much easier.

For example, if a part is required, information can be sent through the ERP system to the purchasing department where they can use their relationships and ability to work with suppliers to help find the part and get it there on time.

It frees up maintenance personnel from having to make the call, track delivery and complete an invoice.

An ERP solution can also help ease scheduling conflicts, particularly if a piece of equipment needs to be shut down for preventive maintenance.

A maintenance manager can put in a work request to optimise production at the site during the scheduled downtime.

The finance department also benefits from integrating the maintenance and ERP systems. As technicians work overtime on certain equipment, the software can capture the costs, allowing both maintenance managers as well as the finance department to discover the true costs for repairs. This enables access to work orders, inventory usage and personnel usage which are reflected in the general ledger, without any type of interface or extra contact needed.

Taking time

Once operators decided to upgrade their ERP system to include an asset maintenance system, it is important to evaluate the amount of time required to convert over to a new system.

Managers will need to identify equipment, personnel, preventative maintenance tasks, and a multitude of other information and details, gather all that into a system and validate the process to make sure it works as intended.

The time it takes to implement the maintenance solution into the ERP system really depends on the size of the organisation, the manpower available and the amount of data mining that needs to be done.

Some mining companies go from no systems at all to up and running within eight weeks. Others take longer than that, it just depends on the scale of the integration.

An electronic way to capture work orders that shows the personnel and materials involved is a simple approach that would not require a robust system, but if managers have a complex organisation that includes purchasing and tracking spare parts, they should ensure that they have the capability to have purchasing tied into an ERP system.

Secondly, maintenance managers will need to have some level of data in the system to expect equipment to run smoothly and be able to schedule the proper timing for preventive maintenance.

Data mining

The trick to a successful implementation is to make sure enough data is in the system so that operators can forecast based on previous experiences, like how soon a piece of equipment will need preventive maintenance or replacement before it fails.

Thirdly, it is important to make sure that technicians have a system that is easy and intuitive for them to use and does not require a lot of time for their input.

If a system is complicated and takes too much of a technician’s time and effort to update or find information, they are not going to use it.

A well-engineered system should help the technician access accurate data and be able to search for it quickly and easily.

Lastly, the data entered into the system needs to be as simple and logical as possible.

With information geared directly towards specific pieces of equipment, the cost to maintain a specific piece of equipment or a whole production line will be become clear, therefore enabling informed decisions to be made.

It is not uncommon, once the first implementation has been completed, to find areas within an organisation that need to be tweaked or expanded, so operators should ensure they choose a software vendor that offers an ERP/EAM implementation with the flexibility to change as needs change.

IFS Australia

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