8 Key Components of an Effective Technical Database

As a maintenance manager, you likely know the story well of showing up to work only to feel like you’re putting out fires all day. You have a stocked storage room, but never the parts that you need. Work orders don’t have sufficient information, so you have technicians spending extra time troubleshooting or collecting information. Management only wants to know when equipment will be back online, and you’re the glue somehow holding this all together every day. You always get the equipment back up and running, but it’s a painful process because you’re stuck in the reactive cycle.

The excellent news from John Sewell, an expert consultant in reliability, asset management, and maintenance, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. Starting today, you can implement his tips for an effective technical database to avoid these scenarios.

Intro to the Planning and Scheduling Process

The first step is to understand the market’s demands and create a production plan that outlines what products to make, how many to make, and when to make them. Once the production plan is established, maintenance planning and scheduling can begin on a large scale. This involves deciding when to take a big outage for maintenance and scheduling work on a short-term basis to meet production needs.

Simply put, maintenance:

  • Planning is defining the what, how, and how long of a maintenance activity.
  • Scheduling is defining the who and when of a maintenance activity.

Ultimately, planning and scheduling are crucial for meeting market demands and ensuring production efficiency.

Planning and Scheduling Support Systems

There are some key enablers to successfully plan and schedule maintenance. The first enabler is establishing priorities based on good condition monitoring and maintenance prevention activities such as cleaning and lubrication. Once the planning and scheduling are done, the work is carried out in the field and basic information about the work is recorded. Continuous improvement is then conducted through root cause problem elimination to prevent future failures from occurring. This cycle of continuous improvement helps to improve the planning and execution of maintenance work and leads to better performance.

However, many facilities struggle to reach that circle of continuous improvement because they are stuck in the circle of reactive maintenance. But there’s a way out! One tool that can help break this cycle is the technical database and stores. Its connection to maintenance planning and scheduling is a two-way street though. The database provides valuable information that can be used to improve how you plan and schedule maintenance work; planning and scheduling means that updates are sent back to the database to keep it current and continue to improve. So, the technical database is not just a storage system. It’s an enabler for better planning and scheduling, which can ultimately help break free from the “circle of despair.” By using this tool, maintenance workers can spend less time fixing things and more time improving operations.

What is a Technical Database?

Your technical database is what you need to plan and schedule efficiently and effectively:

  • Files
  • Drawings
  • Instructions
  • Lists
  • Standards

Basically, all of the information in various forms that help you plan the what, how, how long, who, and when of a maintenance activity.

Technical Database Mythbusting and Benefits

Myth #1: A Technical Database Takes Time and Adds Little Value

Let’s imagine you’re in charge of a team of 60 craftspeople at a plant. They spend half of their workday planning, which may seem like a lot, but John breaks it down for you. Each morning, they gather for a meeting and receive their work orders for the day. Unfortunately, these work orders are often vague and lack crucial information such as which equipment needs to be repaired, what parts are needed, and what tools are required. So, the craftspeople must spend time scoping out the job and making these decisions themselves. They may need to visit the storeroom, fill out permits, and gather tools before they can even begin working on the equipment.

This planning process can take until lunchtime, leaving only the afternoon for actual repair work. If you have 60 craftspeople spending half their day planning, that’s 240 hours a day dedicated to planning activities. However, what if you were able to reduce planning time to less than an hour per person? This could free up 190 hours of work time each day. As a maintenance manager this is a huge opportunity to optimize your team’s productivity and efficiency. By providing clear and detailed work orders using the support of your technical database, you can help your craftspeople get to work faster and achieve more in less time.

Myth #2: Your Planners Can Just Write More Detailed Work Orders

Let’s say you have a team of four planners. They have their own unique challenge that can be solved by a technical database: They spend their days hunting for parts.

They’re stuck in the storeroom, looking at bills of materials that are poorly done, requesting drawings from engineers, searching for manuals hidden in cabinets, and calling vendors for quotes. All of this takes up a whopping 12 hours a day, leaving little time for the planners to write detailed work instructions for the crew.

But what if you could make your systems more efficient and effective? What if you set a target for your planners to spend just one hour a day managing parts? By doing so, you could free up a staggering 8 hours a day, almost as if you’ve hired a new planner. This would allow your team to focus on what they do best – creating detailed work instructions for the crew – and make the whole process smoother and more streamlined. So don’t let your planners get bogged down in the details; give them the tools they need to succeed and watch your team thrive.

