6 maintenance planning steps to get you out of firefighting mode

Maintenance planning and scheduling, arguably the most neglected functions of modern asset management, are at the heart of an effective maintenance management system. Through the use of work orders and a CMMS, maintenance planning covers the daily or weekly planning, scheduling and control activities to ensure that scheduled work is undertaken, and that available resources are being used optimally. Yet many organisations still struggle to make their maintenance planning and scheduling as effective as it should be.


Most asset intensive organisations recognise that efficient and effective maintenance planning and scheduling is one of those cornerstone processes that can help assure equipment reliability and assist with attaining operational excellence. Yet studies show that most companies still do not perform maintenance planning effectively, with a resultant negative impact on work effectiveness, wrench time, equipment uptime, equipment reliability and cost. In the long run, unplanned or unscheduled downtime and maintenance store stock-outs rob the business of both capacity and profit.

To gain peace of mind and limit downtime as far as possible, an organisation will need to implement structured and carefully managed maintenance plans.

Maintenance planning Without planning and scheduling, the wrench-on time for a company is on average only 35%. That means that for every technician working an 8-hour day, only 2.8 hours of that day is spent working on assets. Implementing proper maintenance planning and scheduling, however, can increase the wrench time from 35% to 65%. At this level of efficiency, a technician working an 8-hour day will complete 5.2 hours of actual work. With 65% of the engineer’s time being used efficiently, only 35% of their time is wasted. This improvement would enable an organisation to move away from a reactive (firefighting) state of maintenance, and improve overall workforce efficiency.

In his book Uptime, author John Dixon Campbell defines the six steps of the maintenance planning and control cycle as follows:


1. Identify the problem

The need for maintenance can be triggered by a failure, a noisy bearing or an oil leak. Once identified, the problem must be reported to the maintenance department. This is normally done through a work request so that planning and scheduling can take place.


2. Plan the maintenance task

Planning involves deciding on what exactly needs to be done, determining priority, and defining the sequence of activities and skills required. Ensure that all the resources, material, labour, contract services, specialist equipment, tools and information are available. There may even be a need for outside contractors, items to be purchased or work permits to be obtained, all of which must be arranged in advance.

A maintenance planning function is a critical tool for reducing downtime and maximising the value of preventive maintenance. The maintenance planner must therefore have the technical skills and equipment knowledge to do this planning.


3. Schedule the work

Scheduling involves deciding when to do the work. This will depend on the priority level of the task, and the availability of both the resources and the equipment to be repaired. Many organisations schedule maintenance for a specific period during the working week or month. Weekend maintenance is never desirable because, in many cases, suppliers are not available and personnel are expensive.

The legal requirements with regard to statutory inspections are generally quite rigid, so try and devise a 52-week maintenance plan at the beginning of each year. Review this plan periodically to improve the accuracy and quality of the information. Communicate the preventive and corrective maintenance requirements to production so that they fully understand the need for the maintenance window.


4. Allocate the task to specific people

Although this will depend on organisational arrangements, consider the following:

  • Allocate your maintenance personnel to specific areas or pieces of equipment
  • Ensure the allocated person has the skills to perform the task
  • Be very clear about the type of work that will be allocated to outside contractors

Where necessary, undertake hazard analyses to identify risks and formulate action plans to control access to high-risk areas; your plans should include hot work permits, confined space permits and lockout procedures.


5. Ensure the work is executed properly

It is usually the responsibility of the maintenance supervisor to confirm that the maintenance work meets the required quality standards, usually through selected planned job observations. The planner (or, in some instances, a maintenance scheduler) should monitor outstanding schedules or work requests to ensure that the planned work was actually done.


6. Analyse the problem and decide how to prevent it from happening again

Analyse the root cause of major failures and take corrective action to prevent recurrence. Corrective action could include training, a change to the preventive maintenance programme or equipment redesign. Breakdown or failure of the management process is often overlooked in a major failure. In those cases, corrective action may be a systems upgrade.

When all six of these foundational steps are implemented and combined correctly, maintenance planning can attain much greater levels of efficiency. This leads to important asset-related data and information being shared across the plant, and even across multiple plants. It’s not an overnight process though, so don’t give up if you think it might take too long. The benefits are well worth it.


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