MRO Q&A: Maintenance Cost Documentation Is Key to Infrastructure Projects

July 18, 2013
MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

Q: I have to maintain more than 400,000 sq. ft. of roof at my plant. When areas need to be replaced, everyone, especially the accounting folks, wants to postpone the work and just keep patching them. How do I convince colleagues when it needs to be replaced?

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A: There is no direct return on investment from roofs and floors, which makes those improvement projects among the most difficult to justify when it is time to invest some of the company’s money. That being said, you and your accounting folks have common ground: All of you want to maximize your company's profitability. What may be missing are agreed-upon, measurable milestones to support replacement decisions.

Situations like these need to have a credible, data-driven story accompanying requests for capital. Let’s start with what should be done proactively. You should have the documentation of the original roof cost and the warranty for the roof. You should have documentation of all work done over the life of the roof, whether it is done by a contractor or internally by maintenance personnel with work orders. Annual thermographs should be taken of each roof area to determine where and how much heat or cooling leakage is occurring.

The rooftop should be walked at least once per year to detect soft spots. Core samples should be taken at those soft spots and analyzed to determine whether problems are structural or normal material wear. The inside perimeter of the roof should be inspected to detect flashing leakage/staining, with results correlated with conditions on top of the roof. In addition, you should have a roof leak log where customers' observations of leaks are recorded. In some regulated plants, the FDA or USDA can help. Each data point helps define the wear profile of the roof. This is the historical story that you can tell.

On the financial side, knowing the useful life of the roof allows you to derive the yearly depreciation. Developing a simple graph showing the anticipated depreciation over several years versus actual maintenance costs each year paints a great picture of how the investment is performing. If your maintenance costs are greater than the yearly depreciated value, you either have the wrong type of roof (or poor installation) or the wrong number of years for depreciation. Armed with the quantitative data you have developed, you and your accounting folks can decide which scenario applies and set an agreed-upon course of action.

This is a tough and common problem, but if you are able to build your credibility through the generation of indisputable data, you will be surprised at how many other accounting challenges to maintenance funding simply evaporate.

Good luck!

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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