Myth #3: A Technical Database Won’t Make a Big Enough Impact to Justify the Investment

Last but not least, let’s talk about downtime and missing parts in your facility. Every time your equipment goes down longer than necessary because of missing parts, you’re not only losing valuable production time, but you’re also spending time trying to locate those missing parts. This waiting game can cause your downtime to drag on even longer and cost you a lot of money. In fact, if missing parts cause 40 hours of downtime per year at $10,000 per hour, you’re looking at an annual cost of $400,000.

By implementing a technical database that ensures that you only have one event lasting four hours, you could save your company $360,000. That’s a significant amount of money that could be better spent elsewhere. By investing in a more efficient and effective technical database, you can improve not only your people’s time but also your bottom line.

8 Components of an Effective Technical Database

1. Equipment Hierarchy

The equipment hierarchy is a way of organizing all the equipment in a manufacturing process. It’s a tree-like structure that drills down to individual equipment pieces, including information like manufacturer and model numbers, serial numbers, and nameplate data. The hierarchy is the foundation of the technical database, and many other elements of the database are structured around it. Having a well-developed hierarchy is important for things like criticality analysis and scheduling, and it can help identify equipment for work orders or notifications. To develop a great hierarchy, you need to form a team of knowledgeable people, document the process from plant level down to individual equipment pieces, train everyone on the hierarchy, and plan for change down the road. A well-developed hierarchy is essential for making the technical database function well, and for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the manufacturing process.

2. Numbering and Labeling

Equipment numbering and labeling are essential components of a technical database. The main goal is to make it easy for anyone working in the field to identify equipment quickly. This improves work identification and operational efficiency while reducing the risk during lockout tagout.

There are five general principles to consider when labeling equipment:

  1. Use labeling materials and methods that can withstand environmental conditions like corrosive chemicals or direct sunlight.
  2. Use consistent labeling methods and locations to make it easy for operators to find equipment.
  3. Use multiple labels for large equipment like tanks or conveyors to ensure that operators can identify equipment from a distance.
  4. Inspect labels regularly to maintain legibility.
  5. Use the equipment name and number, not just a randomly generated number, to make it easier for operators to identify equipment without having to use scanners or mobile devices.

By following these principles, you can create an effective labeling system that makes it easy for operators and technicians to locate and identify equipment quickly, improving safety and efficiency in your organization.

3. Drawings

The third component of your technical database is all about drawings. Now, there are a lot of different types of drawings, and some are more useful than others when it comes to planning and scheduling maintenance work. For example:

  • General layout drawings and P&IDs (piping and instrumentation diagrams) can be really helpful.
  • Assembly diagrams or exploded parts diagrams are useful for detailed equipment with a lot of parts.
  • Wiring diagrams are essential for your electricians.

Drawings must be accurate. You need to have a formal review process to ensure that everything is correct, from the parts on the manual to the details on the P&ID. Keeping your drawings accurate saves you time and money in the long run.

The second key consideration with drawings is accessibility, and a searchable electronic database can make that happen. Imagine being able to type in the name of a piece of equipment and instantly find the corresponding drawing. That’s the kind of accessibility you want for your drawings. To make sure that your drawings are accessible to the people who need them, you need to ensure that key roles have access and the knowledge to find them. This includes planners, engineers, supervisors, and anyone else who needs to access technical drawings.

4. Manuals and Pictures

The fourth essential component of a technical database is manuals and pictures. OEM manuals are valuable sources of information, containing useful details such as inspections, lubrication tasks, and rebuild information with specific tolerances and clearances. Manuals also come with their own drawings and parts list. Therefore, it is crucial to review and incorporate relevant information from manuals into your work management systems early on during a project or capital request. However, it is essential to double-check inspection frequencies as original equipment manufacturers may be overly conservative.

The second component, pictures, are an invaluable tool throughout the equipment life cycle, especially during fabrication, installation, repairs, and internal inspections. Asking vendors for pictures during fabrication can be helpful later on when commissioning the equipment. Taking pictures during internal inspections and repairs can provide a historical record for root cause analysis and aid in planning, especially for pre-job safety check sheets. Using pictures proactively can add significant value to your work processes and help you identify hazards beforehand.

5. Engineering Standards

The next vital component of a technical database is engineering standards. These are formal documents that define standard methods to be used for critical and repetitive jobs. There are many industry-wide standards already in existence, such as the American Petroleum Institute standards for pressure vessels or piping. These are great resources to make yourself aware of and utilize whenever possible.

When planning your maintenance work, consider developing your own standards specific to your plant. Focus on critical and repetitive jobs that pose a high risk to safety or the environment or have a high cost if there were to be a production failure. These are the jobs that would benefit most from having a sound technical foundation and a standard way of doing things.

In addition, think about developing engineering standards that span the full life cycle of the equipment. For example, you can have design standards for equipment design work, maintenance prevention standards for cleaning and lubrication, inspection standards, repair and installation standards, and more. Developing standards that are specific to your equipment and your plant can be highly beneficial and save you time and money in the long run.

