It can be easy to be reactive when it comes to maintenance. As the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But waiting for the failure of a system for maintenance can lead to downtime, unexpected costs and inefficient systems. In the end, it is much better to constantly maintain the equipment than waiting for it to break; this is called preventative maintenance. But, how do you start to implement an effective preventative maintenance program within your organization?
Preventative maintenance is important because it will help you to both lessen the likelihood of a costly system failure and improve the overall function of your systems.
The last thing that any property manager or engineer wants is for one of their pieces of equipment to fail. Equipment failures lead to unplanned repair costs, work hours and downtime for the people who live or work in the building and rely on you for services.
By implementing a preventative maintenance plan, you are planning to regularly check on equipment to identify problems before they become a showstopping issue. For example, if your HVAC Air Handler Unit regularly gets its filter clogged, a preventative maintenance task would be to check and clean the filter every month. This way, you ensure that the filter is always taken care of and never becomes an emergency issue.
Preventative maintenance will also give you an opportunity to evaluate how well a system is running and identify new ways to make it run smoother, more reliably and with less energy or other costs.
David Vences, a Portfolio Chief Engineer at Lincoln Property Company, compares this to NASCAR. Instead of improving the performance of a car by upgrading the muffler, engine and tires though, you are looking for ways to upgrade your equipment by giving it the latest tech or making small changes to make it run optimally.
A great example of this is a recently completed project by Mark Gallman, a maintenance manager at Highwood Properties. After going through a series of preventative maintenance tasks on a building, their company was able to reduce the energy consumed by 27 percent and the water used by 23 percent. As the cost of these utilities are often passed along to the tenants, lowering these costs allowed the tenants to save money, thus increasing the competitiveness of space in this building on the market.
Now that you’ve decided to adopt a preventative maintenance plan for your business, what do you do first?
By having an inventory of all equipment (both capital and life safety) you can begin to catalog all regular maintenance that should occur on them. In some cases, such as life safety equipment, you may be required by the jurisdiction to perform certain tasks at a certain frequency. These tasks are easy to identify as a result. For other pieces of equipment though, you may have to identify tasks that need to be regularly done or things that regularly break and should be checked on a regular basis. Some examples of this might be checking belts, lubricating bearings or measuring the temperature across an HVAC system.
You may even want to begin a system of labeling all equipment so that you can easily identify what it is and where it is located. Jack Kennedy, a senior property operations manager at Jackson Healthcare uses such a system. For example, if he wanted to name a cooling tower on the roof of a building at 1234 Ash Avenue, he would name it 1234 CT1 Roof. In this case, 1234 gives the building, CT1 tells him it is the first cooling tower, and Roof tells him the location of the equipment. A system like this can be applied for any equipment or location and allows you to easily communicate what specific pieces of equipment need maintenance.
Another key part of ensuring good communication on preventative maintenance tasks is to clearly define what needs to be done. Kennedy also uses a system of abbreviations for preventative maintenance tasks. For example, AHUQ tells you that it is the Air Handler Unit’s Quarterly inspection or maintenance. This combination of the piece of equipment needing maintenance and what tasks need to be done is a useful shorthand for his company.
It is also key that you clearly write out a full description of the maintenance task specifics. Just saying Quarterly Inspection is too broad, you need a list that says includes statements like check alignment of belt, check filter and listen for noise. Kennedy also recommends that you write action items in all caps like VISUAL INSPECTION followed by a more detailed description of what to look for in parentheses and lower case like (rust, loose connections and loose parts). These “triggers” should create the thought processes to help a technician properly perform the scheduled tasks.
Now that you have a list of all the maintenance tasks that need completed, schedule them out over the course of the year. During this process always keep in mind that you want these tasks to be completed, so don’t put too many all at the same time.
As Gallman says, “Set the schedule up so that technicians can actually complete the task. You don’t want to send out work orders where maintenance personnel can check off the boxes without doing the work. The key is quality over quantity.”
Another aspect to keep in mind is that if you have a piece of equipment in need of different monthly, quarterly and annual maintenance tasks, stack these tasks so that you can do as many of these tasks at the same time for maintenance. If you semi-annually lubricate bearings and check the alignment of a belt monthly within an Air Handler Unit, schedule both tasks for the same sitting. This allows for the system to go down for maintenance less often and for there to be less disruption.
Creating a preventative maintenance plan for your building can help you prevent unexpected maintenance and improve efficiency for your property. As Gallman says, “Preventative maintenance is the primary job of maintenance techs.”
Implementing an effective preventative maintenance plan can make a huge difference in the operations of your facility.