Picture that flashing green DOS cursor of yesteryear coming from the grayish screen of your newly installed Xerox Alto desktop (circa 1972), and you will get a nostalgic sense of how far we have come with computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software. Today, we're taking a deeper dive into the history of the CMMS and discussing how a new wave of technology is changing the role that it plays on the plant floor.
A Brief History of the Computerized Maintenance Management System
Back when the computerized maintenance management system was first conceptualized, that computer could not run a single app you now have on your phone. But even with these early limitations, software engineers of the day had hopes of developing a computerized maintenance management system that would simplify the maintenance activities within manufacturing.
Unfortunately, it has taken some 40-50 years of technology and software evolution to arrive at a point in time when these concepts could be fully put to work on the factory floor.
- Early versions were nothing more than a vehicle to input static data with little or no chance of that data ever being pulled for analysis.
- Later versions allowed the user to enter data in multiple fields allowing for greater access to this data. But this data was still only available through Superusers that were specifically trained to retrieve the information through detailed query and specialized screens.
- Finally, newer versions of these traditional CMMS software programs allowed for control and categorization of information even down to the job, Work Order and scheduled PM events, but they still lack the user experience that makes it easy for everyday mechanics and technicians to use comfortably.
Shortcomings of the Computerized Maintenance Management System
As computerized maintenance management system technology progressed, gaps still existed in what software companies were (and in some cases still are) delivering to users. These still-existing gaps are easy to identify when assessing maintenance organizations that use an older, outdated computerized maintenance management systems.
Indicators that these gaps are present include:
- Excessive manual input of data
- Minimal/limited available seat licenses
- Excessive cost to upgrade to the latest version
- Small percentage (if any) reactive maintenance captured
- Confusion on how the data is used
- Difficult and clunky user interface
Historically, traditional CMMS software has only been available to large corporations with the budgets to handle the high cost of purchase, upgrades, and resources needed to support the implementation.
In some cases, these systems are add-ons to existing accounting platforms that are not designed as CMMS software. These add-ons can cost millions of dollars and take years to implement, only to end up not delivering on features and user experiences as advertised.
The upgrade process is another source of frustration brought on by traditional systems. Due to an unwillingness to budget for upgrades and a real fear that new upgrades will cause disruption to the process, these upgrades are postponed for years, causing the company to lag in user skill and understanding of modern features.
“In my experience, 90% of factories are operating with systems and methods that are outdated. Antiquated, actually. These are systems that do not support continuous improvement and are in fact wasteful and don’t add value.”
So, considering the fact that these traditional systems are not being upgraded in a timely manner and are sub-standard in features set and user experience, homegrown and black market systems begin to emerge that help technicians manage the real day-to-day operations of the maintenance department.
Key indicators that these systems are finding their way in operations are:
- The hoarding of spare parts in tool boxes
- Multiple spreadsheets with old data
- Grease boards with outdated information
- Stacks of printed PM’s and Work Orders
- Technicians planning activities on the fly
Plants Need Something Better Than a Traditional Computerized Maintenance Management System
The good news here is that there is a new generation of computerized maintenance management system software.
Using Cloud-based technology with new advancements in IoT (Internet of Things), new computerized maintenance management systems are able to answer and solve the gaps left open by these more traditional CMMS offerings.
Considering moving from a traditional system to a new, cloud-based, IoT-centered CMMS can be a daunting decision but a good one. Consider some of the problems that are immediately solved with the use of a cloud-based system:
1. Visibility and Transparency
Because your computerized maintenance management system now resides in the cloud, the system is accessible anywhere that has a browser. Data can be viewed and displayed in a number of ways across the factory floor.
From the smallest mobile devices to the largest display monitors companies choose to purchase, Cloud-based data is available.
The ability to see what machines are down, for how long, with who assigned, what spare parts are being consumed, and what escalation processes have been engaged are all visible in real-time for everyone to see.
2. Providing Value to the End User
When users begin to see your computerized maintenance management system as a tool instead of a task, the value of that software's features and the data it provides jumps tremendously in the user’s mind.
For instance, with a tablet in hand, a mechanic has access to all digital documents (drawing, schematics, work instructions, etc) at their fingertips while on the factory floor.
Gone are the days of rummaging through out of date machine manuals stored haphazardly somewhere in the maintenance shop.
Gone are the days of working with outdated PM checklists and gone are the days of waiting in line at a single shop computer just to enter end-of-day information that may or may not be totally accurate.
3. Easy To Use
Cloud-based technology has allowed software developers to create more intuitive and simple user interface experiences, making the computerized maintenance management system software less daunting to an entire generation of employees who grew up without using computers.
Think about the popular cloud-based software in the world today: Facebook, WAZE, Youtube, etc. All are simple to use and invite the user to simply navigate pages as they interact with the data. With a focus on intuitive design, the UI gives the mechanic on the shop-floor a less stressful and more relaxing way to enter data.
When this is available, users see less barriers to interact with the software.
4. A Simple Tie-in With Production
The real coupe with a cloud-based computerized maintenance management system is the tie-in with production data through IoT technology.
Using PLCs and wireless connected sensors, you can easily collect data around:
- Downtime data
- Production numbers
- Scrap data
- Run rates
These are combined to create a single source of data, useful for calculating machine OEE and other critical metrics. This also eliminates tension between maintenance and production personnel. Instead of having two separate sets of data, both teams feed data into the same software to create one system that acts as a single source of truth.
5. Greater Employee Engagement
For decades, organizations have striven to unlock the true potential of engagement from employees. A cloud-based computerized maintenance management system combines mobility, ease of UI, and real-time visibility in order provide a platform where employees can quickly:
- Log abnormalities
- Suggest improvements
- Record improvement processes in the constraint areas of the facility
As you see, computerized maintenance management software technology has come a long way since its inception over four decades ago. Advancements in hardware and coding techniques have given the software industry greater tools to create a seamless user experience.
But the one constant through all of it has been that the most powerful machine on the factory floor is still the human brain and its ability to problem solve.
We should always rely on plant floor workers’ abilities to analyze the right data at the right time while providing them with a software that supports their effort.