Prescriptive Maintenance: The Next Generation Solution

May 9, 2019

Preventative maintenance is a crucial component to your facilities systems. Taking this one step further is prescriptive maintenance—or RxM—from C&W Services, that builds upon current maintenance strategies to provide a solution before the equipment fails.

Preventative maintenance is a crucial component to your facilities systems. Taking this one step further is prescriptive maintenance—or RxM.

Joel Wheatley from C&W Services speaks with Janelle Penny about how this next generation option builds upon current maintenance strategies to provide an innovative solution before the equipment fails. 

*This podcast was created in partnership with C&W Services.

Read the transcript below:

Janelle Penny: This is Janelle Penny, editor-in-chief of BUILDINGS, and today’s podcast is recorded in partnership with C&W Services.

I’m joined by Joel Wheatley of C&W Services to discuss prescriptive maintenance or RxM for short.

Joel, what is prescriptive maintenance?

Joel Wheatley (pictured): Prescriptive maintenance, or as you said RxM, is really emerging as the next generation of maintenance strategies. And it’s going to be complimentary to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Now, prescriptive maintenance shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for another maintenance strategy, but instead it’s another maintenance layer of reliability and excellence in uptime management.

Prescriptive maintenance really goes beyond the benefits of predictive maintenance. Whereas predictive maintenance seeks to identify anomalies that will really indicate a pre-failure condition, prescriptive maintenance will try to find the solution or options to resolve that problem.


“Prescriptive maintenance, or RxM, is really emerging as the next generation of maintenance strategies.” - Joel Wheatley

The system doesn’t just tell you what’s going to fail, but it directs the technicians of how to fix it.

So, the responses you may get from the system will include repairs or maintenance actions. But sometimes, you may get a recommendation that says to change the operational characteristics or slow the equipment’s cycle time so you can reach that next regularly planned maintenance window.

Janelle: So, I’ve heard of preventive and predictive maintenance. How are those different from prescriptive maintenance?

Joel: Right. Preventative maintenance is that foundational layer that includes those actions that are solely intended to keep the equipment running correctly and safely or extend the life of the equipment and limit breakdowns.

Predictive maintenance is intended to prevent those breakdowns from ever occurring by using techniques to identify those pre-failure conditions.

For example, if you’re employing equipment, you can look for those higher than normal surface temperatures or too much vibration or sound frequencies and amplitudes that are out of the normal parameters.

Prescriptive Maintenance, or RxM, is emerging as the next generation of maintenance strategies.

This “What/Why/How/When of RxM” whitepaper will quickly get you up to speed on the benefits of Prescriptive Maintenance, use-cases for your facilities needs, and the opportunities to problem solve while reducing costs and improving uptime. Get your copy here >>

Janelle: Great. How is an RxM system deployed? How do you go about implementing something like that?

Joel: Well, prescriptive maintenance begins with a full review of the equipment to determine really what’s critical and what is supporting that equipment. It’s really cost prohibitive to monitor every asset in a facility with sensing technology. So, we want to focus on those assets that are essential to the operation or the facility.

We call these assets the “critical equipment” or a “critical path” in the production or manufacturing operation.

Once those assets are identified, we determine what the failure modes are around and those are the things we need to monitor. And that’s exactly where we’re going to put these sensors. So, the sensors are continuously feeding information through a gateway and into the cloud where the prescriptive analytics is occurring.

The amount of memory and processing power that’s required to handle these kinds of analytics, it’s really prohibitive to have sensors out there that’s kind of deploying this concept of “edge computing” where all of the analytics and processing occurs at the point the information is received. So, we have to send that data off to another source where we can have that kind of a powerful process.

Once the information gets through our gateway and up into the cloud to do the prescriptive analytics, that’s where the artificial intelligence engine starts to identify the anomaly or the patterns of conditions that starts to suggest the equipment is moving towards a failure. And that’s when it’ll identify which maintenance action is required. And it’ll send us a message to the technician or simply interface with the CMMS to create a work order.

The real difference in all of this is when the notification comes down from the artificial intelligence engine, it will also be providing these recommendations on what to do to resolve these problems.

Janelle: Great. How does it go about gathering that data? Are there certain kinds of data collection or monitoring devices that it typically uses? I know you mentioned sensors.

