How To Fix Maintenance

Feb. 1, 2001
So many companies get caught up in day-to-day production demands, and maintenance is forgotten. This series of reports covers conveyors, lift trucks, floors and CMMS.

How To Fix Maintenance

Ignore maintenance at your own peril. That’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Unfortunately, it’s a promise that’s kept at too many companies that get caught up in day-to-day production demands that take attention away from: conveyors that are starting to get noisy... lift trucks that are falling apart in the aisles... floors that are crumbling under the weight of those lift trucks... basically, a material handling infrastructure that’s grinding to a slow but sure halt.

But this entropy isn’t inevitable. There are new management techniques, services and computerized tools to help make maintenance an easy fix. This report offers solutions for all of the above.

Keep ’Em Running

When it comes to maintaining conveyors, it’s often a case of "no need" or "no time." New solutions, however, will put improper maintenance practices under the heading of "no excuse."

By Leslie Langnau, senior technical editor

Move product faster and do it quietly. E-commerce is pushing conveyor speeds to ever higher levels. But as conveyors race to keep up, noise levels often worsen.

Conveyor systems are inherently noisy, which increases with system complexity. Certain noise levels, though, indicate failure is imminent. In addition, high decibels risk non-compliance with OSHA requirements. Regular maintenance is necessary to deal with these conditions.

"Unfortunately, with today’s complex machinery, there are fewer technically competent personnel skilled in handling these systems," says Norm VanSoest, maintenance manager and planning engineer at Rapistan. Add to these factors the uptime demands of 24/7 operation, which are turning downtime, particularly planned time, into a costly expense, and it’s small wonder that some managers choose to skip maintenance.

"But maintenance is no longer a variable, it’s a must," says Mike Kotecki, vice president, Material Handling Systems at HK Systems. "No company can afford the cost of downtime should a system fail because it wasn’t properly maintained."

Conveyor systems are no longer just labor-saving tools, agrees Eric Sweazey, senior application engineer at Mathews Conveyor. "They play a vital role in tracking product movement throughout a warehouse or distribution center. In most facilities, if product doesn’t travel on the conveyor system, it isn’t logged into the business computer system."

Don’t run it ’til it drops

Thus, ensuring conveyors meet today’s needs means they must be in top condition. Managers and engineers must find ways to handle such maintenance headaches as lubrication, noise and proper alignment.

"Most chain-driven conveyors wear prematurely because they haven’t been lubricated at all," says Mike Thompson, quality manager at Hytrol Conveyor Co. Inc. "For example, we’ve seen many instances where people assume that the ‘goo’ covering the chain of a new system is lubricant and, therefore, they don’t apply any. It isn’t. That goo is a protectant that prevents oxidation. Once installed, it should be replaced with a good-quality synthetic lubricant, which should be reapplied based on operating speed and the number of hours run."

Reapplication frequency can be as often as every 40 hours, a major problem when you can’t afford downtime. "Slack time can be a good time to do preventive maintenance," says Bill Hawthorne, vice president of marketing at Hytrol. "Beyond that, however, one solution lies in installing systems designed for low maintenance. In general, if it’s easy to install, it’ll be easy to maintain."

Increasingly, manufacturers are developing such systems. Divert-shoe switches in some of the newer systems, for example, can be replaced by just removing four bolts and disconnecting the electrical hookups.

Other solutions to lubrication include specifying O-ring chain. Here, lubricant is sealed within O-rings, eliminating constant replenishment. The trade-off, of course, is that these systems are more costly.

Another solution is to upgrade your system a bit at a time. "We see a lot of maintenance people taking a proactive approach," says Sweazey. "For example, they are replacing old, worn rollers with new ones that are not only permanently lubricated, but also have precision bearings. This mix of old and new is OK in a lot of situations.

"Plus, the precision bearings offer a key benefit," continued Sweazey. "They don’t wear as quickly as other bearings, and so tend to run quieter for a longer time." And a quieter warehouse or DC is perhaps the second most cited demand today.

Noise is a result of increased operating speeds and lack of maintenance. Older conveyor systems are being pushed to run at top limits, raising noise levels. But worn, non-maintained parts won’t mesh properly, which leads to increased levels of vibration. Vibration usually results in higher decibels.

Engineered solutions

While lubrication and replacing worn parts reduce the problem, it’s not quite enough for today’s demands. In the near future, you’ll see more conveying systems with components made of high-tech polymers that will provide the ruggedness, speed, and inherent lubrication needed for quiet operation.

