Equipment failure is a reality that cuts across every industry. And when it occurs, its impact can vary from minimal inconveniences with localized damages that are easily contained and repaired, to significant incidents with damaging effects on the environment accompanied by several health and safety implications.
There are several reasons why equipment fails, and it’s necessary to know what’s going on before hoping to fix and improve the process going forward. Without this vital step, two things are likely to happen. First, you will end up in an endless cycle of reactive repairs. Second, you will end up with a frustrating deferred maintenance backlog because the recurring issues have wasted a chunk of your maintenance budget.
To avoid the situations above, there are several tools and resources that organizations today can use to discover what lies at the core of their equipment failure. By so doing, they can greatly improve the reliability of their physical assets as well as optimize their preventive maintenance programs.
Below, we look at a methodology from the reliability industry, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), to establish its connection to the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). These two resources, when used together, will enhance a maintenance or reliability team’s efforts.
FMEA: Its Relevance In Optimizing Maintenance Programs
According to Simplicable.com, a defect is a “non-conformance to a requirement” while failure is a “defect that reaches the customer.” In the maintenance context, we can stretch the definition of the customer to include all users that will come in contact with the equipment and are at risk of being exposed to the effects of the defect. Such users like maintenance technicians, machine operators, other staff of the organization, the facility’s occupants, etc.
From this, we can deduce that minimizing or eliminating defects is one of the most significant achievements of any maintenance program. Also, it offers maximum ROI in terms of equipment uptime and asset reliability.
Whatever maintenance strategy – or a mix of strategies – you’re using, if your goal is prevention, but you are unable to limit exposure to failures, then the process has failed. For this and other reasons, the reliability world has developed a system for finding out all the possible ways by which a system can fail. These causes of failure, or failure modes, are a major focus of FMEA.
Although the history of FMEA goes back to reliability engineers with the military, it is now widely applied in several other endeavors, including maintenance optimization.
However, a fundamental requirement for FMEA is sufficient information. Basically, what’s the accuracy of the data you are using?
That takes us to the next stage of our discussion.
CMMS: Centralizing Maintenance Information
When employed correctly, CMMS improves the overall performance of your assets. But among its many capabilities, we want to focus on its ability to maintain a database of information about all your organization’s maintenance operations.
Here are the major ways that CMMS data provides insights during the FMEA process:
1) Equipment history
Many companies still have functional equipment that date back 10, 20, 30 years or more. It’s also likely that over the years, they have gathered valuable information regarding past repairs. But rather than spending days or even weeks sifting through maintenance paper records or spreadsheets, you can pull that information quickly if it has been entered into a CMMS.
However, it’s vital that the data is clean and complete and that the technicians have developed the habit of filling in as much information as possible when completing work orders.
Work orders should state the following clearly:
- staff that did the work
- any work and safety instructions
- what steps were taken
- any particular challenges with the task
- spare parts that were used and
- how much time it took to complete the task
2) Past failure data
While some failures are sudden, others are gradual. Some are age-related, and others are random. Establishing a pattern is very unlikely without some background information – but possible with a robust work order history.
A CMMS can be set up to produce even more detailed information about equipment failure by attaching failure codes to each work order. These are usually shorthand alphanumeric acronyms that are cross-referenced with a pre-established list of reasons for previous asset failure. Your organization gets the benefit of a quick reference to different kinds of failures when you apply these codes to every work order coming out of the CMMS.
For instance, a work order for overheating would be labeled (OVHT), oil leaks (OLLK), vibration (VBRT), etc. By tracking these failure code trends over a period, it becomes easier to spot recurring issues.
Let’s imagine that the history from a particular machine indicates that 80% of the work orders for the last five years have been labeled with “OLLK,” it’s easy to pinpoint oil leaks as the main problem and then consider that during the FMEA analysis.
This failure data is invaluable for driving FMEA analysis, and it’s crucial information that helps the reliability team find the worst offenders with regards to asset failure.
3) Improving future work
The final stages of FMEA are about proactive measures, continuous improvements, and recommended solutions for every possible failure identified.
As all this information is being imputed into the CMMS, it will help to ensure that as problems occur in the future, there is enough data to get them resolved quickly with minimal issues. With time, the team can continue to review the reports generated from the CMMS, and they may even be able to recommend new and more effective intervention procedures.
Another angle to continuous improvement that we see from using CMMS going into the future is the flexibility it offers via mobile maintenance software. For one thing, it empowers your maintenance personnel to enter all their observations in real-time, whether through text, images, or videos. These are all additional information that a reliability engineer can use to improve your processes with time.
Despite the rapid and continuous evolution of maintenance, asset failure still occurs.
Thus, the more equipment information you collect, the more invaluable your CMMS becomes. But without employing this tool, you are making it difficult to find and address the causes of your equipment problems. You are just generating an endless stream of service requests and work orders and leaving too much room for inefficiency in your organization.