Condition Based Maintenance – Monitoring Tools


I keep getting updates on new products used in the maintenance field through various online subscriptions.

Here is a link that shows the us of Ultrasound devices in the condition based maintenance strategy. I am not trying to sell the product, but am just trying to propagate the techniques involved. Please connect to the link given below and learn more.



Operations-driven reliability

Hi all,

In some of my earlier posts I have spoken about reliability, simple “Look, Listen, Feel” strategy in condition based maintenance strategy etc.

I came across an article in “Plant Services” web site covering a few of the areas and working towards “Operations – driven reliability.

I conducted a workshop on Reliability Centred Maintenance where I had covered the aspect of “Managing User / Client / Operator” expectations.

Please read this article following the link given below.

Operations-driven reliability.


Reliability | Hillbilly RCM |

I have seen people getting jittery when confronted with the term Reliability Centred Maintenance or RCM. The management jargon related to RCM makes it virtually difficult for the layman to understand the concept to its practical applications.

While operating gas turbine propelled ships in the Indian Navy, we had a few simple methods to listen to running machinery through rudimentary mechanical stethoscope – a long thin rigid copper tube with a brass disc attached. This was in addition to the more sophisticated on-line vibration measurement equipment, recording the vibration signature continuously. This data used to be periodically analysed to get the vibration signature. At that time, the recording was being done on board, but the data analysis was done by specialists sitting in their labs and we used to get reports on the health of the equipment on a monthly basis.

In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned a “Look, Listen, Feel” strategy which could be the basic condition monitoring technique. I strongly feel that If Looking, Listening and Feeling are made integral parts of regular visits to the equipment, it forms a practical method in improving reliability of equipment and systems.

Another management jargon that has caught on is “Autonomous Management”. This talks of the equipment and system operators joining hands with the maintenance personnel and getting cross trained with each other’s functions. The operators will be made responsible for the first line maintenance of the equipment or systems that they are in charge of and the maintainers will be trained in basic operations of the same equipment or system. This has the following advantages:

  • Improved feeling of ownership among both groups – operators and maintainers
  • Both the groups understand the equipment or system operations and the nuances of reliable operations
  • Flexibility in operations and maintenance – Who to do what, when, where?
  • Better operator – maintainer relationships. Lesser “We – They” conflict
  • Resulting increase in reliability and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

I came through an article in an old issue of Plant Services, covering a practical simple method to analyse reliability and achieve RCM. The link is given below:

Reliability | Hillbilly RCM | Plant Services.

Please read through to help you on the RCM path. No big statistical analysis, probability theory, mathematical modelling etc are involved.



Outsourcing? A Broad outline……

We need to understand the literal meanings of “Work,” “Job,” and “Chore” before we get into outsourcing per se.

  • Work: Exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labour; toil.
  • Job: A piece of work, a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation or for an agreed price: Example – She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.
  • Chore: A small or odd job; routine task. (For example – taking out garbage)

Proprietary concerns with very low number of employees, small businesses with slightly larger number of employees and medium or large enterprises manage work, jobs and chores (all are considered essential to the day-to-day running of the business and its successful outcome) through various means. The work, job and chores require different levels of skills and involvement by the business group irrespective of its size and do take certain amount of resources such as labour, time and cost to achieve.

Now looking at the definition of “Outsourcing”  – It is the management of an entire business function or functions through external service provider or providers.

Now let us look at the nuances of outsourcing in detail.

Proprietary Concerns– Let us take the case of a small automobile garage run by an individual who is the owner and the prime worker. He may have a few people to help him out in his work. Jobs and chores are assigned to the small group and managed by the owner. In the case of a small proprietary concern, the scope for outsourcing  is minimal and the cost advantage very low.

Small Business Concern– Suppose the same automobile garage did extremely well and the number of vehicles handled increased dramatically. The owner may not be able to function in the same way as he did earlier. He is still the driving force, but may not the prime worker any more. He may still handle the vehicles of a few valued customers, but the bulk jobs get done by others. The logistics and administrative work involved in running the business also would have increased manifold. At this point the owner has the choice of either doing the job in-house through additional employees or outsourcing certain business functions, common tasks and chores to external service providers.

Medium and Large Business concerns– Going in the same lines, a very large nationally networked automobile servicing concern would have a large employee base and much vaster business functions compared to a small business concern. Such businesses also have the choice of doing all the business functions in-house or to resort to outsourcing certain business functions, common tasks and chores to external service providers.

