Archive | March, 1998


3:30 am
March 2, 1998
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Is Your Resume Up To Date?

bob_baldwin“AT&T cuts workforce by 14%, adds services.” That front-page headline in USA Today was the topic of conversation at a recent executive member meeting of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals. A number of the attendees had brought their complimentary copies of the newspaper to read at breakfast preceding the plant tour portion of the meeting. It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to re-engineering, downsizing, rightsizing, or whatever staff reductions in middle management ranks are called these days.

After the sarcastic comments about the word “invigorate” used in the first sentence of the article, talk turned to personal experiences. “Many of us who are left,” volunteered one member, “feel somewhat guilty for being here.” Another acknowledged that a round of layoffs quickly changed his focus from managing maintenance operations to managing his retirement portfolio. Most everyone knew of competent managers who had been terminated. The companies that chop into the marrow of their maintenance operations will certainly not be “invigorated” when it comes to the reliability of their equipment assets.

Although the need for equipment reliability or maintenance can never be re-engineered out of an enterprise, traditional maintenance departments and their managers certainly can be. That is the new reality.

What we are hearing is the giant sucking sound of slack being extracted from the global economy, says Tom Peters, the well-known and unconventional management consultant. I had an opportunity to hear him recently in a daylong seminar expounding on “The Circle of Innovation,” also the title of his new book.

Peters suggests that to survive and prosper without getting sucked out of the picture, you must approach your job and career as if you are a professional service firm (PSF) of one. Once you adopt the PSF model as your approach to work, you should also evaluate the brand equity of your personal PSF. He suggested a number of evaluation points including: I am known for (2-4 items) and by next year at this time I plan also to be known for (1-2 items); my current project is provocative or challenging me in the following (2-4 ways); and my r,sum, is specifically different than last year’s at this time in the following (1-3 ways).

Your resume, Peters says, should be a marketing brochure for your personal PSF. Have you updated yours lately? MT

Thanks for stopping by,


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3:28 am
March 2, 1998
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Focus On Results; Change the Culture Along the Way

The “breakthrough strategy” discussed in my last column* works. Equipment becomes more reliable, costs go down, and behaviors change along the way. The key is focusing on results–the kind of results that will get people’s attention on the plant floor as well as key decision-makers. Select the equipment that, if it ran better and was more reliable, would generate sizeable savings. But, more importantly, select equipment that would generate more throughput and revenue. Focus on this equipment and pull out all the stops. Apply applicable best practices on this equipment only, and help everyone understand why.

But beware. The biggest mistake I have seen companies make is to begin with a “focus on results” approach, then, somewhere just a short distance into the mission, default to the same old thing (broad-scale implementation) and lose sight of what they set out to do (improve the reliability of selected pieces of equipment).

It’s fairly easy to get enamored with setting up a new program to improve broad-scale performance. It’s fairly easy to get a small group of people rallied around a maintenance improvement project. The problem with this “activity-based” approach is that the enthusiasm runs out of steam before sustainable results are realized.

The key is to stay focused on results. If the goal is to improve performance, be specific about it. Focus on the desired results and measure progress every step of the way. If it doesn’t improve, try something else. Engage the people who work in, on, and around the equipment in the improvement activities if you hope to change, or at least influence, the way they operate and maintain the equipment.

One of our recent clients had a lube oil problem. In a recent 3-month period the company spent over $70,000 on lube oils for rotating equipment. This was excessive and had to be attacked. When focusing on improving the performance of four pieces of rather large critical equipment, we kept stressing the need to not just stop oil leaks but to eliminate the causes. Two reasons were discussed. One was easy–by stopping leaks we will reduce the cost of lube oils. The second reason was not as obvious but was also easy–leaking lube oil means that a component that depends on regular lubrication is probably not getting it. This type of leak will result in premature equipment failure.

After spending a day on the equipment with the operators and maintenance mechanics discussing the woes of leaking lube oil and the problems that creates, oil consumption was reduced from an average 12 to 14 gal. per day to only 4 gal. daily. The workplace and the equipment looked cleaner, and it definitely was easier to work without getting dirty and oily.

