• Steve Carlson

Maintenance Management - It's a Process not a Software Program

Managing the maintenance of your fleet can make the difference between making or losing money and between operating safely or having catastrophic equipment failures. Managing maintenance doesn’t mean going out and buying Nautical Systems 5, Helm, MobileOps, eMaint, or any number of other maintenance tracking software programs. While useful, those are just tools to facilitate your system. The first step in maintenance management, before you buy any software, is to outline your maintenance strategy and system.


Strategy: There are basically 5 different maintenance strategies; reactive, predetermined, preventive, condition based, and predictive. A company’s overall maintenance strategy will likely incorporate several of these strategies depending upon, but not limited to, the following considerations: the equipment itself, the criticality of the equipment, the age of the equipment, and the operating and maintenance history.


· Reactive (also called Corrective): This strategy is “Run to Failure”. Initially that sounds like a very bad thing and, of course, this should not be your preferred maintenance strategy for your main engine. However, this would be the likely maintenance strategy for your light bulbs or other small, relatively inexpensive, non-critical parts that can be stocked and easily replaced after failure without overly impacting operations or safety.


· Predetermined: This is your starting point for a preventive maintenance system. It is essentially following the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance.


· Preventive: This is taking the manufacturer’s recommendations and adding or subtracting maintenance items and adjusting timeframes or frequencies based on your history and operation of the equipment. There are two basic schedules for preventive maintenance: calendar or use (typically hours but could be cycles, gallons, miles, etc.).


· Condition Based: This strategy is performing maintenance based upon the condition of the piece of equipment. The piece of equipment is consistently monitored looking for deviations that would indicate the start of failure. Types of conditions that can be monitored are temperature, vibration, speed, power, moisture to name a few. The advantage of this strategy is doing the maintenance when it needs to be done and keeping the equipment running as long as possible. Implementing this strategy saves time (and downtime) on inspections and maintenance that does not need to be done. The disadvantage to this strategy is typically the cost of setting it up and training your mechanics in its use and in interpreting the data. Sensors need to be added and kept calibrated, and the data needs to be gathered and interpreted. As electronics have become more prevalent in almost every piece of equipment, diagnostic information has become more and more available to the technician to evaluate the condition of the equipment.


· Predictive: Predictive maintenance takes Condition Based maintenance to the next level with software analyzing the sensor data and using algorithms to predict when maintenance will be due. The advantage of this strategy is the “ability to see the future”. The disadvantage of this strategy is again cost; the cost of condition-based maintenance plus the cost of the software required and the training required to understand it.

System: Your maintenance system should contain the following five items at a minimum to adequately track and document the maintenance being performed.


· What: This is the asset (equipment, structure, part) that will be maintained. This could be items such as main engine, propeller, air compressor, reduction gear, radar, etc. It is defined by model number, part number, serial number, specific location, etc.


· Who: The entity that will be performing the maintenance task: crew member, shoreside support, or vendor.


· When: The frequency of performing the maintenance task: hours based, calendar based, condition based, gallons based, etc.


· How: The specific instructions for performing the maintenance task. These should be specific enough that when completed by different people, the same result is obtained. While your personnel should certainly be trained and qualified to do the maintenance, the instructions should be detailed enough that it does not require the technician to “remember” key details about how to do the maintenance. The how should also include any safety/risk assessment, lockout/tagout, and PPE considerations needed before performing the maintenance.


· Comments: Specific details about the condition found when maintenance was performed, any issues encountered during the maintenance, what was actually done (if different from the instructions given in “How” above), recommendations for future maintenance, etc.


Process: When building a maintenance system, it is usually best to start with the OEM recommended maintenance intervals. This is a tedious but necessary process for an entire vessel, as each piece of equipment must be considered. The criticality of the equipment (or sub-part of the equipment) is determined, regulatory and class requirements considered, a maintenance strategy determined, OEM recommendations determined, and any past maintenance history with this equipment are all considered and specific maintenance tasks are then created. One key point about your maintenance system that cannot be overemphasized is that it is a living system that should be constantly evolving and changing. As you gain more history of maintenance and operations on each piece of equipment, your maintenance tasks and frequency may change. An additional key point is that repairs (unplanned maintenance) must be documented and added to the maintenance system. Without the repair information, there is no way to perform trend analysis on how well your preventive maintenance system is working.


Software: Your engineers should not be spending more time maintaining your software program and database than they are on maintaining your vessels. Whatever software you choose should fit your system and your process, and whatever process you choose should fit your software. If possible, I would recommend avoiding special customizations of off-the-shelf software just to fit some current process that your maintenance organization uses. That usually creates issues with version upgrades, security patches, canned reports, and other updates to the software. If the process can be changed to fit the software and still produce the same results, in the long run that will likely be the better approach. When evaluating software programs, it is critical that you look at the outputs of the program and not just the data input fields. There is nothing more frustrating to a maintenance technician than to spend a portion of their day entering information into a computer system and never receive any feedback or output from that system to help them perform their tasks better. If your software program is a black hole with data in and nothing out, then the system is wasting your technician’s time. The goal of entering data into a maintenance software program is to get outputs to improve your maintenance information, your maintenance tasks, your budgeting, and your inventory of spare parts.


Tyranny of the Urgent: The tyranny of the urgent refers to when the crisis of the day, every day, can drive your company into a purely reactive organization versus a pro-active organization. It overwhelms your ability to think long term and see the big picture. Your workload can be separated into 4 categories: the critical and urgent, the non-critical and urgent, the critical and non-urgent, and the non-critical and non-urgent. This step will help you organize your outstanding tasks into the right priorities. Regardless of the extent of your critical and urgent tasks (the “fires”), your maintenance organization must always devote some time to your scheduled maintenance program (“fire prevention”). Failure to do this eventually results in the “fires” overwhelming your maintenance organization. Practice “fire prevention” as well as “firefighting” to get your maintenance organization into a pro-active stance instead of purely reactive.


The development of a maintenance management system is an involved process but one that is worth taking the time to do properly. Once established and followed, its existence allows your company to run as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, limiting downtime for your vessels, as well as unexpected equipment failures.