Archive | June, 2003


3:18 am
June 2, 2003
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Define the Need Before Software Installation

Vital step can save rework and stress.

Defining the real need for new software and staying focused is tricky. There are so many variables along the way to a good software implementation that falling off the track is easy. There has to be a central theme to guide the decisions that will be made during the process. Simple steps early in the project keep decisions simple when times get tough.

A Needs Statement is the target that keeps the project focused and successful. Many factors must be managed or they ultimately could distract the team from the real need. These factors include cost/overruns, senior organizational changes, new groups that want support, each group feeling its cause is the most important, timelines shrinking and allowing shortcuts, and software requirements that are not a strong match to the real needs. An organization could face these diversions or others during the time it tries to install a new computer system.

As Roy Brandon, president/CEO of a technology firm in Sacramento, CA, said, “We can no longer assume we understand the client’s business needs; they have to be defined in the beginning and reviewed throughout the whole process of establishing a software solution.” The Needs Statement is absolutely critical to avoiding a huge cost overrun or a mismatch of software to your real business. The same tools contractors and consultants must use to keep projects aligned are the same tools organizations could use on their own. Understanding and defining the business needs upfront will save time and money.

Many diversions for project
To illustrate a project diversion, a new project manager (PM) came on board with a large U. S. city water treatment plant project. The project’s real need was for the plant to have better access to all the data staffers collect to make better business decisions and manage the release of treated water into the local river. Just as many projects go, the new PM did not have the Needs Statement spelled out and began to campaign for some new functionality that he had seen at a recent vendor display. The team was redirected to build the functionality that was described to them, and the time and effort to accomplish these new functions grew exponentially.

The team members solicited advice from many experts on how this new functionality could help the plant. They got great advice on how it could help and possible benefits that could be attained. The problem was the new functionality was not what the plant really needed; the functions were nice to have but not essential. The project went into an overrun of time and budget. In the end, months later, the team found themselves sitting around the conference table asking what the real need was for the plant and how they could get that accomplished with the remaining funds.

Steps to a focused project
There are a few steps that should be taken to maintain the necessary focus and avoid this dilemma. The steps appear to be easy. But any CIO who has experienced a significant project like this will tell you how deceptive these three steps can be:
• Define the “real need” in the beginning
• Market the idea internally
• Remain focused on the needs

Step one: Define the real need up front. Try to state in 50 words or less why the software is being installed. The statement can be very simple as long as the user community feels it is complete.

Here is an example that worked for a Los Angeles public agency while procuring and installing a multi-million dollar system that incorporated nine departments and interfaced with three major systems outside the new software: “The system must provide timely asset data to give us the information we need to improve asset management. The system must provide the employee data associated with the work. Finally, it must be able to track all material movements and translate all of this with the financials.” If an organization as large as this one can work with a Needs Statement as simple as this one, any group should be able to develop one and use it.

Step two: Market the idea internally. Post the Needs Statement where the team meets. Make a large poster or banner and hang it where everyone involved in the project can see it and remember it. Include it in periodic updates of the project. There are many hurdles and diversions on the path to new technology and there must be a tool available to the software installation team to keep on track.

Step three: Remain focused. A small city in Nevada decided to install an enterprise-wide solution and spent considerable time reviewing the choices available. The city was strapped for resources internally to dedicate to the project. It also lacked sufficient funds to buy all the consulting help needed. Each department had to do the best it could with the few people available on a part-time basis. In the end, there were only two out of seven departments using the system accurately.

One of the most critical reasons why the installation failed was because the five other departments had not reviewed their goals and objectives and had no clearly defined Needs Statement with buy-in from the users. Defining the real need after the purchase is much too late. For example, discovering the software does not manage the accounting correctly or the customer service tracking capabilities are insufficient will cripple the project and installation. Develop and define the need early, write it down, get the buy-in from the key people, and stick to it until the needs of the statement are completely met.

What if a really good idea comes out mid-stream of the project? What if the city in Nevada found out there was another module that would fit the police and fire departments’ needs as well? We strongly encourage you to stay the course approved in the Needs Statement and plan to add new departments or modules after the needs of the statement are completely met. In other words, stay focused.

These three steps can reduce headaches and lost time.

Responsibilities of leadership
There are also some related responsibilities for the person or group leading the effort. Three key executive leadership roles must be organized and monitored early to meet the goals and reduce the risks:
• Establish a clear Needs Statement (defining the track you are going to run on)
• Monitor the project to avoid slipping off track
• Maintain consistency with the Needs Statement until its specific goals are reached

The first time the executive leader makes any changes to the consistent message of the Needs Statement, the result could unravel the momentum. Although it is important for a leader to be able to negotiate and be open minded, we recommend those negotiations and open-minded ideas be collected for potential next steps that will occur after the needs of the current project are completely met. Do not disregard a good idea; just move the timeline out to assure the first objective is met.