The next step was to address contamination in the lube oil that contributes to premature failure. Each of the four large machines experienced a catastrophic failure within the previous 12 months and signs of lubrication problems were discovered. The same work group found water and sand getting into the oil from at least four sources:

  • The bulk oil tank had a screw cap in the top and it was stored outside.
  • The rubber oil transfer lines were draped over the handrail, also outside.
  • The fittings and hoses connecting the bulk oil tank, the day tank, and the equipment were designed for compressed air, not liquids.
  • The pump used to transfer oil to the equipment was stored on the floor with its ports uncovered.


We also found that oil sampling and analysis was done on an intermittent basis, and never on the new oil.

The good news is that the company has begun hard piping the oil lines, storing the bulk tank under cover, and developing a procedure for regularly sampling oil from the bulk tank as well as the equipment.

I tell this story because it is an example of focusing on results. The company could have lost focus and implemented a massive lube oil cost cutting program by stopping leaks. Results were achieved and new practices learned by involving the work group in a focus on four specific machines. There was a clear business case to improve performance and reduce costs.

The benefits of this short session were seen not only by the work group but also by the management and leadership at many levels in the organization. The next step is to build on this success and target other reliability and work culture issues on the same equipment. MT
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7:04 pm
March 1, 1998
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MT and PT for Maintenance Inspections

A review of two fundamental nondestructive testing methods for identifying manufactured defects and service defects in plant equipment components.

Preventive maintenance can save considerable cost in terms of downtime, injury, lost opportunity, and lost revenue. Two very basic nondestructive testing methods, magnetic particle testing (MT) and liquid penetrant testing (PT), can be useful in identifying manufactured defects in components before they go into service where they could fail and identifying service related defects that arise from damage in use.

The principal maintenance applications for these nondestructive testing (NDT) methods are final inspection, receiving inspection, in-process inspection, maintenance and overhaul in the transportation industries, and plant and machinery maintenance.

Semi-finished purchased parts and raw materials also can be inspected to detect any initially defective material during a receiving inspection, which can be an important application during plant expansions and overhauls.

Because of severe and sudden stress applications, punch-press crankshafts, casings, frames, and flywheels may crack. Crane hooks also may develop fatigue cracks. The MT and PT tests are frequently used in planned overhaul schedules to inspect such critical components for cracks. The work schedule at many planned outages includes an MT or PT inspection of the shaft, blades, and cases of steam turbines and pumps and a weld inspection in deaireators for environmental cracking.

Magnetic particle inspection
Magnetic particle inspection is a method of locating surface and near subsurface discontinuities in ferromagnetic materials. It operates on the premise that when the material under test is magnetized, discontinuities transverse to the direction of the magnetic field will cause a leakage field to be formed at and above the surface of the part. The leakage field is rendered visible by the application of finely divided ferromagnetic particles over the surface, with some of the particles being clustered and held by the leakage field. These magnetically aligned ferromagnetic particles form the rough outline of the discontinuity and generally indicate its location, size, and shape.

The ferromagnetic particles can be applied as dry particles or as wet particles in a liquid carrier such as oil or water. Dry particles are usually brightly colored for high visibility. The wet particles can be coated with a fluorescent to render them more visible under an ultraviolet light.

The MT technique is also suitable for weld inspection in ferromagnetic materials. Magnetic particle inspection cannot be used for the inspection of nonferromagnetic materials. This includes materials such as copper and copper alloys, aluminum alloys, magnesium alloys, lead, titanium, and austenitic stainless steels.

Both direct current (dc) and alternating current (ac) can magnetize a part for an MT inspection, although their fields differ in many respects. The key difference is that the fields produced by dc generally penetrate the cross-section of the part, while the fields produced by ac are confined to the metal at or near the surface of the part (known as skin effect). Therefore, ac should not be used when searching for subsurface discontinuities.

Magnetic particle inspection systems range from a simple handheld yoke to large bench systems, depending on the application. The handheld yoke will be outlined here because it is portable and appropriate for maintenance testing in the field. There are two yoke types: permanent magnet and electro magnet. Permanent magnets have the advantage of not requiring a power source; however, they cannot magnetize as large an area as an electromagnetic yoke. If the permanent magnet is very strong, it can be difficult to lift off the test part. Electromagnetic yokes consist of a coil wound around a U-shaped core of soft iron. The legs usually articulate to fit the configuration of the test piece. The electromagnetic yokes can be either ac, or dc, or both.