In belt conveyors, belt shapes are changing to enable smoother contact and interlinking. This change lessens vibrations.

Several companies are addressing some noise issues by replacing mechanical devices with electronic ones. In accumulation conveyors, for example, photoelectric devices are replacing mechanical devices to eliminate a cause of noise.

"Another factor to consider," says VanSoest, "is the environment the equipment is in. For example, there’s only so much noise reduction possible in a steel-shell type building where sound bounces off a number of walls."

Aside from noise, other factors affect maintenance. Photoelectric sensor misalignments can be a maddening cause of conveyor problems. The misalignment can be so slight that visual inspection misses it. A solution is to use sensors that indicate when they’re misaligned. A common technique is through a color change in sensor LEDs.

To keep track of these and the latest maintenance techniques, many corporations are appointing maintenance coordinators for large distribution networks. Circuit City, for example, has a gentleman who goes around and checks on maintenance procedures of all its DCs, is in charge of training maintenance personnel, and shares knowledge about the latest upgrade techniques.

Increasing support

Maintenance need no longer be a do-it-yourself task. Software, the Internet and outsourcing provide additional help.

The range of diagnostic tools is growing. PC- and PLC-based software can keep track of conveyor operating times and speeds. When these parameters reach a specific set point, the controller alerts an operator or maintenance that it’s time for upkeep or repair. Some of the more expensive programs, which are often combined with sensors and instruments, can measure more specific parameters, such as the operating temperature of bearings, and signal when maintenance is due.

Some systems, tangential to conveyor systems, can be monitored over the Internet. Some pick-to-light systems, for example, offer such a feature.

Along with most other information, increasingly you can find tips, suggestions, how-to information, recommended procedures, schematics and other maintenance information on the Internet. Several manufacturers have placed entire maintenance manuals on their Web sites. Expect more manufacturers to follow this trend.

One popular maintenance solution is outsourcing. "We push this option," says Hawthorne. "It helps the longevity, plus a system is backed up to ensure full operation."

"We’re seeing it more all the time," agrees VanSoest. "Primarily because the number of hours conveyor systems operate reduces the time available to perform maintenance. Often a whole outsource crew comes in for a few hours on weekends to get the job done."

Customer outsourcing requirements are undergoing a change, though. "Contracts are stating that equipment must maintain a specific level of performance," says Kotecki, "not that there must be a certain number of personnel to cover equipment. Predictable service levels are the new yardstick. Maintenance is now measured by results in percentage of uptime, number of late deliveries per hour, the number of delays in starting a machine, and so on." The benefits include guaranteed uptime and seamless management of spare parts and replenishment.

Not always locked out

Tied with maintenance are the OSHA lockout/tagout rules. Officially, everyone supports these procedures and requirements. Unofficially, they are not always followed.

The main reason for reduced adherence to these policies is that they sometimes interfere with troubleshooting. Noise is often the first and best clue of a problem or impending equipment failure. But it’s difficult to find the source of a noise when machinery isn’t running.

Outsourcing maintenance can be one way around this issue. The contractors take on the responsibility of using proper procedures when they work on your equipment.

Human nature and reality suggest, though, that there will be times when lockout/tagout rules won’t be followed. Some maintenance personnel have developed innovative safety solutions. One such solution is using a remote control E-stop. Maintenance mounts this device to their belt. If they get in a situation where they must stop the conveyor, they hit the E-stop button, which sends a signal to a PLC that then shuts down the system.

No excuses

The most important reason to find ways to perform maintenance, of course, is to prevent expensive downtime. The new uptime requirements demand that equipment operate all the time, and there are solutions to let that happen. Find them. MHM

Lift Truck Maintenance = Time Well Invested

A little time spent at the beginning of each shift can save thousands — even millions — over the life of your lift truck fleet.

By Tom Andel, editor

It’s funny how many things you accumulate without knowing it. But when those things are lift trucks, ignorance isn’t funny any more. Just expensive. You can’t maintain what you can’t measure.

Art Andrew figures Nabisco was missing out on $1.5 million a year by not managing and, therefore, maintaining its entire fleet of lift trucks. It had 2,000 of them dispersed among seven divisions. The average age of those vehicles was more than 10 years old. Some were as old as 38.

Art Andrew, with National Services Inc., worked with Nabisco to get a handle on its lift truck situation. After all, now that Nabisco is owned by Kraft Foods, it knows the new owner will be keeping an eye on all costs. But even Kraft had room for improvement when it came to its lift trucks.

