Archive | May, 2002


9:38 pm
May 1, 2002
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Justifying Root Cause Analysis

Make the business case with a significant calculated return on investment.

How often have we heard that we do not have time to do root cause analysis (RCA)? This is certainly the paradigm from those closest to the work, especially if they operate in a reactive culture. What about when we hear that RCA is too expensive? This is generally the paradigm from management, or those farthest from the work.

What is common about these two perspectives? Both perceptions represent reality because if that is what we believe, then our decisions will be made on that basis. So how do we overcome this hurdle of letting our paradigms prevent us from taking advantage of opportunities?

Opposing paradigms: operations vs. finance
Let’s explore this issue from two different perspectives: operational and financial. The operational people are those who are closest to the work and are responsible for maximizing the output of the organization. In this world, a reactive culture usually dominates. So whether we are making paper, processing patients, or dealing with customer complaints, we are likely dealing with the moment and handling one fire at a time.

In this world it is difficult to listen to people who advocate an activity like RCA because as it stands now, there does not seem to be enough time in a day to do our current job. Now someone wants us to perform another task, RCA, when our plates are already full. Let’s face it: this is the reality when working at this level. We do not see RCA as a solution to our already overburdened work schedule. We see RCA as a nuisance to being able to fight fires in the short-term.

Contrast this perspective against the financial one. Management level people are typically the ones that are charged with fiscal responsibility. So their world is one of numbers, statistics, and ultimately dollars. When people approach them about the concept of RCA, the first issue in their mind is: “How much is this going to cost?” Again, this is their world.

Usually in this world the first question is not “What value proposition does RCA bring to the table?” In the financial world we are dictated to by the budget, and no matter how attractive the opportunity, the cost in relation to the budget will be one of the major deciding factors. Sometimes our performance evaluations will reward us for staying within the budget, so there is a personal incentive to view everything from the cost standpoint versus the value standpoint.

What happens when these two worlds collide? We become risk aversive in our decision-making and our operations. When this happens we hang out in the safety zone and if we are lucky, we make marginal improvements over time. Creativity is stifled and we become human robots doing nothing more or less than we are told.

The facts about RCA
RCA is not a tool that is related to any specific industry; it is specific to human beings. We all come with the same equipment; we have brains that are wired to use inductive and deductive logic to think things through and solve problems, no matter what the problem. This must be realized and accepted in order to disprove those that believe that RCA is a tool for only mechanical situations or only for an industrial plant. We as human beings will use the same mental faculties to solve why a crude unit in an oil refinery failed as to why the cable does not work on the upstairs television.

Any RCA methodology on the market today must hang its hat on the science behind cause and effect relationships. The only difference between RCA methods is the manner in which they graphically represent these cause and effect relationships and how well these hypotheses are proven to be true or false.

So how do we build a convincing argument that supports why we should be permitted (if not required) to do RCA? We all know that the decision to pursue this RCA task will come from management, as they will have to authorize the funds to train employees and allow them time to practice what they learn. Therefore we must appeal to the financial perspective in order to get the ball rolling in the operations world.

Chronic events
What is the best way to demonstrate future trends in spending? Given everything constant, the past. We have all heard of the definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The same is typical with spending trends. In industry, what is usually a large category in any maintenance budget? The one labeled “General” or “Routine.” This is like the “Other” category. This is a reservoir for all expected, unexpected events.

These are the items that have fallen into the cost of doing business paradigm. They are typically small in individual consequence, and they do not hurt people or violate any regulations. They just retire into the pasture of the budget and are never questioned. From year to year we review the past spending on such items and bump it up a little for the cost of living increase.

If we can agree in concept up until this point, then let’s try to now express this in a graphical and financial manner. This is how we prepare our business case to management in an effort to sell the concept of RCA.

First, in order to convince management to invest in an RCA effort, we must present the opportunities that are available. In the RCA world, opportunities are generally expressed in terms of current losses experienced. With this in mind, let’s picture a scenario we can all relate to from past experience at some point in our careers.

Developing an RCA business case
For example, we work in a continuous process manufacturing operation. The nature of the product is irrelevant. This operation produces a high-margin product in a sold out market. Simply put, we can sell anything we can make. In this environment, what should be the most appropriate definition of a loss? Is it when equipment breaks down? Is it when the operation stops?

Step 1–Identifying the scope of the analysis. In making our business case, we want our presentation to have the utmost impact. Therefore, we need to seek out the area with the greatest opportunities available. This is usually the area referred to as the bottleneck of the operation.