Because the Needs Statement is so critical, it is very important that it be comprehensive to all the departments or areas of the business that will be affected by the software installation. The statement must capture the high-level requirements in a manner that gains the buy-in and support that will be necessary when the wolf comes calling halfway through the project. The trick is to have a plan for negotiating the solution after the needs of the current project are completed.

Let’s look at the typical diversions or problems again: cost/overruns, senior organizational changes, new groups that want support, each group feeling its cause is the most important, timelines shrinking and allowing shortcuts, and software requirements that are not a strong match to the real needs. Each one of these problems could be managed by having a strong Needs Statement that the organization buys into and supports.

Too many projects lack the guiding light or a path to follow. Some projects have a Needs Statement but lack the comprehensive buy-in from the user groups. These projects cannot afford to have a department or functional area misaligned with the overall goals. These early steps in the process can save organizations a lot of rework and stress. MT

Ian Vail and Joe Mikes are partners at Business Process Architecture, Inc. (BPA), 8534 Tambor Way, Elk Grove, CA 95758; (916) 682-9294 Continue Reading →


1:31 am
June 2, 2003
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Reducing Bearing Failures

Implementing these common sense methods and practices will save time and effort, and lower costs.

No two companies operate exactly the same way, and maintenance tasks are often performed differently. However, this article will present the most common scenarios and practices on how to reduce bearing failures, based on current information and experience. These methods are certainly not all-inclusive but they may provide some original ideas or provoke thoughts about ways to change your current maintenance systems and practices.

Bearing selection
• Procure the correct bearing for the application. Often, the replacement bearing is not compatible with the equipment where it is to be installed. Depending upon the age of the equipment, advances in bearing technologies may exist that make the OEM bearing obsolete. Knowing the limits of the equipment and what bearing best suits the application will save time and money.
• Determine the maximum load for the bearing. This is important both vertically and horizontally.
• Determine the minimum and maximum running speeds for the bearing. This will help determine the correct lubricant and bearing for the application.
• Determine all possible environmental conditions to which the bearing will be exposed. Very hot or cold environments often require varied bearing specifications. This may, in turn, change the type of lubricant and relubrication requirements as well.

Bearings exposed to wash ups or moisture-heavy environments need to stay well sealed and seals must be kept in proper condition to protect the rolling elements. Bearings that operate in caustic environments may require special seals and care. Pay special attention to the seal manufacturer’s recommendations regarding handling and care.

Bearing handling and storage
• If possible, determine when a bearing was manufactured and if it was properly stored before being purchased. Ask the bearing distributor about his storage and handling procedures. It might be prudent to have a representative from your company personally visit the bearing distributor to confirm how bearings are being stored. For example, a tapered roller bearing should be stored with the taper down and never stacked, one on top of another.
• Store bearings in an attitude “angle” that will reduce or eliminate the possibility of damage to rolling elements and raceway. It may be weeks or months before the bearing is called into service. Reducing the risk of startup damage begins with proper storage.
• Bearings are manufactured with extremely tight tolerances and therefore require special care when moving or handling. Consider them fragile at all times and make the effort to treat them as such.
• Consider the proximity of the storeroom to areas of the plant that are affected by vibration. Could a railroad main line affect the storeroom? Does the plant have equipment that vibrates nearby buildings? Bearings subjected to even minor daily vibrations can become damaged while in storage. Take the necessary steps to insulate stored bearings from any vibrations.
• Always store bearings in a clean and sterile environment. Keep them free of moisture, dust, and chemicals.

Bearing installation and handling
• Take care when removing old or damaged bearings from their shafts and housings. Be careful to not damage holders or surfaces where the new bearings will be installed.
• Clean all housings, shafts, holders, keyways, etc., before attempting to install a new bearing. Inspect the shafts and equipment for damage. Install new bearings in as clean and dry an environment as possible. If possible, use sterile gloves to prevent contamination. Contamination at this stage will ensure a shorter bearing life cycle.
• Carefully inspect the new bearing for any obvious damage that may have occurred during shipping, storage, or manufacture. Inspect bearings to determine if all parts are present. Bearings have been known to ship from the factory missing roller elements and other parts. Also, check for factory lubricant. Lack of lubricant from the factory can cause rust.
• Properly align bearings with shafts. Do not assume the original bearings were properly aligned, even in motors.
• Never push or pound on bearing surfaces. Use only safe installation methods accepted and approved by the manufacturer.
Initial lubrication procedures
• Never assume the manufacturer has properly lubricated the bearing. The new bearing may have been shipped with a limited amount of lubrication inside. This level may not be enough to form the necessary film between the inner race and rolling elements.
• Determine lubrication level by using sound analysis or vibration monitoring methods. Remember, a dry or underlubricated bearing will sound louder or scratchier than a quiet or smooth sounding properly lubricated bearing.

