How to audit your preventive maintenance schedule and make the most of your team’s time

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Ryan Robinson had big plans for improving his equipment maintenance program. He wanted to optimize his preventive maintenance schedule so he could reduce breakdowns and cut labor costs.

There was only one thing in his way: Binders. Hundreds of binders.

“There were just stacks and stacks of records from 70 years of maintenance,” says Ryan, the shop manager at an Oregon-based wholesale tree grower.

“It’s virtually impossible to find trends in equipment usage and create the right schedules…we were losing time and productivity.”

Find out how Ryan conquered the binders and optimized his maintenance schedule

Ryan’s struggle is a common one. Your equipment maintenance program is only as strong as your schedule. Schedule preventive maintenance (PM) too close together and you’ll drain your budget while your team does unnecessary work. Schedule PMs too far apart and breakdowns increase while production drops.

Finding that sweet spot between the two extremes is not easy. It’s difficult to take a critical look at your to-do list if your team is mired in a business-as-usual mindset. Even if there is a desire to tweak your schedule, it’s hard to know what information will help you do that.

This article is all about solving that problem. It gives you the tools to audit your maintenance schedule and figure out if you’re doing the right work at the right time, and in the right way.

But first, what is an equipment maintenance program?

At its core, an equipment maintenance program is any process that helps keep an organization’s equipment in good, safe, working order.

While that’s a tidy definition, you know it’s not that simple. You have a budget to stick to and targets to hit. There’s a production team to collaborate with and only so many hours in a day. In short, the best equipment maintenance program allocates your limited resources to the right work at the right time and ensures work is done as efficiently as possible. When it’s done well, this allows you to hit your ultimate goal of keeping assets running as long as possible while producing the least amount of waste. That all starts with your preventive maintenance schedule.

A world-class equipment maintenance program is not built on a set-it-and-forget-it PM schedule. Things are always changing at your organization. Assets are getting older. Equipment might operate differently depending on the season. Your budget could be cut or (fingers crossed) increased. And while all this is happening, you’re collecting data on how your maintenance plan is impacting performance.

Factors that impact your preventive maintenance schedule

If everything around you is changing, your preventive maintenance schedule should too. Doing a regular audit of your PM schedule is an essential part of this process. It removes inefficiencies and helps you adapt to changing circumstances. It helps you find waste and eliminate it from your equipment maintenance program.

What is a preventive maintenance audit?

An audit of your preventive maintenance schedule is used to determine if you’re doing the right maintenance activities, at the right time, and in the right way. Here’s what that means for you and your team:

  1. The right maintenance activities: Is the work your team is doing making a positive impact on the availability and performance of equipment, as well as the health and safety of the facility?
  2. At the right time: Are you doing maintenance work at the right frequencies to catch and prevent failure while avoiding unnecessary tasks and costs?
  3. In the right way: Are your work orders planned, scheduled, and completed in a way that reduces short and long-term risk to the asset while maximizing every hour and dollar spent?

A preventive maintenance audit will help you answer these questions. It’ll also allow you to make the necessary adjustments to your maintenance schedule so you can build a world-class equipment maintenance program.

What preventive maintenance tasks should you audit?

The average equipment maintenance program includes over 2,200 preventive maintenance work orders every year. Auditing each and every one of them is probably not realistic.

So how do you prioritize the PMs to evaluate and modify? It all starts with the component the PM is associated with and how important the component is to the success of your operation, says Jason Afara, Senior Solutions Engineer at Fiix.

“I’d start by looking at PMs you do on critical assets that impact the number of items created in your process, or critical assets that impact the safety of a product,” says Jason.

Jason brings up an x-ray machine or a metal detector as an example. These components have an impact on the number of units produced, the quality of those units, and the safety of those units. Inspections of these components are also done frequently, leaving the most room for improvement.

If you want to zero-in on preventive maintenance work to audit immediately, Jason suggests looking at assets that consistently break down or don’t function properly. These elements have the biggest impact on your operation, so addressing them will give you quick wins.

Lastly, Jason points out that some PMs need to be audited annually or monthly based on compliance regulations.

A ranking of PMs by how frequently you should review them

How to audit your preventive maintenance tasks

Below are elements of a preventive maintenance task to consider when doing your audit and some factors that can help you optimize each part of your PM.

Frequency

Start by assessing how often the task is done and what triggers the task in your schedule. Tweaking the frequency of your PMs is one of the easiest ways to increase the impact of your time and money. There is one main question to answer at this stage: Should the task be done at a higher, lower, or the same frequency?

One way to determine the answer is to look at the result of each inspection.

  • If the task is leading to regular corrective maintenance, it’s working and should be kept at the same frequency.
  • If the piece of equipment is experiencing lots of breakdowns between inspections, try shortening maintenance intervals. You can also modify the trigger for maintenance, changing it from a time-based trigger to a usage or performance-based trigger.
  • If inspections aren’t turning up any issues with the component, try increasing the interval periods between PMs to cut down on unnecessary checks.

Equipment criticality

Equipment criticality is crucial for prioritizing tasks in your equipment maintenance program. It helps you understand:

  • What repairs and corrective action to do first, especially when the busy season hits
  • What backlogged tasks to put at the top of your to-do list
  • If you should put more technicians on a job to decrease downtime or safety risks

Audit your preventive maintenance schedule and ensure that your critical equipment is receiving the right amount of time in your calendar. If breakdowns or missed PMs are plaguing critical assets, this audit will help you shift resources from less critical areas of your facility to those machines so you can keep them running at their best.

This template helps you score the criticality of your equipment

Specialization

Examine each of your preventive maintenance tasks for the level of specialization needed to complete the work. The three main questions to answer for each job include:

  1. Does the work require a specialized skill to complete?
  2. How many people on your team have this skill?
  3. Does the task require bringing in a specialized contractor to complete?

