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Optimize Preventive Maintenance Programs with Utility Maintenance Software

Dan Calano
Aug 19, 2021 12:07:00 PM

Using a technology-based approach to preventive maintenance (PM) will extend the life of your equipment and save money. Here is everything you should consider when optimizing your PM program with utility maintenance software.     

When establishing an effective maintenance program, one must determine not only which Preventive Maintenance (PM) routines to accomplish, but how often should they be done.       

Utility Maintenance Software 

Utility maintenance software makes your maintenance faster, easier, and more efficient. Investments made in capital projects are massive, so it’s crucial to recognize and reduce maintenance costs and maintenance risks. Whether you are a maintenance manager, supervisor, or field worker, utility maintenance software gives you the powerful tools to streamline operations and optimize your preventive maintenance program.           

What are preventive maintenance programs? 

The days of running equipment until failure and putting out fires in a scattered and unorganized manner have passed. Instead, you can use utility maintenance software to optimize and make the most of your PM programs.   

In order to implement the correct utility maintenance software solutions, your PM plan needs purpose. Your PM won’t be very measurable unless there is a designed purpose to your plan that is actively managed.  

Below are three simple techniques which can be used to ensure your PM plan is being optimized for the benefit of your users, workforce, managers and elected officials. 

  1. PM without purpose can be too frequent or too sparse.
  2. PM without design can be limited in its effectiveness or redundant in others.
  3. PM that is not being actively assessed like a living, breathing project may fail to adjust your utility’s PM needs to account for incoming data. 

These methods can easily be organized and managed in user-friendly, cloud based computer programs like utility maintenance software to further the efficiency of your utility.   

Preventive Costs vs. Emergency Costs

The simplest and most common approach to optimizing preventive maintenance of utilities is to try to get a straight comparison of costs (or man hours) spent on PM versus emergency repairs for the same equipment. This method should draw data over several years to get a snapshot of the current year in addition to trends over recent years. Generally speaking, a PM plan can be considered optimal if emergency repair costs (and man hours) are minimal or acceptably lower than PM costs.  

The beauty of this method is in its simplicity. Commissioners and board members of utilities appreciate traditional and simple reports and data. It is easy to track and present ideas when comparing dollars to dollars, or hours to hours. Conversely, it is also easy to comprehend and digest traditionally used data points presented in this manner. 

Unfortunately, this method is not perfect. Service disruptions, negative public perception, user frustration and other fringe detriments may not be captured in this analysis. Non-quantitative factors cannot be clearly assessed in this method despite a high likelihood that these factors have significance to your utility.  Managers and administrators will need to keep an eye on these factors and give them some type of weighting when using this approach.

Using a comparative approach like this can be married with existing or newly developed technology and software applications, like utility maintenance software. Administrators would be smart to use technology to track preventive manpower (and associated labor costs) to compare against emergency repairs.  

PM plans can be programmed to trigger increased frequency as emergency repair costs begin to creep above an acceptable threshold.  This automated approach can be refined over time and built into computer generated work orders, work routes and other workforce reports in software programs such as Utility Cloud. 

Utility Maintenance - Day’s Theory     

Another PM optimization method was developed by John Day, Jr.  He theorized that one in every six PM work orders should result in a corrective work order that could not be finished during that scheduled PM.  He believed that corrective work orders occurring more frequently indicates an insufficient PM schedule. Corrective work orders that occur less regularly than the 1:6 ratio indicate a PM schedule that can be relaxed or reassigned.

This approach has many benefits for utility managers.  Primarily, it serves as an easy check on PM schedules and confirms that PM work is being performed as required by the equipment.  The feedback resulting from these PM work orders should identify if your plan is on track or if it needs to be adjusted. It will not take years of trial and error to determine if you require more or less PM.  

This method is a good way to prioritize future work orders and workforce manpower.  For example, equipment that results in corrective work orders or emergency repairs once in every three PM’s will need more attention than a piece of equipment that results in a 1:7 ratio.  As a result, Day’s theory is a good launching point for updating your capital improvement plans or priorities lists. 

