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Chris Wollen

Preventing downtime through planning

In schools, downtime is not an option. Chris Wollen explains the importance of Planned Maintenance

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 21, 2015 | HVAC & lighting

A well-run educational establishment is one that is constantly maintained – if this approach is adopted, equipment will work better and breakdown less. This might, on the face of things, seem more intrusive, but compared to a reactive maintenance programme where things are left until they go wrong, planned maintenance will be more cost effective and less disruptive.

What’s wrong with reacting?

While avoiding reactive maintenance altogether may be unacheivable, adopting an overall approach where systems are ignored until they break down is a false economy and can pose health and safety risks – a particular issue in schools.

Downtime is not an option in educational establishments during term time, making reactive maintenance even more problematic. The other key factor is its effect on budgets. Expensive part replacement, based on getting parts as quickly as possible, rather than choosing the best supplier, staff overtime or high value call outs can all throw up costs outside of what’s been budgeted for. Where equipment has not been looked after properly, its life expectancy is shorter; in nearly all cases replacements are far more expensive than repairs.

Tanks at Lambeth College plant room

Why plan?

Budget control is key for schools, which are often under pressure to spread their resources. In addition, by planning maintenance it can be scheduled at a time to suit – in school holidays for example, ensuring minimum disruption to pupils and staff.

Planned maintenance can actually save costs too, particularly where HVAC equipment is concerned - improvements in efficiency can be a direct result of a proper maintenance regime. Specific savings vary depending on the equipment and the environment it operates in, but as a rough guide, a proper PPM schedule could see HVAC systems use 15 – 20% less energy than in a reactive maintenance culture.

PPM is also imperative in terms of keeping in-line with warranties, especially in today’s market where some premium-manufacturers are providing parts warranties in excess of three years. Manufacturer guidelines must at least be adhered to so that breakdowns that should not have occurred if equipment was looked after properly are covered. In addition, PPM reporting will identify any operational bad practices that could damage the equipment or invalidate the warranty. Bad practices can then be simply addressed, usually with some onsite training.

Best practice approach

Apart from the physical act of maintaining equipment, better end user satisfaction can be achieved by a consistent approach using considerate management teams. Using proactive and visible staff that know a building, its owners and customer-base, is the best approach. 

Staff need to be trained in customer interaction, not just the mechanics of keeping a building running. In a educational environment this is particularly important – it is inevitable that some work may have to take place within working hours. Maintenance teams will need to be CRB checked and teachers should be informed as to what’s happening and why. Through polite and clear communication, life may actually be made easier for maintenance providers, as end users will be more accommodating of their needs. Local authorities choosing maintenance contractors for their buildings should look beyond technical acumen and find out how an organisation plans to deal with end users. 

Educational establishments need to be fully operational, working efficiently, achieved in such a way that doesn’t disrupt these buildings’ primary aim of teaching pupils in a safe environment. Planned maintenance, by teams that are sensitive to the situation and its challenges is the only approach; an approach that will cut costs and allow budgets to be better managed in the long run.

Chris Wollen is Chairman of Ergro.    

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