Ongoing bearing lubrication
• Your lubrication supplier and bearing supplier should have the most current data and be able to recommend the proper lubricant for the application. As in selecting the proper bearing for the application, the conditions to which the lubricant will be subjected must be considered.
• How grease waiting for future use is treated and stored will be a key factor in the life expectancy of equipment. Lubricants should be stored in moisture- and temperature-controlled environments, free of dust and chemical exposure.
• Contamination entering grease will likely happen during transfer from one point to another. Failure to exercise care in this process will nullify the attention given previously. There are a number of ways to properly refill grease guns. Using a scoop or paddle from a container is the oldest technique. It involves spooning grease from a storage container and tamping it into the grease gun to remove air bubbles. This method is most likely to introduce contaminants into the grease, especially when performed in the field. It is not a recommended method except in the most dire of circumstances.

Using tube refills is the most common method of refilling a grease gun. It involves removing the empty tube and installing a new, compatible tube of grease into the grease gun. Take care to clean dirt and old grease from the canister and handle assembly before installing a clean, new tube of grease. Perform this task in as clean and dry an environment as possible.

When refilling from a storage container using mechanical or hydraulic pumps, grease is pumped mechanically from the storage container directly into the portable grease gun. When care is taken to clean off the port on the grease gun and delivery hook up from the pump, this is the fastest and safest method of grease transfer.

• Assuring that the correct grease is introduced into bearings may involve coding systems. Labels, numbers, tags, or color-coding on bearing housings that indicate what type of grease is being used can be very helpful to the lubrication technician. Ensure that grease guns are matched up with the coding system on equipment. New employees should be trained on the matching system before any lubrication task is performed. This is an easy system to implement and minimizes the chances of introducing noncompatible greases into the bearing.

When it becomes necessary to switch delivery tubes from one grease gun to another, make certain to clean dirt and grime from the tube and then purge all the grease from the tube to prevent mixing of incompatible grease types. Clean and purge grease zerk fitting connectors as well.

• Different grease gun manufacturers allow varying amounts of grease to be applied by a pump or shot of grease. (A pump or shot of grease is one full stroke of the grease gun lever or trigger.) The amount of pressure each grease gun or grease delivery system contains also may vary dramatically. This lack of an industry standard has made it difficult to determine the amount of grease actually being delivered and therefore creates problems using a time- and amount-based lubrication schedule. It is important to calibrate each grease gun and note the volume of grease each gun delivers with one full pump.
• To properly relubricate a bearing, certain information must be obtained. To help determine the correct time- and amount-based schedule of relubrication, data from the manufacturer’s recommendations on re-lubrication intervals must be combined with reliability knowledge and experience.
• Traditionally, the job function of lubrication is an entry-level position in maintenance. Much was required of these important individuals with little or no specific training provided. Fortunately, this is changing. Companies have invested in maintenance technologies and training to prevent and predict machinery failure. Companies are learning to invest in standardized training for lubrication practices and in the tools necessary to perform the job in a skilled and efficient manner.
While the importance of performing lubrication tasks has not changed, awareness of the importance of the individual performing these tasks is changing. As skill and training criteria standards evolve, the oiler becomes a skilled lubrication technician and analyst. Also called lubrication engineers, these individuals are being provided with the necessary resources to perform their job function. Reliability and predictive maintenance groups are increasingly relying upon the lubrication technician’s knowledge and skills.
• Acoustic analysis or sonic analysis is a rapidly growing method in preventing overlubricated and underlubricated bearings. This equipment uses sonic sound technology and listens to the noise generated by the vibration of the bearing in the sonic range (20 Hz-20 kHz) to decipher when and if a bearing requires greasing. By listening to the “voice” of the bearing, the lubrication technician is able to make a direct determination of the grease requirements of the bearing.

As grease is slowly injected into a bearing, the change in sound or lack of sound change informs the technician when sufficient grease is present. This eliminates the need to calibrate a grease gun as the amount of grease the bearing requires is determined as it is being lubricated. By implementing this proactive method of greasing, lubrication technicians are able to customize existing time/amount-based lubrication schedules.

For example, a bearing that had a previous schedule of two shots of grease every two weeks may require only one shot every two weeks. The extra shot of grease every two weeks was overgreasing the bearing. Customizing or adjusting the lubrication schedule to fit the actual bearing requirements slashes bearing failures.

