Fact: integrated maintenance management can seriously increase operational efficiency. Also fact: despite vendors’ claims of software to cover all the bases, many plants just don’t collect enough data. Dom Pancucci reports Advanced thinking in manufacturing would surely place an integrated enterprise-wide computerised maintenance and management system (CMMS) high up any priority list for attaining operational efficiency? Yet it is widely perceived that few companies have actually implemented one. Industry analyst Cambashi even suggests that a major barrier to full CMMS is the lack of significant enough data to even set the parameters for such a practice. While most plant and operations managers will claim that CMMS is alive and well as a concept and is practised at their facilities, the reality is quite different, says Mike Skidmore, senior consultant at Cambashi. With a few exceptions – namely aerospace and electronics – Skidmore believes that only lip service is paid to the implementation of total CMMS at industrial facilities. And where scheduled maintenance plans are increasingly integrated with performance monitoring, a lack of discipline still prevails when it comes to exchanging and resetting items as a matter of calculated routine, he explains. Even in the automotive industry, Skidmore finds maintenance and management plans being rendered as hard copy wall charts, rather than founded on computerised monitoring and dynamic scheduling techniques. One explanation of this state of affairs is the typical relegation of maintenance work to unsociable working periods, as well as staff often being commandeered to effect recovery of existing failed processes, or moving machines. Certain forms of performance monitoring are now starting to be introduced within areas like the metal processing industry, although even these ‘feedback systems’ do not regularly prompt an automated tooling change or other actions until the end of a batch run. The addition of integrated self-checking functions within many robotic and automated processes has also reduced the need for centralised CMMS to some extent, according to Skidmore. Yet it is the process industries that have the greatest need for fully integrated CMMS, chiefly to ensure that continuous production is maintained. In an age where the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy is more prevalent than ever, Skidmore sees manufacturing companies gradually waking up to the recognition of the benefits that can be derived from integrated CMMS. However, maintenance then still tends to become ad hoc once again, or based on emergencies. Vendors within the CMMS supply community are naturally rather more bullish about the prospects of end-user adoption within manufacturing. For instance, Datastream Systems reckons that its Web-enabled CMMS solution can already deliver full enterprise-wide coverage – and across a wide range of platforms. Remote monitoring is provided – from browsers to email, to handheld and other devices – while Datastream offers integration with systems used in departments like human resources and finance. He says Now that the millennium bug and Euro compliance issues are passed, a more widespread adoption of integrated CMMS will follow, according to Nick Garnett, business development manager at Datastream. He says the main advantage derived from CMMS is group benchmarking, with better decision-making enabled over the use of assets – in particular with regard to centrally stored inventory. Yet Garnett does point out that measurable benefits can only be obtained from CMMS if effective internal benchmarking is instituted. Cheshire-based Airbags International, which supplies companies like Volvo and Volkswagen, is one that has already implemented company-wide CMMS. The firm realised a few years ago that manual methods of planning and scheduling maintenance could not support its high growth business. Reported benefits gained from its Planet G5 software implementation, from FDS Advanced Systems, include: heightened responsiveness to breakdowns, minimised downtime, better organised maintenance planning and greater knowledge about the asset base. While CMMS has been recognised as a good idea by many of the planners and strategists within manufacturing, the headlong rush to actually keep production up and running is curiously still impacting the actual integration of maintenance with planning. As the e-business era really starts to redefine manufacturing, any company that wants to operate in a velocity-based market will need to seriously address the need for fully integrated CMMS and how it can underpin continuous operations.