For utilities companies, success hinges on their ability to prevent equipment failure without wasting valuable time or resources. A strong preventive maintenance process can help them reduce costs, improve resource utilization, and boost their field workers’ productivity; but getting it right can be challenging.
Implementing preventive maintenance is often a balancing act for organizational leadership, who must contend with limited workforce visibility, inadequate tools, and complex scheduling requirements—all of which result in operational inefficiencies. To ensure efficient preventive maintenance operations, they need an effective process backed by powerful scheduling tools.
The right solution can help utilities leadership automate and optimize staff scheduling through the full spectrum of construction, operation, and maintenance across all locations. Despite scheduling complexities and multi-layered workflows, an intelligent platform can drive a cost-effective, scalable preventive maintenance operation.
Here, we’ll dive into all things preventive maintenance, including benefits, drawbacks, key considerations, best practices, and how powerful software can help.
What is Preventive Maintenance?
Preventive maintenance is the regularly scheduled, recurring maintenance of assets and equipment. Utilities companies conduct preventive maintenance to ward off large equipment failures that may result in excessive, costly downtime.
To ensure an effective maintenance strategy, a utilities organization must have complete transparency into their planning, scheduling, and overall workforce operations. Plus, they need detailed, up-to-date records of previous inspections and equipment servicing.
Couple these obstacles with the fact that there are several different types of preventive maintenance activities to sustain, and you’ll begin to see why so many leaders struggle to handle the associated complexities.
Preventive maintenance vs. reactive maintenance
Where preventive maintenance focuses on keeping equipment operational through routine inspections and servicing, reactive maintenance or break/fix focuses on returning equipment to normal operational status after something breaks. With reactive maintenance, a customer requests a repair, the request is typically put in a queue, and the utilities company then dispatches someone to handle it.
But competitive utilities companies know that a reactive approach to maintenance is no longer enough to stay ahead of the curve. To meet rising customer expectations and remain cost-effective, these businesses must adopt a preventative maintenance strategy. Unlike reactive maintenance, preventive maintenance reduces the risk of unplanned downtimes, which ultimately lead to unexpected costs (e.g. equipment replacements, productivity loss, lower customer satisfaction, and overtime labor expenses).
Types of preventive maintenance
There are several different types of preventive maintenance and, depending on the assets and equipment a company services, they may need to schedule and perform a variation of each. While manufacturers offer their recommendations for how to maintain equipment, utilities teams also need data-backed insights to determine when to schedule each type of preventive maintenance.
- Time-based – Time-based maintenance activities are scheduled and performed at predetermined intervals to ensure everything continues running smoothly. For example, a field worker may be dispatched every six months to inspect and service an HVAC system.
- Meter-based/usage-based – With a usage- or meter-based approach, preventive maintenance is triggered when equipment utilization reaches a certain benchmark, rather than an arbitrary date. For preventive maintenance of commercial fleet vehicles, for example, a company may use a mix of specific metrics and historical data to track mileage and proactively schedule oil changes.
- Condition-based – Condition-based maintenance tasks are used when an asset or piece of equipment shows signs of degradation or impending failure. This approach requires the utilities company to monitor the state of their customers’ assets and equipment using performance indicators. For example, an electrical maintenance team may use ammeters to measure the current in a particular circuit. The tool helps them easily determine if the current is too strong or too weak, which gives them a headstart on servicing the equipment before a larger, more costly electrical problem arises.
- Mandatory/non-mandatory – As the name suggests, mandatory maintenance tasks must be addressed immediately, often to avoid safety or compliance issues. Non-mandatory activities, on the other hand, can be pushed off to a later date, if needed, as they won’t result in performance issues or critical failure.
- Inspection and task-oriented – Sometimes, preventative maintenance is triggered by the results of an inspection. For example, a plumbing company may inspect a customer’s system for any leaks, odd noises, or damage once a year. They run a series of tests on the system and complete a maintenance checklist. Based on the results of that checklist, a work order may be triggered to address potential issues with any of the checklist items.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Preventive Maintenance
As is the case with any approach, preventive maintenance offers a variety of benefits; along with a few disadvantages if improperly leveraged.
Benefits of preventive maintenance
- Increased asset and equipment lifespan – By conducting regular, preventive maintenance on individual parts, a business can lengthen the life of its assets and equipment. Fewer failing parts means fewer costly replacements or extensive repairs.