Program improvements
Take a close look at how your company operates its maintenance program. Decide if any of these steps have room in your program. Changing the way things are done often takes time and perseverance, but be diligent about making a change that has a positive impact. MT

Doug Gribble is technical services director at UVLM, 815 Sunrise Ln., Centralia, WA; (800) 736-3757

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9:52 pm
June 1, 2003
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Maintaining Normal Force in Electrical Connections

The most critical decision in aluminum to copper bolted joint design is the selection of the Belleville washer.

A previous article by Norman Shackman, P.E. (“The Trouble with Torque in Electrical Connections,” MT 11/02, pg. 24) correctly stated that two of the secrets to making and keeping reliable electrical connections are clean contact surfaces and high force. These are both inputs to what is defined as “normal force”: the clamping pressure needed to drop resistance to a value low enough to provide a conductive, stable joint. The ability to maintain normal force over the lifetime of the joint determines its reliability.

In many cases this is the function of the Belleville washer. It becomes critical when joining dissimilar metal connections such as aluminum to copper which was used extensively during construction in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The cost of economics
Use of aluminum wire was thought to be the economic savior in the construction of many large factories and electric production facilities in the late 1970s. These units required miles of cables; therefore the use of aluminum over copper created a significant cost savings. This economic decision brought with it a different failure mode than previously experienced: “creep” induced loosening of the bolted connection.


RELAXATION CURVE Fig. 1. As bolted connections are assembled, pressure (force) is exerted on the connector mating surfaces. The proper torque is specified considering the relaxation curve.

After several connection failures, the utility industry developed guidelines for bolted connections. These included the recommended use of Belleville washers to maintain preload on the joint over its expected life. This prompted the use of the massive anode principle to reduce the electrolytic current density over the exposed face of the aluminum connector, which in turn reduced the effects of corrosion due to the dissimilar metals. The result was an aluminum lug much larger than the copper lug.

The effect of these decisions was a joint design susceptible to the effects of creep—the cold flow of metal under pressure. As the bolted connection is assembled, pressure (force) is exerted on the connector mating surfaces. The proper torque is specified considering the relaxation curve (see Fig. 1).

In aluminum to copper connections the applied force is sufficient to embed the copper connector in the softer aluminum lug. This is where the selection of the Belleville washer becomes critical to reliable joint design.

Industry standards recommend ½-13 UNC bolts (typically used in 600 V ac connections) be tightened to 36-44 ft-lb. Bolt torque/load tables give a load of 4460 lb when tightened to 40 ft-lb. On a 0.45 in2 aluminum lug, the compressive stress will range from 9900 to 18,800 psi causing plastic deformation. Some creep is expected as the joint heats up and cools down with use. The spring effect of the bolt and Belleville washer must make up for any creep deformation and initial embedment of the copper lug during assembly.

Bolting hardware is standard for these connections with stainless steel the material of choice. Belleville washers also are required to be stainless. Manufacturers of Belleville washers recommend maximum deflection limited to 75 percent to avoid sharply increasing force and stress characteristics. This is easily measured with a feeler gauge after assembly.

Avoid premature failure
Reliability of the connection is then a function of the deflection of the Belleville washer as the joint relaxes. This deflection must exceed the embedment of the copper lug into the aluminum lug. Not following these requirements will result in premature failure due to loosening of the bolted connection. As the bolted connection relaxes, the contact resistance increases, resulting in an increase in lug temperature.

Temperature increases cause an increase in the rate of creep, especially in the aluminum connector. The condition feeds on itself. As the creep rate increases, the joint loosens and the temperature increases until you are left with a corroded connection. It should be noted that this connection is less than two years old.

In summary, the most critical decision in aluminum to copper bolted joint design is the selection of the Belleville washer. Belleville manufacturers offer assistance over the telephone or online. MT

John P. Cook is a root cause analyst at Entergy Nuclear Northeast, James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant, 268 Lake Rd., P. O. Box 110, Lycoming, NY 13093; telephone (315) 349-6591

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7:29 pm
June 1, 2003
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Tackling the Skills Shortage

Educational system and training programs should be adjusted.

The baby boom generation, the last one that produced significant numbers of craftspeople, is retiring. Between the retirements and the scarcity of entry-level craftspeople, we have a severe and accelerating crisis—a nationwide shortage of technically qualified people for our manufacturing industries.

It is a dual shortage:
1. a shortage of qualified, technically skilled managers to supervise plants, and
2. a shortage of qualified, technically skilled craftspeople to operate and maintain plants.

