CMMS Can be Critical for Safety and Compliance

May 6, 2009
Maintenance software starts out as a generic tool, but can become a critical instrument for safety and compliance throughout the plant.

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.

“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.”

Look to the Future

As regulations tighten in the food industry, smarter technology may come to the fore, including two particular safety and documentation features for regulated plants: electronic signatures, as part of 21 CFR Part 11 compliance, and version control for preventive maintenance (PM) routines.

With features like these, we can create a very flexible set of abilities for food processors,” says James Jones of Infor. He says a poultry plant may want to attach a time/date stamp and user credentials on certain activities, giving it the ability to see who changed work order materials, tools or instructions, and when. In more strict plants subject to FDA rules, electronic signatures can be used.

While the technology is well established in pharmaceuticals, this is not a common practice or need in food processing — yet.

Pat Conroy, president and founder of MicroMain Corp., Austin, Texas — the system at HP Hood — expects the FDA to lead to greater food plant regulations “due to the salmonella and other food safety issues we’ve all seen in the news. They are going to get tougher, and inspections are going to get more frequent.” He notes that his system ships with 500 standard reports plus source code for IT-savvy users to modify as well as offering customization services.

Nelson says few if any reports of this nature have been customized, although there are plenty of food processes that call for documentation that goes beyond parts and work orders. For example, the HP Hood plant’s ultra-high temperature processing lines are subject to the FDA Pasteurized Milk Ordinance as well as state regulations. Maintenance departments must maintain all the equipment involved in meeting the ordinance — from motors, drives, sensors and valves to the larger mechanical and automation systems they comprise.

“If we don’t maintain all of those things, we can’t run the plant. The state would shut us down,” says Nelson. Instead, his personnel do inspections more frequently than required, document their work in the system and catch problems before a failure is imminent.

Cross-functional footprint

“Maintenance has gotten incredibly complex,” says Craig Miller, who spent 19 years at a large baking plant and was president of the users group of the Maintimizer CMMS from Ashcom Technologies, Ann Arbor, Mich., before becoming that company’s sales and business development manager. Decades ago, he says, “All a maintenance manager had to worry about was getting the job done by the end of the day. Today, it’s all hands on deck.”

He says companies should start with their own regulations, standards and practices before diving into the software. “Say you’ve got a 50-ft.-long Teledyne Readco oven with brownies going through it. Your CMMS details the asset — the oven, combustion details, model number, serial number, what parts are on it ... what's been replaced, performance trends to analyzed. All your PMs [preventine maintenance] would be generated based on that information, with frequency and tasks defined by and based on standard operating procedures.

“The system can't just say ‘check conveyor.’ Well, check it for what? Because if an oven’s down in a bakery, you could lose days of production.”

There is a possibility that CMMS/EAM systems can become a cross-functional documentation across the plant. Management mandates to conserve budgets and information technology standards are factors that could hasten such integration.

Infor’s Jones notes a gradual movement toward centralized document repositories. He sees further cross-functional features becoming more important as maintenance work flows better coordinate with production systems so, for example, PMs can be scheduled without interrupting manufacturing. By assigning a set of production resources that would be impacted by a given piece of equipment, he says, the system can tell the user how production processes, people and productivity will be affected.

While Infor has proprietary methods for this, others confirm the importance of production-and-maintenance synergy.

“If the marketing and sales guys sell a major order to an account like ShopRite or Acme [supermarket chains],” Hood’s Nelson says, “we don’t promise the world and then have trouble meeting the orders. Our system has supported us in the ability to maximize our capacity and be able to identify what our capability is.”

Note to Compliance Managers Plant Wide
Every food plant has its own standards and practices, and a CMMS may provide new opportunities to bring cross-functional departments together to eliminate duplication of efforts and software systems.
“It’s been my goal to get our users to realize there’s a bigger spectrum here,” says Ashcom Technologies’ Craig Miller. He says sanitation, quality, research, environmental, safety and other non-maintenance personnel all can use a single CMMS/EAM system and eliminate the duplication of efforts in multiple software systems. Consider how the maintenance system can bring together these people and practices:
Food quality/safety: Work orders can be printed with accompanying SOPs, GMPs, HACCP procedures and more. “Quality and research can actually tie into the system. Maybe there are metal detectors or checkweighers they need to maintain and calibrate for their inspectors, and they need to know who worked on them last,” Miller says.
  • CIP/Process sanitation: The sanitation department can share documentation such as CIP procedures, which can be hosted in the maintenance system. “I coach many customers on the use of CMMS for CIP. You’d be amazed how many sanitation departments don’t use anything to document this.” It’s a no-brainer to use the CMMS to track cleaning for assets already in the maintenance system, he says. Documentation, which can include images and material safety data sheets (MSDSs), improve safety in handling chemicals as well as complying with FDA regulations and other standards.
  • Worker safety: When an unsafe platform in front of an oven is classified as part of the oven, the safety manger may write a note or a safety work order. But it lacks the depth that a CMMS/EAM system can bring to track the problem and priority and its cause. A recurring problem can be diagnosed for its root cause. That fix can be a particular operator that needs retraining or a flawed work process that needs to be revised.
  • Security: The CMMS can track personnel from building and site entry to exit, including through hazardous area access, providing procedures and tracking locks and gates. RFID technology can be applied to personnel, materials and assets throughout the plant.
  • Environmental: The CMMS can record the delivery of liquid ingredients into 2,500-gallon tanks, handling of 5,000-gallon grease traps, the movement of other materials per EPA Title V operating permits (also 40 CFR part 70), air emissions and effluent. Likewise, the system can manage MSDSs and reporting under SARA Title III/the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
  • At the docks: While maintenance there is relatively low, plants still need to meet safety and cleanliness standards that the maintenance system can track, such as forklift maintenance, the use of food-grade grease when food contact is an issue, segregating food materials from cleaning chemicals and other documentation required by FDA regulations or standards such as those from AIB.
  • Pest control: A grain manufacturer realized its CMMS could be a part of its AIB compliance when it numbered and tracked its 150 rat traps in the system. “They have to know where those traps are in the building, they can’t just put them out there and forget about them,” says Miller. A clipboard can be lost and it lacks the ability to easily track the traps and their contents.