"Kraft has one location with 80 leased lift trucks," says Andrew. "But when you lease you must know the economic break-even point and the right number of hours on each truck. Kraft leased eight trucks last year and our reports show their utilization on those was anywhere from one to three percent. They needed one lift truck, at most."

Andrew’s firm helps clients collect their parts costs, labor and monthly meter readings, add those to the accumulated past readings and predict the economic life of each lift truck.

"People are realizing they can’t keep their lift trucks forever," Andrew concludes.

That’s because there is no more forever in this age of 24/7 operation and constant customer demand. John Colborn, product advocate for reach trucks at Raymond, adds that there used to be more of a breakdown mentality among maintenance managers — you fix the lift truck when it breaks. That’s changing because of the downside to this practice.

"Managers have to keep this equipment in good shape so they can meet their peak demands," Colborn adds. "The old benchmark was, hold on to the truck for 10 years. On a yearly basis you put maybe 1,400 hours on a reach truck. Now people are putting anywhere from 3,500-4,000 hours a year on these trucks. This usage factor has accelerated the need for replacement, and the industry is struggling with the people who still want to keep their lift trucks for 10 years. But at the rate they use them, that means 25,000 to 35,000 hours on each truck."

"Best practice" companies have well-defined scheduled maintenance programs; they have trained mechanics, and they have computerized maintenance management systems that will monitor their costs and parts inventories, as well as hours on their trucks.

"Our most sophisticated customers are taking a look at their cost per pallet moved or the cost per case moved rather than just at a straight cost per truck," says Richard Graumann, manager of aftermarket services for Raymond. "Because of the information technology available to everybody with a PC, their RF systems can help them monitor the productivity of the operators — how many pallet moves they’ve made or how many cases they’ve done. By blending a WMS with a fleet management program, they get an idea of what’s going on with their fleets."

Some of this sophisticated maintenance technology is being installed in the lift trucks themselves. For example, Schaeff’s W Series has in its programming a preventive maintenance interval (PMI) schedule. When it reaches a pre-set 350 or 400 hours of service, the lift truck will slow down and an indicator will tell the operator it’s PMI time. If the operator ignores this signal, the lift truck will continue to run at a de-rated speed until a service technician resets it.

"We think this gets service done," says Marlo Griebel, corporate instructor for Schaeff. "It also gives the dealership an extra opportunity to serve the customer when the lift truck comes up with this PMI."

Blocking and tackling

Software and computerized devices are nice tools to have when you’re managing a big fleet of lift trucks, but small fleets can be just as big of a maintenance challenge. When you take the smallest things for granted, you can shut down your operations. That’s where the blocking and tackling of maintenance come in: lubrication and cleanliness.

"These do more to improve the operational cost of lift trucks than any other single factor," says Mike Leach, aftermarket manager for dealer development at Yale Materials Handling Corporation.

Another contributor is operator training. Leach believes the OSHA operator training mandate has made a big contribution to the recognition of lift truck maintenance. He says there’s more of an appreciation for the importance of clean facilities as well as clean trucks.

"Plant housekeeping means you’re avoiding pulling plastic banding or trash into the wheels or into the engine compartment, and dirt isn’t fouling up your trucks," Leach says. "Many users still underestimate the impact sloppy housekeeping can have, not just on the equipment, but also the way the operators treat the equipment. Maintenance is the whole picture — anything from the quality of the operator to the environment, the lighting and the floor conditions. A complete facility approach should be considered."

Another under-appreciated aspect of maintenance is establishing a balance of usage among your lift trucks.

"If you had five leased cars in your pool and you had a 20,000-mile-a-year maximum on them, you don’t want one car to build up all the time," Leach explains. "Circulate your equipment and make sure that underused equipment gets put into heavier-duty applications rather than letting one truck do all the work."

Trouble spots

Don’t rely on one operator to do all the maintenance work, either. Blocking and tackling is a team effort, and it needs a coach. Left unsupervised, operators with work quotas tend to let the basics of safety checks go until the next shift. Jim McManus, corporate manager of sales and operations for Toyota Industrial Equipment, has seen this time and again.

"I was at a place recently where they have about 130 trucks, all electric, and changing and maintaining batteries was the responsibility of the operator," he recalls. "They run two 12-hour shifts. The operators tend to over-discharge the batteries. Then they put them on a charger without cool-down time. Because they have only two batteries, they’re hot swapping batteries all the time. As a result, they’re running hot in the truck, the battery life is very low, the maintenance is extremely high, and they’re not controlling it because they’re looking at producing widgets as opposed to minimizing maintenance costs.