If present trends continue, our deficit in skilled, educated people to operate and maintain manufacturing facilities will worsen at a time when technological change continues to make plants more automated. Exacerbating this trend, transfer of knowledge from seasoned professionals to their replacements happens less and less.

Solving our nation’s skills shortage requires a change in the way we think about manufacturing-related employment. It also requires changes in the ways we educate and train people for such employment. In assessing how well we are meeting our workplace skills needs and finding ways to meet them better, we need to examine our educational system and company-provided training programs.

Educational system has possible solution
Traditionally, we have expected the U.S. educational system to produce people with the skills we need in the workplace. The educational system may be our best ally in finding ways to expand our pool of skilled people for automated manufacturing and thus get our production capability back on track. To move in this direction, we need to seek ways to better use this important resource.

One way to gain workplace skills is tuition reimbursement programs—companies’ conventional answer to the skills shortage. Often, companies offer tuition reimbursement, widespread in employee benefit plans, as an incentive for workers to pursue additional education and training. Management hopes many who are reimbursed for individual courses will continue their studies and eventually obtain degrees.

Tuition reimbursement programs are helping us get the skills we need back into the workplace. However, not enough employees are taking advantage of these programs to make a large enough dent in our skills shortage. One reason: pursuing a degree under a tuition reimbursement program requires a huge commitment of time and energy—particularly difficult for those with families. We need to interest more employees in using this important resource.

When employees pursue college degrees under tuition reimbursement programs, some of their courses help create skills applicable to automated facilities and some do not. Early in their college careers, instead of technical courses, students take courses required for graduation: English, philosophy, history, sciences, mathematics, foreign languages, etc. These studies are important but have no direct effect on reducing downtime or troubleshooting a machine.

In the later years of college, engineering students encounter some courses covering the technology in manufacturing. However, they may not be hands-on, may be too few, and may not be rigorous enough to develop workplace skills. By the time an electrical engineer graduates from college, for example, he or she has taken a limited number of electrically focused courses—possibly as few as six or seven.

It seems clear that our educational system, while it is a valuable resource in providing part of the solution to the skills shortage, may need adjustments increasing its ability to get the job done. But there is a second educational option that deserves attention.

Another educational option
A second option for those seeking additional education through tuition reimbursement is pursuing studies toward a degree at a technical college. It has some advantages over the conventional college degree track.

On the plus side, technical schools focus on knowledge the student will need on the job. But here again, a substantial individual time and energy commitment is required. Technical studies, combined with several years of hands-on training and continuing education, can enable an individual to achieve proficiency. If the student wants to go beyond a technical college degree, though, there is a problem—technical college credits are seldom transferable.

The main accrediting bodies for technical institutions are the Technology Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (TAC of ABET) and the Accrediting Commission for Career Schools/Colleges of Technology. In both cases, acceptance of credits is limited (one course in 10 or fewer) at universities. That means the student must start over. Technical schools might consider pursuing a strategy to achieve more widely acceptable accreditation.

Most companies find achieving a skilled workforce requires more than sending employees out to take courses under tuition reimbursement programs. Many companies have developed proactive strategies to participate even more directly in meeting their needs for skilled employees in the workplace.

Company-sponsored training effective
Company training programs are proving effective in achieving technically competent workforces. Ideally, company training programs and educational institutions can work hand in hand. Many are combining formal training programs with on-the-job training and apprenticeships in a coordinated effort to fill the skills gap.

Training programs offer seminars on hydraulics, pneumatics, PLCs with focus on maintenance, and troubleshooting. Their courses provide useful technical knowledge of equipment employees may be called upon to troubleshoot.

Ideally, this training occurs on the job or in a classroom using hands-on training modules. When employees are trained at an operating site, the class often works with the site’s production and maintenance equipment. If the site has a persistent problem, the training class seeks a solution using its developing troubleshooting skills.

Experience shows such hands-on training provides a measurable improvement in employees’ technical knowledge, leading to measurable reductions in downtime and accidents. These improvements can be worthwhile for companies, which receive a return on investment reportedly reaching 10 to 20 times the dollars spent providing training, together with the intangible benefits of consistent production and fewer employee injuries.

Companies wishing to achieve these returns first should do a training needs assessment. This assessment compares a company’s situation with a training model and identifies what overall training programs a company requires and what specific seminars within those programs will enable it to meet its objectives.

In-house vs. outsourced training
Companies planning to begin or expand training programs generally consider two options: in-house training departments or outside training experts. Companies should look at both options carefully, keeping in mind the need for a thorough training needs assessment and for careful planning to minimize safety risks and assure compliance with applicable regulations.

Many companies have excellent in-house departments able to meet a broad range of training needs. In-house training experts can focus on the particular technologies and training situation of the company. They can stay attuned daily to the company’s changing training requirements and operate within key company facilities, enabling them to emphasize hands-on training in their courses.

