Archive | May, 2004


8:54 pm
May 19, 2004
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Developing and Implementing an Infrared Predictive Maintenance Program

Efforts add value, improve safety and reliability.

A comprehensive predictive maintenance (PdM) program can improve plant safety and reliability through early detection of equipment problems. Westar Energy’s management in Topeka, KS, made a decision that predictive maintenance would become an integral part of its day-to-day operations, and thermography would be a key component of this new program. The thermography program would span several fossil fuel energy centers that encompass 13 generators producing more than 4165 MW of electricity.

This article will explore the challenges and successes associated with the development and implementation of thermography within Westar’s PdM program.

In mid-2000 Westar Energy hired its first PdM manager, who began evaluating thermography and the equipment associated with the technology. He also started to review the methodologies that would be used for the program, and found it was imperative that the entire program be networked across the Westar facilities.

Through early to mid-2001, the thermography program began to take shape. It was decided that the thermographer position would be filled from the existing workforce. The thermography equipment was purchased and an electrical foreman accepted the position of thermographer. This seemed to be a good fit because the foreman had some thermography experience along with its application within a power plant.

However, it became apparent that many factors for the successful integration of thermography into the overall PdM program were missing. Since Westar Energy was looking for an extremely efficient and thorough rollout of the thermography portion of the PdM program, it demanded both expertise and experience.

In mid-2001 changes were made within the program at both the management and analyst level. Outside experience became Westar’s focus and a decision was made to assemble a team that had the experience and expertise needed to build and implement a best-in-class PdM program overall, including a solid thermography program.

The launch
By October 2002, a second PdM manager and an experienced thermographer were hired to lead the program implementation. First on a rather long list of tasks was building the thermography databases and data collection routes.

Uniformity within the entire PdM program was determined to be paramount. These databases and routes had to emulate vibration collection methods and utilize the software package used by the vibration side of the program. The vibration analysts were using data collectors and completing both field analysis and post processing within a specific software/firmware framework. All options were explored to emulate this process, including a re-evaluation of infrared components within the vibration software/firmware framework. This proved to be quite a challenge.

The first step in building the databases was the determination of what would be inspected. The initial criteria for the specified inspection points was the inclusion of critical station power components that had a direct impact on generator operation, including all 480 V load center unit substations (LCUS), secondary unit substations (SUS), and motor control center (MCC) battery and dc backup systems. Plant substations and switchyards also were included in these databases.

Next, we acquired as many current one-line drawings as possible for all the systems. All drawings that were available were gathered, copied, and laminated. In cases where the drawings were not readily available, a comprehensive plant walk down was required to generate the inspection list.

Finally, all data was compiled and entered into the software in a similar nature as the vibration databases. The only difference is that most vibration database structures are between three and four levels deep within their database tree while the thermography database is only two levels deep within its database tree structure.

Each plant now had its own database of electrical gear as it related to plant criticality. These databases were originally constructed with unique IDs and then numerical IDs for individual buckets and components as shown in Fig. 1.

We also built route lists for each plant within MS Excel by importing data trees from the software. These route lists were used to check the accuracy of the plant-provided one-line drawings and grid walk downs. The route list was used also as a checklist to log what was inspected, not inspected, tagged out/locked out, date of inspection, anomaly (if found), and to note any re-inspection and date of re-inspection. They would also become the standard by which the routes were run. Nevertheless, refinement of these routes and lists would become inevitable.

Decision on reports
The prime objective of any thermography program is to get reports into the hands of the person who must make the repair. Image analysis templates were built in the camera manufacturer’s analysis and reporting software. Due to the desire for program uniformity, the decision was made to use the camera software for image analysis only, and to write the reports from within the vibration software platform. Likewise, field notes pages also were developed.

The amount of data needed for accurate anomaly reporting would not fit on the wav file for the image, and would have to be transcribed from the image at one time or another. Therefore, the use of field notes was adopted. The images would be captured in the field using a standard set of camera parameters, field notes page, digital camera for normal daylight photo, and route lists printed in hardcopy to log all inspection points.

Analysis of the gathered data then would take place at the office and updates to the log pages would be made at that time. Reports were written within the vibration software platform and converted to an MS Word document for distribution and attached to a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) work order. At this point, it became apparent that some streamlining efforts were needed.

The Word file attachments would print also when the work order was printed. The work orders are tracked in the CMMS by the thermographer throughout the entire process of creation, activation, scheduling/planning, execution, closeout, and recheck. This recheck is completed during the next regular inspection cycle. If the component is extremely critical the recheck is done immediately upon completion of the work order.

