Computerized Maintenance Management Systems software are commonplace in manufacturing facilities across North America today, but believe it or not the basic software comprising CMMS is about 50 years old. The evolution of CMMS started in the 1960s, when the math-based systems were designed to help document, standardize, and verify manufacturing processes.

The first CMMS systems appeared around 1965 and were limited to the largest manufacturing firms, those with the biggest computers. Since then, CMMS software has changed and expanded dramatically due to the phenomenal growth in computing power and the emergence of the Internet, making the functionality accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere.

Throughout its short history, we can identify major advances that have occurred roughly every 10 years, which have made CMMS more accessible, affordable and easier to use. And currently, we are on the cusp of the next big advance.

First Generation: Punch cards. The first CMMS systems were used to remind maintenance technicians to perform simple recurring tasks like changing the oil in equipment engines. Technicians would punch work-order data like failure codes into punch cards, which were fed into the computer via card readers. These early legacy systems were based on programming languages such as Fortran and Cobol running on huge, centralized IBM mainframe computers affordable only to the largest asset-intensive businesses.

Second Generation: Mainframe computers. Fast-forward ten years, and not much had changed except a move from punch cards to paper forms. Every day, work orders were printed out on paper and distributed to the maintenance team manually. When the technicians completed the job, they filled out the work order forms and returned them to data-entry clerks, who then would type the information directly into the mainframe computer.

Third Generation: Mini computer. To this point, due to the huge investment in implementing and owning a CMMS, small and medium-sized businesses could not afford to implement a CMMS. In the 1980s, we saw the introduction of the mini-computer, making CMMS software more affordable to medium-sized businesses. The software ran on individual, green-screen terminals in the plant where data was entered by technicians after the work orders were complete. Throughout the 1980s, CMMS vendors began adding more functionality, such as reporting.

Fourth Generation: PCs and LAN. With the emergence of the personal computer and advances in networking, the 1990s saw the creation of many homegrown Microsoft Acces-based CMMS applications. These custom-built applications became the foundation for new CMMS software businesses.