Joel: Yeah. The two traditional ones are the production data or the runtime data of the equipment. To be able to get that information, the machinery has to be IoT-enabled and integrated into that work process. The other way is the sensors.

Right now, C&W Services has 83 different sensor types, and we can measure anything from light to dark to ultrasound, heat, pressure, any type of temperature, anything that emits any type of energy at all, we can measure it, set parameters to it, and then initiate the prescriptive maintenance architecture through that.

Janelle: Great. Who can benefit the most from RxM in your opinion?

Joel: Yeah. That’s a good question. Prescriptive maintenance is not intended for everybody. There are some key clients that it is most beneficial for. The first one is obviously manufacturing. In manufacturing, uptime directly correlates to production efficiency. Increases in the uptime automatically allows companies to sell more products and increase their throughput.

Or on the opposite side, if they have that increase volume, but they don’t have 100% sales or they’re running at 100% capacity of their equipment, they’re able to perform the same volume and produce the same volume a little faster than they would normally. So, they’re able to have savings for their fix in variable cost areas like labor and utilities. Those will go down because they will be able to shorten their production cycle.

The second one we’ve identified is the critical infrastructures. And this is where the breakdown avoidance is absolutely imperative. Even a temporary disruption can have serious consequences. And you’ll find this in the data centers where the cooling keeps the electronics online. Or biomedical, medical facilities, biomedical infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, where the utilities and the auxiliaries that are providing the atmosphere for the environment, those must stay at a certain level all the time.

This is where RxM can pre-empt failures and help you solve the problem before it happens.

Another one is widely spread out architectures or lean-manned architectures. These are the organizations that are multi-building programs or universities or heavily route-based maintenance programs, where you may find a technician in a truck covering a whole region of facilities. We call this “Transit Time” within C&W Services.

It takes the technician half his day to get to a location. We’re very responsive. So, prescriptive maintenance in this case will do all the monitoring, help us get our arms around these large, spread out organizations.

The fourth area where we’ve identified where clients can gain value from prescriptive maintenance is those highly customer-centric environments. And this is where the client intends to provide the best experience for their residents by preventing disruptions and comfort or availability of the provided utilities.

This may be large apartment complexes or banking industries or the multi-tenant client buildings where the clients are providing these services and serving as landlords.

Janelle: Makes sense. How do you know if your building or your business is a good fit for something like this?

Joel: Yeah. The first idea is to identify what value means to the client. If you need uptime and it is the most important value, then prescriptive maintenance is probably your best solution. If you want to provide the best experience for your tenants, or you cannot have something fail or breakdown at any time, then prescriptive maintenance is a good solution.


“Once we can do everything from the monitoring to the root cause to the determinations, then the only step left is the automatic maintenance.” - Joel Wheatley

If you’re running a general operation, maybe just a general, maybe a university, and if a temporary disruption in a utility or an auxiliary won’t shut down your operation, I think you’d be better suited with a very strong predictive maintenance or asset management system like the ones we provide where you really get a good handle on your assets, and then develop a very specific maintenance program that ensures the extended life of those and breakdowns.

Those may not be a good solution as prescriptive maintenance is on the forefront and is emerging strategy. But technology can be expensive.

Janelle: Okay. How do you see maintenance strategy evolving or changing in the future? What should we expect from the next wave of buildings’ needs and the solutions that are going to meet those needs?

Joel: Yeah. With the maintenance strategies, there’s been an obvious evolution over the years. We started with “run to fail” and then developed preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance. Continuous monitoring solutions have evolved and now we’re getting into the solutions where everything is automatically monitored. Solutions are generated. And everything is occurring end to end with the exception of the actual wrench time.

So, it seems to me that the next generation becomes automatic maintenance. Once we can do everything from the monitoring to the root cause to the determinations, then the only step left is the automatic maintenance.

Janelle: Great. So, how can organizations with existing buildings get started? What are they looking at as far as jumping into a prescriptive maintenance program?

Joel: Yeah. If you have an existing building, as I mentioned previously that the strategy behind RxM is that it’s a layer. So, first and foremost, you want to have a strong preventative maintenance program with a strong asset management program.

And that’s one of the things we can provide with C&W Services. We do continuous improvement activities to identify losses in existing programs. And we provide solutions that will extend the asset life and get the most productivity from the technicians.

