Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cloud Based Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) and Small to Medium Sized Businesses

I started my professional life as a maintenance engineer in a power company. That was a little over 10 years ago and at the time the company I was working for relied heavily on maximo, a very comprehensive asset management solution from IBM. It was a complex system that required hours of user training and literally millions of dollars in customization and equipment. In the end, the company had a versatile and extremely powerful tool that linked assets to documentation, spares and purchasing and automated the maintenance management of all the equipment from work request creation to work order flow. The reporting was excellent and anything that you wanted to know about the history of an asset - to the very components that make that asset up - was readily available.

After that experience, I was lucky enough to go through yet another amazing software in another company: SAP/ PM. PM for plant maintenance. In my opinion a superior solution to maximo. In this second case, all company procedures were managed by SAP from maintenance to HR to purchasing. Everything was inter-connected. The full SAP implementation took around one year and a half, and each module of SAP was deployed in sequence. There was a team of five full time people working on everything from installation to training to development and customization. Needless to say this was an extremely expensive operation.

In both situations described above, the companies benefitted immensely through the use of the software solutions to a point that would see them grinding to a halt should the systems fail. As a power user of the maintenance systems before and after the installation of SAP, I can confirm the increase in efficiency in company procedures once everything was automated. Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of good maintenance management software or, to use the industry jargon, CMMS, for Computerized Maintenance Management System.

After the two experiences described above, I accepted a job in the maintenance department of an entertainment venue. It was a little different from my previous job on conventional industry and utilities but it had to do with equipment maintenance nonetheless, so essentially it fit my background just fine. What I was not ready for though was how maintenance was managed, or perhaps I can say that I was not ready for how maintenance was NOT managed. When I started, record keeping was minimal and there was simply no spare parts control other than people's memory! Granted that the organization was not that complex, especially when compared with my previous jobs: I went from a 250 strong maintenance team to a 15 person team. Yet, no matter your organization's size, if you deal with machinery and equipment that is used in commercial applications, you must have a way to schedule and organize jobs and technicians, control spares and also easily retrieve that information to assist on future maintenance tasks or to prove that actions were taken in order to ensure the equipment is operational and safe at all times.

The schedule of tasks is not hard to implement with conventional tools such as outlook or Google calendar. I have read articles and forum posts that say outlook is all a small company needs to control maintenance tasks. From a simple scheduling point of view, I couldn't agree more but overall there is a fundamental flaw: extremely difficult information retrieval. What that implies is that maintenance task are not optimized since most job procedures will be reinvented over and over again. Note that even if records are kept, the effort that needs to go into organizing them all is enormous especially as years go by, technicians leave and information starts to pile up. It will only be a question of time before technicians bypass the retrieval of information completely and immediately start a job even if it means learning procedures from scratch. This is not an efficient system at all!

The same goes for spare part control. If your organization manages more than fifty spares, you would do much better with some sort of inventory control tool. These tools provide not only quantity, storage location information and vendor contacts but they also link spares to work orders and from there to the actual system or asset where the spare was used. Imagine the potential for cost control calculations if that information is available.

So what are the solutions for maintenance management for small to medium size businesses? Obviously, SAP or maximo are out of the question not only due to the high implementation cost but also because these are overly complex tools that frankly a small or medium sized organization does not require. Besides, they have high recurring costs related to IT systems maintenance that probably require several dedicated full-time staff.

More and more industry key players are of the opinion that cloud-based solutions are the way to go for small and medium sized companies. This is what my company went for and it was a very good idea! In fact we developed a system in house due to the lack of proper options in the market at the time - there were a few online CMMS solutions but virtually all of them aimed to do every single thing for every single company in the world and were therefore totally over engineered for 90% of the applications with a price that matched.