Pro Tip: Day’s Theory is not perfect by itself and requires perspective, as the use of simple ratios fails to account for the tolerance of each “corrective work order”.  All utilities must deal with the fact that cost, service disruptions, and other factors play a role in determining acceptable tolerances for equipment repairs.

For example, should a $10,000 corrective work order with zero impact to the public be viewed the same as a $250,000 repair that impacted a sizable group of customers?  Day’s Theory is somewhat blind to these variables. It is also blind to the fact that a well staffed utility may be able to hit 1:8 ratios without undue stress while under-manned utilities may need to allow a degree of flexibility and may only achieve 1:4 ratios – it is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Technology can play a role in Day’s Theory as well.  Utilities can quickly assign acceptable emergency repair ratios to their infrastructure’s PM or utility maintenance software.  PM programs and utility maintenance software like Utility Cloud will track PM repairs versus emergency repairs and the average ratios for all levels of infrastructure.  These ratios can be adjusted as necessary as your utility accumulates data.  

Messages or alerts can even be automated if PM is falling behind schedule like when emergency repair ratios slip outside of the determined tolerances or even if emergency repairs begin to signify the end of the equipment’s useful life.  Marrying Day’s Theory to your PM software is the easiest way to throw an extra layer of protection across your equipment, PM programs and customer reliability and safety.  

Utility Workforce Input

Sometimes, the most efficient PM programs are maintained with a high degree of input from the boots on the ground.  Your seasoned workforce may provide valuable input on your equipment’s needs that is absent from other detailed financial assessments, pre-determined ratios or other approaches.  Veteran employees may have beneficial information to drive your PM program or to supplement other methods. They may be keeping an eye on specific equipment that has not triggered any emergency repairs but is running on borrowed time.  The reliance of employee input can drive your PM program or refine another approach already implemented.

The strengths of this approach are the result of the introduction of the human element.  The human eye can collect more nuanced information to drive a more predictive approach. Your system operator will know when the age, sound, smell, etc. of equipment should drive a more frequent PM program whereas other approaches rely on an accumulation of small failures before making PM adjustments.  Your field crew may also be able to recommend quarterly or semi-annual PMs rather than monthly PMs if supported by field observations.

On the other side of the same coin, this method’s weaknesses are also the result of the human element.  PM programs that are driven only by workforce input are more subject to human error. This includes questions in the reliability of the reports due to poor judgement, honesty of the employees, reporting errors and more. A utility which runs their PM plan with bad data, no matter the reason, is as inefficient as a utility without a PM plan at all.

However, workforce input should be an integral part of every PM plan if you have reliable, veteran staff that can provide valuable input.  Cloud-based utility maintenance software is used to organize your workforce, track completed jobs, file reports and account for all repair costs (emergency or scheduled).  Utility Cloud, and other similar products, provide an abundance of data to be used by Administrators when designing a PM program. Administrators can easily pull the recommendations of their workforce from the program while updating the PM program to make sure their approach takes as much information into account.    

Turning Preventive Maintenance into Savings

Preventive maintenance optimization is a worthwhile endeavor regardless of whatever approach is used. A combination of methods may be combined to fill in the gaps of your plan.The goal should remain the same no matter the technique – reduce downtime, extend the equipment’s life and save money wasted on emergency repairs or accelerated equipment replacement schedules.  

The difficulty in achieving these goals is the result of the complexity of the infrastructure, the reliability of reported data, the availability of the data and management’s reaction time to accumulated data and assign / adjust workflows.  

For this reason, utility maintenance software should be implemented in every single PM program.  Utility Cloud, an industry leader in operations management, helps bring stability and reliability to your workflow, work reports and data accessibility. These tools provide utility administrators with the data that is necessary to completely optimize your PM program and assign laborers in a timely manner as necessary. Preventive maintenance is important, but utilizing technology like utility maintenance software will make your utility the most efficient and cost-effective version of itself that is possible.     

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