Once you have a strong preventative maintenance program, and understand the failure modes of your equipment, then it’s okay to roll out some predictive maintenance technology. Then you want to be able to preempt some of the failures. And you can do this with manual routes using thermographic equipment or ultrasound detectors. Or the option is to install IoT solutions that can monitor the same equipment. But it tends to automate data process.

Once you have IoT, then you have the option of going into predictive analytics that could just monitor the trends and the patterns and report anomalies. Or you can upgrade that to a prescriptive analytic. And the one difference is the prescriptive will provide you with options and solutions.

You may get the same machine learning out of both. But only the prescriptive is going to start to tell you what to do in those situations.

Also, you need a good IoT-enabled CMMS. So, we use a platform in C&W Services that will allow us to have existing machinery communicate with the CMMS. And one of the advantages of this is we’ve learned that administrative work takes up as much as 30% of a technician’s time. Imagine three of your 10 techs during the day that you’ve hired to do highly skilled work are doing nothing but administrative work.

This is why you need a good, strong IoT-enabled system, so we can get the technicians back doing the things that they were hired to do and not doing administration. Then you can layer on mobile solutions, which eliminates the transit time.

We’ve identified that 16% of a technician’s day is spent walking from equipment to equipment, which on a single tech isn’t a big deal. But if you have 100 technicians, imagine 16 of them are doing nothing but walking around all day. If you’re doing manual predictive maintenance, that number can run to 90%.

So, we’ve identified solutions and created solutions that convert all of that into productive work for the techs. So, these mobile solutions allow our technicians to go straight to the equipment and begin work. And they don’t have to be involved with as much administrative actions or as much transit time.

That is really the end-to-end solution of how you grow from just a preventative maintenance strategy and begin to layer on top of it and have a full blown IoT prescriptive maintenance activity.

Janelle: Excellent. So, how might it be different for new builds?

Joel: In new builds, there’s advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are you don’t have the history of the alarms and the work execution, and maybe not even the library of the failure modes and the repair activities.

The second thing in a new build is you’ll have a limited amount of infant mortality or the concept of early breakdowns as equipment begins to burn in. However, the significant advantage is you can expedite those layered strategies, preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance and prescriptive can all be rolled out simultaneously and all integrated. Machines can be designed and built to on day one, communicate with the prescriptive analytics.

The more information you can get into the machine learning database, the better information it can provide you. So, on a new build, sensors can be developed to monitor the failure modes and they can tie directly to the production data.

The system will begin to correlate between what is happening to the system and how that’s affecting the equipment. When it gets to that correlation, that’s when you can really get strong responsive in the prescriptive analytics.

Janelle: Do you find that people are voicing certain concerns about existing buildings, like are there certain things that you tell customers when they bring an existing building to you?

Joel: Yeah. One of the largest challenges we face is connectivity of the systems. There are some clients that are reluctant to put sensors on their networks and others that are more free. Sensors that are integrated into the production system will require an increased level of security.

So, IT and engineering here forward are inextricably tied together. There has to be a partnership between your IT team and your maintenance team, probably until the end of time now.

So, you have these security concerns around the sensors. In food-grade or GMP facilities, you have to ensure that those sensors are certified and qualified by the QA department to make sure that if you did lose a sensor or it was within the production cycle, that everything will be safe for the consumer in the event of any kind of breakdown.


“We’ve identified that 16% of a technician’s day is spent walking from equipment to equipment, which on a single tech isn’t a big deal. But if you have 100 technicians, imagine 16 of them are doing nothing but walking around all day. If you’re doing manual predictive maintenance, that number can run to 90%.” - Joel Wheatley

The communication methods of the sensors is something that comes into play as well. You can have sensors that communicate with RF energy. Radio frequency will travel a long way. It’s highly penetrating, which for some clients, that could be a security as well. But with others, like in large, spread out organizations, that’s a big advantage. Some of these sensors can transmit their information 1,000 meters.

You also have low energy Bluetooth, which is highly dissipating. And those are great for environments where stray emissions from a sensor can actually disrupt a process. So, there’s been instances where we have installed sensors that are Bluetooth for that very reason.

Wi-Fi sensors require routers and gateways spread throughout the facility. So, those are generally the ideal because that is the method that we get to the cloud. But we do have the option of taking all the other sensors, sending them to a gateway and then transmitting the information into the database for the analytics.

