Why Your Organization Needs a Time-on-Tools Study

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A time-on-tools study gained its roots in around 1910 when a concept called time-and-motion was designed for production assembly workers. The idea of tool time studies when applied to hourly maintenance workers is to measure what percent of that worker’s time is spent on actual work.  Travel time, job planning, getting parts, thinking time, and other non-wrench time activities do not count as working time.  

Why are time-on-tool studies a good business practice? 

Demonstrate performance

A methodical statistical approach ensures that every craftsperson has an equal chance of being observed and that the observation sample is big enough to represent the actual work being performed. Identification of what barriers exist for those who are delayed from executing work might be the most significant part of the study.

Highlight deficiencies in management systems

Such as planning, scheduling and materials management.

Teams anecdotally know that organizing work can improve. However, quantitative results from the application of management tools and processes need to demonstrate value lost or gained. It is easier to prioritize areas of improvement when they are quantified.

Ability to highlight good performance.

Capturing averages is valuable.  However, grouping high performers can be facilitated by a well-structured time-on-tools study.  A leader needs to encourage good performers. Celebrating successes and rewarding behaviours can lead to success which provides an organization with much needed moral. 

Time-on-tools studies are designed for conventional organizational structures

The use of hourly maintainers is typical in large maintenance organizations. They will spend time doing partial planning when they find a problem in the field. They will also spend time in the CMMS system to input correct work requests with partial planning, materials, specialty items, and other suggestions.

Craftspeople typically utilize 20-30 percent of the time for pure thinking, often in root cause problem elimination and redesign of equipment. They are also used to assess maintainability issues when purchasing new equipment. 

It is necessary for a time-on-tools study to identify such activities.

Measure the 'right' thing

What does a maintenance department deliver?  What is its product?

The product of a maintenance department is equipment reliability.  If that is true, is it necessarily good to have a lot of wrench time? Yes, in some cases, but not always. Make sure you encourage creativity, thinking time, planning time, and problem-solving skills. High wrench time is good for a shutdown. However, not when preparing for a quick intervention on a critical piece of equipment. In such a case, success of the task will depend on time-consuming preparatory work.

Consider how long a job typically takes

“Busy” does not always mean “Productive"

If hourly craftspeople work slowly and a job takes longer than needed, the wrench time number goes up.  It is key to design the study to assess worker efficiencies. 

Outliers’ Time-on-Tools program, reports, and evaluators can help to gather and analyze the data for the most meaningful interpretation of the performance of your maintenance organization.


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