Update Mar 2005

Are Planned Maintenance Systems too sophisticated for their job?

"The Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) has a requirement for tanker operators to use computerized planned maintenance systems, if they want to score a level 2 under TMSA's reliability and maintenance standards" by Panteleimon Pantelis, Tanker Operator March/April Issue

The OCIMF TMSA (Tanker Management Self Assessment) scheme requires that tanker operators use a computerized planned maintenance systems on tankers if they want to score level 2 or above under "reliability and maintenance standards".

The question is : "should companies use an Excel spreadsheet or a planned maintenance software system?"

Many companies have got by with Excel spreadsheets as schedulers for many years, and find that this allows adequate scheduling co-ordination.

When confronted with the decision to purchase a more comprehensive planned maintenance system their reaction is, "why upset something that works, and why burden the crew with even more clerical work?"

A full software planned maintenance system should save considerable time on board and ashore, because it should remove a lot of the clerical work already done by chief engineers. This is outlined below.

A) Planning Maintenance
Making a plan of work for the coming weeks is something all chief engineers do regardless of sophistication of PMS system.

This planning time must be compared between a rudimentary spreadsheet system and a full system.

In a spreadsheet system we must remember that there are not going to be more than 500 activities. This may sound like a lot but covering all machinery on a tanker will yield a good 800 activities. More than 500 activities make''s it very difficult to find the appropriate activity on the spreadsheet. Spreadsheets do not lend themselves to sorting and searching of the activities against hierarchical machinery components as well as by dates.

However it is the minor activities like checking alarms and instruments that are attracting scrutiny. In fact it is minor items in general that are most in need of scheduling. Major items are easy to remember and keep track of.

Minor items are not easy to remember and many of them carry tremendous risk. For example failure to hold records of inspections of emergency stop systems, limit switches, gas alarms etc can carry high penalties in inspections because it is highly incriminating in the event of an incident.

Therefore a system will need typically more than 800 activities to be adequate. This means 3 to 4 items per day to select and report.

Compare this to a full PMS system, which will show the due activities in one sighting, saving at least 1 hour in making the selection from all over a spreadsheet.


B) Running Hours
On a spreadsheet system there is not going to be any conversion from running hours to due dates.

Therefore all the running hours'' activities will have to be compared to the current running hours of the machinery in question to determine what is due.

This will take another hour if you are comparing 48 or so current running hour figures with activities on the spreadsheet, for example 1 main engine with 6 cylinder units and 3 auxiliaries.

However on modern vessels there are possibly 50 machines with running hours recorders.

Comparing 200 or so next due activity running hour numbers on a spreadsheet, against 50 current running hour figures, is an exercise that could take many hours if not days.

C) Defects & unscheduled activities
A spreadsheet system will not schedule defects and activities not normally recorded on a scheduler.

Therefore any such activities must be written up on a weekly or bi-weekly plan together with a selection from the scheduler.

Defects above a certain risk factor also require to be monitored ashore with appropriate scheduling of resolution and closeout. This can be performed with forms but requires vastly more time and duplication.

D) Spares
With a spreadsheet system there will be no master spares list from which to select spares for requisitions. The chief engineer has to use the manuals and copy the figures onto the requisition.

This is slower than selecting a line item and clicking on it and far more prone to error.

This error potential is reintroduced ashore as the purchasing staff copies the number up to 3 times.

The chief engineer must make sure that there are sufficient spares for upcoming maintenance. This is impossibly complex without a proper computerized spares master list as exist in the manuals.

Most companies are content with ordering spares as they are consumed and hoping the on board inventory neither exceeds, or falls short of requirements.

Exceeding requirements simply is as good as wasted money since one day these will be generously donated, for no appreciable value, to the next owner.

Shortfalls mean last minute orders, excessive airfreight, postponed maintenance, possible non-compliance in third party inspections and occasionally an incident.

A full PMS system will allow users to view spares recommendations for each upcoming item of maintenance as well as highlight inventory shortfalls.

Most technical departments require that on each requisition, the chief engineer declares whether the item is aimed at inventory replenishment, upcoming maintenance, repair of breakdown, or other.

This assumes that the chief engineer checks the inventory on each item and also checks the forthcoming maintenance plan.

Therefore this is considerable work for the chief engineer, however it is not comprehensive.

With a spreadsheet, there is no way of knowing whether all upcoming maintenance activities have sufficient spares, and there is no way of keeping track of consumption to verify the shortages of spares as declared by the chief engineer.