- Increased productivity – Constant break/fix scenarios interrupt your workers’ day-to-day operations and hinder their efficiency. Instead of derailing your team’s schedules every time something breaks, a preventive maintenance strategy can help them adequately plan for downtime—and thus increase their productivity.
- Reduced Costs – Unexpected, critical asset and equipment failures cost time and money to ameliorate. But periodic maintenance ensures primarily pre-planned downtime, scheduled repairs and replacements, and pre-established resource allocation.
- Safer Environment – By performing recurring maintenance, your team can reduce the risk of potentially dangerous equipment failures. This helps to maintain safer, more compliant working environments.
- Improved resource utilization – Without a preventive strategy, your team may be over- or under-estimating the need for maintenance; which can cause issues in resource utilization. Because a strong preventive maintenance approach relies on workforce transparency and data-driven insights around assets, it helps businesses better predict and utilize their resources.
- Increased customer satisfaction – It’s no secret that customer expectations are on the rise, and speed, personalization, and responsiveness are essential for attracting and retaining clients. Utilities companies that implement a preventive maintenance approach are better equipped to meet (or exceed) those expectations, as it enables them to maintain the assets that perform critical functions for their customers. Consistent, regularly planned maintenance means fewer equipment failures and less downtime and helps organizations meet their service-level agreements (SLAs), leading to happier, more confident customers.
Disadvantages of preventive maintenance
- Can be time consuming – Because preventive maintenance is relatively complex compared to other strategies, it can require a significant time investment. This is particularly true for utilities companies that don’t have the proper tools in place for accurate asset monitoring or historical data tracking.
- Requires additional resources – Because a team with a preventive approach must perform more maintenance related activities than those who are reactive, they typically require more resources on an ongoing basis.
- Potentially expensive – For smaller utilities companies, the technology required to fully optimize their preventive maintenance operations may not be worth the investment.
- Organizational challenges – Keeping track of all the ever-changing factors and schedules within a preventive maintenance approach is extremely difficult if your organization still relies on traditional or paper-based methods. Outdated scheduling practices (like spreadsheets) and limited workforce visibility threaten a business’s ability to efficiently perform predictive maintenance tasks.
- Increased mileage costs – Dispatching field technicians to customer sites on a regular, ongoing basis requires a significant amount of travel time and, therefore, mileage expenses. It can become especially costly if your organization doesn’t have technology that optimizes routes from one job to the next for cost-efficient travel.
When to Implement Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance isn’t the right fit for every team, nor every asset. As your team evaluates its assets and equipment, they should consider some key factors before implementing preventive maintenance schedules.
While there’s no hard-and-fast guideline for eligibility, industry standards, equipment type, and an asset’s operational purpose or function can help you determine whether or not it requires preventive maintenance.
- Are critical to production
- Are critical to health and safety
- Are more likely to fail as time goes by or use increases
- Have random failures unrelated to maintenance
- Require repairs more expensive than running it to failure
- Are uncritical or unimportant to production.
Creating a Preventive Maintenance Schedule
Creating an effective and efficient preventive maintenance schedule will largely depend on qualities that are specific to your organization, its assets, and even its customers. But there are some vital best practices any team should follow as they build their schedule:
Consider overall company goals
Every strategy your organization implements should align with broader company goals, and preventive maintenance is no exception. As you create your schedule, be sure to identify and share how a successful preventive maintenance approach will impact other business objectives; including increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved ROI. Be specific, and outline how each part of your schedule might contribute to larger organizational success.
Gather manuals and serial numbers
No two types of assets are exactly alike, so properly planning for their required maintenance means collecting all the information you can on each you intend to schedule for. Equipment manuals will guide your understanding of inspection frequencies and recommended repair or replacement procedures. Maintenance history data will shed light onto an asset’s reliability and risk for breakdowns. Make sure you also gather serial numbers, which will help you quickly and accurately order new parts should a piece of equipment fail.
Rank equipment and assets based on criticality
Next, you’ll need to prioritize the criticality of each of your assets to identify which of them will require immediate attention (and which can be put on the backburner in the case of failure).
Consider these questions as you rank your equipment:
- What is the projected impact of the asset’s failure? Will it compromise safety, stop production, or hurt the environment?
- Is the equipment reliable, or does it break down frequently?
- Is it easy to detect the issues caused by this asset’s failure, or would other connected systems also need to fail before you realize there’s a problem?
Organize labor resources
Each preventive maintenance activity will likely require different resources, time, and labor; and planning for each is crucial to the effectiveness of your schedule. These factors will help managers and staff schedulers assign jobs to each technician based on their relevant skill sets, locations, certifications, job history, preferences, and more.