Working with outside training experts has its advantages, too. Outside training contractors can offer public seminars or customized onsite seminars featuring hands-on training. These companies often have unique experience or expertise to supplement what in-house training departments may lack. Good outsourcing training providers know how to make the best use of:

• Cross training. Because all mechanical systems have electric or electronic circuitry, both electrical and mechanical skills are required to troubleshoot equipment. Cross training can help assure prompt troubleshooting, high skill levels, and smoothly running plants. Only trained experts, however, should attempt its use. Outsourced training providers can determine when cross training can safely be used and when skilled specialists are needed.

• OSHA-based safety training. Outsourced training providers can determine how best to achieve compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and other applicable safety procedures. These experts routinely study OSHA interpretations, surveying the latest in safety regulations and best practices to incorporate the best thinking into training programs.

Today, outsourced training providers seek ways to enrich the value of training programs for trainees pursuing degrees through tuition reimbursement programs. They do so by working with community college systems to achieve accreditation, enabling transfer of credits earned in company-sponsored training to universities and other institutions of learning. One organization that can provide this benefit, and does so in cooperation with outsourcing training providers through an “extension campus,” is the North Central Association of Schools (NCA). Technical colleges might consider a similar strategy for expanding transfer credit acceptance.

When deciding whether to emphasize in-house training departments or working with outside training experts, many companies opt for both. Given today’s head count restrictions, it is often difficult for a company to staff an in-house group to meet all training needs, which tend to vary over time. And it is not easy for in-house training experts to keep up with all the changes in technology, regulations, decisions, interpretations, etc., that happen constantly.

The solution is often use of in-house training experts for most day-to-day and routine training needs and for seminars on the equipment the company has in place. But in cases involving special or unusual training needs or new equipment, companies often decide that outside contractors can provide a needed assist to the in-house group.

Making the best use of our education and training capabilities
Training programs offered by companies, together with our U.S. education system, provide our two best chances to solve the skills shortage in manufacturing. If our economy is to prosper, both areas must work together to facilitate creation of a technically capable workforce. The only way to combat the $1.68 hourly wage overseas is to develop a trained, skilled workforce able to troubleshoot and maintain smooth operation of automated plants.

The answer to the dilemma is two-part:

• Adjust our educational system to create new incentives promoting technical education and making technical education easier to pursue.
• Intensify our use of company-sponsored on-the-job training by offering hands-on technical training seminars and programs.

We need to move boldly and decisively to accomplish both tasks. Then, we will find ourselves well on the way to solving our national skills shortage. Our ability to support manufacturing is contingent on having the technical competence to create and market truly world-class products. MT

Gary Johnson is business development manager at National Technology Transfer, Inc. (NTT), P.O. Box 4558, Englewood, CO 80155-4558; (800) 922-2820


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6:55 pm
June 1, 2003
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Going, Going, Gone! eBay Online Auction for MRO

I have a friend who bought an old farmhouse in rural Nebraska from a family who never threw anything away. Somewhere in those piles, my friend came across some Barbie doll outfits unopened from the 1960s and asked if I could help him sell them.

I decided to list the outfits at an eBay online auction. I set a minimum bid requirement of $25 (I should have done better research). Within a few hours, my minimum bid was far surpassed and for the next few days I watched as Barbie collectors from around the world fought for ownership. I will not reveal the final selling price, but I will tell you it was high enough to reaffirm every thought I ever had about free enterprise.

Before eBay, we could have held a garage sale or placed an ad in the local classifieds, and sold the item for the $25 we thought it might be worth. By using eBay, we were able to instantly reach motivated buyers from around the world and get a fair market price for the item, all for a couple of dollars in listing fees.

Recently eBay announced a new focus for maintenance and repair operations (MRO) products. You now can find forklifts, compressors, generators, motors, gearboxes, valves, HVAC units, material handling, tools, and much more available on eBay.

“Our entry into the MRO market was driven by our online community. We noticed that our community began trading all sorts of business goods, including MRO. As a result of this activity, we decided to aggregate all of our business listings into common categories along with MRO and place them in a special section of the site at,” stated Laurence Toney, category manager for MRO at eBay.

eBay Business is a great online marketplace for any business to purchase the supplies and equipment it needs because it provides access to an efficient secondary market of new and used products at great prices.

In today’s competitive, budget-conscious environment, businesses must be on the lookout for creative ways to reduce costs. Buying used, refurbished, or surplus items enables them to equip their businesses for pennies on the dollar when compared with new, top-of-the-line items. Many businesses are too small to benefit from discounts for buying in bulk, and they fall under the radar screen of many traditional distribution channels. Often, they are looking for high-quality used equipment or late-model new equipment. Now with eBay, small businesses have access to a broader selection of products, 24 hours a day, right from their desktops.

