Managing Software: Integrating Maintenance into plant ERP software

April 10, 2003
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Plant-wide visibility to maintenance and production schedules and transactions improves profits and productivity.

If a plant had political parties, there probably would be just two: Production and Maintenance. These competing groups have put more that one plant into a productivity tailspin. We know of one plant manager who was so distraught over the ongoing conflict that he switched the supervisory staff, putting maintenance over production and production over maintenance.

We’re not suggesting that the problems in your plant are that severe, but there are some opportunities to use the functionality of your plant ERP system to improve the relationship between your maintenance and production teams.

In food plant maintenance, information and transaction requirements are not food industry specific. Food production operations can have unique requirements for information that separate it from discrete manufacturing. But plant maintenance, whether in a screw factory or a French fry plant, has very similar operating characteristics. Unlike food production, software configured for any maintenance operation can work in a food plant.

Maintenance operates in two different modes. The first is the traditional work order basis. If you operate your plant production on a bill of materials, then you will find the maintenance work order system is similar. The work order sets describe a problem, set a priority, and usually assign the work to a supervisor. As the work orders are completed, materials used and labor hours are added before the completed work order is filed. The second is on a preventative maintenance schedule where the components of a production line are adjusted or changed out on a regular basis. Both modes are well suited to software automation and there are some significant benefits to connecting critical maintenance transactions to your plant ERP system.

Purchasing is one area where there is an obvious overlap between production and maintenance systems. Both ingredients and maintenance parts have to be ordered, received, inventoried, and consumed. The software logic to perform these functions is identical. Chris Andreoni, vice president of purchasing for J.R. Simplot, has found, “there are no good reasons for not integrating maintenance activities with the ERP system. When we have maintenance connected to an ERP, we reduce paperwork and improve communications in the plant.”

If you have maintenance integrated with ERP and you track Maintenance, Repair, and Operation (MRO) inventory, you will benefit from having an integrated system. If you have outsourced your MRO inventory, then some of the purchasing integration benefits diminish. When looking at inventory systems for MRO versus ingredients and packaging materials, be aware that the requirements can be very different. Ingredients need quality data, shelf life, and lot control while MRO needs none of these items but does require ties to assets, maintenance bills, etc.

Another area where integration between maintenance and production systems can be advantageous is scheduling. Both production and maintenance scheduling must recognize the realities of the other’s needs. A classic question is: under what circumstances does production schedule around maintenance versus maintenance scheduling around production? The integration of the two scheduling systems gives both functions the ability to more productively accomplish their scheduling, leading to greater plant utilization. A major problem for maintenance is to know when there will be time on the production line to complete a work order or preform preventive maintenance. Integrating the scheduling functionality of the ERP production system with maintenance reduces conflict and confusion.

The real value you will find in providing plant-wide visibility to maintenance and production schedules and transactions is an improvement in the communication between production and maintenance. A plant that can successfully integrate these two functions will be more productive and more profitable.

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