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One of my alma mater’s recently announced a special seminar to learn how to become a Six Sigma Green Belt. Although Six Sigma may not be for everyone’s business, the underlying principles are crucial to better asset and maintenance management.

The Premise of Six Sigma Methodology

In essence, Six Sigma is a methodology originally designed for manufacturing that applies a concerted effort towards constant improvement. When applied to facilities management, the concept has been to maximize the uptime of equipment to make them as reliable as possible. Six Sigma practices try to accomplish this by establishing and enforcing basic business practices. These practices are:

Six Sigma General

  • Defining the issues, what are the goals and objectives you are trying to ascertain?
  • Establish measurements for the current process. This is the starting point for asset data collection and understanding the current situation.
  • Analyzing the data. Business is run by the numbers, what are they telling you?
  • Improve the processes by involving everyone, listening to all ideas and making a plan that can be followed as well as supported by the organization.
  • Control and verify the changes. Measure the change, adjust, measure again, adjust……..

Six Sigma for Maintenance Management

Facility managers can easily apply Six Sigma principles to maintenance management because they are the foundations of solid business thinking. For example:

  • Defining the issues. This means understanding your work order lifecycle from beginning to end, identifying all the bottlenecks and areas where the most maintenance dollars are being spent.
  • Establish measurements for the current process. Measurements cannot be established unless there is data to make comparisons. For maintenance management this means having a complete maintenance history of each asset including:
    • Initial condition of the asset
    • # of work requests
    • # of requests that are backlogged
    • # of work orders
    • Cost for each work order
    • Reasons for work requests or work orders
    • Parts used
    • Result of work performed
  • Analyzing the data. Having the preceding information allows reliability and maintenance managers to establish trends, causes, points of failure and bottlenecks.
  • Improve the processes. Better asset maintenance and management is going to occur when management commits themselves to continual improvement. Each facility is unique so it would be impossible to list all the types of improvements that a facility might make. But here are some of the more established methods of facilities maintenance management improvement:
    • Engage maintenance staff for their feedback on all changes. The people who actually do the work are a company’s most valuable resource for understanding what can be improved.
    • Establish a proactive maintenance program. This may include preventive, predictive, condition based or reliability centered maintenance practices or any combination that works best for a particular facility.
    • Streamline the work order lifecycle by eliminating wasted time on filling out paperwork. In other words, implement a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) to schedule maintenance, track inspections and record all maintenance activity.
    • Make use of technology such as mobile handheld devices, infrared thermography or vibration analysis if your assets can benefit from these. Not every piece of equipment is worth the costs of a particular technology. For example, it is difficult to justify vibration analysis on a low cost motor but easier to justify on an industrial turbine.
    • Develop a knowledge database which can be used for training new employees and as a resource that can be used to develop standard operating procedures.
  • Control and verify the changes. One of the keys to change management with an EAM or CMMS system is setting up the benchmarks of success. All changes need to be evaluated for effectiveness and adjusted accordingly. Without training, measurement and control, processes will not improve over the long term.

Implementing an EAM/CMMS Enhances Six Sigma Successes

Six Sigma methodology is highly dependent on understanding the workflow, knowing asset detail and keeping track of results. In order to accomplish this, there must be a good system in place to collect the asset detail as well as produce useful reports that can be used for analysis. This makes the tool of choice facility maintenance managers EAM/CMMS software.

At the heart of an EAM/CMMS is the creation of an asset database. This database will contain all asset detail such as location, date purchased, cost, serial number, warranty, vendor information, contracts, other associated asset documents and maintenance history. The creation of the asset database enables facility managers to know the condition of each asset at any point in time that has been measured.

Analysis of the reports generated by the CMMS enable facilities management to evaluate the current processes for problems and opportunities of improvement. Obviously, if the data input is no good then the output is useless. Training and buy-in become a high priority when implementing a CMMS.

As improvements to the maintenance processes take place, EAM/CMMS software records the new maintenance data. Once again reports can be generated to verify success. Success can be measured in either immediate dollar savings or over a longer period of time which can be reflected by a lowering of capital replacement costs, energy savings and lower unplanned labor expenses.

The True Six Sigma Challenge

EAM and CMMS software can only act as facilitators for Six Sigma methodology. The true challenge is commitment from everyone in the organization to make positive change. This starts with executive leadership to comprehend the impact of investing in the long term. It continues with achieving EAM/CMMS buy-in and providing adequate training or mentoring to ensure success.

Implementing Six Sigma requires true commitment over the long term. This is the same for implementing an EAM/CMMSsystem. When implemented properly, the low hanging fruit is only a fraction of the potential savings.

Tell us how your organization strives for improvement. What could you be doing better?

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