As organizations push to adopt new technologies across departments, they can sometimes forget the value of tried-and-true techniques, relying on new solutions to deliver all the same benefits. But sometimes, instead of replacing an older step in your routine, you get better results by augmenting it. 

Visual inspections are the perfect example. 

What is a visual inspection? 

On the most basic level, it’s about looking for trouble. Maintenance technicians move through the facility, searching for early signs of issues, hoping to catch them when they’re still small and easier, cheaper to fix. 

The name can be a bit misleading, because it’s more than just looking with the naked eye. Techs often listen to assets and equipment for irregular or unexpected noise. They might also use their hands to feel for excess vibrations. When it comes to gas leaks, they’re a lot more likely to hear one than see it. So, although it’s called a visual inspection, techs are using all five senses. 

But it’s actually more like six. With experienced techs, they’re often able to sense when something “feels off.” This sounds great, and it is great when it works, but there are lots of strong reasons to avoid relying on it. 

What are the benefits of visual inspections? 

Visual inspections can be an important part of your preventive maintenance and safety programs. And it’s easy to understand why. The sooner you can find a problem, the easier it is to fix. 

Remember, assets and equipment don’t tend to fail suddenly. Instead, they slide their way down the P-F Curve, showing different signs as they head toward failure. At first, it might be a little too much vibration. Then there’s some excess heat. Further down the curve, you have smoke and then fire, followed quickly by the final failure. 

Properly scheduled visual inspections increase your chances of noticing issues even before they develop into problems that damage not only assets but also your budget. 

And what are the drawbacks of visual inspections? 

The drawbacks are directly related to the same concept behind the benefits. If the idea behind preventive maintenance is “the sooner, the better,” then the drawback is that visual inspections are sometimes not soon enough. Remember, it’s just regular people, using their regular senses, not super heroes using X-ray vision and super hearing. If you’re relying on visual inspections, you might not be finding small issues high enough up on the P-F Curve. 

The other drawbacks are directly related to how some maintenance departments use visual inspections. Instead of having a formal and formally documented process, there’s just brittle “tribal knowledge.” And instead of having a set schedule, the team only does inspections on the odd times the inspections aren’t lost in the shuffle of my pressing on-demand work. 

The end result is inconsistency. First, there are uneven gaps between techs, with some knowing exactly what to look for and where to look for it, while others lack the experience to even know where to begin. If they weren’t there two years ago when the seals gave out on the hydraulic pump, they don’t know to check them as part of every inspection. Second, there are uneven time gaps between the inspections themselves, creating dangerous opportunities for things to go wrong. 

How can you improve visual inspections? 

Consistency. The more consistent you make them, the better you can use them to find and fix small issues before they break your budget. 

Complete inspection checklists 

For inspections to work, techs need to look in the right places for the right things. But that’s impossible unless they have a complete inspection checklist to guide them through the process. 

There’s a whole art and science to making good checklists, but there are a few fundamentals where you can focus. 

One, your visual inspection checklists should likely be pass/fail, with a complete list of all the places you need techs to check. Make sure to match the list to the asset, so that as techs go down the list, they are also making their way around the asset. If you need them to check the gaskets near the top, the switched in the middle, and floor for puddles underneath, make sure to put those items in the right order on the list. 

Two, divide the inspections across different timeframes, so you have some that the team does daily, while others they only do weekly, monthly, or even annually. 

Quick maintenance requests 

It’s also important to set up a defined workflow for when the techs spot issues during a visual inspection. It sounds obvious, but techs need a well established way to turn finding something into fixing it. 

If you’re still using paper- or spreadsheet-based work orders, there’s always the chance that techs discover something on a visual inspection only to then see it slip through the cracks  

How does an EAM help you with visual inspections? 

At the center of modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions is a database where all your data is safe, secure, and accessible to the whole team. Once you have your checklists built in the system, you can quickly, consistently distribute them to technicians. And as soon as they find a problem, they can use the same software, from any connected device, to generate a new work order, which the entire maintenance team can see in real time. 

You can use the software to hold not only your checklists but also their schedule. And because you can set the EAM to send out assignments and reminders, you can stop worrying about inspections falling through the cracks. 

Next steps

 Set up a call with one of our experts to discuss how ManagerPlus® can help you improve your visual inspections.

Summary

Visual inspections are a tried-and-true process for maintenance technicians to find and fix small issues before they have a chance to become larger, costly problems. Although the name suggests otherwise, with visual inspections, techs are using all their senses to look for trouble. Visual inspections are an effective tool, but they’re also limited. Unlike advanced sensors, techs often can’t catch something like increases in vibrations and heat until assets and equipment are closer to a final failure. Other issues stem from how maintenance departments use these inspections, which can be inconsistently, leading to gaps in how well and how often the technicians are completing the inspections. With visual inspection checklists and a well defined process for creating work order based on what the tech find, though, you can see the full benefits. The right EAM software makes the whole process easier, delivering a safe spot for your checklists as well as a way to quickly distribute them to techs. From inside the same platform, techs can then generate work orders in real time.

About the author

Jonathan Davis

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