The bottleneck is the typically weak link and we all know that the operation can only be as strong as its weakest link. Everyone usually knows which operation is the weakest link in any organization. For our purposes, we need to identify what this operation is, where it begins, and where it ends (Fig. 1). This will be the scope of our analysis for our business case.

Step 2–Defining a loss in the current economic environment. Now with the scope of the analysis defined, we can move on to understanding what is most important to measure in this operation. Since we can sell all we can make, the most important factor to the business is reliability of the operation. This means that a lost downtime hour is far more important than a spare piece of equipment that fails.

Remember, this is under the conditions described earlier. To set our focus, we will define a loss for our facility as any event or condition that interrupts the continuity of maximum quality production.

Step 3–Mapping out the weakest link. To help identify specific events that occur within the weakest link operation, we must draw a simple process flow block diagram. A block diagram easily maps out the flow of the product through the operation.

Step 4–Determining the potential gains. Based on this weakest link, what is its design capacity versus what it is actually producing? If the system is capable of producing 1 million tons per year and we, on average, are producing only 850,000 tons per year, then the opportunity lies in the difference or 150,000 tons.

Since this is a high margin product, when we cannot sell each pound, we lose the margin. For example, let’s say that we can make a $100/T margin. Therefore, the financial opportunity is 150,000 tons x $100/T = $15 million.

Step 5–Locating the losses. Now that we know there is $15 million out there for the taking, how do we identify where it is? We simply take the information we have collected and develop a spreadsheet to make our data collection efforts easier. We need to locate the events that are preventing us from reaching our potential. An appropriate spreadsheet may have column headings including Subsystem, Event, Mode, Frequency, Impact/Occurrence, and Total Annual Loss.

Where does the most reliable data come from to fill out such a spreadsheet? This is up to you. If you feel that your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is accurate enough to reflect the true activities of the field, then you should use it as your data source. If you do not, then you should contact the source of raw data: the people.

Oftentimes we do not realize that people are the most common sources of data input into databases. When events in the field occur so often, and they take short periods of time to repair, the effort to put them in recording systems outweighs the time it took to fix them. The end result: they do not make it into the recording systems and they remain in the heads of those that fixed the problems. Such events are hidden gold and the only way to find them is to talk to those closest to the work.

Step 6–Identifying the significant few. Imagine our spreadsheet with dozens or hundreds of events listed (depending on the size of the operation). When do we know when we are done? End the list when the Total Annual Loss column totals ±10 percent of the target identified (difference between actual production and potential).

Now that we have this wealth of information, how do we finalize our business case? Take the total of the Total Annual Loss column and multiply it by 80 percent. Then sort the events from the highest to the lowest total annual loss and see how many events it takes to add up to 80 percent of total annual losses. Typically, 20 percent or less of the events will be accountable for 80 percent or more of the losses.

Step 7–Finalizing the business case. From this exercise we can see that it is possible to pinpoint the specific events that are causing the greatest losses. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of these Significant Few events are chronic events versus sporadic ones.

This process has the unique capability of bubbling the chronic events to the top of the list, which otherwise go unnoticed because of their seemingly insignificant individual impacts. However, when aggregated over a year’s time, this analysis shows what is truly important.

Step 8–Calculating return on investment (ROI). We now can take all these elements of the business case process and roll them into a report for our management presentation. We can prove that the cost of training a team in RCA and focusing them on the Significant Few can yield a significant predetermined result.

We can easily calculate a proposed ROI that will be astounding. We have backed up all our claims and support our findings with evidence (hard data). Average ROIs for RCA range between 600 and 1000 percent. Oftentimes this is a hard sell because the numbers are so unbelievable, but using this process supports the case.

We did not attempt to hide any of the real costs of conducting a RCA. If there are more, then they should be added. RCA will require a little education and some software to help organize the effort. It is expected that a minimum class of 15 students and a maximum of 25 would be held. This will provide the necessary skills to the team leader, various team members, and supporting management personnel. This is a one-time cost that is sunk thereafter. Then there will be varying levels of dedication to the effort, but ideally there should be a full-time driver who oversees the analyses in progress.

Of course there will be team members needed based on their expertise in the analysis at hand. The make-up of the teams will change because of this. However, with this rotating role, it is expected that only four team members at a time will be occupied on a part-time basis during an analysis.

