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Digitizing work orders offers insight into shop efficiencies and streamlines approvals and order tracking.

Optimizing work orders to prevent shop chaos

Feb. 13, 2024
Optimizing work orders creates a chain reaction of positive benefits in the shop.

Maintenance work starts and stops with work orders (literally). As such, their importance should not be underestimated, according to Dave Walters, senior solutions engineer at Trimble.  

“Work orders are the heart and soul of any shop management system because they are essential for better decision making, and ultimately for lowering costs and downtime,” he said.

Walters noted that at the start of a service event, a work order begins collecting critical data, such as warranty status and repair history. Fleets can leverage these regardless of whether the work is performed in-house or by a vendor. The challenge is getting the right data to help technicians quickly diagnose and repair issues. If the shop already does a good job at this, the next step is taking the time to find areas that can be improved or optimized. It will always be time well spent.

“Optimizing work orders plays a crucial role in the overall efficiency and effectiveness of service operations, benefiting both the provider and the fleet through improved speed, accuracy, and transparency in the service delivery process,” said Stephen de Launay, global product evangelist, Chevin Fleet Solutions.

Ultimately, this results in higher-quality service and, most importantly, a better overall customer experience, he said.

A main benefit of an effective work order creation process is improved shop throughput, noted Robert Nordstrom, VP of customer solutions at Decisiv. “That also leads to an increased effective labor rate because you’re now wasting less time,” he explained.

“With correct work orders, you’re moving vehicles in and out less because you’re not waiting for an estimate approval,” Nordstrom added. “And you’re going to see an increase in parts and labor sales if you have a system to document repair needs because the best work you can have in the shop is work that’s already in your shop.”

Optimizing work orders benefits service providers and their fleet customers, related Fullbay COO Chris O’Brien.

“Shops see more efficient repairs and parts ordering and can invoice for work as soon as it’s completed,” he said. “Fleets can stay apprised of issues that may impact their vehicles, like recalls or upcoming inspections. And effective work order creation also improves the accuracy of repairs, which means more uptime and fewer problems on the road.”

Every maintenance operation would like to see these areas improve, but according to Walters, optimizing work orders is not a priority. This leads to inefficiencies and wasted effort—neither of which a maintenance department can afford due to high labor and parts costs.

“There are still a lot of shops that produce work orders after the fact, but that process doesn’t take advantage of data on assets, so you lose its effectiveness,” Walters said. “After the truck is done is not the time to find out if the part was under warranty or if the repair was repetitive.”

Streamlining service with work orders

If you’re still using paper and pencil to fill out work orders, then digitizing is the most obvious switch to make. 

Nordstrom noted VIN validation is “probably the most critical piece of information you need to gather when you’re working on a vehicle,” and this is made even more difficult when some information is jotted down on a clipboard as opposed to a tablet.

“The challenge is compounded when work orders are handwritten because different people are writing things down, while others may be entering the information into a system,” Nordstrom explained. “We use QR codes with our SRM platform to start work orders because they bring up an accurate vehicle record. If you don’t have correct information up front, you’re dead in the water before you ever get started.”

Digitizing work orders will also boost the overall effectiveness of your fleet maintenance management systems, noted Shay Misra, product marketer at Fleetio.

“[Digital work orders] simplify the tracking of work and offer real-time updates on the status of each order whether it’s open, pending, completed, awaiting approval, or approved,” she said. “That makes managing workloads and pinpointing inefficiencies, such as inventory shortages or scheduling conflicts, much easier compared to traditional methods.”

Read more: Modernize your body shop to get more bodies to work there

In addition, they facilitate uniform reporting and enable tracking to help manage workloads and pinpoint inefficiencies. By pairing the right technicians with appropriate jobs and utilizing  shop space effectively, repair efficiency and accuracy are enhanced. Furthermore, tailored work order labeling generates detailed service reports that can provide deep insights into maintenance operations and asset downtime.

Digitizing repair orders is crucial  in the maintenance of construction equipment, which has much higher downtime costs than an over-the-road truck.

“With manual methods, unless the mechanic had personal experience with the equipment, there was no way to know its history, if other items on the machine were up for repair, or if the fix was a warranty issue,” explained Hayden Price, technical product manager at Heavy Construction Systems Specialists, a construction maintenance software provider. “But now, each piece of equipment’s entire work and repair history is stored within the maintenance management system, giving the technician a complete picture of the equipment being maintained.”

This enables equipment specs and warranty and insurance information to be entered into the CMMS, and then the work order is created with far more contextual information, which streamlines the repair.

“As a mechanic prepares to work on a piece of equipment, they have immediate access to part numbers, diagrams, and technical specifications,” Price explained. “They can look up warranty information to see if a piece of equipment is under warranty, saving costs.”

A work order can also effectively incorporate defects reported between PMs and create a pending repair for non-critical items to address during the next maintenance interval. Using that information, a truck can also be tracked when it is in a shop. Frequency data on service between PMs helps determine the effectiveness of preventive maintenance programs.

Helpful data, of course, is also generated by the driver, so another way to optimize work orders is by digitizing the driver vehicle inspection report.

“When a driver performs an inspection using pencil and paper, the process isn’t always completed effectively nor is it verified, and defects may not be properly communicated to the maintenance staff,” said Wayne Deno, VP of freight & over-the-road services, Zonar. “A repair request filled out on paper must survive a daisy chain of transfers from driver to mechanic.”

He added that solutions such as Zonar’s eDVIR enable work orders to start more quickly and with more accuracy.

“Similarly, maintenance platforms can provide vehicle health, fault code information, and location, so needs can be immediately and accurately transmitted, and the process gets underway with minimal friction,” Deno said.

Other things to consider

Automating work order creation helps determine parts needs for PMs, repairs, recalls, and campaigns that are pending. That lets you take full advantage of labor time. For example, if you’re waiting for parts for one job, a technician can seamlessly transition to another task where the parts are available immediately.

Work orders serve as the basis of accurate invoices, so optimizing work orders will also help optimize a number of other areas as well. When you compare the costs to the shop with the invoice amounts, you can then determine gross profit, track labor to compare technician time to SRTs, and generate productivity reports. Having this kind of information allows technician assignments to be more effective and the need for additional training to be identified.

Whatever level of optimization an operation can manage, keep in mind effective work orders have several features in common, Fullbay’s O’Brien noted. For example, a vehicle service history lets technicians see work that the unit has had done in the past. If a part fails, you can leverage the vehicle history when making a warranty claim. As O’Brien pointed out, efficiency tracking helps attract technicians by enabling the ability to offer bonuses, and preventive maintenance forecasting allows the ability to plan and schedule systematically and proactively.

“Turning a work order into an invoice should not need to be an extra step that involves bringing in additional software or administrative work that leads to mistakes,” O’Brien continued. “With just a click, it should save time and aggravation and allow shops to settle up on the spot.”

About the Author

Seth Skydel

Seth Skydel, a veteran industry editor, has more than 36 years of experience in fleet management, trucking, and transportation and logistics publications. Today, in editorial and marketing roles, he writes about fleet, service, and transportation management, vehicle and information technology, and industry trends and issues.