How to maximize equipment wrench time with planning and scheduling

Updated May 24, 2018

By Preston Ingalls

manager with clipboard

Abraham Lincoln is alleged to have said: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

If you get the feeling sometimes that your technicians are chopping wood with a dull axe, maybe it’s time to find a way to sharpen your processes.

Studies have shown that mechanics and technicians in the construction equipment industry have about 30 to 35 percent productivity or “wrench time” in performing their tasks. It could be and should be much better. (And this low productivity is not unique to the construction or heavy equipment industry, as all industries average 25 to 35 percent.)

According to a definition by Doc Palmer, author of Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook:

“Wrench time is a measure of tradecraft personnel at work, using tools, in front of jobs. Wrench time does not include obtaining parts, tools/instructions, or the travel associated with those tasks. It does not include traveling to or from jobs. It does not include time spent obtaining work assignments. The achievement of these goals is complicated by the fact that a majority of maintenance organizations operate in a reactive mode with efficiencies in the 30-percent range.”

This means for a nine-hour day, the technician or mechanic is spending about three hours doing productive or value-added work. There are numerous possible reasons for this low-efficiency figure:

• Equipment is unavailable because it is being used. Production won’t surrender it because downed equipment affects their numbers and schedules.

• Maintenance trades repeatedly travel back and forth from the job to the storeroom for parts, manuals, tools and assistance. “Windshield time” is not value-added.

• Different skilled trades are required to complete a repair, which keeps the original technician waiting for their arrival.

• An issue reported to maintenance was incorrect, resulting in the wrong tradesman being dispatched to the job.

• The inability to find suitable documentation, such as service manuals for reference to conduct repairs.

• Break time.

• Waiting for instructions from supervisor.

• Completing paperwork.

As shown, many factors interfere with a tech’s ability to perform the job, with most being systemic or systems-oriented – therefore, beyond the control of the technician to improve.


Your hidden workforce

Fortunately, there are many tried-and-true ways to improve wrench time with little expense. One of the most successful processes is planning and scheduling (P&S).

On average, P&S enhances wrench time to as much as 55 percent. The change brought about from implementing a P&S program is sometimes described as discovering your “hidden workforce.” For example:

• Increase wrench time from 35 to 50 percent: 15 technicians become 24

• Increase wrench time from 25 to 50 percent: 15 technicians become 30

In this tight job market for technicians, it would be hard to find that many additional techs. By leveraging the benefits of P&S, you can either do more work or accomplish the same level of work with fewer technicians. The difference occurs when you optimize the systems in which they work.


Training the scheduler

If we remove one of the more experienced technicians from the group of 15 and train him to become a planner/scheduler, the productivity gains more than offset his loss to the workforce, so there would be no need for a replacement. The increased productivity gains from prepping the jobs for the remaining techs will increase the throughput of the others as they spend more time on tasks and less time trying to prepare for those tasks.

Maintenance planning and scheduling prioritizes and organizes work, so it can be executed efficiently. It relies on:

• Work-order systems

• Time-keeping systems

• Identification of major and minor components

• A preventive maintenance program

• Stockroom/inventory control

• Cooperation with operations


duties for plannersSo, how does P&S work? To execute maintenance in the most cost-effective manner, a formal planning and scheduling process is required. Planning is the “what” and the “how,” while scheduling is the “when” and the “who.”

Planning is the process of:

• Identifying the specific tasks to complete the work required

• Identifying and estimating the resources (people, materials, tools, etc.) required for the work, along with any necessary services needed, so all will be made available in time for the execution of the work

• Gathering all of the necessary information/documentation into a job pack to enable the work to be executed safely and efficiently

• Producing job plans that sequence the tasks to perform and the necessary resources

• Arranging all specialty tools, permits, vendors and equipment to perform the tasks.

Scheduling is the process of:

• Aligning activities with available resources (i.e. technicians, specialty equipment, vendor, tools, material)

• Achieving maintenance execution effectiveness

• Making decisions to optimize activities within the same time period

• Publicizing the work schedule to allow for proper and required departmental involvement for timely equipment release.


Here is how the process works:

1. Identify

This activity describes the process of raising a notification/work-order request. It must be easy to activate a request for work. There should be a process to prioritize equipment by class based on impact to operations and therefore set work priorities on the time limits to perform that work based on immediacy. For example, a downed paver with a screed issue would be Priority 1 (fix within 24 hours) because it is a Class-A piece of equipment based on its impact to operations.

2. Plan (Work preparation)

This activity describes the process of collecting information and preparing the resources to safely and effectively perform the maintenance task. It could also include scoping or examining the job. A planner determines what is needed to perform the job to include the sequence of steps, specialty tools, bill of materials (parts), PPE and necessary resources to perform the job. This is referred to as the “kit,” and it is staged in a convenient place for retrieval. The objective is to save time for technicians by having all the necessary resources assembled for them versus wasting time looking and waiting.

3. Execute

The step when activities take place in the field. The end result is a job done effectively as planned. The key process here is to make sure the job got done and done correctly.

4. Schedule

This is the process of creating a weekly schedule with work orders and PMs to be executed during the schedule period based on priorities. The backlog (work that has been requested but not yet performed) is examined along with new requests and matched against available resources (technicians, vendors). The schedule is negotiated with operations in a weekly meeting and then published so that everyone understands the commitments.   

5. Close-out

At this point, work completion is confirmed and steps are taken to close out the work order in the CMMS. Labor and materials are applied along with descriptions of work performed. Follow-up work may be generated.   

Later, the planner will use historical information to examine patterns and trends, such as failure frequencies, exceptional costs, problematic components and key performance measures (KPM), to assess progress. The analysis of historical data allows us to tweak the system by spotting abnormalities and applying root-cause analysis to prevent recurrence.


Planner/scheduler job duties

The planner/scheduler in this system has responsibility for a number of tasks:

• Planning nonemergency corrective repairs with job superintendents

• Staging parts and material kits for planned job

• Coordinating parts acquisition with parts coordinators

• Coordinating planned warranty repairs

• Participating in review of work orders for priorities

• Assigning work orders needing planning and materials to planned backlog

• Assuring work order has approval and authority

• Managing the PM and Predictive Maintenance (PDM) program

• Creating new and maintaining existing PMs

• Monitoring PM compliance

• Reviewing effectiveness of PMs

• Leading or assisting in developing a PM strategy

• Helping to identify condition-based vs. time/meter-based

• Helping to decide on Repair/Replace/Refurbish/Run to Failure (RTF)

• Establishing and adjusting PM frequencies