Organize long- and short-term plans
As you hammer down the details of your maintenance plans, it’s best to start big and work your way down to the nitty-gritty. First, allow your prioritized list of your most critical assets to guide your long-term schedules. Use the manufacturers’ recommendations and the equipments’ reliability to establish regularly scheduled maintenance, dependent upon either time-based intervals, condition-based triggers, or usage-based benchmarks.
It’s important to note that these longer-term plans may need to be adjusted (depending on shifting business priorities, budget changes, etc.), so they should be treated as flexible outlines rather than set-in-stone strategies.
Next, create your short-term, weekly plans that support those longer-term efforts. Don’t forget: There will likely always be reactive maintenance issues that pop up now and again, so be sure your short-term schedules allow for those last-minute inevitabilities.
Train your team
A vital part of taking your preventive maintenance strategy from plan to action is, of course, getting your team on board with the change. Be as transparent as possible, and communicate all the reasons your new maintenance schedules will benefit your team, your organization, and your customers.
Provide in-depth training on any new tools, processes, and additional resources to avoid any confusion or resentment among team members. Make sure the systems you use allow for collaboration and knowledge transfer from tenured field techs to those new to the organization, so workers of every experience level are always prepared to complete the job. Remain open to feedback, too, since your technicians are the ones who are actually in the field performing these tasks on a daily basis. Document your training initiatives and outcomes so you can tweak them, as needed, as your team expands.
Track and adjust
Implementing a preventive maintenance strategy isn’t a one-and-done activity; rather, it’s an ongoing, continuously changing process that should be adjusted for optimal results. Reevaluate each asset, track and measure your data, and don’t be afraid to pivot if something’s not working.
Preventive Maintenance Software
It’s difficult—if not impossible—to establish and execute a strong preventive maintenance schedule if you’re using manual methods or tools. There’s simply too much to keep track of; and without the right software, things are bound to fall through the cracks.
Preventive maintenance software is technology that helps your team schedule maintenance activities, alert relevant team members when a task deadline is approaching, and more efficiently allocate resources. There are a few different types of software that can support your preventive maintenance efforts, so make sure you consider all your options before investing in a tool.
Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS)
CMMS tools enable utilities organizations to easily track and manage their assets, equipment, and job histories in one, centralized place. With a strong CMMS, maintenance teams can keep track of and optimize their inventories and work orders.
Modern CMMS tools have features that:
- Automate work orders
- Create reports and audit records
- Manage workflows
- Provide operating and repair guidance
Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
ERP software connects data from every department across an organization, so everyone has access to the same processes and information. It acts as a centralized source of truth for finance, marketing, HR, sales, maintenance, and more, which means everyone is always working from the same information as they plan, analyze, and perform their daily functions.
While it’s true that an ERP system alone is likely not enough to support a successful preventive maintenance strategy, it can be used as part of the broader operation to bring everything together. Since it pulls in data from a variety of otherwise disparate sources, it’s an essential part of eliminating pesky duplicate data and ensuring accurate inventory.
Enterprise asset management (EAM)
Utilities companies use EAM tools to gain an end-to-end view of their organization’s physical assets. By providing information on each asset’s lifecycle (from procurement all the way to replacement or disposal), they help maintenance teams better coordinate and execute their preventive maintenance activities.
EAM tools have features that:
- Record asset information
- Manage work orders
- Track and organize the purchasing and usage of all inventory
- Measure costs and spending
- Track contracts
A strong preventive maintenance operation can help your business reduce costs, boost worker productivity, and lengthen the life of crucial assets. It can better enable your maintenance teams to meet customer expectations and drive revenue as your organization scales.
But preventive maintenance software alone likely won’t cut it as you establish and execute your approach. For truly sustainable success, you also need technology that improves workforce visibility, ensures worker safety, and supports your multi-layered workflows and complex scheduling requirements. And you need to get the right worker to the right job site at the right time.
Skedulo’s scheduling software for energy and utilities companies helps teams reduce the operational inefficiencies and safety risks of poorly planned schedules. The cloud-based scheduling platform makes it easy to optimize scheduling and dispatching, so your field workers can get from one job site to the next quickly and safely. By combining intelligent skills matching functionality with route optimization, Skedulo can decrease your team’s scheduling time and ensure they never miss a maintenance task. The result is less service downtime, fewer safety risks, and a happier customer base.
Learn more about how Skedulo is transforming energy and utilities workforce management, or book a demo today.