If your equipment fleet consists of a pickup, a skidsteer, and a portable mixer, it’s pretty easy to stay on top of preventive maintenance and repairs. Add a few more machines, and you’re going to want to keep more formal records—whether that’s a chart on a wall, a binder in a drawer, or a spreadsheet on a computer. As your operation grows, it becomes both more difficult and more important to keep accurate records of when equipment service is needed and performed. Once you’ve acquired even a modest collection of equipment and vehicles, you can benefit from using one of the many software packages available to help manage this and other related critical functions.
One big benefit is simply getting prompted to perform routine maintenance and repairs in a timely way. That alone can help prevent costly and inconvenient equipment breakdowns. The software creates and stores more accurate and complete records than many businesses do working manually, so you can better track the performance of your equipment over time. Maintenance software probably won’t let you cut back on your maintenance staff, but it will use your mechanics’ time more efficiently by allowing them to do more actual service work and less time scheduling and planning. Contractors use equipment maintenance software to generate repair work orders, monitor workflow through their shops, and maintain inventories of repair parts.
Most packages provide some standard screens you can use to pull up information and generate a report. For example, you might want to see all the services due for the next month, or to review the complete service history for a particular piece or class of equipment. Some vendors also will help you customize their programs if you want to generate reports that differ from the standard offerings.
Equipment maintenance software programs are often components of more extensive business management systems, which offer accounting, payroll, cost estimating, or other functions. Whether or not your equipment maintenance program is designed as a module in a larger system, it needs to be compatible with your other management software. If you are entering, storing, and manipulating information about your equipment use for job costing or other purposes, you want that information to be available for the maintenance program.
Brad Mathews is vice president of marketing for Dexter + Cheney, which offers a preventive maintenance module in its Spectrum line of construction software. Mathews explains the connections that led to its development: “The core of our software system is based on accounting, and on job costing in particular. Tracking equipment use is obviously a part of establishing an accurate job cost, so our customers collect and enter information on their equipment, such as its fuel costs and the number of hours it’s being employed for each project. Once that equipment costing information is in place, adding the maintenance aspect was a natural outgrowth suggested by our clients.”
Set it up right
Depending on the size of your fleet, the initial setup of a maintenance software program can be laborious. For each piece of equipment, it typically involves entering the required preventive service steps and their recommended intervals, the parts and materials needed for the service, warranty information, service history, and more. Some programs streamline the process by allowing you to copy standard maintenance tasks from one piece of equipment to another, or to an entire group of equipment types. Then information on equipment usage is updated daily, either entered manually or through an automated metering system. These updates should note any problems or incidents reported by the operator.
Maintenance tasks can be flagged by mileage, hours of use, number of days, or some combination of criteria. Then the system recognizes when the specified milestone is reached and generates an alert to schedule preventive maintenance. After the maintenance tasks are completed, this information is entered and stored in the system.
Comanco Environmental Construction, a Plant City, Fla.-based contractor, uses the equipment maintenance module in the Dexter + Chaney system. Greg Kimble, the company’s vice president, uses the software to track about 30 pieces of equipment including excavators, dozers, loaders, and some custom machines for handling geosynthetic fabrics. Kimble says, “At the end of each day, our field superintendents read the meters on the machines and enter the operating hours into the system. The information goes into the payroll and accounting programs, and then is imported into the maintenance module. It makes keeping up with service needs a lot easier, but it’s important to get everything set up right upfront. Getting all the information entered initially is a big job, so be willing to dedicate a few weeks to doing it properly. Otherwise, it can be confusing.”
How big is big enough?
Opinions vary as to the size of operation for which equipment maintenance software makes economic sense. Mathews says for any company large enough to cost equipment to particular jobs, it makes sense to track maintenance automatically as well. He suggests 10 pieces of equipment as a practical minimum.
Steve McGough, COO for HCSS, Sugarland, Texas—a software company that serves the highway and heavy construction industry—says its Equipment 360 package is targeted to large operations with fleets of 50 or more machines requiring maintenance. But he also thinks smaller companies can see gains: “The best benefit is giving your staff the information and tools they need to make decisions just like an owner would. When each decision is based on what is best for the company, everybody wins. The whole process is about developing a set of best practices to keep your equipment in tip-top shape. The software then serves to automate these processes, make sure they get done in a timely fashion, and provide analysis to help an equipment manager make intelligent choices. No matter how big or small a company is, it loses money when a piece of equipment is down for unscheduled repairs.”
SPS New England Inc., based in Salisbury, Mass., is a highway and bridge construction company with more than 225 employees, including a service staff of about 25. SPS New England uses HCSS Equipment 360 software to manage its equipment maintenance efforts. Shop office manager Deanna Fecteau, who joined SPS about a year ago, says she found it fast and easy to learn. “We use the software to track about 600 pieces of equipment—everything from air compressors and light towers to cars, boats, and street sweepers. We have mechanics, welders, and machine operators working in the shop, as well as an electrician and some laborers. A couple of the mechanics are on the road regularly, doing repairs and maintenance on equipment in the field.
“Equipment users fill out forms detailing the number of hours each item was used each day and noting any equipment problems they encountered, and then I enter all that information into the system. The program is set up to schedule routine maintenance, but it also keeps track and lets us know when registrations and license renewals are due. It stores information on parts for each piece of equipment, so it’s easy to tell what filter number or other part we’ll need to stock for service. It also lets us scan in and upload documents such as receipts and problem reports. Having everything in one place is an amazing benefit for an operation like this,” Fecteau says.
As long as you’re keeping computerized records, even if you operate on a smaller scale than SPS, equipment maintenance software may be a worthwhile investment. One company offers a package for small-to-medium businesses for a monthly license fee of $40 per user. You can add a maintenance module to one of the more comprehensive construction software packages for a relatively modest increase in cost. Once you decide to go ahead, be sure to get software that’s compatible with your existing systems, commit the effort to setting it up properly, and then be diligent about performing the preventive maintenance as it’s needed.
Kenneth A. Hooker is a freelance writer based in Oak Park, Ill.