Why Outsource

Some of the reasons why business concerns resort to outsourcing are given below:

  • Improve business focus to carry out core functions. For example, the core functions of an automobile manufacturer are design – manufacture – marketing of their brand of automobiles. Maintenance of their manufacturing plant, operations of their utilities / infrastructure, physical security of their plants, in plant logistics management, sales & service etc are essential but non-core activities.
  • Free internal resources for other purposes. Once the non-core functions are outsourced the internal resources could be used for more strategic and focused core functions. Down sizing of employee groups used in non-core activities is also possible. For example, the Plant maintenance group could be down sized and the excess people from this group could be shifted to Project groups, new plants etc.
  • Gain access to high-class capabilities through third parties for outsourced functions (as per their core competencies). For example, there could be vendors specialised in automobile paint shop system / infrastructure maintenance to whom that job could be entrusted, at a price.
  • Use other vendors for skills or capabilities that are not available internally. It is difficult to build an internal team with all the essential skill sets. It may be financially more viable to use other vendors for some of the skills.
  • Reduce and control operating costs. One of the perceived and proven aspects of outsourcing is the reduction in operating costs.
  • Reduce HR management / training costs by reducing the number of own employees. Outsourcing helps in reduction of own employee count. This in turn reduces the overheads expenses for managing the employees day-to-day affairs, training, career progression etc.

Strategic and Tactical Outsourcing

Strategic outsourcing of business functions is carried out by businesses to meet long-term goals. This would require business analysis to identify functions to be outsourced, cost benefit, operational controls, risk assessment, legal implications etc.

Tactical outsourcing of business functions is carried out by business to meet short-term requirements. For example, getting large number of data entries through a vendor than doing through in-house sources.

While outsourcing is done to get some specific work done on regular long-term basis or to cover short-term peaks, we need to know other modes of getting work done through similar modes too.

Crowdsourcing is a method used to obtain solutions to specific problems by broadcasting the problem to a large group of solvers as an open call. The crowd could typically form up into online communities. This mode explodes the problem to a large network of amateurs, volunteers, and freelance experts and allows brainstorming within the groups / sub groups. The crowd would submit solutions, sift them through online discussions and recommend the best solutions to the Crowdsourcer (or the problem owner). The winning individuals are at times compensated monetarily, or with prizes, or just with recognition. By this mode, solution to specific problems could be sought at comparatively lower cost and often quickly. The sourcing organization gets to tap a wider range of talent than its own limited resources. Some examples for Crowdsourcing are new product ideas, innovations to existing products, new or modified branding ideas, proposals / implementation methodology for Governmental initiatives affecting a large number of people etc.

Co-sourcing is a mode where certain services are performed internally with specific assistance from some external service provider. A few examples of Co-sourcing are the process of auditing accounts, risk management, fraud investigations and software development through internal resources, assisted by external specialized service providers.

Business Risk in Outsourcing

Increased business risk due to perceived loss of control is a key inhibitor to outsourcing. The reality is that, outsourcing can reduce business risk in four major categories namely strategic risk, operational risk, financial risk and compliance risk, if the outsourcing process has been done with due diligence.

#•••••••••Operational Risks: This covers the financial and legal risks that arise when transitioning into an outsourcing relationship.
#•••••••••Commercial Risks: Companies resort to outsourcing to reduce operating cost. The service contract would lock them to a price with escalation over a period of time.  Market levels are dynamic and the customer company may end up paying too much for the services they receive.
#•••••••••Business/Strategic Risks: Businesses need to adjust to their operating environment and identify new strategic initiatives. If the service provider is not able to accommodate new goals, the customer company might want to exit the contract prematurely.
#•••••••••Legal / Compliance Risks: These cover privacy issues, regulatory factors, statutory obligations, outsourcing laws and legal liability that are also dynamic in nature.

Steps to reduce or mitigate outsourcing risks are as follows:

#•••••••••Be realistic: The business should get a service that works optimally at an affordable price. Setting unrealistic expectations and transferring too much risk and liability to a supplier could lead to the supplier falling short in their performance and adds to the cost by way of contingency / risk premiums. Mutually agreed Service Level Agreements (SLA) would help in this aspect.
#•••••••••Do your due diligence: Companies should assess the capabilities of the service providers being considered and the internal structure of the company to ensure smooth functioning.
#•••••••••Have the right governance structure: The success of outsourcing would depend on the internal governance structure and a well drawn up contract.  It needs to be win-win situation for the parent company and the service provider.
#•••••••••Try to anticipate change: Change is most certain in outsourcing relationships. To reduce the risk of potential conflicts between the parties in this regard, the contract should set down clear procedures for dealing with change. Mutually agreed Performance metrics, Change order process, Default penalties, High performance incentives and bonuses etc would reduce the need for frequent and further negotiations in this regard.
# •••••••••Trust is transient: A well-drawn and understood contract would mitigate the people centric conflicts of interest.

