CMMS Can be Critical for Safety and Compliance

Maintenance software starts out as a generic tool, but can become a critical instrument for safety and compliance throughout the plant.

By Bob Sperber, Plant Operations Editor

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It’s always “safety first” for Ron Nelson. “The four pillars of manufacturing are safety, quality, service and cost,” says the plant manager of HP Hood’s Philadelphia plant, which processes 30 million gallons of milk and cream a year for its various dairy products and brands. “You can’t do one without the other. If you’re hurting people just to get an extra case out the door, that’s not safe, and that’s not how we operate.”

At the Philly plant, all 160 employees are encouraged to submit a safety hazard recognition report anytime they see a problem. Under Nelson’s leadership, the facility addressed more than 500 safety-related work orders last year and has gone two years without a lost time accident. The plant was recently awarded the company's President's Safety Award for its excellence in safety.

Where do all those suggestions go? Into the computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system — it’s where action is.

The suggestions were, in effect, submitted as work orders in the plant’s maintenance system, MicroMain (, which provided the framework for prioritizing and acting upon them.

This is the dairy plant’s first maintenance software system, chosen and installed after Nelson’s arrival in early 2007. Nelson was no neophyte to maintenance, having set maintenance standards at Fort Bragg as a captain in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and later a production and plant manger for Nestle Waters and E&J Gallo.

A CMMS system can monitor everything maintenance related, from overall equipment effectiveness analytics right down to spare parts inventory in the storeroom.
A CMMS system can monitor everything maintenance related, from overall equipment effectiveness analytics right down to spare parts inventory in the storeroom.

“We never want to say the plant is where it should be, because if you’re not moving forward there is only one other way to go — backwards,” says Nelson. “We’re still climbing up that hill, but incremental improvements make the dairy a world-class facility. Significant improvements in uptime allow the plant to take on more business without adding additional equipment. Measured OEE [overall equipment effectiveness] improvement is about 10 percent, and the ability to effectively manage work orders and preventive maintenance has been key to increasing productivity.”

Maintenance professionals know they can play a key role in their plants’ safety, productivity and profitability, and the same goes for the software tools they use. CMMS and enterprise asset management (EAM) systems do what file cabinets and folders used to do: manage and document equipment/asset inventories, purchasing, work orders and preventive/predictive maintenance structures. They also can manage contract relationships, trucking and transport fleets and additional features that link to systems throughout the enterprise.

The EAM moniker generally tends to be used by vendors with larger systems and features that cover a broader functional footprint; we’ll use the two terms interchangeably for this plant-focused discussion.

Starting with generic software

There are no “food-focused” maintenance software vendors. Few, in fact, focus on manufacturing alone. Besides, the food industry’s a funny thing: Plant processes vary in their emphasis from fluid flows to batch processes to discrete packaging and material handling lines. Likewise, maintenance routines vary greatly.

The largest multinational consumer brand owners tend to choose a maintenance system based on the recommendations of their IT departments and/or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system sellers. SAP or Oracle ERP users tend to stick with their ERP vendor’s system or go with a large-scale independent system, such as IBM’s Maximo.

“Those big systems also come with huge price tags” says Harry Kohal, director of sales and marketing for Eagle Technology (, Mequon, Wis. While Eagle’s ProTeus CMMS is no competitor in a large, global enterprise — it’s scaled for the smaller and mid-sized plants — Kohal notes that his customers include Pepsi bottlers, plants owned by Tyson Foods and Mars’ Wrigley subsidiary, the last operating a highly automated plant with a slim maintenance staff of three or four.

“If there’s any industry that’s specifically prone to price issues I think it’s the food processing industry,” where companies work hard to shave pennies from unit prices, he continues. When companies try shave a few pennies from unit prices by cutting the maintenance budget, he says it’s important for maintenance personnel to use their systems’ analytic functions to project whether that cut might backfire, causing higher downtime or a loss in product quality.

Maintenance budgets tend to be about the same year after year. One year, however, the budget may place a little more emphasis on replacing old components, the next on reducing downtime, says James Jones, product manager for Alpharetta, Ga.-based Infor’s EAM Solutions ( Therefore companies shouldn’t expect a “pure ROI based on maintenance spending for materials or labor — the budget doesn’t dissipate just because you installed a maintenance system. You spend differently; you spend smarter.”

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