The more specialization needed for a task, the less leeway you have for it in your schedule as you’ll have to align it with the availability of a specialist. One way to create efficiency in your maintenance schedule is to group all specialized tasks (or all specialized tasks in one facility or area of your facility) together into a single timeframe so the work can be done with fewer costs or travel time.

Backup equipment

When auditing your preventive maintenance work, take into account how much of the same type of equipment there is at your facility. If there is a backup asset available, that piece of equipment is a good candidate for low-risk experimentation. You can try new, efficiency-boosting strategies on the machine with a safety net in place. This gives you the option to:

  • Increase PM intervals to gauge if inspections can be done less frequently
  • Give machine operators some routine maintenance responsibilities to reduce technician workload
  • Install sensors or other performance monitoring devices and trigger maintenance based on real-time readings

All these strategies allow you to build a long-term plan for optimizing planned maintenance on that asset. Just make sure that the backup asset is ready to run if the primary machine goes down.

Estimated vs. actual time on task

Estimates are bound to be off sometimes. But keep an eye on PMs that consistently take longer than they should to complete. There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, but those that affect your schedule include:

  1. It was assigned to the wrong person
  2. The time allotted for the task was too low for it to be completed adequately
  3. Not enough technicians were assigned to this work order
  4. Parts and supplies were unavailable or hard to find
  5. Production interrupted or delayed the work order

Based on the reason, you can tweak your schedule to account for or accommodate it. For example, if production routinely interrupts a certain PM, consider giving a half-hour buffer between the expected end of the work order and the expected start of production.

An added tip—shadow technicians as they complete frequent PMs or PMs on critical assets to get a realistic completion time for these tasks. You’ll be able to design a much more realistic schedule based on these times.

Common reasons maintenance work goes overtime and what to do about it

Operation mode

Audit your PMs and identify any tasks that can be safely completed while equipment is still operational. If any of this work is currently scheduled for a time when the equipment is not operational, consider switching its place in the calendar. This will free up time to work on machines that require downtime.

Impact of failure

Some failures are slight frustrations. Others are full-blown, migraine-inducing breakdowns that can ruin your day in seconds. You know the ones.

Understanding which PMs in your equipment maintenance program prevent the big failures will help you create a schedule that prioritizes these tasks. It’ll also help you justify your schedule (and explain its importance) to those outside of maintenance.

We published an entire article on mapping the impact of equipment failure. You can also use this FMEA template to track the impact of failure on an asset or component.

Here are a few takeaways from those pieces for optimizing your preventive maintenance schedule:

  1. Create failure codes associated with high-impact failures. If failed inspections catch one of these failure codes, escalate the corrective action on your schedule.
  2. On the other hand, if low-impact failure codes are flagged for corrective action, consider scheduling them all at once to save your team time and maximize labor spend.
  3. Don’t just quantify total failure when you audit preventive maintenance. Keep an eye on production quality or clean start-ups on equipment after maintenance. If quality is suffering after maintenance, think about putting more time and resources toward pre-production maintenance.

A preventive maintenance audit template

Check out this handy preventive maintenance scorecard for when you’re auditing your PMs. The higher the score, the more of a priority a task should have in your equipment maintenance program and schedule.

Scoring Criteria Score (1-10)
1 How often are follow-up tasks being created after this task?
2 How critical is the piece of equipment being maintained with this task?
3 How specialized is the work being done for this task?
4 How common is the skill required for this task on your maintenance team?
5 How available and ready to run is a backup piece of equipment for this task?
6 How often does this task exceed the expected completion time?
7 How much of this task can be safely done with the equipment still operational (note: 1 is all parts of the task and 10 is none of the tasks)
8 How much of an impact does this task have on the health of the asset?

How often should you audit your preventive maintenance schedule?

The best changes are always born from a pain. If you, your team, or your organization are facing a frustrating situation or a roadblock to success, that’s your chance to make a change to your equipment maintenance program that people will get behind. That includes making a change to your preventive maintenance schedule to solve that pain.

But obstacles aren’t always obvious. Sometimes, you need to go looking for them. In that case, Jason has a rule of thumb for how often you should conduct an audit of your preventive maintenance tasks.

“I always recommend you audit your PM schedule once a year or every six months, depending on your bandwidth,” says Jason.

“There’s truly no right answer on the timing, but it’s good to take a step back and understand if the schedule you’ve created is realistic.”

It’s also best to tackle things in bite-size chunks. Rather than trying to audit all your preventive maintenance tasks at once, do a subset of your schedule each month and tackle it systematically.

Ensuring a successful change

If you want your change to stick, you need to get your team on board. Speak with the technicians – both as a group and individually – and get them to understand why the change is happening and the positive change that will result (for example, better worker safety, fewer yet more valuable tasks).

Next, you have to make sure that the process change you implemented is having the desired result. Examine production schedules and work orders post-change and look for trends once again.

Use these 10 maintenance metrics to track the impact of any changes you make

Creating a streamlined equipment maintenance program, one step at a time

Your equipment maintenance program is vital to the continued operation of a production-driven, asset-intensive business. But it can only remain so if it is continually being improved and streamlined. The best and most visible way of achieving this efficiency is by auditing your preventive maintenance schedule on a regular basis.

This audit should assess each task for value, frequency, and impact. Any task that fails or scores low on this assessment needs to defend its presence on your PM schedule or given a lower priority.

Eventually, your equipment maintenance program will achieve its ideal state—a streamlined, cost-effective PM schedule that properly utilizes the skills of the team you have available to achieve the maximum possible output for your facility.

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