Turning data into decisions: Best practices for making the most of your hard-earned asset tracking data

Asset tracking best practices: How to make the most of your hard-earned asset data

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Today’s asset tracking technology gives us the power to know more about our equipment than ever before. If just thinking about all that data (and its potential) gives you a buzz, you’re not alone.

But there’s a catch: This wave of asset data looks a lot like a tsunami when you get too close.

Data is supposed to make things easier. But it’s hard work extracting good quality data from assets, analyzing it, and putting it to good use. In fact, it’s common to spend 80% of your time simply collecting, cleaning, and organizing data.

This article attempts to ease that hassle by providing best practices for asset tracking. It also looks at tips for using data more efficiently once you have it.

What is asset tracking?

Asset tracking is the act of monitoring the usage, performance, and costs of a fixed asset, such as a bottling machine.

Today’s asset tracking technology gives us the power to know more about our equipment than ever before…But there’s a catch: This wave of asset data looks a lot like a tsunami when you get too close.

Here’s how Fiix’s solutions engineer Jason Afara defined asset tracking during his years as a maintenance manager:

“I looked at asset tracking as a way to measure the performance of my fixed, production-intensive assets,” says Jason.

“My end goal was to see the financial impact of maintenance on a piece of equipment. That included everything from downtime to labour, to parts, and how all that impacted production. Ultimately, this information helped me keep assets healthy and forecast an accurate budget.”

This a huge step in building a more efficient asset management program. The information you track these critical assets will influence the way you manage parts, create processes, and more.

Asset tracking metrics: What you should measure

The first step of a successful asset tracking program is knowing what information you need.

We have to give a disclaimer here: This won’t be a definitive list of asset tracking metrics. Every facility and business is going to measure things differently. Instead, we’ll look at some broader KPIs so you can decide for yourself what metrics make sense to you.

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Safety

“One of the subjects we talked about at the start of almost every meeting was safety,” says Jason speaking of his experience on the shop floor.

“Safety was a part of every discussion about asset tracking, the performance of equipment, and the success of our facility.”

Health, safety, and compliance metrics usually focus on stats like the number of accidents and the number of hours lost. While this data has its merit, there a few other metrics that help you track how well your facility is at getting ahead of safety risks:

  • Percentage of safety audits and compliance tasks completed on time
  • Percentage of sub-standard conditions identified and corrected
  • Percentage of employees with adequate training

Being able to track this data on each asset improves everything from uptime to onboarding and audit compliance so you can work safer and with fewer disruptions.

Costs

“The only language everyone understands is money,” says Juan Ruiz, an operations manager at a manufacturing facility.

The bottom line resonates with everyone from the CEO to technicians. That’s why a lot of asset tracking data is about dollars and cents.

“If you can translate all your equipment problems equipment into dollar signs and show how to solve it, it goes a long way to justifying your strategy and the costs that go with it,” says Juan.

So how does this trickle down into the data you collect from assets? Jason suggests starting with downtime more generally and then targeting the root cause of that downtime.

“When there’s downtime, you’re paying people to stand around and losing money from lost production,” says Jason.

“You need to identify bad actors on the floor and focus on fixing their root problems.”

Juan likes to focus on metrics like mean time between failure and mean time to repair to keep costs low.

“If you can understand what happens in that time between failures and repairs, you can understand where to improve your recovery process and your recovery time,” says Juan

“Ultimately, different industries are going to have different metrics, but they need to be rooted in reliability and the useful life of equipment to control costs.”

What’s the ROI of maintenance software? We calculated it.

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Throughput and Quality

“There’s always a need to balance the quality and quantity of production with costs,” says Jason.

“If you’re putting 100 units a minute through a machine, but can only use 90 of them, your capacity and uptime numbers a lot less meaningful.”

Tracking throughput and quality is the fuel for long-term planning.

“When you have data across two or three years, you’ll be able to see where your equipment is in its lifecycle, how healthy it is, when to repair, replace, or upgrade it, and how demand from customers changes performance,” says Juan.

“From there, you can forecast your plant’s long-term capacity.”

The classic metric for measuring throughput and quality is overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). OEE looks at the availability, performance, and quality of equipment to determine operational efficiency.

OEE can be used in two ways.

The first is to find the assets that are underperforming and identify the reason why. Is the problem caused by a new product running on the machine? Is it because of misalignment parts? Does the whole production process need to be rethought?

The other is to make a more informed choice when purchasing new equipment. If the current machine has a 70% OEE, the machine replacing it with should be above that mark.

Asset tracking tools

Knowing how each asset tracking system works together is critical to surviving the tidal wave of data and coming out on the other side with information that drives meaningful improvements.

“The biggest challenge… is being inundated with data and not knowing how to sort through it and use it effectively and efficiently,” says Joe Kuhn, CMRP, owner of Lean Reliability.

“The data points you in the right direction, but you have to verify that data, recognize where the opportunity is…and then actually do the job.”