"The problem is that maintenance is buried in an operating budget," he continues. "You can spend $20,000 maintaining a truck every year and it gets buried, but if you spend $21,000 to buy new equipment to eliminate that, you have capital budgets to contend with and it doesn’t seem to happen."

After batteries, the next big wear items on a lift truck are drive motors, drive line components, hydraulic pumps and hydraulic motors. But according to Gregg Zdan, vice president of Specialty Material Handling Inc., a Drexel dealer, he’s seeing fewer problems involving these components. As solid state controllers become commonplace on lift trucks, they’re having a significant impact on dependability and are reducing maintenance problems. That brings us back to batteries as the No. 1 target for user enlightenment.

"We still see people short-cycling batteries," Zdan admits. "An industrial truck battery is designed to run a truck for one full shift. You must start with a freshly charged, cool battery. Then you discharge it during the course of a shift. Then you recharge it for eight hours. Then you allow for an eight- hour cool-down. That’s 24 hours, a complete cycle. A battery manufacturer expresses the life expectancy of a battery in cycles — say 1,500. A battery cycle is a battery cycle, whether you take the full shift out of it or if you take half out of it. We still see people who don’t have a grip on that concept."


People without a clue about lift truck maintenance are fewer these days, thanks again to the OSHA operator training mandate. OSHA requires that industrial trucks be examined before being placed into service. OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.178 continues: "They shall not be placed in service if the examination shows any condition adversely affecting the safety of the vehicle. Such examination shall be made at least daily. When industrial trucks are used around the clock, they shall be examined after each shift. When defects are found, they shall be immediately reported and corrected."

To take that standard a step further, Clark lift truck maintenance professionals have published the following "Top Ten" maintenance points:

• Check all fluid levels and change at recommended intervals;

• Keep radiators and transmission coolers clean;

• While checking radiators and oil coolers, check fan belts and alternator belts;

• Check for leaky hoses;

• Check and lubricate all pivot points;

• Fix broken gauges and "idiot lights";

• Inspect and lubricate wheel bearings regularly;

• Check brakes at recommended intervals;

• On electric lift trucks, practice good battery maintenance on a daily basis (properly maintained batteries should last five to seven years);

• Consider getting a maintenance agreement for your lift truck fleet.

On that last item, Art Andrew has a rule of thumb: If you have 50 lift trucks or more, you can begin to justify having an in-house maintenance manager — "But you’d better send that person to school on a regular basis," he adds.

Jim Smeltzly, director of aftermarket support for Crown Equipment, agrees, adding that there are other "best practices" that need to be followed for an in-house maintenance program to be effective. In addition to finding and hiring the right people, you need to make sure those people follow the manufacturer’s guidelines relative to type and frequency of maintenance and establish a maintenance tracking system to help manage fleet resources.

"Once you are over the shock of doing all that," Smeltzly adds, "you’ll enjoy benefits such as schedule flexibility for planned maintenance, direct supervision and lower cost. Of course on-board diagnostics on some of today’s lift trucks also result in significant reductions in time spent by techs on troubleshooting. And modular component design dramatically improves reliability, thus reducing downtime."

Art Andrew concludes, however, that if you have fewer than 50 lift trucks, outsourcing maintenance and selecting your technician from the dealer may make more sense for your operations. Either way, regular lift truck maintenance, combined with maintenance of the right facts and figures on those vehicles, will result in the highest yield on your time and equipment investment. MHM

For more information...

Information on lift truck vendors can be accessed through our Web site: Contact information for the companies mentioned in this article is listed below:




National Services Inc., (719) 783-9633




Yale Materials Handling,

Floor Maintenance Spotlights Hidden Costs

Not budgeting for floor maintenance and cleaning may be costing you more than you think.

By Christopher Trunk, managing editor

Steve Metzgar, president of Metzgar/McGuire, knows the skinny on hidden floor costs and how they silently eat away at your bottom line. "We surveyed a few hundred plant engineers, and a big issue brought to light was a lack of a maintenance budget for floors," observes Metzgar. "Because floor maintenance is rarely factored in by corporate, plant engineers are under the gun to jury-rig floor repairs as they can’t afford to take maintenance money away from their production machinery."

As well as being hobbled by budgets, Metzgar says plant managers tend to see broken floor joints — those saw cuts placed every 15 feet on your concrete floor — as not a big deal. But within a year, the spalling process can enlarge a broken joint into a major floor defect.