When performing the inspection only the discontinuities transverse to the field are likely to become visible. It is therefore important to magnetize the part in both directions, with the best result when the yoke is oriented at 90 deg to the flaw. The usefulness of magnetic particle testing in the search for discontinuities depends on the type of discontinuity the method is capable of detecting and on the size, shape, and orientation of the discontinuity. A penetrameter such as pie gauge should always be used to verify the sensitivity of the test.

The MT method can locate surface cracks and discontinuities caused by or associated with fatigue, laps, seams, quenching, and grinding in castings, forgings, and welds. While the application technique appears simple in the case of magnetic particle testing, skill and experience are needed for the interpretation of indications.

Liquid penetrant inspection
Liquid penetrant inspection is a nondestructive method of exposing discontinuities that are open to the surfaces of solid and essentially nonporous materials. It is an excellent inspection method for the detection of all types of surface cracks, laps, porosity, shrinkage areas, laminations, and similar discontinuities because the liquid penetrant seeps into these minute surface openings by capillary action.

The test works on both ferrous and nonferrous materials because, unlike the magnetic particle inspection, the liquid penetrant test does not use ferromagnetism. The test is frequently used in the inspection of wrought and cast products, ceramics, plastics, and glass. Some applications use sophisticated computer-controlled automated processing and control systems, but for most maintenance purposes the test kit is very portable, comprising as little as a spray can of cleaner/remover, a can of penetrant, a can of developer, and a handful of rags. The liquid penetrant test is generally considered more sensitive than a magnetic particle inspection.

It is important to remember that liquid penetrant inspection can detect only discontinuities that are open to the surface–the main limitation of this method. Although open to the surface, the tiny cavities revealed by PT are often invisible to the naked eye. The test relies on the ability of the penetrant to flow over the test surface, forming a reasonably uniform coating and seeping into any open cavities.

The ability of a given liquid to flow over a surface and migrate into cavities depends on several factors: surface cleanliness, size and opening of the cavity, geometry of the cavity, wetting ability of the liquid, surface tension of the liquid, and contact angle of the liquid. The cohesive forces between the molecules of a liquid cause surface tension. The height that a liquid rises in a cavity is directly proportional to the surface tension of the liquid and the cosine of the angle of contact.

There are numerous types of penetrant applications, but the penetrant types can be broken into two main categories: type I, fluorescent, and type II, visible, each refined into four basic methods. The correct choice of type and method depends on factors such as the size and surface condition of the component under test, the characteristics of the expected flaws, the time and place of the inspection, and the sensitivity required.

The four methods are broadly classified as water washable, method A; postemulsifable, lipophilic, method B; solvent removable, method C; and postemulsifable, hydrophilic, method D.

Solvent removable, method C, is the most common method used in field maintenance operations because it is a very portable technique. Only a can of solvent cleaner/remover, a can of penetrant, a can of developer, and rags are required for the visible (type II) inspection. This can be a fast and effective way to evaluate a weld repair for surface cracks or to evaluate machine components for fatigue cracks open to the surface. The technique is mainly used when it is necessary to inspect only a localized workpiece in the field because of its convenience. When properly performed, paying careful attention to dwell times, this is one of the most sensitive penetrant tests available. Many organizations train their welders to perform the test as a validation of their work.

Performing the liquid penetrant inspection

  • Step 1. The surface of the part is cleaned thoroughly with the cleaner/remover.
  • Step 2. The liquid penetrant is applied to the surface area under inspection.
  • Step 3. A rag soaked in solvent cleaner is used to remove the liquid penetrant from the surface.
  • Step 4. The developer is applied.
  • Step 5. The inspection is performed–the discontinuity is revealed as the penetrant bleeds back up to the surface.

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions when choosing how long the penetrant should be left on the surface (this is known as the dwell time). In many cases, the dwell time is set at about 10 minutes.

There is another caveat that the solvent cleaner should never be sprayed directly on the test surface when removing the penetrant. To avoid flushing the penetrant from a discontinuity the cleaner should be sprayed on a rag, and the test piece wiped clean with the rag. Resist the urge to spray too much when applying the developer; spray lightly from a distance of 6 in. or more.

While magnetic particle inspection is an excellent tool for the detection of surface and near surface defects, and liquid penetrant inspection is even more efficient in the detection of surface flaws, we must look to other nondestructive testing applications such as ultrasonics and radiography to find subsurface flaws.

