Archive | April, 2002


1:09 am
April 2, 2002
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Barcode Tracking System Coordinates Toolrooms

As the fifth largest chemical company in the world, Dow Chemical is known for the manufacturing of chemicals, plastics, energy, agricultural products, and other consumer goods and services. But to manufacture these products on such a large scale means stocking a lot of equipment to maintain the operation.

At the company’s Fort Saskatchewan plant in Alberta, Canada, Roy Lura, process leader, estimated an inventory of more than 15,000 pieces of equipment. Until recently, however, there was no way to adequately track the items. With the help of a barcode-driven tracking system, this has changed.

Tool tracking challenge
There are eight different toolrooms at the Fort Saskatchewan site, and each had its own method to issue equipment. For the most part, this meant using the honor system, except for the more expensive items that were tracked using a handwritten record of issues and returns. “It was a lot of work,” reported Dave McLaughlin, warehouse technician. “You almost needed two staffers at the counter to work the book.”

Another difficulty was each tool crib worked independently. Operators from the individual cribs did not know what was available from other locations on-site, so specialty items would be purchased for multiple cribs when fewer were needed for the site as a whole. In addition, if one crib ran out of an item, operators either ordered another or contacted a rental company to supply it, when the item could have been available somewhere else at the plant. “There was no documentation,” Lura said, noting that a lot of money was spent on the purchase and rental of replacement tools when it may not have been necessary.

Until 1997, management at Dow had not given the issue a second thought, but then the company began to re-engineer how its plants were run, and more accountability was mandated. “We wanted to control 99-100 percent of our tools,” said Jeff Bowes, warehouse technician.

Barcode solution
To do this, the plant introduced a barcode-driven tool tracking system called Tool Hound from HOUNDware Corp., Edmonton, AB, Canada. The system works similarly to a library issue/returns program. Assets with a value of more than $50 are labeled with individual bar codes, while items of lesser value are bar coded by bin number. Tradespeople are identified by an ID number as well. When an employee checks out a tool, his ID number is scanned with a handheld scanner, followed by the bar codes of the items being issued. The process is reversed when items are returned.

Like a library system, the program tracks who has the item, where it is, how often it is used, and when it is due back. Reporting capabilities offer information on inventory value, asset locations, and equipment usage. In addition, the radio frequency scanners Dow uses with the system mean that the operator is not chained to the computer. He can communicate with the PC in real time from anywhere in the toolroom.

Scanned data is sent to the database instantly, and information about the status of both the equipment and the employees can be accessed from the handheld. If, for example, the employee at the counter has an overdue tool or is not certified to use the item he is trying to sign out, the PC will send that information to the scanner instantly where it will be displayed on the screen.

Improved communication
The system is proving to be of great benefit to the Fort Saskatchewan operation. Lura reported that after only a few months, it “totally changed the way we manage tools.”

The most significant change is that the plant now has a consistent method of tracking tools in all eight toolrooms at the site. This has resulted in a change in purchasing habits. Orders are no longer going out just because one crib runs out of an item. Instead, operators can use the networked system to check for the item’s availability in other tool cribs. “It’s better to get it from the site than to go off site,” Lura advised.

Accurate accounting
In addition, by forcing operators to catalog their tools, the system is helping Dow create an accurate count of its own assets at the Fort Saskatchewan plant. An equipment surplus was discovered that is large enough to stock 60 percent of a ninth crib which will be set up soon. “It’s given us the opportunity to inventory our tools,” Bowes reported.

New attitudes
An attitude change accompanied the installation of the tool tracking system; it brought a sense of accountability to the site, something that was lacking before. “It really made the guys think about it,” Lura said.

In the past, items may not have been returned for a number of reasons. The employee may have simply forgotten to return the tool, or perhaps left it at a job site with the intention of using it later. These items could be left unclaimed for months, or perhaps mistakenly packed with a contractor’s equipment and removed from the site altogether.

With a computerized sign-out system, tradespeople seem to have gained a sense of accountability for the items they are issued, and tools are now being returned with amazing regularity. Lura believes the shift in the employees’ outlook is a result of the fact that Dow’s attitude toward their tools has changed. “Before they had a ‘they don’t care, so why should I’ attitude,” he explained.

Additional applications
As time goes by and the labeling and cataloging process continues, the plant finds additional uses for its tool tracking system. While it was purchased with the intention of bar coding only hand tools, the system now is used to track the usage of a number of other items. For example, the plant has started using the system to track the site’s company trucks. This allows the staff to monitor how often the vehicles are used, and if they are returned on time.

