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Planning and scheduling maintenance: the biggest challenges and how to solve them

Effective maintenance planning and scheduling is vitally important for every asset, because not only does it enable efficient work execution, it has a direct impact on production and safety targets as well as OPEX. Proactively planning and scheduling your maintenance can often seem impossible amid unexpected priority changes and urgent requests – or what many describe as “firefighting”.

In this blog post, we reflect on the challenges we have seen faced in planning and scheduling maintenance and provide insightful solutions to these problems.

1. Unplanned work – should it take priority over scheduled tasks?

The challenge:

An almost daily challenge faced by Maintenance or Asset managers is when unplanned work disrupts the frozen plan and weekly schedules.

Unplanned work is often; incorrectly, given priority over scheduled tasks. The biggest challenge is deciding if this unplanned work should take priority over other work, which has already been planned and scheduled.

Unplanned work will affect weekly compliance, but it also poses the risk of important planned work not being done and, in many cases, adding to unwanted and growing maintenance backlog.

The solution:

Prioritisation is key. When unplanned work arises, it is often prioritised incorrectly or not at all. It can be an emotional decision that allows it to break into the plan and disrupt the weekly schedules. This is where identifying criticality of equipment is key.

Unplanned work should first be reviewed to understand the potential risk associated with when you schedule it and its impact on the work it displaces.

Your review should justify its prioritisation above planned maintenance – this unplanned work should have a high enough priority to allow the breaking into schedules. But by applying a structured, risk-based approach, you’ll often find (when it isn’t obvious) that it isn’t of a higher priority, and that your scheduled work is actually of higher importance. In that case, the unplanned work should be challenged and pushed out to the optimum point where practicable.

Correct work prioritisation is key to ensuring the right work is done at the right time, and weekly schedule compliance is something we would suggest monitoring to ensure the right work is being done.

2. Neglecting preventative maintenance

The challenge:

Many maintenance programs have grown organically over the years and end up mainly focusing on breakdown and unplanned maintenance.

Technicians work in firefighting mode, and preventative planned maintenance typically takes a hit. Not doing preventative maintenance on time (or not at all!) results in further unexpected equipment breakdowns and further emergency maintenance work. It is often a false economy of short-term production pressures vs longer term uptime.

The solution:

Having the discipline of allocating time and resources on a parallel with your PM/CM norms initially, then through proactive management, alter the ratio to favor PM work as you move your maintenance team towards best in class then world class maintenance execution.

A good baseline starting ratio is 5 hours PM work with 2-hours allocated for CM work, within the 12-hour shift. By aiming or adhering to this regime, maintenance will come back on track and create the headroom to move towards more proactive interventions than reactive.

If your team gets to the point where they have completed the Planned Maintenance and there is no break-in work to the schedule, the free time can be used to the benefit of the asset, executing pre-prepared backlog ready to go when time allows, undertaking basic care or rehabilitation activities often left at the expense of reactive work.

Developing a longer-term maintenance calendar or plan of work beyond the 14-day planning cycle by month, quarter, and year and by equipment and location, can be useful for supporting teams, such as drilling, projects, etc, to provide visibility for points of surge. This can be highly useful to show and discuss with production and operations managers so that it removes the immediacy of managing maintenance issues and resources.

Items may need to be rescheduled or grouped together (Packaged, Nested or Routed) to reduce the time equipment is unavailable due to maintenance work or identify conflicts due to production or operation deadlines. This exercise can often identify significant savings and free manpower up for more proactive work.

Plans are always dynamic, so ensure you allocate enough time and resources for regular preventative maintenance in the execution plan. Failing to plan is planning to fail!

Another focus area is the efficiency of your source maintenance data. Where good CMMS/maintenance software, such as ABL’s EffioTM Data Engine, can be valuable. It allows optimisation of the maintenance packages and allows understanding of the impact of any changes.

3. Estimating the time to complete planned maintenance tasks

The Challenge:

One of the key challenges is accurately estimating the time it will take to complete a planned maintenance activity. Historically, hours allocated during the project phase are often inaccurate in the operate phase, and CMMS data isn’t always updated with realistic estimates as the asset life cycle evolves.

This is an important lever for both the maintenance and Asset management as the planning of maintenance execution is based on the hours logged in the CMMS data. Overestimated hours lead to bloat in manpower, inefficient execution, unnecessary backlog, mismatched spares holding.

Underestimating can have a similar effect with unachievable plans, high levels of unnecessary stock, morale, and safety issues.

If you overspend in certain areas, you may have to remove other tasks from the year’s schedule, to ensure your overall maintenance budget remains within the parameters set and vice versa. Either way, both scenarios lead to inefficient allocation of resources, spares, and poor plan execution over the asset lifecycle. The impact is always financial via reduced equipment availability, more campaign maintenance, etc where you may need to request further funding to cover the mismatch. More OPEX means less profit.

The Solution:

To overcome this challenge, you must think in two parallel ways. Firstly, is the data within the CMMS accurate, if not how do your correct it or allow for it in your plan? Estimates from experience or take a longer-term approach with a data rehabilitation exercise.

The second element is more aligned with the Human Factors and Human Performance of your team, where the level of skills and experience of the people executing work have a direct impact on plan execution. Inexperienced personnel will generally take more time to complete many jobs whilst they learn on the job.

Another aspect to consider is environmental issues that could constrain activities. An obvious example is the weather! It has a direct bearing on lifting and vessel operations and can disrupt the best prepared plan significantly if not considered or accounted for. Plan in some contingency for this, schedule for the lowest risk time point to reduce the likelihood conducting certain maintenance operations in bad weather.

Unrealistic execution data or poor estimates will cause inefficient work execution, increased backlog and can have a major impact on plant availability, often causing the asset planner much rework – in Lean terms, this is overprocessing and/or rework and is impacting the Assets profitability.

A simple but effective measure is to ensure all work orders on completion are appended with the accurate execution hours and any notes – you then give the planner an immediate update to amend the CMMS data and over time will give yourself some norms to apply. This is a nil cost effort, that with a little discipline will save your asset money. You may be surprised how many Assets don’t exploit this little measure in the fog of normal operations.

To summarise:

There are many ingredients required to build an efficient maintenance plan, schedule, and execution discipline, some good starting points include:

  • Ensure the criticality of your equipment in your CMMS is accurate. Have a risk system to prioritise your maintenance, especially Corrective work – you can have a planned CM work order.
  • Optimise through Packaging, Nesting or Routing your maintenance by location or discipline. Level load the plan to optimise the resources and time you have.
  • Ensure there are accurate and realistic planning assumptions when building the maintenance plan and be cognisant of the capabilities of your people to avoid unnecessary backlog.

Get your team(s) involved at an early stage in the planning process. Prepare to challenge and be challenged!

Got a question or need some advice on how to optimise your CMMS data, maintenance planning, scheduling and execution or people competence? Let ABL help you change your outcomes. Fill in the form below and one of our consultants will be in touch to help.