Planned maintenance: prevention is better than cure

Ben Tiffany
Ben Tiffany of Sigma

Ben Tiffany, Director at Sigma, examines how the outdated reactive maintenance model is costing businesses money, time and valuable resources, and offers an insight into the benefits that planned maintenance strategies can deliver.

When it comes to maintenance strategies, for many organisations the lure of reactive maintenance garners great appeal. The prospect of no up-front investment, a decrease in regular outgoings for routine maintenance tasks, and limited required planning, as teams simply react and fix any issues as and when they occur, certainly presents a compelling case on paper.

What many project managers fail to consider, however, is that in the long-term a reactive maintenance plan can actually increase repair and maintenance costs. Indeed, letting your assets run to the point of failure often results in greater costs for parts and call out fees, longer periods of downtime while new assets are ordered, and even non-compliance with regulations.

Similarly, the very nature of unscheduled repairs and maintenance, means accurate scheduling and planning is more much difficult and, often, costly, significantly impacting the bottom line. To put this into perspective, unplanned maintenance costs 3 to 9 times more than planned maintenance.

For organisations that make intensive use of assets in their operations, such as retailers who rely heavily on everything from lighting to HVAC, in-store security systems and bespoke fixtures to ensure a positive experience for customers, the need for effective maintenance is paramount. Particularly when you consider how important having uninterrupted trading is for the industry.

Add to the mix the introduction of advanced systems such as digital POS and displays, contactless collection points, and cashier-less technologies, to name a few, and the maintenance challenges are only compounded.

The retail industry is becoming increasingly fast-paced and from a technological perspective, even more complex, meaning it’s easy to see the potential for things to spiral out of control if assets are not properly maintained and managed. This is reflected in the fact that a staggering 81% of retailers experience downtime at least once a year, leaving retailers counting the costs of temporary store closures, reduced footfall and limited sales.

Faced with such challenges, project managers are increasingly seeing the value of transitioning to more cost-effective planned maintenance strategies.

Making the shift to planned maintenance

With a purely reactive maintenance policy organisations are always on the back foot; reacting to changing needs, balancing time and resources to prioritise urgent tasks and limit downtime. Planned maintenance strategies hand the control back to them. For chain store retailers, in particular, the ability to plan maintenance tasks and assign maintenance personnel to multiple sites in a systematic way can ensure seamless upkeep and protect the bottom line.

By utilising intelligent technological platforms, designed to optimise remote monitoring of assets and maintenance requirements, it is becoming increasingly possible to minimise both the potentially detrimental effects and costs of both planned and, perhaps most crucially, unplanned downtime.

Well managed and carefully planned preventative maintenance strategies facilitate greater advanced planning when it comes to asset works, meaning seemingly insignificant problems and straightforward repairs can be identified and rectified before they turn into major failures and costly repairs.

Through the careful planning of maintenance including; identifying problems and creating work orders, inspecting premises where work will be performed, and detailing what materials, tools, tasks, and services are necessary to resolve a problem, building and asset life can be increased substantially.

Regularly maintaining essential building fabric – be that roofing, decoration, windows or doors ¬– and keeping them in proper working order, will limit any reduction in asset value and impact positively on the user experience for visitors and staff alike.

What’s more, by creating greater synergies between planned maintenance and reactive work strategies, efficiencies can be created in the same location or across multiple locations.

For project managers, the benefits of transitioning away from a reactive building maintenance model to a planned approach extend beyond simply limiting costs for replacing fabric assets. With all building fabric preserved in optimum condition, and preventing minor building defects that can lead to more serious damage, organisations can create greater cost certainty and budgetary control by future planning, while also ensuring compliance with health and safety and insurance policies.

Undertaking building maintenance to keep facilities and key assets in good condition and operationally fit for purpose, can significantly decrease downtime. Left unattended, any asset will eventually fail. Regular building fabric maintenance can ensure your building is operating at its peak efficiency at all times, preventing any interruptions to entire working processes. At the same time, it will also mitigate the health and safety risks that can result from improper building maintenance, such as trip or fall hazards.

How to improve planned maintenance strategies

A well-executed planned maintenance strategy ensures better procedures can be put in place, to enable more efficient planning. Once this is established, organisations can better identify and source required materials, ensure they have the necessary skillsets in-house to perform maintenance, and make sure work is carried out in a more premeditated manner.

Although planned maintenance clearly brings with it significant benefits – from reduced maintenance costs to extended asset life, increased workplace safety, decreased downtime and even an improved workplace culture – any strategy is only as effective as the data that drives it.

The process of gathering data and prioritising maintenance tasks requires the unification of a vast array of information, including up-to-date incident reporting, work order completion times, maintenance, repair and operation supplies (MRO) inventory turnover, frequency of given tasks, certifications, and other metrics. By encouraging personnel across all departments to report technical faults promptly, such data can be kept up-to-date, making planned maintenance work more effectual.

If maintenance teams are able to showcase the practical benefits of planned maintenance to senior management, there is likely to be greater support for the cultural shift that may be required to move away from existing reactive practices.

Once personnel are on board and reporting procedures are enhanced, finding a convenient and simple way to track maintenance data should be the next key step. Ensuring all data is consistent and formulated through a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) can create greater efficiencies and enhance planning.

By using a CMMS system, organisations can automatically generate recurring preventive maintenance (PM) tasks to reduce maintenance planner workloads, while also supporting reliability in facilities. Through the data-driven optimisation of PM tasks, greater focus can be placed on maintenance activities that will provide real benefits to a facility’s equipment and operations. On average, that could mean cutting out about 30% of PMs, which can help planners use their time more effectively.

Creating collaboration 

So, how do organisations ensure that their businesses stay ahead of the ever-changing maintenance curve? For many, the ideal option is to lessen the burden of managing their own maintenance strategies by turning to experienced outside solutions providers that specialise in planned maintenance services.

Working in collaboration with a knowledgeable single provider of end-to-end services, including a well-informed Mechanical & Electrical (M&E) team, can help to cope with the wider scope and demands of strategies. Not only that, but planned maintenance can be undertaken to be in line with the highest standards of Health and Safety, and quality assurance, with all work NIC/EIC, ISO 18001, and Safe Contractor approved.

Indeed, a trusted partner can provide ongoing technical support, inspection, testing and maintenance services for all portable and fixed appliances, both on a contractual, or ad-hoc basis.

Ben Tiffany is M&E Director at Sigma

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