When inspecting hot, in-service components remember that magnetic particles lose their magnetism at high temperatures (approximately 760 C in most ferromagnetic materials), and penetrants do not function well at temperatures above those recommended by the manufacturer. MT

Michael Twomey is located in the California office of Conam Inspection, Inc., Itasca, IL; (630) 773-9400; Internet He can be reached at (562) 597-3932.

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4:40 pm
March 1, 1998
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Using Maintenance Contractors Effectively

In many organizations, a heavy focus on cost cutting has led to a greater emphasis on the use of contractors as a potential solution for high labor costs. In recent years, maintenance in particular has received increased attention for replacing employees with contractors. This strategy is often not as successful as anticipated.

The use of contractors in most manufacturing plants and facilities has been a sore point with the skilled trades, particularly in a strong union environment. While some of this may be normal tension between the shop floor and contractors, particularly during a time of downsizing, the intensity appears to be growing as more contractors come into use. Further, many skilled trades working in chemical plants or other hazardous areas express concerns related to the training and capabilities of contractor personnel.

Are contractors appropriate for a given manufacturing organization? The answer is clearly yes. Contractors play an important role in most organizations. However, caution is urged for those organizations that are simply trying to cut costs, and therefore rely on lower head count and/or lower charge rates from contractors.

The real question is how do contractors support corporate goals related to manufacturing excellence, such as uptime, unit cost of production, safety performance, or maintenance cost as a percent of plant replacement value. What risk is run in using (or not using) contractors relative to these goals? What specific roles are best suited for contractors? How are these integrated into an overall strategy? Does a cost-cutting strategy work?

Cost-cutting strategy is weak
According to a Wall Street Journal article (7/5/95, pg 1) covering several hundred companies over a five-year period, a cost-cutting strategy has only a 50 percent chance of improving productivity and only a 33 percent chance of improving profitability. Similarly, “The Age,” an Australian newspaper, reported on August 15, 1996, that the U.S. Conference Board noted that in those companies who have undergone major restructuring:

  • 30 percent experienced an increase in costs
  • 67 percent showed no immediate increase in productivity
  • 50 percent showed no increase in short-term profits
  • 22 percent later discovered they had terminated the wrong people
  • 80 percent experienced a collapse in morale.

Does a cost-cutting strategy work? Perhaps, but not for most companies, according to these data. For example, a cost cutting strategy may be essential if a company is in dire straits. However, a more important question is what practices and processes should be put in place so that costs are not incurred in the first place. That is real and sustained cost cutting.

Some of the best companies long ago changed their focus from traditional cost cutting to managing their manufacturing processes to assure excellence. They also began to view maintenance as a reliability function, not a repair function, and as a core competency for manufacturing excellence. For example, in a presentation at a Strategic Industry Research Foundation meeting in Melbourne, Australia, in mid-1996, Vince Flynn, chairman of DuPont’s Corporate Maintenance Leadership Team, stated:

“As a result of our global benchmarking efforts, we have shifted our focus from cost to equipment reliability and uptime.

“Maintenance’s contribution to uptime is worth 10 times the potential for cost reduction. Realizing this tremendous resource has helped make uptime our driving focus for future competitiveness rather than merely cost reduction. Through our push for uptime, we want to increase our capital productivity 10 percent, from 80 to 90 percent, in the next several years.

“We value this 10 percent improvement as equivalent to $4 billion in new capital projects and replacement projects for the global chemicals and specialties portion of DuPont.”

Replacing the maintenance function (or any function for that matter) with contractors may not be the proper strategic decision. For example, should a plant replace its operations function with contractors? Its engineering function? Its accounting function? Are these functions considered core competencies? Should not the years (perhaps decades) of experience developed by the maintenance function be considered a core competency?

When to use contractors
At many manufacturing organizations, maintenance is indeed coming to be viewed as a core competency for manufacturing excellence, which is as it should be. Given this, what is the proper use of contractors? Good contractors have a place in most organizations, and these points are offered as a model for when they should be used:

  • For doing the low-skill jobs such as landscaping or custodial duties which are not part of a company’s core competency.
  • For doing such high-skill jobs as turbine generator balancing or machine tool installation and qualification, where the skill is not routinely used and cannot be justified on a routine cost basis (and the individuals with these skills often leave to make more money working for contractors).
  • For supporting major overhauls and turnarounds, when keeping the level of staff required to support annual or biannual efforts is not economically justified.
  • For emergency situations, when the workload overwhelms the existing capability.
  • For other situations where the use of contractors is clearly in the best interest of the business.