Costs revealed

So, what’s the big deal about rough, uneven floors with potholes and such? Floor problems begin when the joint filler used after a floor is cured is not properly applied. The filler is supposed to protect the edges of a floor joint from damage, but over time, the filler may settle into the joint or fall out altogether. In some cases, floor joints may have never been filled.

When a lift truck operator hits a sizable floor spall or broken joint, there’s an impact. It jars the machine, its load and the worker’s spine. Rather than repeatedly travel full-speed over floor defects, lift truck operators tend to slow down or travel around them. Multiply these slowdowns by the number of defects per aisle or per dock location and number of trips per shift, and you’re beginning to get the picture. (See Floor Defect Cost Formula.)

Poor floor conditions often show up as increased lift truck repairs. "I did a floor repair job for a furniture distributor that was spending $7,000 a month replacing wheels on their lift trucks. After our floor repairs, costs for wheel replacement dropped to just $1,000 a month," relates Metzgar. These cost savings are easily seen in plants with 20- to 30-vehicle fleets. Wheels on turret trucks are quite expensive, not to mention damage to lift truck axles, transmissions and loosened cables and wiring harnesses. Lift trucks or castered equipment with solid wheels are most susceptible as they magnify the shock, versus pneumatic tires that dampen shock.

Plants that handle dry grocery goods, like cereal, are also at risk since loads tend to be stacked higher because they’re lighter. Driving over floor defects can transmit a bump to the load, making it slide right off the tines. Crash!

A stitch in time ...

Jumping on floor joint problems early can cut repair costs significantly. Metzgar finds that catching joint damage in the early stage costs only $1.50 a linear foot for contractor repairs. But if you delay, allowing the damage to spread just 1/2" or 3/4" wide, repair costs rise to $4 to $5 a linear foot.

This clearly demonstrates a need for a floor repair plan that handles both immediate repairs in critical areas and preventive maintenance while spreading the cost over several years. Metzgar suggests this plan, which can cost from $2,000 to $10,000 a year, depending on facility size. Repairs apply only to traveled areas, not those under racks or fixed machinery:

• Year 1: Fix a third of all floor cracks, starting with critical dock areas;

• Year 2: Fix all remaining cracks;

• Years 3 and 4: Refill all joints as needed. This is the best way to prevent future cracks.

If floor problems are too much for your staff to fix, consider outsourcing. Metzgar offers his firm’s help with no-fee floor consulting and suggestions on machinery to use, repair material and qualified floor contractors in your area. Metzgar/McGuire markets joint and repair filler at 800 223-6680 or e-mail to [email protected].

There are new options for floor repairs. Look for new, hard-rubber, polyurea joint fillers that can set up and be ready for heavy lift truck traffic in just 30 minutes. Effective downtime is reduced to just three or four hours, versus 12 hours or so required in the past.

There’s a new water-based, liquid, penetrating hardener that soaks into the floor and reacts with free lime to harden the cement. It leaves no surface to wear off and makes the floor self-polishing. Ask for the Ashford Formula from Cure-Crete at (877) 934-4900 or visit PolyMax/Milamar Coatings also offers a chemical-resistant epoxy coating at (405) 755-8449.

Concrete Mender is a urethane that combines with sand to form a tough polymer concrete patch in 10 minutes at 70 degrees F. Visit

Floor cleaning buffs the bottom line

Changes in current business trends make mechanized floor sweepers and scrubbers more critical for taming maintenance costs. Dennis Kortsha, industrial marketing manager, NA export for the Tennant Company, lists some not-so-obvious cost-saving opportunities:

• Reducing wastewater. Your municipality is likely paying close attention to how businesses handle wastewater and may impose a wastewater handling fee. Today’s floor-cleaning machines can recycle water two or three times with special filters and detergents, cutting back on disposable water cost.

• Making better use of a short labor market. "Workers are harder to find these days, and their expectations are higher. It seems every house has a riding lawnmower," says Kortsha. "Companies with walk-behind sweepers are buying rider equipment to make the job more comfortable and, frankly, more glamorous." Rider units don’t fatigue a worker as much and can handle larger water tanks, which means less time spent cleaning out the machine.

• New ways to obtain equipment. Rider-type models are now offered in several smaller capacities than before to extend their efficiency to smaller sites. Now there are options for leasing, long-term rental, purchase and machine maintenance. And don’t forget that last maintenance part. You ask a lot of a floor sweeper. It operates continuously amid dirt and dust with lots of complex machinery. Kortsha suggests you take a look at a regular maintenance plan, which can be less expensive than emergency maintenance and the subsequent unplanned downtime.

