A small company can manage with simple accounting software, but that changes as you grow into the small and medium-sized enterprise, or SME, segment. As you get bigger, managing your company's daily operations at the nuts and bolts level takes more oversight, which is why enterprise management giants SAP offer a plant maintenance component.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
SAP PM is the company's plant maintenance component, a part of its larger Enterprise Resource Planning offering.
ERP and PM Basics
Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, is the management of a company's human, financial and physical resources to serve current operations and fuel future growth. Plant maintenance, or PM, is a part of ERP. Plant maintenance is the process of overseeing and caring for those systems and physical resources a company relies on.
Even sole proprietors practice some form of plant management. Suppose you're an independent owner-operator with an excavator and a pickup truck and trailer to haul it. Any sensible owner will keep a close eye on that equipment, checking it regularly for wear or damage, from rust on the hitch to possible hydraulic leaks. You'd know what maintenance the excavator and pickup require at which intervals and you'd make repairs as needed.
All companies do these things, but after a point, they happen on a scale that's well beyond any one person's ability to manage. That's why there are programs like SAP PM to manage the process.
SAP PM Overview
SAP Plant Maintenance is part of its ERP Central Component, or ECC, along with a cluster of other interrelated components. SAP PM manages the same three core activities as that hypothetical owner-operator:
- Inspection: PM schedules and logs regular inspections of systems and physical equipment to monitor their current real-world condition.
- Preventive Maintenance: The periodic upkeep that's needed to keep a system or a piece of equipment in good working order and maximize its useful life.
- Repair: To bring any malfunctioning system or equipment back online as effectively as possible.
SAP Plant Maintenance Process Flow
When the system is implemented, you set inspection schedules for your equipment at appropriate intervals, from hourly for critical equipment to monthly or quarterly for more durable machinery. The system creates work orders for these inspections, and technicians, in turn, log the results of each inspection into the system when it's completed.
Maintenance is assigned similarly, according to the needs of a given system or piece of machinery. A scheduled piece of maintenance may also turn up problems requiring further work, so in a way, they also act as a more in-depth inspection. Repairs are assigned on an as-needed basis, either to in-house technicians or outside specialists. As with inspections, the results of any maintenance or repair activity must be logged into the system once completed.
The real value of the Plant Maintenance component for a company's management comes from its potentially tight integration with the other ECC components.
Integration of the Components
SAP's software is highly customizable, which is a cost when you're starting out – all that customizing and integrating takes time and money – but pays big dividends in operational efficiency.
The plant maintenance component can report back to all of the other ECC components, so – for example – the HR department knows the maintenance team's staffing needs, the materials management team knows which parts to order, the production planning team can work around any projected future downtime for maintenance and repair needs, the sales crew knows how much product it can expect to receive and the controllers will know what needs to be paid for and when.
That free flow of data is equally important for plant managers, the accounting department and the executive suite, who can all make better decisions when armed with better data.
Understanding Upsides and Downsides
Implementing SAP is complicated, precisely because its business management suite is so powerful and customizable. This is arguably the biggest negative around the software, and it usually requires the use of skilled SAP consultants who can tailor its potential to your needs with a minimum of trial and error.
In the case of maintenance, an issue to be aware of is the average technician's preference for wrenches over paperwork. If your maintenance workers find the system's reporting process tedious and time-consuming, they'll find ways to circumvent it that might result in incomplete or poor-quality data. Designing your system to make reporting fast and easy is crucial, especially when you need a high level of detail. The simpler and faster the process, the more likely it will be followed and the more quickly your skilled workers can go back to doing what they're trained to do.
Those are comparatively minor issues, relative to the potential benefits for managers at all levels. SAP also provides a growth path, so if you should outgrow its SME-oriented Business One product you can migrate your data and processes to its full-fat cloud, on-premise or hybrid software products for larger enterprises.
Fred Decker learned business fundamentals at second hand as an insurance and mutual funds broker, and at firsthand as a retail store manager and the chef/proprietor of his own restaurants. He has written hundreds of business-related articles for sites including Zacks.com, Chron.com, Vitamix.com, Bizfluent and GoBankingRates and many others. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.