Current procedures call for a full thermal inspection of the electrical distribution system every 6 months during the second and fourth quarters to correlate data and work orders with annual outage needs. This also allows a certain amount of flexibility within the infrared inspection schedule for changes and emergencies and still allows sufficient time for results to be entered into the outage schedules for the individual facilities. See “Total Thermography Images to Date.”

One year later
As the first phase was completed and all facilities had been inspected one complete time, we now had a baseline of our routes, equipment, and imaging procedures. At the same time, we were developing Westar Energy-specific temperature guidelines and exploring other applications.

The routes were refined, equipment locations and nomenclature confirmed and existence of, or changes to, equipment was noted on the log sheets and updated on the route lists. All electrical equipment contained within a route now conformed to IEEE listing and labeling standards as far as MCC, LCUS, and SUS are concerned.

Upgrade to PDAs
We decided to use a PDA with the route sheets to ease the transfer of route list data to a PC file. We hoped that this would eliminate the reams of paper being carried in the field to record field notes.

With the first model we tried, we would load one route list at a time, make changes in the field, and then merge the data with a PC file back at the office. However, the processing power of the unit proved to be inadequate for the size of our routes.

The second PDA model provided greater processor power, which allowed us to upload multiple routes, make changes in the field, and then merge the data with a PC file in the office.

This was our first significant efficiency upgrade to the program.

While the development phase of the program was being completed, two other portions of the program, Web-based Machine Condition Summary Pages and integration of the data with our CMMS, were being constructed simultaneously.

The Web-based summary pages were also designed to emulate the vibration and oil technologies pages that were already implemented (Fig. 2).

Development of standards
During the initial 12-month implementation of the thermography program it was imperative that we develop a group of standards and procedures under which we would operate the program. The following standards and procedures were developed using Snell Infrared guidelines, along with Infraspection Institute and Military Standard MIL-STD-2194(SH):

• Westar Energy IR Camera Set-up

• Westar Energy Indoor Electrical Systems

• Westar Energy Outdoor Electrical Systems

• Westar Energy Mechanical Systems

• Westar Energy Radiometric Temperature Measurement

• CBM Severity Guideline

The last guideline also interfaces directly with our CMMS priority matrix as shown in Table 1.

More applications added

As the program continued through its inception, acceptance, and growth stages, we experimented with a number of other applications besides electrical distribution. The objective was to evaluate these applications and find the one(s) that would be most beneficial to our program. As a result, several applications have been added to the overall thermography program.

Boiler inspections were conducted on an annual basis. A baseline for every boiler within the facilities was first conducted during the winter months of 2002-2003 and then follow-up imaging took place during and after temporary refractory repairs were made, especially with our forced draft/positive pressure units.

Steam trap inspections were first used to confirm ultrasound findings. Once the first report was issued containing thermal images this became another application that was regularly used by the generation stations prior to their outages. Images are also provided of defective traps.

Mechanical applications are currently in the development stage for full implementation during the 2004 inspection periods. This inspection will be a baseline inspection to establish current thermal signatures on each motor and the component associated with it for specified equipment throughout each facility. Once a baseline has been established, thermography will be used as a follow-up technology to vibration and oil technologies. In other words, infrared will be used on an as-needed basis for the majority of the rotating equipment within our plants.

Experiments in other areas
A number of other applications and experimentations have been tried at Westar Energy. They include but are not limited to mechanical applications such as coal transport belt idler bearings, motor bearings, motor housing temperatures, and fan and pump bearing temperatures; process inspection such as fluid flow with condensers and oil coolers; roof imaging for moisture infiltration; and cooling tower imaging to assist with water flow efficiency. We also went through installation and evaluation of infrared transmissive windows in certain medium voltage switchgear. The results of our experiments varied with each application.

Bearing and motor housing temperature evaluation is a somewhat standard application and is being implemented into our program as mentioned earlier. The transport belt bearing temperature application is still under review. We currently have a number of idler pulleys from our coal transport system being rebuilt. Once the root cause and visual bearing deterioration inspections confirm our findings, the information will be used to further evaluate the use of infrared technology for this application.

The cooling tower flow application has had limited results to date. Although it has been determined that a full cooling tower study would be somewhat helpful, it is extremely difficult to get consistent results. This is due to such factors as the ambient environment, time for staff to devote to a thorough study, and various other projects that have come up through the year.

