Palmer & Planning - How Planners Save Information

Doc Palmer
Tuesday June 06, 2017
Written by Doc Palmer
Planners are the maintenance department’s craft historians. As craftspersons return completed work orders with feedback to improve plans, the planners must save this information so it is readily retrievable. The best way to do this is to use equipment-specific files whether using paper or electronic work orders.

Let’s talk about filing information. Presume the plant uses paper work orders and saves them after completion. The easiest way to save the work orders would be simply to put them in file cabinets in the order they are received. Unfortunately, if a planner is looking for a specific work order later, it would be difficult to find it. The planner would have to know generally when it was completed and then look through many work orders. Making the filing process a little less easy would be to file the completed paper work orders in work order number. Then later, the planner could quickly find the work order. But consider that the planner would have to know the work order number. Instead, planners generally don’t look for work order numbers, they look for equipment history for an asset. A particular pump has a problem. The planner wants to look at previous work orders and plans for that pump to see if there is any useful information that could apply in making a plan to address the current issue. This means that all of the previous work orders must be filed by asset number (or name). Simply filing past work orders by when received or even by work order number would not allow planners to find specific equipment information. Even filing work orders by systems or area of the plant is not good enough to help the planners. So plants must file work orders by equipment number. Unfortunately, filing work orders by equipment number takes longer than simply placing them in a single file for the whole plant.

It is easier to file information in large chronological files, but it is more difficult to find information later. Conversely, it takes longer to file information in equipment-specific files, but it is easier to find information later. So the guiding principle in filing is to know how often someone will need to use the information in the future. Sometimes, plants are legally required to maintain records for “so many years.” In some of these cases, it would make sense for plants to file records with as little difficulty as possible. Not only that, but simple chronological files (work orders filed as received), would make it easy to discard the records when their legal retention time has expired. In essence, “fat files” are for possible future legal research you hope you would never have to do. But that is not the case for maintenance planning. Plants repeat maintenance on the same equipment many times over the years. So planners must be able to find work orders for previous work on a specific piece of equipment. “Thin files” are for files that will be used frequently in the future.

Think of a dental office. Simply filing patient records in the order of treatment would be easy, but not allow a dentist to find your individual history records the next time you visit. Instead, you would like the dentist to keep patient-specific files. Such files take a bit longer to insert information to be saved, but make the files useful in the future.

Nevertheless, as plants continue to make more and more use of computers, they can find work order information regardless of whether they use or save paper work orders. But the same logic applies: Plants must tie work order information to specific equipment numbers. Therefore, whether using paper files or computer files, work orders must have equipment numbers. It is not enough to tie work orders to systems or areas of the plant. Plants must use specific equipment numbers on work orders if they expect planners to later access the information for planning future work.

Here, many plants depend on the computer to have drill-downs for work requestors to find the appropriate equipment number. Large plants with many thousands of pieces of equipment frequently find that even with well-developed hierarchies, many work orders end up with the wrong equipment number. Therefore, whether using computers or paper systems, it really helps for plants to label equipment with tags in the field. Requestors often do better to copy this field number down and enter it in the computer when writing a new work request. Getting this number on the work request is an essential start to helping the planner start planning the work.

It doesn’t seem like a big deal to make sure plants always use specific equipment numbers on every work order, but this practice is one of the foundations of successful planning. Plants must have equipment numbers and planners must save information in equipment-specific files. It does take longer to file paper work orders in equipment-specific files, but the time is well worth it. Using computers simplifies some of the file work, but the equipment numbers are still critical. To help ensure using the right numbers, it also helps to have equipment well labelled in the field. With such specific files, planners can fulfil their roles as craft historians.

Doc Palmer’s Tip: Make sure your equipment is well tagged in the field. Planners associate paper files and computer information to these numbers.

This article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of REM - Resource Engineering & Maintenance.

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and, as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates, helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information, visit or email Doc at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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