Plant & Works Engineering
Exploring the role of standardised workflows in maintenance management
Published:  15 May, 2024

Navin Kulkarni, Director of Product Management, Fluke Reliability takes a look at implementing standardised workflows for maximum efficiency.

Most maintenance managers today are under intense pressure. They’re dealing with a shrinking workforce, supply chain issues, and budget constraints – all of which make it hard to deliver on maintenance goals.

To overcome these challenges, the standardisation of workflows becomes the key. That means shifting to a process-driven, systematic maintenance approach, one that stays the same across all the sites. When implemented correctly, standardisation results in less waste, shorter waiting times, and greater return on investment. It’s a game changer for highly regulated industries, especially when it comes to auditing and compliance. It’s also great for anyone managing multiple work sites.

However, all too often, managers don’t have the right tools for the job. When working with legacy software systems, it’s a huge challenge to introduce a standardised maintenance approach. And when using manual processes – or a mixture of the above – it’s going to be challenging too.

Shifting to standardised workflows is achievable, though.

How can you implement standardised workflows?

Most maintenance work is highly repeatable. Maintenance teams shouldn’t be expected to reinvent the wheel every time an issue comes up. Instead, they need to leverage institutional knowledge to create step-by-step practices for every maintenance task.

Standardisation starts with an internal assessment where key questions are asked:

What are the maintenance tasks that keep coming up at each facility?

How are teams currently addressing those issues?

What does the notification process look like?

What percentage of workflows are reaching completion and reported on?

Once that information is confirmed, teams can perform an analysis of existing workflows. A good CMMS can simplify the process.

At the analysis stage, common maintenance tasks should be overhauled to find the most efficient ways to carry them out. That means getting rid of unnecessary processes, eliminating long waiting periods, and updating inventory systems so that parts and tools are available quickly.

Workflow notifications and triggers

Every workflow starts with a trigger. Whether that’s a technician who notices a problem while performing route-based monitoring, or a condition monitoring which sensor picks up on a change in vibration patterns, or even an asset breaking down, there is always a trigger. Standardising workflows starts with a standardised notification process.

A good CMMS uses failure codes, so that anyone logging an issue automatically has to define it from a list of pre-set options. That means no more guesswork or trying to figure out what your colleagues are talking about when they call to complain about a machine.

Using failure codes means that maintenance managers know exactly what the issue is, and can assign it a priority level, which makes scheduling easy. (A good CMMS can also handle scheduling and work orders instead of workers)

Standardising work processes

Managers can create step-by-step instructions for all the typical maintenance tasks in their plants. This set of instructions can include a checklist, along with built-in benchmarks, timelines, and quality checks. It should list the materials needed to do the job, along with any special tools.

A CMMS can include checklists that workers can access on their mobile devices, so that it’s easy to track progress.

Standardising reporting

A maintenance job isn’t over when the technician makes the repair. Reporting is a key part of the workflow. That’s what allows managers to analyse the process for cost, time efficiency, and effectiveness. Reporting allows for continuous improvement.

Obstacles to standardised workflows

Lack of data – or lack of data analytics – creates major obstacles to standardising workflows.

The bigger the operation, the more it stands to gain from standardising workflows. But standardising processes across a large operation is also tough.

Managers need data to create effective workflows. That means precise data for each asset’s maintenance needs, the more granular the better. It means insights into how often a part typically needs to be changed, or how long a machine can run before it develops a new fault.

These kinds of insights drive decisions about inventory, staffing, and scheduling. They also inform decisions about asset criticaliity.

Legacy systems get in the way

Many operations are still using a mixture of old manual data collection practices, and legacy systems like SAPs. This means that data collection is spotty and inconsistent. It also means that data tends to end up in silos, where teams can’t access it easily.

SAPs are often clunky and hard to implement. The systems are very cumbersome to configure, so inputting a change to workflows or to the reporting process is a big ordeal. Unlike a CMMS, which is intuitive and easy to learn, an SAP relies on transaction codes which take time and study to master.

The result is that end users can’t access data with the speed and ease they need to. It’s also hard to input data from different locations. In addition, SAPs can’t easily issue work orders and schedules, the way a CMMS can.

ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning solutions) are also highly inefficient when it comes to standardising maintenance workflows. An ERP’s purpose is to handle data across departments; it’s very good at integrating business processes. But when it comes to the kind of analysis and interaction that is needed for standardising maintenance workflows, an ERP falls short.

To get the job done properly, the right tools are needed. A CMMS is purpose-made for standardising workflows. It comes equipped with data analytics, the capacity to create and store work orders, and the ability to customise reporting. It’s also cloud-based, so that users can access it from anywhere, enabling technicians access to checklists in order to follow approved work processes. With every job performed, more data gets inputted and reported, so that managers can make continuous improvements to the processes

Back to the benefits

Audits and compliance

Highly regulated industries (like the life sciences, food and beverage, and automotive industries) stand to benefit from standardised workflows.

These industries are subject to extensive domestic and international regulations, all aimed at keeping their products safe for consumers. This is done by maintaining extensive records, including asset histories, work orders, and signatures. Depending on the sector, it can also include rules about sanitation manufacturing processes, and environmental impact.

Compliance can be overwhelming. Fortunately, standardising workflows can make a huge difference. When every employee follows a strict, standardised procedure, it’s easy to ensure compliance. Moreover, when there is a violation, managers will be able to track the exact point in the workflow where the violation occurred.

Standardising the notification, work order, and reporting processes also makes audits easier. A good CMMS will store the relevant data so that it’s in easy reach when an audit comes up. While this is great for everyone, its most beneficial to larger organisations.

An example of this is Watco, an international transportation company that operates short-line railways, ports, and other facilities. The company was struggling to get a handle on its reporting requirements since staff at its different location were all turning in reports in different formats. When they shifted to eMaint, they were able to centralise that data collection. Today, Watco’s engine hours, odometer readings, and other data is all stored in the same, easy to access location. Compliance is easy, and audits aren’t a headache.

Inventory management

When you standardise workflows, you also solve a lot of common inventory issues.

We’ve talked about how data is the backbone of standardisation. Data analytics can give managers insight into how often parts will need to be changed, and how often key assets will need servicing. That makes it easy to know when to order parts, tools, and assets.

Standardising workflows also means that you’ll be using the same assets – and the same tools – across your whole operation. (To the extent that this is possible.) That simplifies inventory too. It’s a virtuous cycle. The more you use a CMMS for workflow management, the more data you input. That means more granular insights about your equipment and its exact maintenance needs.

Using a CMMS also means it’s easy to track the inventory you need. That’s what happened with Cerapedics, a company that produces bone-graft technology.

The company needed to overhaul its inventory system, because workers were struggling to find the location of spare parts. (Cerapedics works with more than 750 different spare parts, so it’s a major issue.) eMaint was able to create a customised, standardised system for Cerapedics so that workers across its locations could pinpoint the exact part they needed, and quickly.

Scaling up

Managing multiple plants is a challenge, to say the least. But standardising workflows makes it easier.

Standardisation lets maintenance teams leverage data and experience so that they can follow tried-and-true practices throughout operations. CMMS implementation can be copied at every site and maintenance professionals should take what has been learned about the key assets, and put that information to use at each location.

There will also be benefits from efficiencies of scale when it comes to inventory, asset acquisition, and planning.

It’s all about having the right tools and the right approach. Implemented well, work order standardisation will free up teams to do their best work, resulting in greater uptime, increased productivity, and lower costs. It’s a win-win