POSTED: 2018-08-13 13:50:57

Deploying Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) for DC Operations

Running an effective distribution center in picking intensive, automated environments not only is giving rise to new methods and systems for executing fulfillment within the four walls, it also is elevating the importance of maintenance processes and systems.

The operational pressures on DCs are intense. According to MHI’s annual industry report in 2017, 38% of respondents see customer demands for faster response times as “very challenging” while another 15% call it “extremely” challenging. To keep up with these requirements, DCs are deploying more automation like conveyors, sortation systems, shuttles or robotics. In fact, research firm Technavio expects the global market for automated materials handling systems to grow at a compound annual growth rate of more than 8% through 2021.

In this evolving environment, DC operators need to ask whether maintenance practices such as using spreadsheets to record repairs are sufficient or whether more advanced solutions such as computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) are called for. CMMS, also known as enterprise asset management (EAM), is becoming a more mission-critical system for DCs, according to software providers.

“It’s definitely become a more important type of solution for the warehousing market as facilities have become more automated,” says Harry Kohal, a vice president at Eagle Technology, an EAM/CMMS vendor. “And, it’s not just the level of automation that makes maintenance more important, it’s the expectations around shorter deliver times, which makes it critical that equipment runs reliably.”

CMMS solutions are used by many industries with large facilities where machine uptime is paramount. Warehouses can use CMMS/EAM to manage general equipment such as lighting; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); or access control systems. And increasingly, say vendors, they’re used for maintenance of automated materials handling equipment.

“Since CMMS’s purpose is to keep things up and running, it’s going to tend to be more important in a highly automated facility because you are relying less on manual labor and more on your machinery,” says Jonathan Clark, director of professional services for CMMS vendor CMMS Data Group.

The extent to which warehouses need CMMS will vary by facility, though the bigger a facility is, the more automated it is; and the more maintenance personnel there are, the greater the need. However, DC operators need to answer some questions when thinking about CMMS, including: “What happens when my materials handling equipment vendor does most of the maintenance on key pieces of automation,” and “Why do I really need CMMS when spreadsheets have worked adequately in the past?”
CMMS benefits

Some software vendors draw a distinction between CMMS and EAM, with EAM generally thought of as having deeper asset-management functionality, with CMMS more focused on execution of maintenance workflows. Whatever moniker is used, the solutions generally support maintenance work orders and technician dispatching, spares procurement and management, and analysis of asset history, though some solutions may have deeper functionality in certain areas.

The detailed maintenance history that CMMS provides is a core benefit for any user organization, says Tom Singer, a principal with supply chain consulting firm Tompkins International. “Frankly, any facility of significant size can benefit from CMMS just to manage normal maintenance on equipment like lighting or HVAC,” Singer explains. “At a basic level, you put in a CMMS as a tracking mechanism, so that you know the maintenance work you are performing, so you can measure performance, and then you can start identifying trends in your facility that warrant some different maintenance practices.”

An early “win” for many CMMS users, says Kohal, is to use the system to ensure that required inspections for health and safety are getting done, and records can be instantly accessed. “Inspections and related documentation tend to be an early area for attention in a system deployment because it ensures the organization is doing what it is supposed to be doing to comply with regulations, while also helping with general readiness of the facility,” says Kohal.

While spreadsheets can be used to track maintenance events, a CMMS gives the organization a richer asset history, easier reporting capabilities, and one centralized system to define and manage critical failure points, adds Kohal. “A CMMS ensures you are taking care of all the preventative maintenance and spares management for anything that is a critical failure point, which in a DC, might be a conveyor/sortation system, or in a drug or food distribution warehouse, a freezer or refrigeration system,” Kohal says. “These are the critical failure points you want to be sure are managed well so you don’t risk downtime or product loss.”

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