We’ve been looking at work orders all wrong
The average maintenance department handles 45 work orders every week. That’s over 2,200 work orders every year. Or a new request every four hours. In other words, the maintenance team impacts your business almost constantly. And that impact is huge.
For example, the average cost of an unplanned downtime incident is $17,000. If only 5% of scheduled maintenance work orders prevent downtime, it could mean saving millions of dollars.
There’s just one problem: Work orders rarely get the attention needed to make this potential a reality. Take common work order metrics, like planned maintenance percentage, for example. They can be useful for maintenance teams, but they don’t tell you much about the impact work orders have on business. And businesses are suffering because of it.
Companies can’t tell if they’re hiring the right people, making the right decisions about capital expenditures, or promising their customers the right things without knowing if work is being done the right way.
That’s why it’s time to stop looking at work orders as just a task on a to-do list. When you put thousands of them together, they tell a much bigger story about human behavior, asset performance, processes, and more. It’s time we read that story.
Why bad work orders are bad for business
Broken work order processes are one of the quickest ways for minor maintenance problems to get out of hand. For example, at Liberty Oilfield Services, poor work orders led to massive amounts of missing inventory and unnecessary costs.
The team at Liberty was getting “just a fraction of what really happened. There was no failure analysis, no context, no insurance for our mechanics,” in the words of Jack Featheringill, Liberty’s US Maintenance Manager.
For Rambler Metals and Mining, bad work orders processes were wasting everyone’s time.
“Whoever was finishing up their 12-hour shift would have to write pages of notes,” says Scott Britton, GM of Operations at Rambler. “Writing those notes could take up to an hour, and the next person would have to spend the first part of their shift going over the notes.”
The issues that poor work order processes cause often spill off the shop floor and into other parts of the business. You just have to look at the problems Liberty and Rambler had to see the potential ripple effects.
How inaccurate records and missing inventory affect a business
When finance, purchasing, and maintenance aren’t working with the same information (or any information), it could cause:
- Lower throughput and higher operating costs: Missing the spare parts you need is the cause of 50% of all unscheduled downtime, and keeping parts you don’t need in the storeroom adds an extra 12-20% on average to a company’s operating costs.
- Undershooting on your CapEx planning. It’s easy to miss the warning signs of asset failure if you don’t have context around inventory purchases. That leads to some nasty surprises when looking at the final numbers.
- Allocating resources to the wrong places: If you’re missing the whole story around parts, failure, and performance, you’ll never know what sites need more people, money, training or tools.
How handwritten notes and wasted time affect a business
When maintenance processes are broken, it usually causes inefficiencies to pop up across your organization, like:
- A massive backlog bill. Spending almost 10% of your shift creating work orders (like Rambler did) means less time on the actual work. The result is deferred maintenance, and every $1 in deferred maintenance costs $4 in future capital renewal needs.
- Unexpected delays at the worst times. Spotting bad habits (like the same part wearing out) is almost impossible without standardized work orders. Adjusting maintenance plans becomes difficult and the results are inevitable—a breakdown during production.
- Missed follow-ups and failed audits: Mistakes and burnout are inevitable when work orders are complicated and time-consuming. Failed PMs without follow-ups are sure to follow, as are break downs, compliance issues, safety risks and increased costs.
Enough with the doom and gloom. Good work orders can also have a huge positive impact.
- It took Rambler just three months to increase its productivity by 15% after standardizing its work order process. Technicians were able to spend almost two extra hours every shift doing work instead of writing it down.
- Dredging company Callan Marine reduced downtime (which can cost over $1,200 an hour) just 90 days after starting to track maintenance costs and activities in work orders.
- Optimizing work orders led to a 50% average increase in asset performance, according to data collected from Fiix customers.
Next steps: Getting really good at work order fundamentals
Now that we know how big of a deal work orders are, it’s time to get really good at them. That starts with a good foundation. The next part of the work order academy will take a look at how to build your work orders so that they become the superstar of your maintenance team and the ace up the sleeve for your company.