To provide support for solid conclusions, the RCA teams may need additional engineering support to help prove their hypotheses. The funds for this anticipated function are accounted for.

While this is only an example, we can get the idea. There is no need to beef up costs in such a business case because conservative numbers usually make just as convincing a case. Also, conservative numbers are easy to defend because we can use the fallback position of, “…we didn’t even include… .” Accounting department figures are the most credible because if the origin of these numbers is questioned, we can point to the bean counters as the source.

Now this is such an unbelievable ROI number, even though our data supports it, that we can make the case that if we cut the opportunity in half, the ROI would still be around 3850 percent. What is an acceptable ROI for an engineering project at our facilities now? MT

Robert J. Latino is senior vice-president of strategic development for Reliability Center, Inc., a reliability engineering firm specializing in improving equipment, process, and human reliability, 501 Westover Ave., Hopewell, VA 23860; (804) 458-0645

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8:21 pm
May 1, 2002
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But That's New Technology


Robert C. Baldwin, CMRP, Editor

A maintenance and reliability practitioner selects a condition monitoring solution that samples certain conditions on a problem machine at an extremely rapid rate designed to capture transient anomalies that never seem to occur during the normal sampling frequency. The solution should help solve an elusive problem and reduce the amount of downtime and scrap produced by the machine.

He documents the expected return and walks the request through the company’s internal funding process, but he gets stopped cold by the financial gatekeeper with: “But that’s new technology.” And he goes away empty handed.

That story from the technology vendor called to mind some tips from Thomas Edison on “selling” new technology that I heard 10 years ago at a conference keynote delivered by Wayne Burkan, a futurist from Alternative Visions, Farmington Hills, MI.

My notes show that Burkan gleaned eight selling points from Edison’s notebooks—perceived advantage, compatibility, simplicity, divisibility, communicability, reversibility, relative costliness, and lesser failure consequences. The conclusion is that you can sell almost anything if you have a good case for all of the points, but you will sell nothing if you miss on the first or last: perceived advantage and lesser failure consequence.

The presentation stuck in my head because of the way Burkan tied these important points to how Edison may have sold his new technology of electric lighting.

His case for perceived advantages would include the points that electric lighting is cleaner than gas lighting and easier to use. Electric lighting could be installed one room at a time (divisibility), required only the click of a switch for illumination (simplicity), and could be dismantled and taken out (reversibility).

The clincher might have been lesser failure consequence. If the electric lighting failed, the consequence was darkness. If gas lighting failed, the consequence could easily be fire, explosion, and death.

Unfortunately, most people are risk averse and the threat of a loss has a greater impact on a decision than the possibility of an equivalent gain. This is especially true today in a turbulent economy where selling future gain can be more difficult.

When you make your case for investment in new technology, you must work the money bags as if you are Thomas Edison selling electric lighting. Go into the meeting with a convincing argument for all eight selling points. Anything less, and you may come across as not fully committed, and unworthy of financial support. MT

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8:19 pm
May 1, 2002
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Skills Shortages Contribute to Job Loss


Robert M. Williamson, Strategic Work Systems, Inc.

Imagine this: For a portion of today’s maintenance and reliability workforce, the thought of a “skills shortage” means employment security. For leaders of today’s maintenance and reliability workforce, skills shortages can mean job loss.

As a maintenance technician you will have employment security if you have the skills and knowledge to be a proficient technician: One who knows how to perform preventive/predictive maintenance, one who knows how to locate the root causes of problems, and one who knows how to make efficient and effective repairs as part of a high-performing maintenance team. Why? Because maintenance technicians with your expertise are in high demand, and there is a rapidly declining number of people in the labor market with that expertise. It is simple supply and demand—increasing demand, declining supply.

As a maintenance manager, supervisor, or plant engineer you will have employment security if you have skills and knowledge to be a proficient maintenance and reliability leader: One who leads high-performing teams of maintenance technicians in proactive, planned, scheduled, preventive/predictive, and efficient and effective corrective maintenance. Why? Because maintenance and reliability leaders with your expertise are also in high demand, and, you guessed it, are in short supply.

Excellent maintenance and reliability skills and knowledge are in peak demand in today’s work environment and labor market, and the demand has been increasing at an alarming rate. The problem is that many people working in the maintenance field today are stuck with the same old skill sets they had years ago.

Many manufacturing plants and other equipment-dependent facilities require higher levels of equipment performance and reliability than ever before. These new levels take focused maintenance and reliability leadership coupled with a skilled and knowledgeable team of maintenance technicians.

