Achieve Greater Efficiencies in Maintenance Scheduling Automatically
Across a range of industries around the world, Plant Operations have heavy investments in expensive machinery that are critical to their success. Meticulous planned and reactive maintenance of this machinery and infrastructure is a key component of continuous and efficient operations. And in today’s environment, any advantage can mean the difference between gaining new work and losing a customer.
Mechanical underperformance can lead to decreased efficiencies, and machine failures can result in unplanned downtime and lost production, which can be financially devastating in today’s competitive market. Inconsistent maintenance of equipment can cause not only problems with production runs but can also have serious impact on the lifespan of the equipment.
Daily Hurdles to Overcome
A maintenance manager’s typical day involves scheduling required maintenance work by assigning it to the available maintenance crews, and other resources. Over a typical week, a manager may have to schedule hundreds of these maintenance activities, some of which may be critical. But what if the software used to build and manage the maintenance schedules is out of date or unsophisticated? Then there will be a lot of manual work being done, and because there is no time to carry out the required analysis of the schedule, important questions will go unanswered, like the ones below:
- How will maintenance activities impact production? For example, will today’s maintenance shutdown cause a production problem next week?
- Can we reduce non-productive time a little more and still complete the work on time? How much money will that save?
- If we have any medical issues and crew members are out, what will be the impact on the schedule?
- Should I move up any work on specific equipment to lessen the impact on the plant production?
- What’s the best response to unanticipated events, such as a breakdown or outage that we can’t control?
To ensure reliable ongoing production, maintenance managers need to have a higher degree of scheduling automation at their fingertips and use software’s predictive capabilities to create an effective and efficient schedule of maintenance work orders.
Better Maintenance from Scheduling Software
Today, advanced maintenance scheduling software—incorporating AI-powered optimization—effectively addresses the challenges of scheduling maintenance activities and provides answers to questions. Such software enables a maintenance manager to schedule much more rapidly and efficiently:
- It empowers management to determine the best time to take equipment down for maintenance
- It is sensitive to production requirements and schedules
- It is aware of production run gaps and slow downs
- It takes availability of certified and skilled technicians into account
- It considers the parts and tools required for each maintenance task
- It links schedules to user-defined Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that may be used for predictive analysis and to answer questions
- It enables the creation and evaluation of schedule scenarios that may be used to plan for any contingency
The Power of Automation
Maintenance teams are made up of intelligent individuals. But their time could be going to waste when it’s spent on the clerical tasks that keep a maintenance program going. This means that the more automation available to build and manage the maintenance schedule, the less time the team will waste on keeping the wheels turning, so they are free to complete work orders and keep machinery running smoothly when it’s needed. That’s where today’s scheduling software outshines traditional tools.
Modern scheduling software streamlines the maintenance needed to keep operations running and eliminates the need for multiple additional applications or spreadsheets and time-consuming manual calculations that are used to assemble and manage a schedule.
Today’s scheduling software eliminates the guesswork from manual processes and ensures that no key steps are missed. Not only are process errors eliminated, the manpower that was once allocated to these repetitive steps can now be devoted to other aspects of the plant’s operations. Furthermore, modern scheduling software presents crucial information in real time for evaluation, so management can develop alternative action plans when necessary to ensure critical targets are not missed.
Faster and More Flexible
Scheduling software with built-in optimization capabilities assigns tasks to the right resources in seconds, tracks work progress until completion, and builds history for future reference. Maintenance managers can instantly see all open maintenance requests, what each department is working on, and the upcoming scheduled maintenance they need to plan for.
Through robust reporting, stakeholders can access real-time data and evaluate the status of any project. And they can allocate workloads based on work requirements and availability and adjust intelligently when there’s a change in one part of the maintenance schedule.
In addition to eliminating the need for error-prone manual data entry and un-auditable collections of spreadsheets and project files, today’s advanced scheduling software centralizes equipment and resource information in a database, designed to manage all types process units are kept running, regulatory requirements are effectively met, and systems are responsive and highly adaptive to changes in feedstock properties. To maintain competitiveness, oil refineries are constantly searching for optimization opportunities to improve their operations.
Scheduling software is a valuable decision support tool that provides fast, accurate and transparent information on activities, with the flexibility to solve short-term problems. It enables refineries to maximize project collaboration and efficiency, shorten project timeframes, reduce risk, and achieve predictable and reliable production. More than a valuable tool, scheduling software is an important information system. The scheduling information, which was previously restricted to a limited group, is now democratized within the refinery and allows for a collaborative effort, and better, faster responses. It also replaces a set of non-standard and personal spread of maintenance activities, and it makes that information available to all team members involved in operations.
Moreover, today’s scheduling software will find those activities that can be aligned so any equipment shutdown period is minimized.
Another significant benefit of scheduling software is the flexibility it provides to maintenance managers in terms of mobility.
Maintenance managers no longer have to be at their desks to view reports about their plants’ productivity and progress. Instead, all critical information is available online, enabling access anywhere, anytime.
Case Study: Refineries
Refineries present an excellent example of how scheduling software can enable better maintenance scheduling and execution. Intelligent production planning and scheduling are vital to ensuring refinery profitability, logistic reliability and safety at the local and corporate levels. Refiners must ensure that key process units are kept running, regulatory requirements are effectively met, and systems are responsive and highly adaptive to changes in feedstock properties. To maintain competitiveness, oil refineries are constantly searching for optimization opportunities to improve their operations.
Scheduling software is a valuable decision support tool that provides fast, accurate and transparent information on activities, with the flexibility to solve short-term problems. It enables refineries to maximize project collaboration and efficiency, shorten project timeframes, reduce risk, and achieve predictable and reliable production. More than a valuable tool, scheduling software is an important information system. The scheduling information, which was previously restricted to a limited group, is now democratized within the refinery and allows for a collaborative effort, and better, faster responses. It also replaces a set of non-standard and personal spread sheets that can cause confusion. Production scheduling definitions, data and information are structured and standardized allowing for quick comprehension and best work practices. With one application for all maintenance activities, companies can enhance their process and create new workflows that drive greater efficiencies and productivity.
In today’s environment, maximizing every minute of operations is critical to staying ahead. Because of its many efficiency, safety and accuracy benefits, production scheduling activity must be understood as a strategic advantage. By adopting advanced scheduling software as part of their digital push, organizations can automate and schedule maintenance activities faster, more reliably, and more accurately. At the end of the day, it empowers maintenance managers and their companies to drive operations forward with confidence.
The OPC Foundation will continue to expand its role as the “United Nations of Automation” - the foundation where different organizations work together to standardize and harmonize.
The working environment for today’s maintenance technicians is tricky. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way that many people perform their jobs around the world. At the same time, many maintenance technicians may have found that their workload hasn’t changed too much, or may have increased due to related factors. In either case, the work still needs to be done and it’s often reassuring for on-site techs to know, sometimes through modern technology, that they’re not alone in their responsibilities.