When it comes to the work of the maintenance foreman, there is one very limited resource: time. We all probably recognize the maintenance foreman: the guy sitting at the office with his phone ringing every ten minutes with linemen calling for instructions, addresses, tools and project numbers. At the same time, he should also be planning and preparing for the work of the linemen for coming days and assigning reactive maintenance tasks to available resources. Don’t get me wrong, all these tasks are needed to keep the process ongoing. Or are they?
Earlier, the work planning may have been very precise, including route planning, creating work maps and assigning works orders to line crews. But the world is changing, and new technologies change the ways of working. People have smartphones with them and the cellular coverage is mostly good. The areas where the utilities operate are larger, but there might be less depots. This means that the distances for the field groups to cover are longer, and it doesn’t make sense to drive to the depot to get maps, instructions and materials between every task. Already for these reasons the traditional relationship between the foreman and linemen is changing. The way I used to (or had to) work is no longer the only way.
In principle, area-based maintenance planning for recurrent maintenance tasks is simple and even quite efficient. Plan the maintenance according to the previous maintenance date, the recurrence and the available resources. Repeat the task for every maintenance program you have, then start creating work orders based on areas and assign them to field crews. This works fine to some extent, but the thing that will be missed here is flexibility. After the maintenance program has been created, there will be new tasks appearing because of network failures, network construction works and customer trouble calls. In practice, every day on their way back from these tasks, your linemen are driving pass assets to inspect or maintain. But the task has not been assigned to them (because I wouldn’t have had the time)...So why bother trying to plan the field work to the last detail at the office? Instead, let the linemen decide in which order and who will the carry out the maintenance tasks. Since the field crews have their mobile phones, they can access their network information to see the asset and customer data stored in their network information system. They can also see the maintenance history and the planned maintenance tasks, and even pick the available task to themselves according to their location and equipment with them.
So actually, what is the role of the foreman? Not creating printouts and route plans for the linemen, that is for sure. Now the foreman can take a breath and focus on optimizing the maintenance instead of daily firefighting, doing the work that he is supposed to do - and where he is the best at.
By writing this, I admit that in my previous position as a maintenance foreman, I have created several low quality work order printouts, advised driving against other traffic in my inspection routes, and sent my linemen to the same address during the same year too many times.
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