How do you know if the eBay seller is reputable? The cornerstone of eBay is the user feedback system that provides buyers with a record of each seller’s transaction history. Buyers can see the reputation of a seller based on the feedback of other users with whom the seller has done transactions on eBay. eBay’s Toney provides this advice:

  • When reviewing a listing, note the seller’s positive feedback percentage, featured at the top of the listing. Many sellers exceed 98 percent.
  • Click on the “Read all reviews” link to see what other buyers are saying.
  • Don’t automatically write off a seller with a few negatives. Misunderstandings do occur.

You may even want to consider selling some of your surplus MRO items at eBay. Toney offered a few indispensable tips to be a successful seller:

  • Browse the site and get a sense of what prices are for similar items.
  • Use the auction format to discover the price of an item or maximize its value. To sell an item quickly, add the Buy It Now feature.
  • Include detailed and accurate item descriptions.
  • If selling a costly capital asset, include multiple photos that highlight different views, features, and any damage. Photos can make or break a sale.
  • Take advantage of upgrades, such as Bold and Featured Plus. They have proved to increase visibility and bidding.

Once you have sold a few items and decide to scale the volume of items for sale, consider using one of eBay’s more robust, professional sales management tools, such as Selling Manager, Turbo Lister, and Seller’s Assistant Basic or Pro.

In the future, eBay plans to expand the MRO/industrial categories, with 110 subcategories, including industrial automation and control, electrical tools and supplies, plumbing and pumps, electrical distribution, cleaning supplies, and packaging. You can go to which will lead to a portal page of all available MRO and industrial items. MT

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6:53 pm
June 1, 2003
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Plug and Play Complexity


Robert C. Baldwin, CMRP, Editor

Maintenance and reliability information is very complex. But just how complex is difficult for many of us to understand. We tend to think in terms of paper (work orders, drawings, reports) or common computer files (spreadsheets, basic flat-file databases).

Although I have been following maintenance information systems for years, I felt like the student driver looking under the hood of an automobile for the first time when I took a peek at some of the documentation of MIMOSA’s newly released Open System Architecture for Enterprise Application Integration (OSA-EAI) posted on the group’s web site. MIMOSA is the trade association developing open standards for maintenance and reliability systems.

MIMOSA’s OSA-EAI specification is built upon a common information schema that allows information from many systems to be integrated. The schema, known as CRIS (Common Relational Information Schema), covers standard site, asset, and functional service identification nomenclature.

In addition, CRIS provides for a method of standard measurement location identification across various condition monitoring technologies. Trendable, scalar data such as temperatures, pressures, and loads are modeled. CRIS supports dynamic data, such as time waveforms and FFTs, which are used in vibration analysis. Binary data, known as Binary Large OBjects or BLOBs, are supported for communicating drawings, reports, diagrams, thermograms, and photographs.

CRIS also manages sampling test data results, such as used oil analysis test data and air quality monitoring data, and allows the communication of diagnostic, health, and prognostic information from smart systems.

Special maintenance and reliability tables define fields for events (actual, hypothesized, and proposed), health and estimated asset life assessment, and recommendations. CRIS models maintenance and production work request scheduling and the tracking of the completion (or noncompletion) of a maintenance or production job as related to an asset. CRIS also provides the information framework for storing reliability data for assets.

Will anyone ever build the ultimate system to manage all this information? Not likely. Smaller, focused systems typically work best. And that’s the
reason for MIMOSA. The OSA-EAI specification is designed to provide an open approach for hooking up these specialized systems into a collaborative information network to which new compliant systems can be added on a plug and play basis.

That sounds like a good idea. And we believe it deserves our support. MT


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4:56 pm
June 1, 2003
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Measuring Backlog

Second in a series of articles discussing the management of backlog

The first article in this series, “Essential Elements of Backlog Measurement and Analysis,” defined backlog as the classification of work that, for whatever reason, has not been completed.

Measuring backlog allows a manager to set priorities. As previously stated, because backlog is measured in planned hours, providing estimated durations for backlog work orders determines the accuracy of the end data and the decisions that can ultimately be made.

Workload backlog is commonly measured in hours. But this means almost nothing without the use of a second method of measurement in weeks.
In theory, measuring backlog in weeks gives the supervisor an idea of how long he can keep personnel employed with the current amount of backlogged work. How is this determination made? This issue has several schools of thought. For this example, assume a maintenance shop has 10 technicians available for work.