By introducing accountability and effective reporting functions, as well as reducing the need for large annual expenditures for asset purchases and rentals, the system is expected to save the Fort Saskatchewan plant a significant amount of money annually. “We’re adding value to our jobs,” Lura said, and he expects the system will spread to other Dow sites in the future. MT

Information supplied by Albert Liaw, marketing manager, HOUNDware Corp., Edmonton, AB, Canada; telephone (780) 454-3001

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8:16 pm
April 1, 2002
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Who are we? what do we do?


Robert C. Baldwin, CMRP, Editor

It has never been easy explaining plant equipment maintenance, reliability, and asset management to people outside the field. But in the past, you knew where to begin because their view of what we do was probably somewhere between Schneider, the building superintendent, and Goober, the filling station attendant.

But now, people step up with much better ideas that they are getting from sources that have traditionally been outside the maintenance and reliability field. Unfortunately, important concepts or processes are sometimes presented in an unusual context or are too soft and fuzzy for clear understanding. But there are some good articles, too.

A Control Solutions article, “Maintenance finally moves into limelight, disguised as asset management,” points out that “when you get right down to it, at the most fundamental level, asset management is simply maintenance—but maintenance perceived as a crucial function that, done properly, can give a tremendous boost to the bottom line. This is a big change from the days when maintenance was viewed by management as a necessary evil.”

A columnist for Managing Automation, in “A Dam Good Application,” writes about distributed asset management (DAM) that “permits the assets to have an interactive dialogue with external systems so that problems and opportunities can be announced way before they normally would be encountered… . Now, some may confuse this with maintenance or enterprise asset management. However, EAM technology is a reactive one based on averages and does not link to assets in real-time. It could, however, be supplemented with DAM to become much more valuable to many organizations.”

Data from the plant-level component of IndustryWeek magazine’s “Census of Manufacturers” confirm the trend toward lean manufacturing practices, indicating that 32 percent of manufacturers use predictive or preventive maintenance. This is good news, but I had never thought of PM as a lean manufacturing practice. But it certainly fits because it reduces the waste of reactive maintenance.

With more players on the field than ever before, you don’t know where to begin when explaining what we do because you are not sure of the game. There is a lot of running, passing, kicking, and tackling, but is the game soccer, football, or rugby?

We need a few good definitions that can serve as a starting point for the discussions we have with operations, top management, human resources, finance, and others outside our field. Do you have the courage to offer some suggestions? If so, let’s hear them. MT


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8:15 pm
April 1, 2002
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Maximizing asset Reliability Requires Reliability Driven Maintenance

Capital-intensive companies today are realizing the importance of maximizing asset reliability. It is no longer enough to focus on traditional maintenance objectives such as minimizing repair costs and improving the efficiency of work execution. By focusing on the goal of maximizing reliability, companies are realizing strategic benefits such as increased revenue and profits, improved product quality, increased safety and environmental integrity, and overall improved customer satisfaction.

Traditional maintenance activities alone cannot support a company’s goal of improved reliability. To achieve and sustain maximum reliability, companies must deploy a reliability focused business process. I call this process the Reliability Driven Maintenance Process. It includes the following stages:

  • Plan
  • Assess
  • Improve
  • Control

In the plan stage, the maintenance strategy is aligned with the business goals of the organization.

This alignment enables maintenance to identify the assets that contribute most to achieving business goals. Next, the assets that are most critical and where the risk is highest in terms of impact on business performance are determined. For these assets, specific performance targets are established. This stage focuses maintenance reliability improvements on the performance targets of critical assets that contribute most to the company’s success.

The assess stage analyses the performance of the asset, comparing asset performance targets to the maintained asset’s actual performance. Performance analysis identifies and prioritizes gaps in performance.

In the improve stage, work identification strategies are utilized to identify appropriate actions to address the causes of failures in a timely manner. Strategies for this phase may include reliability centered maintenance, best practice review, or other appropriate work identification practices. The maintenance plan for an asset may include a mix of preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, and run-to-failure decisions.

Work identification is the cornerstone of the Reliability Driven Maintenance Process. The work identification element determines the right work at the right time.