Our fluid flow experimentation has had limited results to date with some of the same issues again coming into play as with the cooling tower application.

Our roof imaging has shown good results. We will likely continue, on a limited basis, built-up roof (BUR) thermal roof inspections.

The installation and evaluation of the infrared transmissive windows has had mixed results. Initially these windows were installed on both 4160 V and 69 kV switchgear. Cabinet measurements were taken and confirmed with the plant engineering staff. Installations then started on a chosen few units during respective outages. After the units were brought back on-line, imaging through the windows was conducted to determine their viability for our program (Fig. 3).

Three important factors came into play. First, installation location is critical and specification by the thermographer must be followed for proper installation. Installations not compliant with the specification can have an unfavorable impact on the value of the window to the thermographer, specifically as it applies to field of view (FOV) and depth of field for the infrared camera. Second, the transmissivity of the windows we chose to install was excellent with our long wave imager. And third, if you are using a product such as InsulBoot, your ability to image the actual termination points in the given cabinet will be severely limited.

What lies ahead
As stated earlier, we are putting together a full baseline mechanical study. We are continuing with the development of various process applications and exploring the use of thermography in both our coal piles and coal bunkers.

Our own in-house infrared Level I certification program was rolled out this year. The first class has finished, and all attendees completed their in-house certifications. We have also slated personnel for Level I ultrasonic technician training and certification, which will be folded in with the thermography portion of the PdM program. Personnel also have been cross-trained in motor testing and analysis.

Westar is currently evaluating the implementation of a new database and route collection system. This new component to the infrared program will allow for Web-based tracking and trending of all infrared projects and will greatly enhance the efficiency of our program. It will also allow for simultaneous imbedding, reporting, tracking, and trending of the ultrasonic technology being brought into the thermography program.

In summary, Westar Energy’s experience has amply demonstrated that, given strong management commitment, combined with the assembly of a technically competent, dedicated team, significant value can be added to the maintenance function in a short time frame. MT

Carl Schultz is PdM manager, thermography, at Westar Energy, Lawrence Energy Center, 1250 N. 1800 Rd., Lawrence, KS 66049; (785) 331-4772 0504westarfig1

Fig. 1. Each plant’s database of electrical gear as it related to plant criticality
was originally constructed with unique IDs and then numerical IDs for
individual buckets and components. (Image courtesy of Emerson Process Management)

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0504westarsummary1 0504westarsummary2

Fig. 2. Since one of Westar’s main objectives was to maintain consistency throughout all of the technologies used within the PdM program, the infrared summary page (left) was designed to be similar to the vibration and oil technologies page developed previously (right).


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Total Thermography Images to Date


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0504westarbushing-1 0504westarbushing-3
0504westarbushing-2 0504westarbushing-4

Fig. 3. One of the other applications Westar tried was the installation of infrared transmissive windows in 4160 V and 69 kV switchgear during outages. After the units were brought back on-line, imaging through the windows was conducted to determine their viability for the program. These images were taken from generator bushing boxes, immediately below the main generator.

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Table 1. CMMS Priority Matrix

Temperature Rise in F

Priority Code

Nonoutage Priority Code Description

Priority Code

Outage Priority Code Description

> 80 F


Emergency: Immediate response required, work to completion


Outage/Urgent: Problem dictatesoutage/reduction ASAP

40-80 F


Priority/Expedite: Start next scheduled shift, work to completion


Outage/Critical: MUST complete at next available outage

20-40 F


Maintenance/Routine: Plan, schedule and complete in 30 days


Outage/Routine: Complete at next scheduled outage

10-20 F


Completion within 60 days


Outage/Noncritical: Suggest nextoutage, can be deferred

0-10 F


No production impact, completion required 120 days or less


Outage: Schedule for undetermined future outage

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8:49 pm
May 1, 2004
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Handhelds Enhance Operational Excellence Program

Even with 2.5 million customers, KeySpan Energy (KSE), the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, did not have a serious problem with its liquid natural gas (LNG) storage plants’ maintenance data collection. The company just wanted to make it better because of tough new standards for profitability, plant security, and community safety—and the critical role equipment maintenance data plays in each.

KSE operates 14 LNG facilities in the Northeast. The 70-acre facility in Tewksbury, MA, supports a low-profile 95 x 185 ft double-walled, cryogenically insulated steel storage tank. When full, the vessel holds 12 million gal of LNG maintained at 260 F. Liquefied product is brought into the facility by cryogenic tanker trucks. Later, when vaporized for distribution to customers, the gas leaves the facility via three pipelines at a “street pressure” of 60 psi and a temperature of 75 F.

