The job of a facility maintenance manager is never complete. Whether it’s in the context of major manufacturers and distributors, commercial property owners or government facilities, maintenance is an ever-evolving job with many moving parts and shifting priorities.
Not surprisingly, a popular FacilitiesNet survey found that the top job-related concerns among facility maintenance managers are resource shortages and increasing workloads, followed closely by shrinking budgets and staff. In short, maintenance managers face constant pressure to do more with less.
Fortunately, technologies such as enterprise asset management (EAM) software, the Internet of Things and data analytics are making that goal far more feasible. These tools allow maintenance managers to streamline their operations, identifying and eliminating waste wherever it occurs.
To provide insight into the struggles that maintenance professionals face, we’ve assembled a list of the six biggest challenges they all have in common. We’ve also included a few helpful tips on how to address these challenges and turn them into opportunities for savings and growth.
1. Resource shortages
A far-reaching, ever-present problem, resource shortages affect every aspect of a maintenance manager’s job: inventory management, space utilization, labor allocation, task deadlines and more. From tiny replacement parts to heavy machinery to fleet vehicles, any type of asset can become scarce when it’s not well managed.
When it comes to work requests and work orders, resource shortages put a serious damper on completing the essential nuts-and-bolts maintenance work. How can a crew perform routine maintenance when the only available tools are in use at another job site? How can a technician complete his job when replacement parts aren’t stocked? Perhaps most importantly, what are hourly personnel supposed to do when a lack of materials is the only thing keeping them from doing their jobs?
Of course, as costly and inefficient as it is to be low on resources, overstocked inventory presents problems as well. Space can become scarce in even the largest facilities, and square footage used for stagnant inventory represents a major opportunity cost. Given that just about every organization is trying to run lean, excessive inventory also means tighter margins, less cash flow and less capital to invest in higher-priority items.
The solution to these resource challenges? For just about any organization, the best place to start is a centralized, automated asset management software with work order integration.
Instead of poring over spreadsheets and manually writing purchase orders, you can ensure parts are ordered as they’re used—and available when they’re needed. With utilization data stored in a single place, you also gain insight into which high-dollar equipment purchases will most benefit your company’s bottom line.
2. Labor shortages
Human capital is a company’s greatest asset, but for many facility maintenance managers, labor is in short supply. Relatively small maintenance crews are often spread out among multiple production facilities, job sites or commercial properties, particularly in organizations acquiring physical assets faster than they’re hiring.
While a labor shortage may seem like a mere growing pain in the short term, it can severely hamper maintenance efficiency in the long run. Preventive maintenance (PM) gets put on the backburner, as scarce personnel are constantly occupied putting out fires. When that happens, major machinery eventually breaks down, and the company suffers the costs of unplanned downtime.
The ideal solution is to simply hire more maintenance personnel. From the maintenance manager’s perspective, more people means better preventive maintenance, faster work order completion and fewer breakdowns—seemingly a win-win. Other stakeholders who are trying to keep labor costs in check may not agree, however. That’s why it pays to gain the most productivity out of all available labor hours.
To that end, a flexible work order deployment system works wonders. If every crew member can access the same central work order repository—whose items are triaged and assigned according to preset rules—there is far less confusion over which tasks take priority. Likewise, with the ability to access the system via mobile device, on-the-go maintenance crews can transition to subsequent tasks quickly, rather than wasting time waiting for new instructions.
3. Controlling costs
Pressure to cut costs (or at least keep them under control) is a major reason why resource and labor shortages are so prevalent. One of the maintenance manager’s responsibilities is to strike the delicate balance between spending too much on maintenance versus spending just enough to prevent breakdowns cost their companies even more. It’s a seemingly impossible task at times.
Arguably the best way to find balance is with a preventive maintenance program. By proactively scheduling maintenance and inspections, organizations can drastically reduce equipment failures and the unplanned downtime that follows. Avoiding equipment rentals and rush charges on replacements may offer an additional reduction in overall maintenance costs.