Backlog weeks based on credit hours earned
The first of these schools is the measurement of backlog against the performance of work for the prior period of work. If this group of technicians completed only 350 planned hours in the prior week, then the current backlog is worth around 10 weeks of employment for that shop.

This method has some specific problems. In order to provide an accurate measurement of any value, there must be a stable comparison value to calculate it against. This method uses two moving values to produce the weeks measurement. First, the hours of backlog increase and decrease with the amount of demand for service and performance of work. Since this is the value being measured into the weeks method, it is not the problem with this method of calculation.

Second is the use of the total earned hours for the prior week. If backlog hours are continually moving up and down and productive labor earnings are doing the same, using this value is a sure way of causing confusion to anyone trying to interpret its meaning and validity. Fig. 1 shows that the effect of attempting to evaluate backlog weeks in this manner produces an erratic and unpredictable measurement. Thus, this method of calculating the weeks value is not only highly volatile but also extremely inaccurate.

Backlog weeks based on payroll hours expended
The second method of calculating the weeks measurement is much like the first except that it attempts to evaluate the backlog weeks using another moving number which represents the amount of payroll hours that were actually expended on the jobs performed for the prior reporting period (Fig. 2).

This method has the same problems as the first method with an added bonus—the unpredictable hours of overtime and double time can significantly skew the data.

Backlog weeks based on regular payroll hours available
The third method of calculating the weeks of backlog resolves the two moving numbers problem of the first method, producing a more stable backlog effect. But the method still is problematic (Fig. 3).

The method is based on the division of the backlog hours by the amount of annual regular hours for the group of technicians performing the work. So, if we take the 10 maintenance technicians who work 40 scheduled hours each period and divide the current backlog hours by their scheduled time we get around 9 weeks of backlog availability.

The problem with this method is that, while resolving the two moving numbers problem, it is based on the total amount of regular hours that the organization will pay the technician during this period. It does not take into account the availability of the employee due to paid holidays, vacations, and sick leave, not to mention the performance requirement. The paid time off variables can significantly skew the weeks measurement since this is time that can, at any given moment, reduce the scheduled regular hours of the technician. The performance requirement is more complicated, but it is essentially the amount of variation the organization allows between the planned amount of work and the actual performance of that work.

A complete and accurate method for calculating the weeks measurement is to take the basic elements of the prior three methods and resolve their problems.

Backlog weeks based on average availability of hours
With the moving number problem being solved by method number three, the paid time off variable needs to be addressed. In addition to the known items with the maintenance shop, these employees enjoy an average of about 15 days of paid vacation, 10 paid holidays, and have an allowance of 13 paid sick days per year. Now this information can help to produce an availability factor.

I prefer the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario assumes that every technician will take all the paid vacation, holidays, and sick time available throughout the year. This is a good practice since, if you plan for the maximum deviation of the variables involved in calculating this measurement, you can only do better than the worst case. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

The availability factor involves averaging the effect of the annual paid time off variables across the year and producing a modified average availability for the technician for each pay period. This produces the ideal available hours value.

Once the ideal available hours have been figured it will have to be adjusted once more to include the performance requirement of the organization. This involves deciding how much of the work must be planned in advance, what is the minimum performance required for planned work, and how much of a credit penalty should be assessed should a work order be performed without advance planning or using a pre-plan for similar jobs. These are entirely organizational issues and can vary greatly.

The required performance adjustment involves evaluating the value of planned/unplanned work.

Next, the required performance adjustment is applied to the ideal available hours and produces a final value representing the total credit hour capability for each pay period for the shop. Finally, the total backlog hours are divided by the maintenance shop’s credit hour capability to complete the figuring of backlog weeks (Fig. 4).

While this method is somewhat lengthy to implement into the weeks measurement, it is the necessary, final step in taming an otherwise wild calculation and setting the bar for stable backlog analysis and decision-making.

A future article in this series will cover backlog analysis. MT

Jason Aughenbaugh is a business analyst with Amgen, Inc., MS 21-2-A, One Amgen Center Dr., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320-1799

Method 1. Backlog Hours Divided by Credit Hours

0603-backlog-equ1 Fig. 1. Backlog weeks determined by credit hours earned in the prior reporting period.

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Method 2. Backlog Hours Divided by Expended Payroll Hours

0603-backlog-equ2 Fig. 2. Backlog weeks determined by payroll hours used from the prior reporting period.

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Method 3. Backlog Hours Divided by Regular Hours Available

0603-backlog-equ3 Fig. 3. Backlog weeks determined by the total regular hours available per reporting period.

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Method 4. Backlog Hours Divided by Average Available Hour

0603-backlog-equ4 Fig. 4. Backlog weeks determined by availability factor.

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