Equipment maintenance logs

Equipment maintenance logs are often an untapped source of asset information. We explored the data-driven potential of equipment maintenance logs, but here’s a quick rundown of some best practices for extracting numbers from them:

  1. Use a standard maintenance log template for every asset. This creates a steady baseline for each machine, eliminates errors, and makes data analysis easier.
  2. Keep your logs in a designated location, preferably on a cloud-based CMMS, for quick access and a lower risk of losing them.
  3. Always exchange logs between shift changes so everyone has the data they need to be safer and productive.

Six ways you can use equipment maintenance logs to make data-driven decisions

Maintenance software and technology

We could write hundreds of words about different types of maintenance software and what each asset tracking system has to offer (and we did), but we’ll stick to a shorter list here:

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CMMS software helps maintenance teams keep detailed and centralized records of assets and work so they can plan, track, and optimize

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EAM software provides a holistic view of your physical assets and infrastructure through their entire lifecycle, from design and procurement to disposal and replacement

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APM solutions tie together different tools and applications (like the IoT and AI) to improve the reliability and availability of assets, plants, systems, and infrastructure

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ERP software takes transactional data from every business unit and connects them, so everyone has the same processes and information

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MES technology controls all activities on the production floor to create high-quality items quickly with fewer costs

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Data collectors (SCADA, PLCs, sensors) allow manufacturers to control industrial processes by monitoring and processing real-time asset data and recording it in log files

There are a couple important things to keep in mind when buying, implementing, and using asset management software.

  1. They’re tools, not silver bullets: Without the proper people, processes, and culture in place, the potential benefits of maintenance technology are lost.“The main goal of all the tools…is to make better decisions with the information we have,” says Joe. “Technology is a tool. If you don’t use the tool to achieve fundamental business results, it doesn’t help you. A KPI without action doesn’t mean anything.”
  2. They have to talk to each other: When you integrate systems, you allow them to share information and work together. You may have sensors, PLCs, a CMMS, and ERP software, but if they aren’t integrated, they’re much less effective. Data will be difficult to collect and analyze, less accurate, and deliver a lower ROI.

The PDCA model: Bring the data to life

One of the most effective ways to use asset tracking data in your maintenance program is with the PDCA model: Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

Plan

This step is all about creating your maintenance and asset tracking roadmap.

“You have to have a target to aim for,” says Juan.

“You need to set up an asset performance target for the year and track against that number.”

The next phase is to develop processes and methods for hitting that number. This includes:

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Do

Once you have your plan, it’s time to execute it. Do what you said you’d do. This is when having asset tracking tools and processes in place is crucial as it creates a baseline for the next step.

Check

After you’ve been following your plan for a while, it’s time for a check-in. Make sure:

  1. You’re actually doing what you said you’d do
  2. What you see in your records matches real life (and there’s no pencil whipping)
  3. The plan is leading to positive outcomes

Jason and Juan say that frequent reporting is a key part of this phase.

“Schedule automated reports to yourself every day,” says Jason.

“You can’t be there 24/7, so reports are key to knowing how assets are running at all times.”

Jason also found it valuable to conduct in-person audits of asset performance. It helped him ensure data was clean, accurate, and true to what was happening on the floor.

Find the areas where your plan has broken down by looking at red flags in your KPIs (safety, costs, throughput, and quality). Link them to maintenance metrics and drill down on tasks that aren’t working. Are there too many or too few PMs on an asset? Are your condition-monitoring baselines off?

Act

The final step is to act on the information you’ve gathered. There are four options for each part of your plan:

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Eliminate the ineffective task

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Modify the task to improve outcomes

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Find ways to optimize the task for further gains

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Claim victory and ask, “What’s next?”

Example of PDCA method on a conveyor

Plan Do Check Act
Monthly inspection of the conveyor is planned and scheduled Work orders are assigned to a technician, who completes the scheduled inspection on time The maintenance manager and technician work together to decide if the plan is effective. They might ask: Are the right parts are being used? Are safety protocols being followed? Is the scheduled maintenance preventing early failure? The monthly inspection is altered to make it more efficient. This might include: rewording instructions on work orders, changing the frequency of the PM, and/or using new tools and parts

Using the data to design with reliability in mind

At this point, you could call it a day and go home proud. But there are other ways to use your hard-earned asset data to improve your operation. One huge area is designing for reliability.

One example comes to mind for Juan when he thinks about equipment design. The story starts when his organization was designing an expensive replacement for an older machine.

“We analyzed all the faults that happened on the asset and saw 20% of them were creating 80% of downtime. The reason was that the machine wasn’t able to run some of the new products.”

The data allowed Juan’s team to trace downtime to specific maintenance tasks. This led them to identify defective parts that were causing problems. The machine was redesigned with these parts in mind. The result was equipment that had a longer life cycle, required fewer resources to maintain, a higher availability, and produced higher quality products.

This example just skims the surface of what’s possible. If you want to learn more about using asset data for equipment design and life cycle management, check out this Plant Services article by Certified Reliability Engineer Michael Blanchard.

Learn to love the numbers: Why asset tracking matters

Asset tracking data might not be easy to get, but once you have it, you want to spend it wisely. It’s important to have the right measurements, tools, and processes in place. This allows you to get clean data and make the most of it without spending too much time. Getting just one of these elements right takes time. It’s a journey. Just remember to embrace the power of numbers to impact the success of both maintenance success and the entire organization.

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