Further, contractors must be held to the same high standards as employees for safety performance, verifying the quality of their installation and commissioning work, and housekeeping at the conclusion of a job.

Potential conflict of interest
Consideration should be given to the potential inherent conflict in using contractors for maintenance. One of the goals with any business is to have it grow, and it is reasonable to conclude that a given contractor’s goal is to increase its business by increasing revenue. As a result, there could be considerable temptation to increase the maintenance effort, rather than focus on long-term equipment reliability for reducing the maintenance effort (and revenues) over the long haul.

At the very least, the contractor’s enthusiasm for reducing the long-term level of maintenance effort could be diminished by a desire to improve its own business.

This is not to say there is anything dishonest or wrong with this inherent desire. Indeed, in many organizations, the maintenance department often puts forth a large backlog as proof of the need to retain a given number of employees, sometimes without a careful analysis of why such a large backlog exists or of the benefit of actually doing a long overdue backlog. It is just human nature to want to protect one’s job and/or to increase business, and caution should be exercised regarding this issue when hiring contractors.

Companies should also consider that a contractor may be less likely to have the same level of loyalty to the company as its employees, particularly if the management of a company exercises clear leadership and creates an environment supportive of mutual company-employee loyalty. Such a condition requires mutual trust and respect.

Properly organized and directed, a good operations and maintenance organization can offer greater loyalty to the company, and can outperform a contractor in core competencies over the long term. Measuring uptime or overall equipment efficiency, and defining the causes of losses from ideal performance, in a team environment with maintenance and operations working with a common sense of purpose and toward common goals is more likely to be successful when the company views operations and maintenance as a core competency.

Concurrently, however, employees within the organization must recognize that they are competing with contractors, and therefore must constantly seek to add greater value–better equipment reliability, higher uptime, lower unit cost of production, or improved safety–than might be done by a contractor.

Finally, it is recognized that this article does not cover all circumstances wherein contracting any given function may be appropriate, such as in a greenfield situation, or when costs are truly extraordinary, or in a situation of intransigence with several different unions at one site.

Applied judiciously and integrated with existing maintenance employees, contractors can make an exceptional addition to any manufacturing team, and they must be held to the same high standards as the balance of the organization, one which is hopefully seeking to achieve world-class performance. MT

Ron Moore is president and managing partner of The RM Group, Inc., 12024 Broadwood Dr., Knoxville, TN 37922; (423) 675-7647.

Contractor Selection Check List

The following issues are among those that should be considered prior to engaging a contractor to perform major maintenance work:

  • Define the scope of work in light of the specific contract type: lump sum-fixed price, time and material, cost plus incentive fee, among others
  • Define the experience or expertise required, including any licenses or skill certifications
  • Determine the contractor’s track record with the organization, as well as other skills required, such as the following:
    • Business administration
    • Project management
    • Quality assurance
    • Safety management
    • Planning and scheduling
    • Cost control
    • Timely completion
    • Subcontractor relationships
    • Internal conflicts
    • Housekeeping, especially at job completion
    • Engineering and reliability improvement skills
    • Quality of work–equipment life, unit cost, and so forth
    • Define working relationships
    • Functional level
    • Flexibility
    • Personnel compatibility (at multiple levels)
    • Cultural compatibility
    • Determine internal and external union agreements compatibility
    • Record on harmony or disharmony, as in grievances or strikes
    • Process for handling conflicts
    • Determine capability, availability
    • Define terms and conditions
    • Include ownership for results, warranty of quality
    • Payment terms
    • Define scope of work
    • Basic requirements
    • Effect desired and value added
    • Boundaries
    • Investigate financial issues
    • Contractor’s reputation regarding contract disputes, add-ons
    • Contractor’s financial strength
    • Basis for resolving disputes
    • Research safety, health, and environment issues
    • Historical performance record
    • Current policies and practices
    • Current safety training
    • Check compatibility with company administrative systems
    • Time sheets
    • Work orders
    • Accounts payable
    • Reporting systems
    • Determine accreditation
    • Systems in use for company
    • Systems in use for individual employees
    • Assess attitudes
    • Supportive of company business goals–value added
    • Measurement systems in place for this
    • Protect ownership of intellectual property
    • Drawings
    • Process technologies
    • Patents

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