Once work is identified, companies move into the control stage for planning, scheduling, execution, and follow up. Almost all capital-intensive companies today use a computerized maintenance management or enterprise asset management system to maximize the efficiency of this phase. If properly followed up, the control stage of the process provides valuable information back to the assess stage in terms of the actual performance of the assets.

Managing feedback from the control stage, a company moves back into the assess stage, resulting in a continuous improvement loop that maximizes asset reliability. The assess stage evaluates and makes visible an organization’s effectiveness in each element of the Reliability Driven Maintenance Process.

Reliability practices and technology are needed to support the Reliability Driven Maintenance Process. Appropriate technology is essential to expedite results and achieve long-term success on the road to reliability. The best systems today complement the reliability practices and serve as a day-to-day tool for true maintainers of equipment.

Maintenance, engineering, and operations collect an enormous volume of potentially valuable data as they work together to conduct condition monitoring activities. But we need to go further to maximize reliability. We need to make effective use of the data collected and ensure that we do the right work at the right time.

Leading companies have found technologies to convert their mountains of condition data into effective reliability improvement processes. These technologies enable maintenance, engineering, and operations to combine their respective talents to define the ways in which condition indicators will drive improved asset health.

In my view, to be successful in maximizing asset reliability, companies must implement a business process that focuses on reliability. And that process must be supported by appropriate reliability practices and technology. Strategic value will be achieved in the form of increased revenue and profit, improved quality and customer satisfaction, and improved safety and environmental integrity. MT
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7:21 pm
April 1, 2002
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Use the Internet to Advance Your Reliability Career

Local job markets cannot offer the variety, quality, and quantity of maintenance job opportunities to which you have free access by using the Internet. In addition, resume resources, interviewing tips, and other useful information is plentiful.

Whether you are investigating career advancement or need a new position due to a layoff, the Internet offers excellent resources to kick-start your job search.

The perfect career?
Career planning is the process of finding your ideal career, based on your intrinsic interests, motivational traits, personality, values, skills, aptitudes, personal work style, and work environment preferences.

According to studies show people who are working in a career that supports their intrinsic interests are happier, and more successful and fulfilled. For $49 the site offers an online career test that examines your career interest, your personality, your values, and your skills.

Allow me to introduce myself
Once you have defined the type of position you seek, it is time to tune up your resume. Sites such as offer 10 free tips to enhance your resume. If you are new to writing a resume, offers a free Resume 101 course online.

If you really want to stand out from the crowd, try putting your resume on a credit-card-size working CD-ROM. At you can create a digital resume online by choosing from a wide selection of templates and designs. The company will duplicate the CD and ship them to you.

Posting your resume online
You remember that free 5 MB web site that your Internet Service Provider offered you when you signed? Like most people, you probably asked yourself why you would ever want a personal web site. Posting your resume is a perfect reason.

Most of these sites are template driven and require little computer experience. Once the resume is posted, you can send people to your site by including the link in your e-mail. Remember that the Internet is public, so do not post any personal information that you may not want known such as your home address.

Resume posting sites
If you have ever watched a Super Bowl game, you have seen commercials for some of the best job-hunting sites on the Internet. Free resume posting services are available at,, and Prospective employers pay a fee to be able to scan your resume and almost all major companies include these sites when searching for new employees.

You set the parameters for the amount of personal information that is revealed, including your name. If you currently are employed and your boss does not know you may be seeking alternative employment, it is a good idea to cloak your contact information. If a prospective employer is interested in your skills and experience, you will receive contact from them that will include the company name. Once you know who is interested, you can choose to respond with as much information as you want.

You can and should expect privacy on these sites and you can withdraw your resume at any time.

Join organizations
Joining professional organizations will create networking opportunities that can increase your chance of learning about a position in your area of interest: the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals and the Association for Facilities Engineering.

Interviewing your new employer
Before you establish communication with a company, it is a good idea to visit its corporate web site. You can enter the company name into almost any search engine and the official web site should be in the top two or three results.

You can often access company mission statements and goals, learn more specific information about the company’s products and services, look at its historical financial information, and find out what other positions the firm may be offering.

It also may be useful to search business news sites for stories about your prospective employer. The knowledge you will gain from a little research may really impress your interviewer.

Finding your way
Once you have decided to accept an interview you can make sure you find your way by creating a map and driving directions using

Using the Internet to advance your career in maintenance and reliability is a sure way to broaden your horizons and expand your potential. Try it today.

As always, please let us know what you think of this column, how it helped you, and what subjects you would like us to cover in the future. MT

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