There is an emerging technology called “edge computing” where all of this process, all of this prescriptive analytics can occur at the edge of computing. They call it the “edge” because it’s at the point in which the sensor receives the information.

When you’re computing at the edge, you don’t have to push the information into a data lake or a database. You can perform all the analysis and prescription right at the point of information gathering. And this is an emerging technology in the sensors.

Janelle: I’m glad that you mentioned the sensor and device communication types because I wanted to ask if I’m a building owner, how do I know which one is the right fit for my building?

Joel: Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s something we come in and can help you with. But what you want to really look at is the cost of having a large-scale Wi-Fi network or a mesh type network or if you would rather have a few gateways in your Wi-Fi and have the sensors transmit to them.

If you are in an environment such as a large office building where everybody has Wi-Fi, then in that case you could go with a Bluetooth type sensor, something that doesn’t have a whole lot of range to it and transmit straight to a gateway.

If you’re in a large manufacturing facility that’s spread out across several acres, you may not have the ability to run Wi-Fi across those. So, in that case, you’re going to want to go with some radio frequency type sensors that can transmit long distances to a gateway and have that gateway co-located with a Wi-Fi router.

So, it really depends on the physical set up and how spread out your group is. Most sensors can modulate and can have encryption built into them. So, that’s no longer an issue. Dominantly, the size of your facility, how thick your walls are and how you can access the Wi-Fi gateways.

Janelle: Great. So, what are some things people can do right now to improve facilities maintenance?

Joel: Yeah, so any kind of continuous improvement in the preventative maintenance activity is your best foundation. One of the things we do in C&W Services I mentioned was continuous improvement activity. We will actually study every component of work within the maintenance architecture.

We have individuals that will go as low as following the technicians around to determine what they do all day, find opportunities with that.

And what we have done is we’ve identified several areas where we have losses in the productivity of technicians. And that is the ultimate goal, get the technicians to where they use their skills to do the things that they were hired to do, as long as we can get them to do it.

Industry standard right now is about 18-20%. So, 18-20% of their day is spent doing wrench work, or the productivity work. And everything else is either non-value added or wasteful. We’ve been able to raise that, sometimes double and triple that, through our continuous improvement activities.

For example, we’ve identified that 30% of their work day is spent doing administrative actions associated with the work orders. The transit time can be 14-16%. We’ve identified that 5S activities that we implement eliminate as much as 6-8% waste in losses when they’re looking for the tools they need, especially in a shared organization for the parts.

We implement kitting activities that thoroughly increase the productivity of technicians, so they don’t have to go get their own parts in their work orders. Soon as they clock in, they’re ready to start doing the things that they’re trained to do.

So, the first layer is installing a strong foundation preventative maintenance activity. Once you’re there, then you have the options of implementing IoT solutions or predictive maintenance solutions. Or the solutions that really compliment what you define as value. And as a provider, we will help develop solutions that compliment those activities.

If what you define as value is up time, then our activities will center around reliability engineering and performance and productivity, and preventative maintenance optimization.

If your definition of value is invisibility or cost savings or energy savings, then we have teams that come in and help our clients focus specifically around those.

With all these, my No. 1 recommendation is to make sure it’s data-driven. Bring in individuals that know how to size up the situation, can quantify it so that the value you’re looking for, you’ll actually receive.

Janelle: Excellent. And as you’re building up those layers and looking at new prescriptive maintenance solutions, how do you recommend you go about starting that conversation between facilities and IT? I’m sure it should start early in the process, but how do you really get those two different silos working together?

Joel: That’s a great age-old question. Fortunately, in our organization, we have a joint strategy and we’re evolving that strategy. So, our chief of information and myself, we work regularly, and we discuss regularly about merging technology, collaboration and although we know our swim lanes, we understand where the future is going. We’re able to work on that.

What I would recommend is start with a conversation. Get all the stakeholders in the same room and get on the same page. Because if they’re in IT, they already understand the evolution of information and where the world is going. Same thing with maintenance engineering, they can see the evolution, the leaning towards sensors and IoT-enabled systems.

So, it’s a natural relationship now. It just has to begin with the conversation and then begin developing a joint IoT strategy.

Janelle: Great. When you are contacted by a customer, typically where do you start with assessing their facility and looking at their different needs, as regards to prescriptive maintenance? How do you get that process rolling?