Since the process of supplying this extra information is time consuming for the chief engineer there is no way to check how comprehensively these checks are made before filling out the spaces in the requisition.

Any checks needed to be made by the shore superintendent, such as for example to view the parts in question, require inspecting manuals, or past purchase orders, or historic maintenance or all these at various times. This is another tremendous expenditure of time if this checking is to be performed meticulously.

E) Maintenance Reporting
The chief engineer will need to make a report for each item of maintenance completed. This is required by TMSA and by ISM.

Reporting maintenance in a spreadsheet system means altering the date of completion of the item completed, in other words going through the 500 item list, to alter the date or running hour completion of each item.

The chief engineer then has to fill out a form with completion details such as machinery ID, job ID, date of completion, spares consumed, man-hours etc. Spares consumption requires accurately copying large strings of part identification numbers, a time consuming and error prone exercise.

The reports need to be sent ashore and kept in a file server with adequate facilities for searching, which is very inefficient given the similarity in words between many maintenance activities.

In a full PMS the reporting of maintenance hardly needs more than a few mouse clicks beside any textual report, work which is required in either system.

F) Maintenance History
Inspecting maintenance history using forms is time consuming.

To make the forms searchable requires the purchase of a document management system that at least separates them into filing structures so that searches are easier to enact.

But in any case the history will be of no use to the chief engineer or superintendent wishing to use the history to best manage future maintenance as it will be too time consuming to search and find the past reports which may or may not contain relevant information.

In a full PMS system the users can see the maintenance history alongside upcoming maintenance schedules, thus assisting in the planning and preparation of maintenance.

G) Spares
Spares associated with machinery deemed critical to the vessels operation need to be kept in updated lists in accordance with ISM and TMSA.

Since the main engine in its entirety is a critical item if the vessel is not equipped with two main engines, many of the parts that can cause the immobilization of the main engine are critical.

Maintaining an updated inventory of these plus other items such as common sea water system components, steering gear components, navigational aids, donkey boiler parts, and other critical items, is a time consuming exercise and one that is practically impossible to audit short of performing a full physical inventory check of all these items on the critical component spares list.

With full PMS system an inventory is much easier to monitor and reconcile with items consumed and ordered, thus making physical inspections an infrequent requirement.

H) Usability
If Usability is such that users cannot intuitively carry out their transactions, then considerable training needs to be performed in order to reach this point.

This must be measured when comparing systems through the observation of training over a representative sample of processes and then multiplied by the number of users and opportunity cost.

Usability for senior staff on vessels is of paramount importance. Differences in training costs between software packages can typically be significantly greater than the entire license cost or $2000 per vessel per year.

The initial comparative ease of configuration can be very different between systems that have different degree of sophistication in the area of allowing designated non specialist client personnel to understand, configure and improve the configuration of the PMS.

The usability of the configuration facilities is something that has been a profound problem in many systems and towards which intuitive design is very important.

Usability however has its greatest effect on usage cost, i.e. the time people take to use the software in the quest to cover shipboard reporting, requisitioning etc. There can be a huge variance between the time taken to report transactions in one system compared with another. This of course assumes that we are monitoring ALL machinery on board as TMSA prescribes.

Finally the obstacle of maintaining software and updated databases on board each vessel has stood in the way in the case of some PMS systems in the past.


I) Feedback from a Chief Engineer when he first evaluated the task assistant for Quality and Safety in his company:
"I thought at the beginning that I may not be the best guy to evaluate this program, (if you want to evaluate some machine tool or piece of machinery bring them in, I am your guy).As it turns out, this new program is actually helping me big time as, for a start, it makes it easy to relate what has to be done with the QA manuals which was not always easy for me. This software tool, if implemented and used properly could eliminate most of the paper going to and from the ship, it could also drastically reduce the amount of time I spend in front of the computer writing about things so I could actually go out and do something I am good at: fix things.
It really looks like this program was actually designed to help ship's personnel in their paper chores as we all know very well that machinery does not fix itself and the most economical way to do repairs economically is to use the ship's crew.

I hope this will be to your satisfaction.

Regards MC, Chief Eng"


In conclusion the concept that a simple PMS will do the job is fine if you are monitoring no more than a few hundred activities with minimal concern for audit trail. If this is extended to alarms, sensors, valves, instruments etc, or any item whose condition carries risk, the reporting burden becomes a major preoccupation of time.