That said, not every asset fits the PM bill. For smaller, cheaper and non-critical items, a run-to-failure approach may make the most sense. On the other hand, the most important, most expensive machinery in an organization may warrant a cautious condition-based maintenance approach, using sensors to monitor pressure, electrical charge, hairline cracks and other signs of imminent failure.
4. Managing priorities in real time
Work requests and work orders are the essentials of a maintenance manager’s workflow. Even so, most organizations are still managing them with email, spreadsheets, pen and paper or whiteboards. In small organizations, this is a time-consuming, inefficient approach. In a large enterprise, manual processes like these make the job all but impossible.
Like inventory management, effective work order management requires centralization and automation. Maintenance needs are constantly evolving, and for any given set of priorities, the tasks at the top of the queue are going to change—oftentimes before they’ve even been started.
How can you quickly assess which work requests take priority? How do unplanned failures fit into your preventive maintenance plan? How will your field operators even know when they’ve received new assignments, or when they need to shift gears to respond to an emergency?
To answer these questions without hunting down documents and sifting through files, you need a centralized work order tracking system that surfaces data in real time.
By centralizing your work orders and programming your priorities into the system, work requests can automatically be converted to work orders, and those orders can be triaged and assigned to available crews without delay. A central, flexible data repository also allows you to attach all manner of supporting documents, from images to standard operating procedures to manufacturers’ manuals. With the right information in the hands of the right people, priority tasks advance without unnecessary bottlenecks.
5. Employee training and certification
Even in organizations with dedicated safety or training staff in distinct roles, facility maintenance managers still have plenty of employee-facing interactions. Whether or not they’re officially responsible for carrying out training tasks, they do have to make sure the right people are trained for the right jobs.
One simple reason for this requirement is that work orders should only be assigned to technicians who have the qualifications to complete them. If a technician hasn’t been trained on a specific task—and if including instructions in the work order isn’t sufficient—they’ll need to undergo some type of formal training. Of course, it’s far better to understand this need ahead of time than to realize the lack of training upon receiving a work request.
Similarly, regulations or industry standards may mandate that only certified employees perform certain tasks. Again, the maintenance manager’s job becomes more difficult when they don’t have insight into current certifications as they assign work orders.
Finally, as far as equipment maintenance is concerned, well-trained operators deliver better asset ROI. They can do more work in less time with a given piece of machinery, and their efficient operation of that machinery leads to less wear and tear. This benefit alone is reason enough for maintenance managers to take as proactive a role as possible in keeping their technicians’ training up to date.
While training management may seem only tangentially related to asset management, it’s all a part of the same puzzle: improving productivity, safety and asset performance within the enterprise. For this reason, it’s important for large companies to considerenterprise asset management systems, which allow maintenance managers and other business leaders to track a variety of related metrics.
6. Data collection and utilization
From a preventive maintenance software to inventory automation to centralized work order management, there are plenty of strategies facility maintenance managers can use to do more with less. When implementing any of these measures, however, there is a constant, overarching question: Is what I’m doing actually working?
With this question in mind, perhaps one of the greatest challenges maintenance managers face is the collection and utilization of data. Take preventive maintenance, for example. Based on manufacturers’ recommendations, historic maintenance data and insight from veteran personnel, you might implement a variety of time- and usage-based maintenance triggers. Perhaps you inspect trucks every 5,000 miles or shut a production line down for maintenance every 100 runs.
Are these triggers ideal? They may be a solid starting point, but the program can always improve. Some assets may actually perform better with a run-to-failure approach, while you may be missing out on major savings by not inspecting a certain machine, job site or vehicle more often.
The only way to know is to collect, aggregate and act upon data. Then, aim for continual improvement based on the trendlines the data reveal.
Streamline your building maintenance with ManagerPlus EAM software
Today’s facility maintenance managers are under constant pressure to gain efficiencies. A comprehensive asset performance improvement plan is essential to meeting that expectation. And implementing such a plan requires sophisticated tools.
To meet modern maintenance challenges head-on, consider ManagerPlus, a leader in enterprise asset management software. From work order automation to maintenance scheduling to a detailed analytics platform, the ManagerPlus EAM platform provides everything a maintenance manager needs to drive operational excellence.