Managing small maintenance jobs


There are two kinds of maintenance work that should not appear on weekly work schedules:

–       Genuine emergency or urgent work that is not identified when the schedule is prepared and

–       Small jobs that do not justify the time and cost of formal planning and scheduling.

This article looks at options for managing these small jobs.

Many organizations demand that a unique work order is to be initiated for each and every job that is done, and some maintenance computer systems provide no practical alternative. The number of work orders that this policy creates can overload the Planner, who is normally also the work order system administrator, sometimes to the extent that this key position becomes solely an electronic “paper pusher” and does little or no planning. This process creates unnecessary and valueless delays for small jobs, and frequently results in “work arounds”, such as charging excessive amounts of work to “standing” or “blanket” work orders or using open work orders for other larger work to complete small tasks.

As an example, at one operation where a work order was mandatory for any work to be done the Planners each processed over 80 work orders per day. The great majority of work orders issued contained the same work description as the initial work request, with the Planner adding no instructions on what work to do or how to do it. It took a minimum of 58 keystrokes to convert each work request to a work order and much of this effort was to add various work order codes, none of which followed good database-management principles, so the information gathered was worthless (see “Work order codes ”). Neither the plant manager nor the maintenance manager were aware of this total waste of effort.

To provide the best service to Maintenance’s operating customers, there should be an efficient, managed process to complete small jobs that take little time and materials. Some alternatives include:

–       Allowing tradespeople to charge materials and labour for small jobs to equipment location numbers (“asset numbers”). This is supported by the better maintenance software available and records a significant amount of important maintenance information, including the time and date, the originator, the equipment location number and the parts used (see “Why charge to work orders?”).

–       Where the maintenance computer system does not support charging to equipment location numbers a standing work order can be set up for each equipment location to capture small jobs. This requires considerable effort, so it is, of course, much more practical to select software that has the functionality to allow transactions to be charged to equipment location numbers (see “Selecting and using a maintenance computer system”).

–       Providing a very simple process for obtaining stock materials, such as a pad on the Stores counter where the equipment location number and part description and quantity are recorded by the tradesperson taking the materials. This information should then be transferred to the equipment location records (a clerical function). This process can also be used for emergencies, where further details, such as the production lost and the cause of the event, should be recorded in the operating log.

–       Using area or department standing work orders. This is the most common process, but important equipment-specific information, such as parts used on equipment, is lost, and standing work orders are commonly abused. I have seen operations where over 50% of all maintenance work is charged to standing work orders. A future article will cover the sensible use of standing work orders, which are appropriate for many transactions.


Assignment of small jobs.

During normal working hours, the Maintenance Supervisor should be contacted with requests for small jobs, which he/she should record on the daily schedule form. These can be assigned to tradespeople during work breaks to minimize the disruption to scheduled work.

It may also be appropriate to assign key area tradespeople to contact their operators to gather small job requests and to allow time in their work schedules for them to complete these jobs each morning before starting scheduled work.

When PM inspection routes are established, the estimated time for the inspections should be shown, and there may be an allowance for small repairs and adjustments to be made during the PM inspection, and these should be recorded. “Found” corrective work that can not be completed in the allowed time should be logged, as usual, on the PM route sheet (or its electronic equivalent) for follow up with a new work order.

Maintenance supervisors should maintain responsibility for all small jobs that are done. They are accountable for this work and its quality.

Small jobs should be defined. A typical small job is one that requires a small amount of labour (e.g. less than one hour), uses little material (e.g. less than $200), can be done immediately, does not require a shutdown and does not involve any redesign. Again, it is the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure these guidelines are followed. Where labour and parts for small jobs are charged to equipment location numbers and not to work orders, the maintenance computer system should be able to provide reports to indicate where the “small job” guidelines are not being observed.

It is important to know on which items of equipment maintenance dollars are being spent, but the cost of collecting this information through the use of unique work orders must be balanced against the value of this information. For many small jobs, an alternative to the use of work orders is the most sensible approach (see “Why bother to measure maintenance costs?”).

Any of the options for managing small maintenance jobs described above can be abused – but so can work orders where they are mandatory for all jobs. Maintenance supervisors and tradesmen are typically driven to making sure the plant continues to operate, and may harbour the opinion that the time required to maintain accurate cost records interferes with that goal. Managers need to demonstrate that equipment-level cost information is important, if it truly is, through using it to make decisions on equipment shutdowns, rebuilds and replacements, and through routinely questioning cost records that are not accurate or do not follow established guidelines.

If jobs such as replacing a small drive belt or repairing a leaking faucet can be done quickly and are in line with “small job” guidelines, precious planning resources can be freed up for essential planning and Maintenance will be able to provide their operating customers with the service they expect.


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