• New power sources. Floor sweepers are now available in diesel and battery power with different tire sizes and engine protection against dust and heat. Models with air-conditioned or protective cabs are available. These features together can better match a floor scrubber to your particular environment.

Total cost is real cost

When looking at a floor sweeper or scrubber, look at the total cost of operation. Though rider trucks may be more expensive than a walk-behind, they work faster and make life more pleasant for the worker — two factors that spell faster payback.

Also, make sure your new machine is sized right for your floor area and aisle width. A multi-shift operation makes a big difference in machine choice. Your local material handling equipment distributor can perform a floor needs analysis by square footage, number of your maintenance staff, and wastewater requirements by municipality. Tennant also offers this service. Contact them at 800 553-8033; e-mail to [email protected] or visit

Kortscha points out that sweepers can be key elements in manufacturing operations in keeping hazardous metal dust at bay and in keeping dust contamination off parts. In warehouses, a clean facility can leave a lasting impression on customers.

"Just as owners and plant managers may underestimate the value of cleaning, they may be underestimating the cost of not cleaning," adds Kortscha. MHM

Floor Defect Cost Forumla

Here’s a look at what each floor defect on your warehouse floor may be costing you right now in hidden, lost lift truck productivity:

With a 2-second travel slowdown for one defect ...

2 sec x 20 trips/hour = 40 sec/hour

x 8 hours a day = 320 sec/day

x 5 days/week = 1,600 sec/week

x 52 weeks/year = 23.1 hours/year

x $15* labor/hour = $346.50/year

* direct labor cost, including wages and benefits.

If a facility works two shifts a day and six days a week, the cost for that one defect increases to: 2 sec x 20 trips x 16 hours/day x 6 days/week x 52 weeks = $831.90/year.

Source: Metzgar/McGuire.

Roll Up Your Sleeves for CMMS

It takes a maintenance manager with computer savvy and some old-fashioned elbow grease to make the most of today’s new computerized maintenance management system software.

by Christopher Trunk, managing editor

See if this sounds familiar: "A lot of companies have a parts storeroom that’s a mess. The understaffed maintenance department frequently runs out of parts and has old parts they don’t need. Machinery downtime is excessive due to misplaced or stock-out parts. The company compensates with its checkbook — buying more and more parts because it’s easier than wading through the storeroom to unearth it," says Dave Ruvelson, marketing manager of AppliedStore for Applied Industrial Technologies.

Sources report that this is an all-too-common case in today’s warehouses and manufacturing plants. Parts managers, IT staffs and upper management who recognize the problem can reach out to both computerized maintenance management system software (CMMS) and maintenance outsourcing companies for help. (See Feeling Overextended? Try Outsourcing.) But buying software and outsourcing are just half the prescription for relief.

Exercise your maintenance muscles

To stay competitive, maintenance managers must begin measuring the basics, says Walter McDonald, president of The McDonald Group Inc., a material handling consulting firm. He says software can be used to direct and store those measurements. This means properly storing and tracking spare parts inventories, establishing reorder points, getting rid of excess or obsolete inventory and tools, researching and typing in preventive maintenance schedules, keying in and stocking critical spare parts as suggested by the manufacturer, and, above all, instituting discipline in work orders.

You see, unless maintenance workers manually key in the time spent, equipment worked on, parts used and other pertinent information upon completing a repair job, the most powerful software package won’t help. Only this procedure can keep the correct amount of spare parts on hand.

Management must also face the fact that the maintenance manager post must be made a professional position. "In the past 25 years, the parts manager used to be a poorly trained and educated guy, a job given to a maintenance staffer who wasn’t a particularly good mechanic. Yet maintenance/parts managers are typically responsible for the largest assets in the company, in both inventory and machinery cost," maintains McDonald.

He believes that a lack of a sophisticated spare parts control system, and workers trained to use it, are the dual cause of many business problems in customer service, collections and machine productivity. Add to these woes excessive downtime and a lack of historical maintenance cost data on aging machinery.

It’s a leadership challenge for the parts manager to identify maintenance management problems and then investigate CMMS software and material handling storage/tracking methods. However, all sources agreed that a common, worst-case scenario is a maintenance manager having a software package jammed in place by an IT department or upper management without his or his workers’ input.

