Many maintenance managers might argue a case to keep their enterprise asset management (EAM) software separate from their manufacturing company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, but there are far more benefits to integrating the two.
EAM software allows maintenance managers to write up work orders, schedule personnel and manage other aspects of its department, but integrating with an ERP solution will tie the EAM into other departments, making inventory, purchasing and communication with the entire company much easier.
“For example, if I need a part, I can send the info through the ERP over to the purchasing group where they can use their relationships and ability to work with suppliers to help find that part and get it here on time. It frees up maintenance personnel from having to make the call, track delivery and complete an invoice” says Mike Auer, Implementation Manager, IFS North America.
An ERP solution can also help ease scheduling conflicts, particularly if a piece of equipment needs to be shut down for preventive maintenance.
“Instead of a maintenance manager making a lot of phone calls or emails to coordinate with the manufacturing group, he or she can put in a scheduled work request for a specific time in the manufacturing schedule where they have that visibility to adjust not only my work, but their work to optimize production in the plant during the scheduled downtime,” says Auer.
The finance department also benefits from an EAM/ERP integration. As technicians work overtime on certain equipment, the software can capture the costs, allowing both maintenance managers as well as the finance department to discover the true costs for repairs. This allows you to see work orders, inventory usage and personnel usage and have it reflect back to the general ledger without any type of interface or extra contact needed.
“EAM software that is tied into an ERP allows you to truly get whatever is needed from both solutions without having to do a lot of double work,” says Auer.
Upgrading your current ERP to include EAM
When considering upgrades that will include the maintenance group it is important to evaluate what level of effort it will take to convert over to a new system.
Managers will need to identify equipment, personnel, preventative maintenance tasks, and a multitude of other information and details, gather all that into a system and validate the process and make sure it works as intended.
“A lot of the information needed for integrating maintenance into an ERP is common knowledge or in vendor manuals that’s not easily available. That level of effort to implement could take a while. It’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just a lot of data mining,” says Auer.
Fortunately, many manufacturers today use spreadsheets or other electronic files that can help the implementation go very quickly.
Auer also points out that the time it will take to implement your EAM solution into the ERP really depends on the size of the organization, the manpower available and the amount of data mining that needs to be done.
“Some maintenance organizations go from no system at all to up and running within 8 weeks. Others take up to 6 months because dedication and manpower usually draws the length of the implementation,” he says.
Manufacturers will also need to evaluate the benefits they want out of that implementation.
“An electronic way to capture work orders that shows what personnel and materials were involved is a simple approach that would not require a robust system, but if you have a complex organization that includes purchasing and tracking spare parts, you want to insure that you have the capability to have your purchasing tied into an ERP,” says Auer.
In addition, the priorities of each group can also help determine what kind of system is needed.
As an example, a disconnect between the operating schedule and how maintenance needs tie into it might be the number one driver for combining the two systems to cleanly integrate work orders and maintenance into the manufacturing process. On the other hand, communicating with the financing department might not be as high of a priority, but still an added benefit.
With an ERP system, optimizing planning of all departments can help lessen the impact on the entire organization and manufacturing process, particularly during scheduling and performing preventive maintenance on equipment.
It’s all about the data
Auer does note that maintenance managers will need to have some level of data in the system to expect equipment to run smoothly and to schedule the proper timing for preventive maintenance.
The trick to a successful implementation is to make sure enough data is in the system so that you can forecast based on previous experiences how soon a piece of equipment will need preventive maintenance or replacement before it fails.
It is also important to make sure that technicians have a system that is easy and intuitive for them to use and doesn’t require a lot of time for their input.
“You’ll want a system that allows technicians to quickly look at previous work orders and inventory, put in their data for this event, and it needs to be very simple, quick and intuitive.
“If the system is complicated and takes too much of a technician’s time and effort to update or find information, they’re not going to use it,” says Auer.
A well-engineered system will help technicians get data in very accurately and quickly, and searching for information should be quick and easy as well.
When a maintenance group puts their orders into a system, there needs to be some logic to how those systems, production lines, etc., are put into a software system, Auer advises.
“For example, if the VP wants the maintenance manager to set up a budget for 2009 to be approved by the board, the maintenance manager might look at this year’s budget and add or take away a few percentages or create a budget based on the last few years’ expenditures. However, the finance department looks at fixed assets with very large and generic budgets that don’t translate well for a maintenance manager,” says Auer.
“This is where it is very important to identify equipment in the software. A maintenance manager may notice production line #1 has had a lot of activity this year regarding maintenance, but production line #2 hasn’t had much and is a newer system. It is important to put in data as logically and specifically as possible. With information geared directly towards specific pieces of equipment, you will clearly see how much that specific piece of equipment, production cell, or the whole production line, costs to maintain. With that in mind, you’ll have a better educated guess for next year’s budget and have the data to back you up if anyone challenges the budget. It’s harder to argue against real data as opposed to the more generic budget from the finance department.”
With that in mind, be sure to look for a software vendor that offers an ERP/EAM implementation with the flexibility to change as your needs change. It is not uncommon, once the first implementation is done, to find areas that need to be tweaked or expanded in order to include more specific information on your operations.