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Planned Maintenance Schedules - Computer or paper?

SetRatioSize150200 Mike Wilson3

As technology improves, more and more options for scheduled maintenance, inventory control, ships and engineering logs are coming onto the market.  Certainly some programs are better than others - some are more thorough, while others are more intuitive.  But the question remains: are computer-based programs the way forward, or is the old fashioned way of paper logs and the ‘Chief’s way of doing things’ still the better option?  The answer is in the eye of the beholder.

One of the first things to consider when making this decision is how well the program can be installed and implemented into the current system. At the end of the day, any program out there is only as good as the input that goes into it. 

Taking the Time to Set it Up

Setting up a new scheduled maintenance system that works with parts assignments, inventory, hours monitoring, and reports-generation takes a massive amount of work time to set up correctly and for the system to be used efficiently.  Each piece of equipment must be added, and then the manufacturer’s planned maintenance schedule inputted, in order for that program to give you the reminders effectively.

This same data input then carries over to parts inventory, assigning those parts to the machinery and, more importantly, to the service - so that when the service is performed, the system can adjust the stock control and maintain accurate counts.  The point is that the system is only as good as you make it.

Management companies will often insist that a scheduled maintenance system is in place, and will request weekly or monthly reports.  In this case, programs can truly be an asset, but not without complications.  Management companies want you to use these programs to make their job easier- and it would be difficult for them to keep track of maintenance without these reports.

This dynamic between engineer and company can be a tricky one and must be a partnership.  Many times the implementation of a scheduled maintenance system is something that happens after the boat has been in operation for many years. 

On vessels less than five years old, chances are that the installation and inputs of these systems were done during the build. But with older vessels, adding such a software system is an investment in both time and money.  Unless that management company is going to help you set it up to their liking, it can be very hard for you as the engineer to install it to its maximum capabilities along with your normal duties on board.  There are only so many hours in the day after all. 

However, these objections aside, the benefits are significant.  Personally, I’m a complete advocate for computerized planned maintenance.  With a properly set up system, far fewer jobs fall between the cracks and get forgotten about.  The reminders are there, and until you check it off, it stares at you and lets you know what needs to be done. 

Ensuring Accurate Inventory Control and Reporting

Along with that, the inventory control associated can be such a time and money saver.  Set up with a properly organized storage system, you should know EXACTLY what you have, how many of them, and where they are located at any given time.  When a filter drops below a certain level, you filter out those parts that are low in stock, print out a report, send it to your supplier or go shopping to refresh the quantities.  Yet again, it depends on the engineers on board maintaining that software and ensuring that those parts being expended are taken out, and that the job is complete and checked off the list (with any notes for the next engineer after him/her.) 

Nothing can be more detrimental to a vessel than fraudulent reporting. I have been on many a yacht with a computerized system that you can tell has not been accurately maintained. By accurate, I mean that the job was actually done and not just checked off the list.  Did that hydraulic fluid actually get changed when it says or, more importantly, were those bilge alarms checked last month? Nothing can be more frustrating or more dangerous than false reporting.  And nothing can be more annoying than looking for that part that should be in BOX A2 but has not been there in months because the guy before you never removed it from the stock control. Of course paper records can also be falsified in this way and reporting errors made, whether by intention or accident. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about the person before you; you can only try to improve matters while you are there. 

My Opinion

Each of us will have opinions about this, and if I have learned one thing, it’s that there are multiple ways of doing the same thing correctly.  Personally, I take great time and pride in maintaining these planned maintenance programs, because if they are treated well, they will save us a tremendous amount of time and labor in the long term.

My opinion is that these programs do save time, money and breakdowns.  They are the assistant that we all want in our own lives but will never have the budget to afford.  As ever, to get the best out of any assistant, we need to give them what they need to do the job.  Please feel free to share your own thoughts!

Thanks to Great Circle System for sharing on the Yacht Technology Blog


Michael Wilson has 12 years of engineering experience in the yachting industry, working full-time and freelance. He has also worked in project management, yacht management and brokerage. Mike is currently a rotational chief on M/Y Senses, and has worked in the industry for over 10 years on multiple yachts, including S/Y Maltese Falcon. He is a Florida native and U.S. Coast Guard Chief Engineer 3000Grt Unlimited HP (a Y-1 equivalent). He studied finance and human resources at Purdue University, graduating in 2000. 

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