To Outsource or Not is a decision that needs much thought and analysis. The willingness of the top management team to outsource certain business functions will need necessary change management deep down within the organisation. Opposition to any change is natural and if a buy-off in this regard is made in the beginning, implementation of the outsourcing decision becomes that much easier. Communication on the impact of the changes in the organisation structure and functions would help the existing employees to understand the reasons and benefits of outsourcing.

As indicated earlier, any outsourcing has to bring in a win-win situation to the parent business and the vendor, if the venture is to succeed and flourish.

The views given above are purely personal and may not be applicable to all types of outsourcing decisions.


Managing Spare parts, supply items and tools in Maintenance Management

Every maintenance management set up handle some amount of inventory by way of spares, supplies and tools; this is irrespective of the organisation size. For smaller teams, the inventory management could be a simple task since the quantities and variety would be less. As the size grows, so does the variety and inventory.

The OEM and AMC vendors normally give a set of inventory requirements (at times inflated) as regards maintenance effort. Many of these items go unutilised and we get into a situation where we hold a large inventory including non-moving items.

How do we optimise the inventory holding, thus reducing the overall maintenance cost?

Re-organising an existing store room or starting a new one are both time-taking and requires focused effort. Starting a new store room is comparatively simpler since we are starting from scratch and go by some inventory management logic to begin with. Revamping an existing an store room requires much more effort and thought. We will deal with an existing store house in detail in this post. 

Redundant / Out of Service / Obsolete Machinery, Equipment and Systems

  • Over the years of operations, some of the full equipment and machinery or full critical sub assemblies that we had ordered as hot spares might not have been used at all and may languish in the store rooms. Decide on how to dispose them off using the following options (just indicative and not necessarily exhaustive):
    • Replace the old operational machinery and equipment with the new ones in store. After a short observation period, dispose the old items at the maximum possible price. Benefits – Lesser inventory level, new set of operational equipment / machinery with that much more reliability & life, scrap sales income accrued.
    • Replace the existing sub-assemblies with new ones from the store. After these stabilise in operation, dispose the old ones at the maximum possible price. Benefits – Lesser inventory levels, new set of sub-assemblies in operation prolonging the equipment  life, improving reliability scrap sales income accrued.
    • Get the OEM to buy the items back at the best possible price. Benefits – Ideal way of waste reduction and reducing the inventory cost.
    • In case it is strongly felt that we need to keep a hot spare that can reach the site in a short time, get the OEM or AMC vendor to take back and hold the full equipment or critical sub-assembly in their stock. Some hard bargaining may be essential. The population of similar equipment or critical sub-assemblies in your geographical area of operations (not necessarily with you) may clinch the issue in your favour.
  • We may have replaced a few of the equipment / machinery / systems over the years with more efficient or better ones. The older full items, spare parts and special tools (if any) would still be part of the inventory. What do we do in this scenario?
    • Dispose the full items at the best possible price.
    • Inspect condition of spare parts and other supplied items,  check for spares and supply items compatibility with other operational equipment (for example, bearings, seal units, couplings, fasteners, electrical contacts, switchgear, oils, greases etc) and dispose the unusable parts and supply items at the best possible price. Check with OEM for buy back.
    • Inspect all the special tools, check for compatibility and useability on operational equipment and dispose the unusable items at the best possible price. Check with OEM for buy back.
    • When equipment / machinery / systems are being replaced, negotiate a buy back of the items being replaced with all the spares and tools with the new supplier.
  • With the rapid technology advancement, obsolescence has become a major problem, particularly in the electronic and microprocessor control units. We could get into an agreement with the OEMs to regularly upgrade the obsolete units with new ones with a buy back agreement of the old ones with all the spares.

After getting rid of all the useless inventory, now let us focus on optimising the useful inventory.

