How to Manage Routine Maintenance Work on a Busy Construction Site
With multiple contractors and disciplines working separately yet simultaneously, a construction site can be a hectic place. It can be difficult for a construction manager to keep up with everything that’s happening, including budget, schedule adherence, safety hazards, material inventory, labor availability and more.
Maintenance may not always be at the forefront of a manager’s mind, but a poor maintenance program can sink a construction project. In fact, each of the worries previously listed are connected to maintenance in some way—budgets and schedules can be blown by malfunctioning equipment, for example. Poorly functioning equipment can slow down work and waste materials, reducing productivity and increasing costs.
These issues all impact the bottom line by adding unplanned downtime and maintenance expense to the project spend. Downtime costs money in delayed schedules and increased labor and material expense. In fact, a recent study in the “International Journal on Future Revolution in Computer Science & Communication Engineering” found that downtime constituted 23.9 percent of the total project cost and 13.3 percent of planned schedule time.
More importantly, poor maintenance can reduce the safety of onsite workers. Improperly maintained equipment can malfunction, resulting in injury or other situations in which workers may have to work unsafely to get the same things done.
Any time nonstandard work must happen, it invites the chance for something to go wrong. Specialized maintenance work that’s rare can present safety challenges due to the inexperience of the situation. Repairing broken-down equipment also could be a potential risk if proper procedures aren’t followed.
Routine and prevention form the foundation for proper maintenance, as these habits save time and money in the long run.
How to Optimize Routine Maintenance
Most maintenance managers understand the importance of completing routine maintenance work, but it can be difficult to prioritize and finish these tasks on a busy construction site where time and budget take precedence. The following strategies help optimize these routine tasks:
1. Schedule work around busy periods. In scheduling routine equipment maintenance activities, some techniques can be used to minimize impact to the construction schedule. In an ideal scenario, schedule preventive maintenance (PM) on an alternate shift where there’s no possibility for overlapping equipment needs.
However, not everyone has the luxury of an off-shift maintenance operation, so most operations need to be more careful with scheduling. This is where coordination among maintenance activities and the project timeline is key. As much as possible, PM should be scheduled during slow periods when a machine isn’t needed.
Often, equipment is heavily booked for activity, and it’s difficult to justify temporarily taking it down for maintenance. Again, remember that the goal of routine maintenance is to avoid long spells of unplanned downtime. It’s almost always better to catch problems early before they get bigger. In the long run, taking a small downtime to avoid a larger one is a good tradeoff.
2. Reduce excessive maintenance with condition monitoring and predictive analytics. Another strategy to help with routine maintenance is to take advantage of condition-based maintenance (CBM) in which condition-monitoring sensors are installed on equipment to monitor its health in real-time. The incoming information then is used to help schedule maintenance activity (when sensors point to deterioration signs). It moves maintenance toward a more empirical approach based on actual real-time data.
Some common CBM techniques include oil analysis, vibration monitoring, motor circuit tracking and thermography. There are many more, and techniques used will depend on equipment type, failure modes to be prevented and ease of detection.
CBM previously was a lofty ideal, but with cost and technology barriers lowered, it’s become a popular approach to maintenance. Using precise sensors and software, equipment issues can be determined much earlier than before. This allows time to properly respond and rectify an issue before it gets more serious.
CBM technology enables predictive maintenance (PdM), which allows an operation to exactly predict when a failure will occur. This is accomplished through empirical models, machine learning and/or artificial intelligence (AI), which are used to develop predictive algorithms. When implemented properly, PdM seems to be the most cost-effective long-term strategy.
CBM and PdM can help reduce the need for frequent PM tasks. They also give the operation a much deeper understanding of an asset, which leads to quicker troubleshooting and diagnosis of issues. They also provide improved confidence in when work needs to occur on an asset, meaning less time spent on maintenance overall, which can be very valuable for busy construction sites with no time to shut down equipment.
3. Supplement routine maintenance efforts with asset-tracking information. Like its name suggests, asset tracking traces the location of assets in the field, helping to avoid lost, neglected or stolen equipment.
Besides location, some asset-tracking software also can tell if equipment is currently in use or not. If a maintenance tech receives a CBM alert and wants to take a quick look at the machine, they can see it’s not in use and travel quickly to the location to keep the machine in good shape.
Knowing the location of multiple assets can make for more-efficient maintenance. For instance, a scheduler can group routine tasks on equipment located together, or equipment downtime can be coordinated across a site as maintenance staff complete work and move to the next job.
4. Use a CMMS to schedule, track and coordinate maintenance work. As more maintenance tasks are added to your site routine, things can become overwhelming. This is where having a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a major asset. It will help schedule routine maintenance tasks, communicate changes in task priority, and track and manage the progress of all maintenance activities.
CMMSs can automatically schedule work on specified time intervals, track time spent on a certain routine task, and track spare parts used to perform routine tasks.
With such information, managers can generate useful reports and develop insight into how the maintenance budget is being spent.
On top of everything mentioned, CMMSs also act as a repository for all maintenance history, from activity logs to notes left by technicians that performed work on the asset in the past, which can be helpful for troubleshooting a problematic asset. When combined with the ability to build maintenance and safety checklists managers can attach to work orders, CMMSs ensure performed maintenance work is done in a faster and safer way.
5. Training maintenance for more effectiveness. Another approach that should be mentioned with routine maintenance tasks is a focus on training maintenance staff. The better they’re trained, the more efficient and effective they will be in the field. The key lies in training, standards and documentation. These are simple concepts, but they take a lot of practice to execute correctly.
To help build out the training program, consult industry standards and known experts to compare methods with your current situation. Make the effort to prioritize training sessions, which should provide hands-on as well as theoretical learning.
Then ensure your work instructions reflect industry standards and any specialized training. In addition, make sure they’re always clearly understandable and available to technicians. Maintenance technicians will be more successful if they have a deeper understanding of the machines, standards and records of work.
By focusing on the training program, maintenance staff efforts will be maximized, squeezing more value out of each accepted maintenance task. Moreover, it will reduce chances that a task needs a “do over” or that a missed step causes deterioration to go unaddressed, leading to less downtime—planned and unplanned.