Here comes the dilemma. As a leader, your employment security, and your sanity, largely depend on the skills and knowledge of the maintenance technicians who work for you. The more proficient your technicians are the more job security you have. The opposite is also true: the more inefficient and ineffective your maintenance technicians are the more your security is threatened.

We have seen an increasing number of plant engineers, maintenance managers, and the like get extremely frustrated and overwhelmed at their workload because of the skill sets of their maintenance technicians. Their plants and facilities became more and more reactive to their maintenance approach—there were not enough people to do all the repairs and still keep up with the preventive/predictive maintenance work. Then, the maintenance leaders became more reactive in their work by default. They ran out of time to be proactive, to plan, to lead improvements in maintenance and reliability.

What about the maintenance technicians? The good ones move on to better jobs, jobs where they can continue to do rewarding work, to learn, to improve the equipment they are responsible for. The ones stuck in the same old skills set tend to stick around; the maintenance workload grows, overtime pay increases, and they know their way around the plant. They generally want to do good work and work to the best of their ability. But they struggle to improve equipment performance and reliability, putting their jobs, and the business, in jeopardy.

One important, and often ignored, answer to this dilemma of skills shortages and job loss is training. The skills and knowledge of today’s maintenance technicians must match the needs of the equipment and processes they are responsible for.

However, formal maintenance and reliability training is in very short supply. Many of the strong vocational-technical schools of the past have dwindled to very few who offer maintenance-related skills training. Now it is mandatory that manufacturing companies, institutions, facilities, and all employers of maintenance technicians establish formal training and qualification programs for their people.

Today’s maintenance and reliability skills and knowledge training must be more focused, efficient, and effective than in the past. It must be focused on measurable results—improvements in equipment performance and reliability. Our futures depend on a highly skilled and knowledgeable pool of maintenance technicians. MT
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7:23 pm
May 1, 2002
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Infrared Hot Spots on the Web

As cameras become smaller and lighter, simpler to operate, and less expensive to purchase, infrared imaging technology has rapidly become a leading inspection tool for predictive (PdM) and preventive (PM) maintenance programs.

Simply put, infrared cameras produce thermographic images or thermograms that relate to the temperature of the photographed item. Infrared cameras or software convert those images to a scale that creates color differences to represent temperature differences. Most of these devices are small handheld units similar in size and operation to a consumer video recording camera.

The Internet offers a virtual library of information, techniques, and tips for beginners as well as seasoned professionals.

Image galleries and streaming video
Infrared thermography is a visual science, so the Internet’s ability to include graphics allows progressive web sites to offer specific examples of conditions that were diagnosed with an infrared camera.

FLIR streams a professional video overview that may be helpful in selling a new program to management. Another site offering streaming movie clips featuring infrared applications is Indigo Systems features an image gallery with visible light and thermal images as well as QuickTime movies. Raytheon Infrared also offers infrared movies featuring applications. A fast connection and Windows Media Player make these movies more enjoyable although access is available for slower connections.

Independent thermographers are often one of the best sources for nonbiased information. Boldstar Infrared, Thermoscan Inc., and Stockton Infrared offer a wide variety of thermograms in their infrared image galleries. These sites also offer extensive application papers and case histories for PdM, energy, roof, and process applications for infrared cameras. For advanced thermographers, try for more complex infrared applications.

Infrared Solutions offers a virtual camera demonstration online where you can actually operate the camera from your computer desktop. Also providing product information is Land Infrared.

R/CM¹ offers a free streaming online training session entitled “Infrared Thermography: What’s Hot in P/PM.” This course requires Windows or Real Media Player as well as a quick registration.

Online infrared networks
is a new infrared web site with comprehensive links, articles, and an e-mail discussion list. The International Society of Professional Thermographers (ISPoT) has formed an e-mail discussion list. To join the lists simply send e-mail to Both of these lists are productive for anyone interested in infrared. You can unsubscribe from either list automatically at any time.

Most of the infrared training companies offer valuable information, message boards, image galleries, and full course descriptions and schedules. Visit Infraspection Institute, Snell Infrared, ITC, and the Academy of Infrared Thermography. Several of these sites also offer free e-mail newsletters that are quite useful. Be sure to visit the message boards often as new questions and answers are posted daily.

These are just a few of the sites that you may find useful as you search for infrared resources online. We are always interested in web sites you can suggest for future columns and any feedback about how helpful you found this one. MT

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