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Maximizing Maintenance Management in the Warehouse

July 25, 2022
Digital maintenance management can help you get work done faster and more efficiently.

The world of warehousing is changing… fast. From rapidly adapting new technologies and labor challenges to supply chain fluctuations, managing the day-to-day operations has become increasingly complex. Demand is not letting up either. Daily, manufacturers, distribution centers and logistics companies across all industries announce plans for new warehouses to support or increase their footprint. We even see this growth in the areas where we work and live, with vacant land quickly being consumed by massive powerhouses moving goods. From warehouses built to leverage smart systems from the start, to standard facilities planning an automation retrofit and integrating just a few elements, an exciting journey lies ahead.

From Clipboards to Computers

Today, pressure is mounting to fulfill orders on shortened timelines, with less labor and even tighter margins. How can you consider making changes to your maintenance program at a time like this? With a plan.

As warehouses embrace more technology and automation, a steady stream of information—digital information—is required to increase productivity and optimize operations fully. This digital information is especially integral to maintenance management, an area that is typically overlooked for the latest technologies, yet is one of the most vital part of your operations.

Without digital maintenance management, warehouses must rely on manual tracking through elementary software or more commonly, pen and paper. This out-of-date method to track equipment maintenance adds complexity for your employees and can delay response time/needed fixes or preventative maintenance that results in equipment failure or worse—downtime.

The days of pen and paper or even Excel-based preventative checklists for lifecycle machine management will soon be a thing of the past, especially when their digitally enabled counterparts are so quick to reap the benefits. With a lack of visibility into your operational footprint or constantly having to play catch up, preventative maintenance checklists are no longer the most efficient or effective to support maintenance teams. Maintenance and operations need a way to cut through the noise, increase productivity and gain insight into machine operations to increase the life of equipment.

Operating like a Well-Oiled Machine?

A story we know all too well. Operations seem to be smooth. You are using a robust preventative maintenance checklist to confirm belts are tightened, conveyors are in good condition, wear parts are replaced well before they cause an issue—or so you think. Last week, while your maintenance technician was out, a few boxes were left unchecked. Without any notification to the team, electronic or otherwise, the idlers on your main conveyor did not undergo their crucial cleaning process and seized up, causing the system to shut down.

Now, the maintenance team must direct their immediate attention to that conveyor. Attention that could have otherwise been spent on preventative maintenance of parts that would have averted equipment failure and downtime in the first place. Thus, the endless cycle of reactively working on downed machinery ensues and maintenance teams just cannot keep up. Oh, and that labor-intensive hour of cleaning and replacing failed parts came with great cost to your operations and your end customer.

So, how could this scenario have played out differently? Enter digitizing your maintenance management. Simple software integrations allow teams to log work orders, schedule maintenance, plan downtime and offer a multitude of other benefits. Digital maintenance management enables data-driven decision-making and connects your teams to maintain your most valuable assets efficiently (Figure 1).

Adding to the difficulties of antiquated equipment maintenance tracking methods is your labor challenge. General shortages and the gap of skilled workers are taking a toll on all of us. As a result, personnel must manage the priorities of multiple stations and locations, across geographies, or the responsibility is outsourced to a third-party entirely. Competing priorities, tireless emergency maintenance and a lack of visibility into equipment lifecycles can become a recipe for disaster as more pen and paper lists go unchecked.

The right computerized maintenance management system can help you simplify and streamline maintenance and in turn, optimize your assets to increase their longevity.

A Simpler Way to Work

Digital maintenance management can help you get work done faster and more efficiently. From simple preventative maintenance tasks to complex fixes or disruptions impacting part lead times, managing your work orders digitally can increase productivity and reduce headaches for your maintenance teams. Many computerized maintenance management system solutions offer:

• User-friendly interface: Make it easy for workers to log work orders and communicate complex situations effectively.

• Intelligence: Facilitate work order generation based on real-time equipment conditions.

• One-stop-shop for resources: Create digital libraries for standardized resources such as manuals, checklists and more to keep your team on task.

• Audit preparation: Manage your inspection-type tasks digitally and plan activities based on inspection outcomes.

• Better visibility: Gain insight into warehouse operations with a full view of your teams’ schedules and assignments.

• More than words: Capture the problem with photos from your mobile device and upload it directly to your work order.

The features above and the multitude of other capabilities most computerized maintenance management systems offer are not made possible without digital data, nor do they have to be costly. Not only is having the right data important, so is the ability to digest it and make quick and accurate decisions based on it. Digital data allows you to present the facts quicker and empowers your teams to speed up critical decision-making. Decisions that could mean dollars for you and your customer.

Take It to the Cloud

While many solutions for digital maintenance management exist, even greater are the features to consider while evaluating the right solution for your operations. Where you store your data is as important as the information being stored. When planning to implement a computerized maintenance management system at your warehouse, it is essential to consider cloud vs. on-premises computing. While both offer comparable results, sustainability of the system, such as long-term cost or ease of integration and continued utilization/maintenance, should be key considerations for warehouses today.

The benefits of cloud computing, and the speed of which they are realized, tend to outweigh the offers of on-premises solutions in most cases. Why, you ask? On-premises software, most desktop applications, for example, hold all your data on one physical device. The process of sharing this data with others to manage warehouse equipment effectively can be cumbersome as it requires the other device to be on-site and connected to the systems network. The valuable data stored with on-premises software is not accessible from other devices or offline.

Alternatively, cloud-based solutions are accessible by any computer, which allows for quicker integration with the methods you currently have in place. Additionally, cloud-based computerized maintenance management systems reduce the hassle of software setup and maintenance while aligning to the level of security your warehouse needs—all of which the provider manages. With a wide range of features available and more frequent updates that are easier to push out, cloud-based solutions are also often more scalable than on-premises software. Computerized maintenance management, provided through a cloud environment, makes the barrier to entry minimal, even for warehouses that are just beginning a digital transformation.

Change Does Not Have to be Scary

With the pressure on warehousing today, the thought of changing your maintenance program can be daunting—but it doesn’t have to be. Whether embarking on a full-scale digital transformation or a warehouse retrofit, a sustainable computerized maintenance management system must be a part of your plan. And partnering with the right system provider can make all the difference. With a solution that allows you flexibility in offerings and in scale, you can be up and running fast, with little impact to production.

When you connect your maintenance team digitally, you facilitate streamlined processes and provide quick access to the right data, to transform the way you work.

Linda Freeman is industry manager, commerce and entertainment, with Rockwell Automation, a provider of industrial automation.

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