We can’t have a discussion about improving equipment reliability at your plant site without including the Planner in the conversation. The Maintenance Planner interacts somehow with nearly every job completed at your site, so he/she can make a very noticeable impact on the reliability of your equipment.

When it comes to Planners, I have worked with both extremes. First, we will call Ron the Anti-Planner. Ron felt he best served the company by enabling our firefighting efforts. If you needed a part right now, Ron had all the contacts in his Rolodex, and if he came up short, he would even resort to dumpster diving for a used part that might work to get the equipment running again. He even worked to set up his own trailer full of used valves, nuts, bolts, fittings, and instruments and had no issues using these parts in planned work kits. In his mind, he was saving the company money, being efficient and helpful. However, the truth is that Ron was dangerous; the things he did not only had a detrimental effect on the reliability of our equipment, but they also had the potential to cause serious health and safety issues. As an example, one of our Technicians found a used ball valve in a potable water planned work kit and we worked in a chemical plant that handled suspected carcinogens. What service was that valve last used in?

The second Planner is Gene; he is the inspiration for this article because Gene understands his role in the business and how he impacts reliability on a day-to-day basis. Like most Technicians who move into the Planner role, Gene was at first a bit uncomfortable with the job. When you make the transition from working with your hands to sitting in front of a computer, you tend to struggle with feeling the sense of accomplishment. As a Technician, you repair or improve something on a daily basis, you work on and help to solve problems, and at the end of each day you can see what you accomplished. As a Planner, the impact you have on the reliability of the equipment at your plant comes only after you have worked to do the right things on a daily basis for quite some time. Gene will tell you that to be a great Planner, you have to have the discipline to do what is right over and over again for quite some time, but in the end you will see that the impact is far greater than what you ever accomplished before.

With that said, here are the 10 things your Planners can do today to improve reliability.

1. Work to Update the Preventive Maintenance (PM) Procedures – While your Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) stores all of the information, procedures, job plans, and history, the Planner has to step up and own that information, and a good place to start is by reviewing the current PM procedures. We all know a PM that reads “Check the pump” can mean different things to different people, yet PMs written like this exist in nearly every plant I visit. Take the time to make the PM procedures accurate and don’t forget to include photos and precision maintenance standards for alignment, balancing, measurement, and torque specifications. In addition, make sure inspection PMs include the detail of what to look for or measure and what to do if the condition is found. Great Planners aren’t afraid to take this bull by the horns by knocking out a couple of PMs each week. While this does take some time, there is a definite return on investment.

2. Update Your Equipment Hierarchy – From my point of view, this is one of the most common problems I see at plant sites, and while it may have started a couple of decades back when your company first rushed to create equipment hierarchy for your first CMMS, the problem has been passed on from one generation of the system to the next. Like it or not, maintenance is a business and as professionals we should want that business to function in a way that feeds back accurate history of where we spend our time and money. The reality is if you don’t have a good equipment hierarchy in your CMMS, you will have problems and add costs to every function the system provides, including Bills of Materials (BOM), time, cost, history, locating PMs, and job plans. Great Planners understand just how important this is and work to ensure that the hierarchy represents what exists in the plant.

3. Perform a Good Equipment Criticality Analysis – It is important to remember that item number 3 can’t be performed without item 2 being completed the right way first. When I explain this to company leaders, I often hear things like, “We have done that twice already.” My question back is how do we know what is critical when less than 25% of your equipment is listed in the hierarchy? The truth is that what most places have completed is a system criticality analysis, and while this is not altogether bad, it adds little value to the planning and scheduling process. Think of it this way, if your plant has 10,000 assets and your criticality ranking process has a ranking of 1 through 10, this means 1,000 of these assets are critical. Now put yourself in the shoes of the Planner who has been given 20 jobs to plan this week, half of which are on “Critical Assets”. Which ones should he or she work on first? To make it worse, he or she gets them all planned and passes them on to the scheduler. Which one gets done first? This happens on a daily basis, and my friend Gene finally took the time to show his Managers the need to do a good criticality analysis.

4. Insist on Good Failure History – Again, the CMMS stores the data, but the Planner has to step up and own it. Allowing Maintenance Technicians to close out work with the comments “done”, “fixed”, “repaired”, or “complete” is unacceptable. Those words tell us nothing and prevent us from learning where some of our biggest problems are. Garbage in equals garbage out. Great Planners force this issue by refusing to close out jobs with useless comments. Send them back and keep score, reinforce the Technicians who do it right!

5. Prepare a Checklist for Planned Work Kitting – Kitting planned work is a continuous improvement process that will always require feedback from your Technicians, but it’s possible to make a quick marked improvement in kits by working from a checklist. I can remember the frustration as a Technician when picking up a planned work kit and finding only two thirds of what I needed to complete the work in the kit. Great Planners have a checklist for different equipment types and use the list to ensure all needed parts are in the kit before it is released.