Unbeatable for tracking costs

Justifying the cost of CMMS is the easiest part. By its nature, maintenance software lets you track critical elements more effectively, including:

• Labor and parts cost by equipment piece. Equipment can include conveyors, lift trucks, sortation systems, AGVs, AS/RS, dock equipment, carousels, production machinery and more;

• Repair parts inventory levels;

• Erratic performance and downtime by machine;

• Maintenance work orders;

• Both preventive and predictive maintenance schedules;

• Purchasing decisions.

Tracking these items gives you a handle on total maintenance cost by combining both hourly labor and repair parts data. The added benefits are a reduction in equipment downtime and a ready weapon for justifying equipment replacement/retrofit.

"Establishing a maintenance history on each piece of equipment is critical," says Ken Johnson, vice president, modernization and customer support cells for HK Systems Inc. He finds that one of CMMS’ most powerful tools is letting you easily compare the cost of maintaining equipment and that piece’s downtime record with the cost of replacement or retrofitting. "Sometimes it’s just a matter of retrofitting problematic controls, drives or other single components to bring that piece back into reliable use," adds Johnson.

It’s a fact that creating a meaningful maintenance history is easier when buying new equipment. But if you’re saddled with a host of older machinery, CMMS can help there as well. "For older equipment, you establish preventive maintenance first, then you perform reproducibility and repeatability [R&R] studies to determine a time frame for replacement or an upgrade of controls, etc.," says Heather Driscoll, product manager of Visual Quality for Lilly Software.

Data from CMMS can be fed into return-on-investment software to help you determine the effective economic life of a lift truck or conveyor system, for example. HK Systems offers two different ROI spreadsheets, one on maintenance system outsourcing and another on integrated systems project rationale at

"Determining the economic life of a piece of equipment is both an art and a science," says Ralph W. "Pete" Peters, principal with Tompkins Associates Inc. Peters finds that maintaining relatively inexpensive equipment is a good target for CMMS. "In one plant, there were relatively inexpensive punch presses that cost $70,000 each. These were low-priority assets, but over the years they were costing $50,000 each in parts and labor to repair. Before the CMMS was installed, this equipment wasn’t even on management radar," observes Peters.

He says that older, maintenance-hungry lift trucks are similar money pits. "You may be spending far too much money and time keeping that truck operational versus buying a new truck that is safer, more energy efficient and more versatile," he adds.

McDonald says CMMS is critical if you’re in the equipment rental business. "Without historical preventive and demand maintenance cost tracked by machine, you’ll never know how much to charge for those long-term maintenance agreements," he says.

CMMS grows long arms

Like the newer WMS (warehouse management systems software), CMMS is now Web-enabled. "Instead of maintenance managers having only one set of computers to access their data, managers can use any computer around the world to see whether work orders are completed, to check on parts stores and to check if equipment is running efficiently," says Michael O’Neil, director of strategic alliances for DP Solutions Inc.

Johnson says that Web-integration can consolidate the responsibility over several plants into just one person’s job and allow companies with multiple sites to share parts and maintenance data more easily, reducing spare parts inventories. He reports that some buyers are using the Web to check on vendors’ spare parts levels to further reduce their on-hand parts.

Also similar to WMS, maintenance software vendors are becoming application service providers (ASPs), giving you access to their sophisticated CMMS software over the Web. The ASP handles all the mainframe requirements and software upgrades as well as maintains your company’s parts inventory data, preventive maintenance schedules, work orders, reports and purchasing functions. "All you have to do is use Netscape or Internet Explorer to path to the software Web site, type in your user ID and password. It’s that easy," says O’Neil.

One ASP that offers software over the Web is MegaMation Systems Inc. You can try out their DirectLineCMMS maintenance software for free at

Driscoll suggests that buying software doesn’t immediately make your staff experts. "Look for software that will grow with your maintenance staff," he suggests. "Allow them to start off with basic functions for reactive and preventive maintenance. Then, as software and planning skills develop, implement predictive maintenance, which replaces parts on schedule just before they fail, to further minimize unplanned downtime"

Bob Bettencourt, director of product management for Lilly Software, says predictive maintenance is made easier by putting together kits of consumable parts and replacing them based on a machine’s hourly use, number of production pieces, or both.

Selection = teamwork

All the sources for this article agree on one thing: successful selection requires a joint effort by maintenance staff, IT staff and upper management. Here’s why:

• Maintenance must have all its needs met for handling work orders, inventory, preventive maintenance, etc. The maintenance staff must sign off on its ease-of-use, or they may not use it effectively, if at all. Software must cover all core maintenance needs without much, if any, modification.

