Inefficient service planning and equipment utilization can mean not having the appropriate tools when you need them or lead to large equipment expenditures. Learn three steps you can take to move toward improved equipment uptime.
All companies have that room in the corner, or maybe the basement, that is full of disorganized or forgotten equipment. Every once in a while, someone rummages through and finds old equipment that is still useful. Conversely, there's also the problem of not having the equipment you need to get a job done. You often ask around if someone has the equipment you’re looking for, hoping you don't have to go through the arduous purchasing process to buy something.
Buying the right equipment, and the right number of instruments often seems like a guessing game. Trying to anticipate usage now and in the future may seem like throwing a dart at a board. But there is a way to optimize field service team utilization, and this guide will walk you through three key steps to make your teams more efficient and effective.
Step 1: Know Yourself: Maximize Utilization
Before you get into numbers and stats, you'll need to tackle some basics of asset management. These basics are: know your assets, know your people, and know your organization.
Know your assets: Asset utilization
You can't optimize utilization of your assets if you don’t know all the assets you have. Make and maintain a complete inventory of all your equipment assets. This can be a daunting task. (Read how we tackled our own inventory management here - CalWeb Asset Management in Action: How we lost 500 pounds in just days). It's important to note, inventories aren't a one-and-done task. We recommend completing physical inventories annually at a minimum, with high-value and critical assets being inventoried monthly. If you don't have the resources to do this internally, look to outside sources to help. Tektronix offers professional services that can get you started and establish standard work protocols for inventory maintenance.
Don't be afraid to set up your inventory program with low-cost, simple processes at first. Excel or other basic software can be a good option to help you get a handle on your assets and start organizing what you have. If you have more complex assets inventories, there are various software solutions on the market. CalWeb® is an example of a cloud-based asset management system that can give you the visibility you need into your asset inventory.
Know your people: People utilization
Equipment doesn't work by itself. You need people to use it. As you figure out what assets you have, also account for who owns and uses those assets. Map your equipment to local ownership. This ensures people's stewardship of company equipment and incorporates accountability.
It's also important to determine what resources people need to do their jobs. Establish a skills certification, or job assessment for the tasks that need to be completed, then map those skills with the tools required. This can magnify gaps in your assets and identify equipment that you need.
Know your organization: Program utilization
After inventories and ownership are established, combine these with the job functions to ensure each member of your team has all the tools they need to successfully complete their jobs. You can also identify deficiencies and take the actions necessary to rectify the situation.
One critical way to improve utilization is to remove excess equipment and level-load the current inventory and make sure everyone has what they need and only what they need. At the tool level, review the current distribution and remove tools from field service that are excess and provide those tools to those that do not. This can save you from having to make unnecessary purchases.
Step 2: Minimize Downtime: Mitigating service impact
Productivity takes a hit when equipment is out for service, particularly for unscheduled maintenance. The first step is to get your equipment on a consistent preventive maintenance schedule and make sure everyone is aware of when equipment will be unavailable. If you have equipment that requires annual calibration, that date shouldn't be a surprise to your team. Tektronix can help establish the most effective calibration schedule for your equipment. Do all your instruments require annual calibrations, or could some be set up on an 18-month schedule?
Once a steady schedule is established, how do you make sure that downtime is zero without having extra tools for everyone? Consider a program that includes a seed stock (~10-15% excess) that provides advance replacement of tools that require service. This tool crib program can be set up internally with your team, or you can outsource those services with a vendor like Tektronix. (Read how advance replacement works with torque wrenches)
Step 3: Low-use equipment: Final-mile utilization
Every field service team will have those tools that are only used occasionally. Keeping this equipment in inventory can be expensive and inefficient. Start this process by establishing what is considered 'high-use' and what is not. By adding a time element to the mapping of skills to tools to jobs, you will start to see use trends and can create benchmarks. For example, you can decide that tools used for 50% or more of the jobs are considered high-use and required for field service teams. Tools used less than 50% of the time are labeled as low-use.
These low-use tools can be consolidated to a central location and checked-out by the field service team as needed via a “loaner pool” system. This means fewer tools need to be inventoried, saving procurement and inventory costs. It is important, however, that when setting up these types of programs the administration and communication processes be well-planned. Create a program that makes it easy for people to request, receive, and return the equipment they need. Be very clear and consistent on this process so there is minimal confusion. For small inventories and simple programs, this could be as easy as email requests and excel or Sharepoint programs to monitor usage and send reminders. More complex programs may require software solutions that can automate most or all of this process and track equipment in real-time.
Equipment utilization and tracking is becoming a more important element for field service teams as budgets need to be stretched and profit margins meticulously tracked. Setting up programs that improve your utilization can be challenging and time intensive, but the rewards you reap can help make your department more efficient and allow for greater revenue growth that stems from organizational efficiencies.
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