6. Bills of Materials

The bill of materials is a crucial component of any technical database. Simply put, it’s a list of parts used on equipment. Having a good bill of materials is essential for effective planning and scheduling, as it frees up time for planners to create detailed work instructions for crews. Bills of materials come in two types: Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and Maintenance, Repair, and Operation (MRO). While an OEM bill includes every single part used in the equipment, an MRO bill focuses on commonly used parts for routine maintenance and repair activities.

It’s important to create a naming convention and provide a full description of each part, including its part number, manufacturer, quantity used, unit of measure, price, lead time, and any other relevant information. By doing so, planners can easily order the required parts and schedule maintenance work efficiently. Overall, a good bill of materials is a planner’s best friend and a vital part of any technical database.

7. Criticality

Let’s talk about criticality analysis, the seventh key component of your technical database. Essentially, criticality analysis is a system that helps you classify equipment based on its level of risk to safety, the environment, or the cost of production. You do this by evaluating the likelihood and severity of an event if there were to be a failure. This analysis helps you prioritize your maintenance work, identify necessary quality assurance documents, and order parts more efficiently.

To perform a good criticality analysis, you need to establish criteria for what constitutes a risk to the environment or a high cost of production loss in the case of equipment failure. Then you need to judge the likelihood and severity of each event. Once we’ve documented all of this information, you can assign a criticality level to each individual equipment piece.

It’s important to avoid getting bogged down in the details and suffering from analysis paralysis. Keep track of your progress and continue to move forward. And most importantly, make sure to act on your analysis! Too often, criticality analysis gets filed away in an Excel spreadsheet and forgotten. Don’t let this happen to you. Use your criticality analysis to help you plan and schedule maintenance work effectively.

8. Standard Job Plans

Our next key component is the standard job plan, which is essentially a detailed set of instructions for a particular maintenance job. These plans are created in a consistent format and include all the necessary steps for completing the job. One of the biggest benefits of standard job plans is that they are reusable, meaning that once you have created one for a particular job, you can modify it slightly to apply to similar jobs in the future. This greatly speeds up the planning process and reduces the amount of time needed for planning.

The standard job plan includes:

  • A detailed description of the job
  • Steps for completing the job
  • Safety precautions
  • Necessary permits
  • A parts list
  • A list of required tools and materials
  • References to other technical documents such as drawings and engineering standards
  • Time estimates to help define the duration of the maintenance activity

Standard job plans are an important metric for measuring the effectiveness of maintenance planning efforts. By tracking how many plans are used, and how well they are created and utilized, you can gauge the quality of your planning processes over time. Overall, standard job plans are an essential tool for improving maintenance efficiency and ensuring consistent, high-quality work.

AAA Best Practices

Beyond the eight key components in your technical database, there are three crucial best practices – the AAA best practices. These practices are all about keeping things accurate, accessible, and applied.


The information you have must be accurate and complete. To achieve this, you need to identify who is responsible for each component and ensure that your engineering standards are always accurate.


You also need to make sure that your technical database is easily accessible to everyone who needs it. This can be achieved by using electronic and searchable databases, being consistent in how you save information, and providing training to help people understand and use the information effectively.


Lastly, the information in your technical database must be applied in real-world situations. You want to make sure that the frontline workers are using the information to make their work easier and more efficient. Spot checks can be done to ensure that the information is being used properly, and you can provide training to help people understand how to use the information effectively.

By following these best practices, you can ensure that your technical database is a valuable tool that helps you achieve your goals.

Next Steps to Take Action Today

Your roadmap to improving your technical database involves some simple action items you can begin working on today:

  1. Assess your current state. How are you doing with your technical database?
  2. Establish your vision. What do you want your database to look like down the road?
  3. Determine your investment. What’s it going to take to get there? Time, labor, resources?
  4. Calculate ROI and prioritize. Calculate your return to help you prioritize what to work on first.

To get started, go out and talk to people in your organization. Ask questions about how they use the technical database and what could be improved. This will give you a better understanding of where you are and where you need to be, allowing you to better outline the vision and roadmap to your ideal technical database. The technical database is an important enabler for planning and scheduling, which is a critical aspect of continuous improvement. Achieving a well-organized and accessible database will bring you closer to breaking out of the “circle of despair” that can result from poor planning and scheduling, and instead create a circle of continuous improvement.

Free Resources to Support Your Technical Database Journey

You are not alone in your efforts to create an effective technical database. Beyond this webinar, there are many free resources sharing John’s expertise to support you:

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8 Key Components of an Effective Technical Database

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