• IT must find the software to be easily compatible with ERP or other host software and purchasing programs. It must be Web-enabled if multiple site management or remote access of maintenance data is required. To make things easier, some ERP packages offer CMMS modules that are already integrated. Lilly Software is one example with its Visual Quality CMMS module. "You don’t want the CMMS to be an island of information within your operations," says Bettencourt.

HK Systems also offers an integrated package.

• Upper management must provide management staff enough time and personnel to implement the software once purchased. That includes the nitty-gritty of manually typing in parts list, researching and typing in preventive maintenance schedules, providing training on the importance of manually entering maintenance reports after a job is complete, and implementing an automatic tracking system for parts and tool inventories.

The prudent buyer wouldn’t jump into all this work without adequate advice. "We recommend a complete assessment of your maintenance needs up front, before you begin looking at software," says Peters. "There are best practices for maintenance and procedures needed that your staff doesn’t currently perform, which can enhance your entire program." It’s not just a matter of slavishly duplicating what procedures you do now. His firm offers consulting advice on maintenance practices and software purchase at

McDonald advises you to identify only the top three to five vendors that serve your industry. Then take time to visit users of their software in person. "Don’t just phone them. You’ll be investing a lot in time and money," he says.

Looking for software sources? Search the Web for: CMMS, maintenance management, maintenance software. Also, consider attending the National Plant Engineering MRO and Maintenance Show, March 5-8 at Chicago’s McCormick Place. Contact the show at (203) 840-4800.

Also, phone (412) 396-4493 to learn about a maintenance management certificate program offered by Duquense University.

Peters recommends a free, basic CMMS package for small warehouses with three to 10 maintenance workers. It’s downloadable from "Small maintenance staffs might not have time to work effectively with a sophisticated system. But once you ramp up to more than 10 workers, you tend to have a more valuable parts inventory and larger warehouse. Then you really need to buy some software," says Peters.

There is software available at different prices, with price points determined by number of staff, parts inventory, work orders and preventive maintenance orders. Standalone operation versus Web-enabled can also be a cost factor.

"Our software packages run under $5,000 for small operations. But a large plant with multiple facilities might need much more sophistication, and cost can run to $100,000," says Johnson.

Avoid implementation woes

Peters warns that only 30 percent to 40 percent, or less, of CMMS functions are used. "The underutilization of CMMS and storerooms being out of control are the two major problems we find with maintenance programs after software is purchased," says Peters. There needs to be more commitment from upper management to put best practices in place after purchase and more time spent developing a strategic maintenance plan beforehand.

Peters also cautions about maintenance software vendors that don’t know much, if anything, about material handling equipment and systems. "The same is true for CMMS, WMS and manufacturing software; you can’t assume those who develop software have the material handling experience to install it in the real world. That’s where consultants can help."

Avoid buying on price, advises Driscoll. "When one package is $10,000 and another $15,000, buyers may lunge for a deal instead of first performing a needs analysis of their maintenance operation. You need to compare point-by-point what the software offers to what you need, not just by what is more affordable," she observes.

Some final, human-nature advice from HK’s Johnson is this: Make it simple! "Maintenance people have to use this software every day. If you make it too complex, they just won’t use it," he says. MHM

Feeling Overextended? Try Outsourcing

Here’s a secret: Even companies with maintenance software already in place are choosing to outsource management of their parts rooms to a third party. Why? Dave Ruvelson, marketing manager of AppliedStore for Applied Industrial Technologies, says a lot of maintenance software is forced onto maintenance managers who have (pick any combination):

• Minimal computer skills;

• Minimum wage compensation;

• Insufficient maintenance staff.

With these challenges, the maintenance software may not be performing as promised. Applied Industrial Technologies offers a third-party maintenance parts room service that can take some pressure off of your current maintenance staff and free them to develop preventive maintenance schedules and perform demand and preventive maintenance work.

His service reorganizes the parts storeroom, labeling all parts and storage locations. When a worker takes a part from the storeroom, he takes a tag from the bin he used. He writes down cost center or machine number and quantity needed on the tag and then drops it into a box. When a worker returns an unused item, he puts it onto a special shelf.

Later, an Applied worker visits, scans the cards, updates inventory via a portable terminal, orders replacements if required, reshelves unused items and performs physical inventories. Applied has about 60 industrial manufacturing customers that store bearings, power transmission equipment, sprockets, motors, fasteners, etc. Reach them at

For more on CMMS products, Web sites and resources

Here’s how to contact these sources:

Bettencourt, [email protected]

Driscoll, [email protected]

Cayenta, 800 467-2388 or

Johnson, [email protected]

McDonald, [email protected]