Our custom CMMS has been in service for one year now and the benefits are obvious:

1. Extremely low operational costs

2. Efficient work order/ work request flow

3. Inventory control

4. Reporting tools

5. User management

6. Documentation control

7. Maintenance plans

All things that we could only imagine a couple of years back. The best thing was that apart from the time it took to actually write the code, the usage by technicians was very smooth to the point where it would now be hard to go back to a pre-CMMS era.

With this system we codify assets down to their components and everything else is related to that codification. This way we receive a work request and assign it to the asset that shows the fault down to the very component that failed. Documents can also pertain to all levels of that codification structure, so, for example, we can have as-built drawings connected to the whole asset (the higher level of codification) but also component datasheets assigned to a brake contactor (the lower level of codification).

On top of that we have a scheduler that issues automatic work requests for preventive maintenance tasks and an efficient spare part control system that is also linked to the asset codification.

The system works very well and we can see that on the uptime of the systems that on average went from 88% to 99%. Basically the equipment is always operational for when we need it. The best thing was that this improvement came with no significant increase in costs (only development time and minor system maintenance costs).

Based on my experience, any small to medium business that deals with equipment maintenance will have a lot to gain by investing on a cloud based CMMS. It comes cheap with lots of benefits. This is also the trend the world is going for. Have you heard of Google docs or dropbox? These are current examples of cloud-based services most people wouldn't think twice about using. Why not a cloud-based CMMS?

Check the options available online and confirm with the vendors if their product is easily customizable to fit your organization. Make sure you are the owner of the data and that the database can be downloaded by you at any time to ensure you have a backup even if the supplier goes out of business. With some precautions, really nothing much can go wrong.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How to Make Use of Professional Computer Aided Design

A professional computer aided design can bring good tidings to your business. A professional can use his mechanical engineering expertise and 3D software to produce a concept for you out of sketches in freehand to a fabulous digital prototype. This is especially in the areas of consumer-durable items, heavy engineering equipment and automotive parts. The designer can create perspective views in any angle that you want. With such CAD design, the professional can model projects, create component drawings and assembles for product manufacture. However, computer aided design involves much more detailed CAD services and processes that only professionally trained designers and engineers can use it to perfection.

For example, they can help you carry out computer aided design in areas of business, such as architecture, aerospace, automotive, chemical, construction, electronics, electrical engineering, food and drink, and general engineering. Additionally, you will benefit from computer aided design if you are involved in glass plants, local authorities, mining, nuclear, oil and gas, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, power, process, public sector, rail, telecommunications, transport and highways, utilities, and water CAD services.

Using the latest computer aided design software, a professional can create amazing 2D or 3D drawings. The process begins with the professional drafters who will produce drawings according to your project brief. Then, your drawings will be subjected to mechanical CAD design and engineering. If you are into manufacturing, the engineers can use the designs to help you in the Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM).

It is highly exciting that the CAD services professionals will occasionally ask for your input in the design and implementation of the project. You will, therefore, feel as though you are part of the entire process. A professional computer aided design company will ensure that you receive a timely response on any query and you will be able to access additional services, such as 3D modeling and visualization.

To put your mind at ease, you can request to receive detailed project reports that provide activity and time records. This will help you to maintain control of your budget. The professionals cannot deny you access to the project when it matters. For that reason, you will be given time to inspect your computer aided design work occasionally and when necessary. The experts can use various 2D and 3D instruments including AutoCAD Inventor and Creo Parametric to ensure you achieve greater efficiency in your CAD design and flexibility in the delivery of the project.

With the use of different tools applied in computer aided design software, a professional engineer can produce 2D and 3D drawings. For example, you can create drawings for airplane and automobile parts using software such as AutoCAD Inventor, AutoCAD 2012, Pro Engineer Creo, Solid Edge ST5, Medusa4, and Solid Works 2012. Your designs have a greater level of precision if they are made by a professional using such sophisticated software than if you draw them by freehand. You will therefore, eliminate the possibility of malfunction resulting from faulty engineering, when you let a professional to utilize CAD services. This will enable you create designs that are compatible with the industry needs.