Real–Time Maintenance Management

Wireless data collection devices and technician entry touchscreens are delivering real-time database updates from the shop floor to maintenance management software. These paperless, "clerkless" data entry environments pay dividends far greater than their cost.

Collecting and processing repair and maintenance data in real time means greater access to current information by more people on the maintenance and repair team.

Today's maintenance management software is fully equipped to support day-to-day operations in a real-time environment. Examples of this include the ability to create work orders and distribute them to the shop floor; to open work listings; to do parts order advisories; and for interactive management to-do lists.

Another example would be elaborate work assignment and scheduling systems.

But for all of their power, almost no maintenance management software actually operates in anything close to real time because of the bottleneck between job completion and system database updating.

A significant time lag is created by the manner in which work orders are processed. The vast majority of fleet management operations rely on paper work orders filled out by technicians that are entered into the computerized maintenance management software after the fact.

There is always a considerable lag between the time when work is completed and when the entries are made. It's a form of double entry, too, when you consider that handwriting is another form of data entry.

The lag neutralizes the best real-time features of today's software.

On-hand parts inventory quantities from the computer do not reflect the parts used that are still to be captured by entering work orders into the management system. If the typical lag is 24 hours, then the shelf counts are 24 hours old.

An open work list is pretty much useless until the work is marked as completed in the system.

Automatic parts re-ordering functions perform well when the inventory has been relieved (reduced) and the re-order point has been reached. However, the inventory doesn't get relieved until the work orders are processed.

Handwritten work orders live on, but they eat up time and money because they have to be re-entered into the management system. There are also the lost benefits of real-time information.

The City of Lansing, Mich., is at the leading edge of real-time data capture through the use of wireless handhelds and touchscreen technician workstations on the shop floor. This technology eliminates the paperwork associated with filling out forms and makes the distribution of work to the shop floor instantaneous.

An arriving vehicle is met by a service writer wielding a wireless touchscreen handheld. The vehicle ID bar code is scanned from the door jamb and the odometer reading is entered into the handheld using the touchscreen keypad.

Even though the driver is there to report a malfunctioning turn signal, for example, the service writer sees on the screen that the unit is also due for a B PM in 95 miles and is prompted to create the job.

Once created, the B PM job for this unit immediately appears in the open jobs list on the City of Lansing's shops' five touchscreen technician workstations.

The service writer adds the turn signal repair job with his handheld, and that job is also transmitted instantly to all these workstations.

When a technician chooses a job to perform at the workstation, the clock is started automatically. Suspending the job, going on break or completing the job stops the clock.

Collecting accurate labor hours and allocating them to each job on a paper work order has always been a challenge. Unless the technician was running a timer or bouncing back and forth to a time clock between jobs, the labor hours on paper work orders have always been highly suspect. Manually captured labor hours rarely come close to resembling pay hours.

Automated labor capture applies the same standards of accountability to labor used in accounting for parts and other materials.

Automated maintenance management software also provides a direct connection to the entire management system to view repair history, parts inventory and equipment specifications. This supports more effective trouble shooting and eliminates repeat repairs.

Parts used (barcode scanned or picked through parts from history) while the job is on the clock are charged to the job immediately, keeping the shelf quantity shown in the computer in synch with what is actually on the shelf.

The City of Lansing's real-time management system has eliminated the lag between job completion and management system notification to support real-time work flow management. Paper work orders and the administrative staff to re-create them in the management system are no longer required.

Labor hours are as exact as parts used. Parts quantities in the system match the counts on the shelf.

Employing real-time maintenance management systems help technicians make better decisions because they have access to real-time database information. That saves a fleet time and money through improved maintenance performance.

Tom Wisenall founded Current Software in 1986 following a 12-year career in public transit management and consulting that included both domestic and overseas assignments. His interest in maintenance management software solutions began in 1981 with work on a service island data collection system utilizing hand-held data collectors and an Apple II+ computer to calculate fuel and fluid consumption and schedule preventive maintenance inspections. Current Software launched its ExtraFleet line of maintenance management software in 1993. It was one of the first such applications developed for the

Windows operating system environment. The company's broadens the software's accessibility via the Internet and automating data capture by utilizing widely available devices like the Smartphone.