Optimising Current Useful Inventory

Assuming that we are using a CMMS Suite with an Inventory module, firstly there need to be a list of all assets under our maintenance. The inventory needs to be divided into three broad categories, namely:

  • Spares – Made up of full equipment / sub assemblies held for “Hot swap”, and other spare parts.
  • Supply items – General items of stores such as oils, greases, gases, cleaning material, standard rubber hoses, adhesives (general and specialised), sealant material etc
  • Tools – This can cover general day to day use hand tools, special jigs & fixtures, equipment specific special tools such as Injector removal spanners, bearing pullers etc. Specific PPEs also could be listed under this category.

A screen shot of MPulse CMMS indicating the categories and the fields required to be filled for identifying an inventory in the “General Tab” is given below for easy understanding.

Inventory Records Screen shot

Linking of inventory items that could fall into the above mentioned three categories to each equipment would help in sharing the inventory resources over a larger number of equipment.

For example, Diesel Engines used as Generating set prime movers, emergency fire pump prime movers and air compressor prime movers may all use SAE 40 oil in them. The quantity of oil to be used in each would be specified by their respective OEM. By clubbing together all the requirements together, we can optimise the onsite stock of this oil. A screen shot of this feature in MPulse CMMs is given below:

On similar lines, the reverse process of linking each equipment asset to inventories also can be done.

As the operations get mature, the actual inventory usage need to be reviewed and the changed actual figures are to be incorporated into the CMMS data base. For example, Genset suppliers specify renewing engine oil, air filter and lub oil filters as part of 250 hrly maintenance.You may realise over a period that in your current operating environment, the 250 hrly changing of air filters is not required, but could be prolonged to 750 hrs with cleaning of filters with LP air being done every 250 hrs. This will reduce the maintenance expense and eventually, reduction in inventory.

Maintenance technicians appreciate a “Bill of material (BOM)” approach in Work orders. While scheduling planned maintenance and making work orders for break down repair work, a BOM will make it that bit easier for the technicians since they approach the work spot with all the essential spares, supplies and tools, thus reducing time wasted in going back to the stores for items frequently. Good CMMs systems will have a feature to link Scheduled Work, Work orders and Work Instructions to required inventory. A sample screen shot from MPulse for a scheduled work is given below:

A good maintenance related inventory module will reduce the time taken by assigned technicians to search for all the required material, get them together and do the job. Some systems even will allow the worker to raise a requisition for all the material they need. 

Common and general hand tools or special tools could be linked to and issued to individual technicians. This will help in tracking “Who holds what, where” and sharing the available tools optimally.

An additional benefit is derived when an equipment in the facility is being removed from service. The parts
associated with that equipment are quickly identified so that they can be removed from the storeroom as well.

That is all hunky dory. Why is it that many organisations operating with with good CMMS suites do not use the inventory modules fully?

  • Firstly it needs initial planning to set up the inventory list with all details in an electronic format.
  • Secondly this needs to be imported into the CMMS suite.
  • Thirdly, the items need to be linked to individual assets (equipment , machinery, systems)
  • Fourthly, the data needs to be updated whenever there is usage and replacements.
  • Fifthly there needs to be a person motivated enough to understand the store philosophy, maintenance philosophy and understanding the economics of maintenance cost to drive the project. 

Hope that I have been able to stir up some interest in the inventory management in some of you readers. I will cover the subject further in later posts.



Maintenance Information Systems

Hi all,

CMMS, EAM and  CAFM are a few acronyms much discussed among facility managers, property managers and maintenance professionals. The software related to these help in optimising maintenance effort and improving the productivity, efficiency & effectiveness of maintenance processes.

The long-term benefits of using such systems are; reduced maintenance cost, lower inventory holding and related cost, higher equipment/systems availability, reduced energy cost and smaller carbon footprint.

I came across a well written article on this topic that I am sharing through the link given below.

Maintenance Information Systems.

Read and be enlightened.


Spares Parts Planning using a CMMS Platform

Hi all,

Every item of maintenance activity consumes some resources. At the lower end of the spectrum, say daily visual inspections, the only resource consumed would be labour hours. As the complexity of maintenance work increases, so does the resources variety increase.

Most of the CMMS packages would provide some sort of Inventory management module connected to maintenance. A good CMMS package would give not only a simple connection but also features to link inventory to individual / group of assets, Work orders, stock holding spaces (store rooms / buildings / locations etc), cost centers, active management of inventory levels etc.

I came across a free article available through the web site of New Standards Institute. The article dealing with spare part management using repair scenarios is very relevant to any facilities operations. The link to the article is given below.

Read and be more informed.