Joel: So, as we mentioned, the prescriptive maintenance is the final layer for a maintenance activity. But the very first thing we do is look at your asset management. And we’ll do a full scope verification of the assets that are provided. Clients provide the asset list; we’ll validate that, or we can come in and create our own asset list and do a full facility inspection.


“The No. 1 thing you can do is have a strong foundation, a strong preventative maintenance program, a strong work management process and ensure that all of your preventative maintenance activities are tied to a failure mode, so you’re not doing maintenance for the sake of doing maintenance.

“You’re doing maintenance that’s actually going to improve the uptime of your equipment and extend the life cycle of that equipment.” - Joel Wheatley

Then we want to get all the data and attribute information associated with those assets into a CMMS system. Then we tag the assets and we do a basic criticality assessment. So, we want to know which assets are within, what we call your “critical path.”

We do have the ability to give you a life cycle assessment, help you create a plan or replacement plan. So, once we really understand your assets and all the information about your assets, then we create the preventative maintenance plan. And we will align all of the preventative maintenance actions with each system.

And we have a very large library, over 600 pages of job plans over every type of equipment you could possibly imagine. Then we start to look at your spares and your building materials. For the critical equipment, we make sure that we have a source for every piece of equipment.

We make sure that the parts are on hand for that critical equipment. And we’ll start to look at your obsolescence, which parts are going to be replaced at some point or what equipment is starting to fail but will not have a supplier. Then we’ll develop an inventory plan around that.

If you would like the premium offering, we can do a PM optimization to ensure that the failure modes are specifically addressed. We’ll roll out some defect elimination and we do train our teams on root cause analysis.

And then we really look at your reliability performance, managed analytics. This is really at the local level. And this is all before the IoT solutions. Then we look at the work management piece. Because when you hire the technicians, there’s skilled labor and you don’t want them doing non-value work. So, we have a very precise standardized work management process.

And there are five phases of work and we go through each one of those phases planning, execution and the closure. We do have optimized work processes. And all of these come out of our continuous improvement activity. This is how we feel we provide a lot of value for our clients.

And then we have a quality validation. So, when we come in and do those maintenance activities, they never fall below a certain level. We measure those metrics and those metrics roll up. And if certain thresholds are reached, then certain responses are created within our corporate engineering maintenance team. And we come in and we assist.

We 5S the areas to make sure that we’re not losing time searching for the tools, parts and materials we need. We can do a full 5S program rollout.

Janelle: So, reaching back a minute to the critical path analysis, what are some examples of equipment that might be labeled as critical and what kind of metrics do you think you might use to track something like that?

Joel: So, on a critical path, let’s just take a manufacturing facility that does both milling and production. So, the critical path would be the delivery of the raw materials and equipment that supports that. The processing of those raw materials into a usable product. And then the actual manufacturing, the transfer and the manufacturing of those raw materials into the product you create.

The equipment that directly touches that, we consider the critical path. Materials then go into a packaging asset. Then the transferring and the packaging of those assets, as well as the transfer of the packaged asset to the palletization. The end to end that is within your production cycle is what we determine as the critical path.

Things like lighting or the hot water heater, those we don’t consider a critical path. They may be a category B equipment or category C equipment. But if you need hot water in order to make your product, then hot water, the hot water boiler could be in your critical path and that would be something that we would want to monitor and put sensors on to ensure its optimal up time.

Janelle: Are there any last words of advice or best practices that you can leave folks with as far as implementing a prescriptive maintenance plan or generally improving facilities maintenance practices?

Joel: Yeah. Absolutely. The No. 1 thing you can do is have a strong foundation, a strong preventative maintenance program, a strong work management process and ensure that all of your preventative maintenance activities are tied to a failure mode, so you’re not doing maintenance for the sake of doing maintenance. You’re doing maintenance that’s actually going to improve the uptime of your equipment and extend the life cycle of that equipment.

Janelle: Excellent. How can people learn more about this?

Joel: Yeah. They’ll be a link to our website, and we’ll have a prescriptive maintenance whitepaper available where you can read about that. Or you can contact us via one of our channels, which will be provided on the website as well. And we can get you that.

Janelle: Excellent. Well, Joel, thank you so much for joining me today. This has been Janelle Penny with Buildings.com. And we’ve been speaking with Joel Wheatley, who is the senior director of engineering and maintenance with C&W Services.

And thank you so much for joining us today, listeners.

Learn more about RxM from C&W Services.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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