How to End Your Deferred Maintenance Nightmares
By Rika Lashley, PE – You’re lying awake at night—or maybe having nightmares—worrying about not having the right maintenance plan in place. You’ve heard a million times that proactive planning is the way to go. But if you take the time to create a plan, will it provide you with better sleep? The short answer is yes.
There are several things you can do today to establish a better maintenance-cost tracking system. If you start simple, stick to your plan, and consistently keep track of your data, your maintenance plan will not only provide you with a better night’s sleep but also the information needed for future facility upgrades.
Setting Up a Simple Tracking System
The process of assessing your facility, identifying and prioritizing needed improvements, finding funding, hiring a consultant (if required), designing solutions, and implementing upgrades take time—sometimes years. Therefore, the sooner you start the process, the sooner your community can realize the benefits of proactive asset management rather than paying the price for reactive asset emergency replacements.
So what’s your first step? Try creating a simple tracking system that includes the following:
1. Past, Present, and Future Planning
As you know, “surprises” cost more than planned maintenance. While some unexpected costs will never be completely avoided, your tracking system can provide an overall assessment of the current state of your facility. You can start this process by:
- Carefully assessing your facility to identify what equipment should receive preventative maintenance to last longer.
- Determining what equipment needs replacement parts.
- Deciding which processes can be modified to perform better without upgrades.
- Deciding what equipment or processes need to be replaced entirely.
Age plays a role here, but if you’re able to show a history of breakdowns and overall efficiencies through good maintenance documentation, you can help identify the actual cost of a piece of equipment with the most efficient performance. A well-documented tracking system will also help you plan for growth and ensure that replaced equipment is correctly sized for future demands.
2. Schedule Smaller Steps
Rather than implementing one expensive, wholesale upgrade, consider using your tracking system to schedule smaller projects over a few years and plan your budgets accordingly.
- Identify projects that should be done first, second, third, and so on. This method allows you to tackle the most critical infrastructure as soon as possible.
- Perform a financial analysis that identifies projects with the least predicted cost increases over time that can be done later.
3. Determine When You Need Outside Help
Be familiar with your state’s rules and regulations. Use your tracking system to identify projects you can plan and implement without a regulatory review and don’t require hiring an outside engineer. These are typically maintenance projects that do not involve upsizing or replacements. If you have projects that require state review and you need to hire an engineering firm to complete them, identify those early on to gather project funding, complete the design, and allow the regulatory agency ample time for review before implementation.
4. Analyze Costs
Use your tracking system to plan and schedule timely equipment replacements to reduce costs due to hefty emergency price tags, operational inefficiencies, or frequent repairs. This system will be helpful during budget planning to see the actual costs of doing nothing versus taking action. Examples include:
- Material costs and labor associated with emergency repairs.
- Costs associated with risks such as potential environmental cleanups, a public education campaign to regain trust if public health issues were created by failing equipment, or labor lost due to a workplace injury incurred during an emergency response.
- Potential savings from lower energy costs, reduced labor from the routine operations, or cheaper consumables needed for new equipment.
If you have questions about this process or would like to get started with a tracking system for your maintenance plan, one thing you might consider is asking your neighboring communities if they have a plan in place. Engineering firms can also help provide further guidelines and offer solutions.
However, keep in mind that the best way to start is with small steps. The most important aspect is to maintain consistency—set aside time to work on your plan a little bit at a time. A well-developed maintenance plan will be worth the time you put into it. Contact me with questions!
Rika Lashley, PE is a senior environmental engineer with 16 years of experience in planning, design, and construction of water and wastewater conveyance and treatment systems. She works in Morrison-Maierle’s Helena office.