A Better Way

EQUIPMENT MAINTENANCE SOFTWAREMoving to a CMMS can be beneficial for your company.   

By Greg Norris

Equipment maintenance can be a make-or-break profitability factor for heavy civil contractors. Assets that are large, expensive and increasingly sophisticated are essential to most jobs, and efforts to keep that fleet in operation and minimize cost of ownership impact heavily on operating and capital budgets. That’s why a growing number of companies are turning to specialized software programs to manage maintenance.

The primary goals of adding a software solution – often referred to as a CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) – are to add efficiency across processes, and to shift from reactive, corrective work to more proactive and cost-effective preventive maintenance. Trading in paper and white boards for software also gives contractors real-time visibility into asset status across the enterprise, and it enhances their ability to track and improve maintenance metrics and make data-driven decisions about repair and replacement strategies.

Improving field-to-shop communication was a key driver when Ajax Paving Industries switched from a manual, paper-based process to specialized maintenance software in 2014. “We needed a better way to document service requirements, manage the work order process and ensure follow up and accountability,” explains Dan Maitland, equipment operations manager for the company’s $20 million fleet. “We also gained a lot of efficiency by being able to move away from paper time cards for our mechanics.”

C.A. Hull, a bridge construction specialist based in Michigan, was seeking to cut costs, increase profitability and reduce downtime when it adopted maintenance software four years ago. The company has 500 pieces of equipment and employs two full-time mechanics. “We previously relied on spreadsheets and our accounting software, and our teams in the field managed preventive work,” according to equipment manager Jeff Buckley. “With specialized software, we’ve connected our shop, mechanics and field personnel in real time and streamlined and standardized the maintenance workflow process.”

Mobility is also a key advantage, with tablets providing mechanics with the ability to view asset history and documentation and to process work orders and time cards remotely.

Servicing equipment proactively at predetermined intervals to detect and prevent failures before they occur is far more cost effective than waiting for a breakdown. That’s no secret in the construction sector. Heading off problems before they occur also increases up time and safety, and prevents the collateral, secondary damage that often occurs with a breakdown.

The challenge in a busy construction environment is keeping track of and sticking to preventive maintenance schedules. Specialized software automates the process and puts complete information about each asset – including the work-order history and preventive maintenance plan – in one place. That makes it easier for mechanics and shop managers to plan and execute preventive work on schedule and efficiently.

Brett Todd is in charge of managing 200 pieces of equipment at Barriere Construction. He says automating preventive maintenance sets the Louisiana-based paving, materials and heavy construction company apart from competitors. “With the software, we can tell when our machines are due for service, which allows us to keep up to the preventive maintenance schedule. We also know where the machines are, so we optimize the hours and travel schedules of our mechanics to further cut our costs.”

“We used to be very reactive and old-school in terms of how we did preventive maintenance,” says Ajax Paving Industries’ Maitland. “Specialized maintenance software has given us a true preventive program based on meter readings and location.”

Jeff Buckley at C.A. Hull concurs. “Automating preventive maintenance to cut costly, unscheduled or emergency work has helped us to reduce our equipment maintenance costs – as a percentage of revenue – by as much as five percent in some years,” he says.

Data-Driven Decisions

Beyond operational efficiency and a stronger preventive program, maintenance management software provides accurate, real-time and historical data about assets. That information helps managers and executives make decisions about staffing, rental and replacement strategies, and the volume of equipment they need to retain.

Having the equipment utilization and repair history in one place has helped C.A. Hull to establish a target life for each category of equipment and sustain a proactive plan with a well-defined “red zone” for replacing each asset. “The comprehensive data provided by the software allows us to calculate hourly and ownership costs and make those decisions about retiring or retaining equipment in a more strategic manner,” Buckley explains.

Implementing Best Practices

Moving to specialized maintenance software represents a culture shift at most construction companies. Buckley, Todd and Maitland say it is important to have the backing from top management, commit to training and get the whole company on board to head off challenges with implementation and acceptance among employees.

“The entire organization needs to know the plan and the concept and what the maintenance team is trying to accomplish,” Buckley says. “Creating written, documented procedures for all departments and holding people accountable to them are important steps.”

Demonstrating the benefit of more robust preventive maintenance to an operations team that is always reluctant to take equipment out of production is also a challenge, according to Todd. “We had to prove how what we were doing would actually benefit them in the long run - how shutting machines down for a short period for preventive maintenance, for example, prevents more time consuming breakdowns,” he explains.

“We have a mix of older and younger employees at Barriere, and really everyone has grasped the technology,” Todd adds. “You just need to figure out how to train them, because everyone learns in different ways.”

Maitland says picking a system that is easy and intuitive to use and making a commitment to training are vital to overcoming the inevitable resistance some employees will have to software. “You’re going to face challenges with employees that are not tech savvy, but most will pick it up quickly if you train them, sell the vision and benefit and demonstrate that at the end of the day it will actually make their jobs a lot easier and more rewarding.” 

Greg Norris is director of marketing for B2W Software. The company provides a unified software platform for heavy construction, with specialized elements to manage estimating, scheduling, field tracking, equipment maintenance, data capture and business intelligence. For more information, email him at gnorris@b2wsoftware.com or call 800-336-3808 x2590.

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