6. Forget About the Schedule – This comment often gets a rise from my customers who have Planner/Schedulers. Quite simply, they are two completely different jobs and if you want your Planner to do both, he/she will always be consumed by the schedule. Real Maintenance Planners plan the work and make sure the information and materials are accurate. Leave the scheduling to Supervisors and Team Leaders and let your Planners work to improve your business.

7. Communicate with Technicians for Continuous Improvement – As a Maintenance Planner, the most important thing to understand is that you can’t do your job well by sitting at a computer all day. If you are looking to improve equipment reliability, you have to be engaged in the maintenance work process. When a work request comes in, walk out and look at the job; put yourself in the place of the Technicians who might be performing the work. Will they need a lift, hoist, or any special tools? If you’re not sure, ask them. Communication with the Technicians needs to be a big part of your job, let them know they have to inform you if a kit is not complete or even has too many parts. Good planning is all about continuous improvement and that begins with communication.

8. Know Your Plant – While some Planners have the advantage of having worked as a Maintenance Technician in the plant where they became a Planner, others are hired into the job and may not be familiar with each piece of equipment at the site and where it is located. Great Planners need to know the plant they work in inside and out. My friend Gene had made his own mind map of the site he worked at, and for each area, he had drawings and pictures attached to that area. He could tell you what the largest asset in each area was and what it would take to remove it for maintenance. Knowing your plant improves your efficiency as a Planner and exponentially improves the efficiency when completing the big jobs at your site.

9. Pass on Success – As I mentioned earlier, the successes you see as a Maintenance Planner will come more in the long term than in the short term. As you work to improve the PMs, job plans, and information that are put into the CMMS, you will need to communicate the victories that everyone will begin to recognize. The amount of emergency and demand maintenance will begin to reduce; with good history, you will now be able to clearly locate troubled equipment for focused improvement; and you will begin to clearly show improved reliability on your equipment. You need to communicate these things to the Technicians you work with. Show them that the CMMS is not a black hole that swallows information, but a useful tool to help improve reliability.

10. Stay Out of the Firefighting! – While I was tempted to list this item first, I will instead finish with it. Emergency and demand work in a manufacturing environment is addicting, those who participate in it receive lots of recognition for saving the day. You, however, need to stay out of it because once you begin to participate; you will be sucked into the day-to-day activities and will no longer be functioning as a Planner. My friend Gene once told me that he felt this was the most difficult part of his transition into the Planner role, having to tell his Managers that he did not apply for a position as an Emergency Expediter and he was too busy to help. He even had to look for support from his Managers to fend off being dragged into the crisis of the moment. My advice, do just like Gene did early on, look for support from your Managers and fight hard to stay out of the drama.

Closing this out, I’d like to say that I have a world of respect for great Maintenance Planners. Having worked with only a few throughout the years, I can honestly say the great ones really set a business up for long-term sustained success and for the most part are also underappreciated by both their peers and Managers. Those I have known seemed content to quietly press on with their work while guys like me urge them to step forward and allow others to observe how it is really done.

5 Responses to 10 Things a Maintenance Planner Can Do Today To Improve Reliability

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I seriously feel this site needs a lot more attention.
    I’ll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the information!

  2. I enjoy what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work
    and exposure! Keep up the great works guys I’ve added you guys to
    my blogroll.

  3. Bishwa Sigdel says:

    I found it is really useful for me as a maintenance planner.
    Maintenance planner at SABIC PLF project, saudi arebia

  4. john reeve says:

    Looking specifically at the following words:
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    4. Insist on Good Failure History – Again, the CMMS stores the data, but the Planner has to step up and own it. Allowing Maintenance Technicians to close out work with the comments “done”, “fixed”, “repaired”, or “complete” is unacceptable. Those words tell us nothing …..
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    The Core Team (and/or AMS Administrator) has a responsibility to provide validated fields on the screen. Examples of this are:
    (A) PROBLEMCODE – filled in by anyone, but mandatory at Completion by Technician
    (B) FAILED COMPONENT – filled in by tech who did the work; and mandatory by Tech at Completion status
    (C) ACTIONS PERFORMED – filled in by Technician and mandatory at Completion [this is free text field]
    (D) Actual Hours – entered by Tech
    (E) Type of Failure: Full, Partial, Potential, or just Defect – entered by Ops up front or Tech
    (F) WO Feedback – by Tech; not mandatory but highly preferred
    (G) Cause codes – by Maint. Supervisor or Reliability Engineer

    Thus …maybe I am confused… the Planner should be planning (/scheduling) work and managing the open backlog; and also perform vetting of new records but the majority of post-execution updates are responsibility of Technician and Supervisor.

    Those organizations that believe the AMS (CMMS) is the responsibility of the Planner/Scheduler may not have a very accurate database. Asset reliability is everyone’s job and the first step is to create a true knowledge base.

    • DPlucky says:

      John,
      I won’t argue with items A-E but would still argue that the Planner should take ownership and audit data entered for work order history and set the expectation for the technicians. I see Planning and Scheduling as two separate jobs (Planners Plan the work, Schedulers, schedule the work) and yes working with the manager, technicians they should ensure accurate detailed history is recorded.

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