The plant is completely self-sufficient energy-wise, with three natural-gas powered, 460 hp Caterpillar reciprocating engines each running a 350 kW electric generator set. Also, two 240 hp six cylinder Caterpillar engines drive the plant’s two Ariel gas compressors that pack up to 3 million cu ft per day of boil-off, which is produced as the LNG gradually warms, into the distribution system.

To ensure plant safety and profitability, KSE uses condition based maintenance (CBM). Its program is part of the company’s enterprise-wide Operational Excellence initiative. The success of both programs ultimately depends on comprehensive, reliable, and timely plant metrics.

Upgrading data collection
In an effort to keep costs down yet improve critical maintenance data collection, KSE management opted to upgrade its existing manual data collection systems rather than incur the capital costs of expanding their existing human-machine interface (HMI) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

Equipment and systems requiring at least once a day inspection or data extraction included smaller LNG satellite facilities, propane storage sites, remotely located generator sets, compressor stations, etc., and much of the field instrumentation that was the eyes and ears of the existing SCADA.

Besides being able to record meter readings, valve positions, power on/off status, etc., human inspectors also could make subjective assessments of equipment condition or status that would be too expensive or even impossible to do with instrumentation, e.g., leaky gaskets, anomalistic noises from rotating equipment, corrosion damage, worn drive belts and bearings, and structural defects such as fatigue cracks.

KeySpan’s existing manual inspection system needed improvements in:

• Time consumption. Selecting proper paper forms, hand writing each meter reading or equipment-status report, and manually keying those entries into the plant database PC terminal took time and money.

• Entry accuracy. Human errors and omissions in transcription on the front end, and crumpled and illegible grease-stained or rain-soddened papers on the back end conspired with keyboarding errors to defeat accurate data entry, adding risk and cost.

• Flexibility. Data sets and their configurations were difficult to change or replace. Reformatting, reprinting, and replacing data sheet templates produced their own version-control nightmares, and discouraged system improvements.

Choosing PDAs
A customizable handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) data acquisition system was the company’s natural choice, as it preserved the comprehensive aspects of manual inspection and eliminated the drawbacks to paper and pencil.

When KSE staff surveyed the handheld market, they discovered a variety of products and packages to choose from, with most consisting of proprietary hardware. Many of these systems cost thousands of dollars per device, require high wireless and software licensing fees, and involve costly after-purchase integration by the supplier.

KSE staff felt the cost of cell-based or other wireless handheld data entry was not warranted, nor was heavy duty data processing in the handheld device— inspectors already carried two-way radios to report immediate concerns, the existing SCADA system already monitored all safety-critical systems, and immediate data transfer was not necessary for CBM record-keeping. The company wanted a maintenance data collection and storage system, not a manufacturing or warehousing situation that required constant real-time updates to company-wide systems.

The search for a handheld system that would fit the KSE Operational Excellence program and its budget constraints ended with dBehold from ClearControls, a division of DST Controls, Benicia, CA. The application is nonproprietary and runs on any third party Palm OS or Pocket PC platform, so KSE selected Symbol Technologies’ Model 1800 industrially hardened barcode scanner with integrated Palm OS as the PDA hardware.


Compressor discharge temperatures are easily gathered using the handheld, providing a way to baseline performance data. A standard database is used to convert data to information for analysis.

How the system works
All equipment and systems to be read or assessed are assigned an identification number in the plant’s maintenance database. An industrial-strength bar code label is generated by the dBehold application for placement on or near the equipment to be inspected. When a technician approaches a meter to be read or piece of equipment to be inspected, either the bar code label located on the piece of equipment is scanned or the equipment’s name or ID number is entered using the stylus.

The appropriate data entry template for that equipment displays on the screen and the inspector taps in the data. Pre-configured radio buttons, check boxes, text boxes, and textual prompts speed the data entry process. At the end of the shift, the PDA is returned to its cradle, the Synchronization button is pushed, and the collected data is auto-uploaded into any ODBC-compliant database. All entries are time stamped, which increases the value and reliability of the reports generated by the application.

The system can be configured with password protection and acceptable ranges for data. An entry that is out of the acceptable range will prompt the inspector to verify the data. If accurate, an extreme reading may indicate that a service condition exists.

Factors in the decision
The nonproprietary hardware platform means additional or replacement handheld units can be purchased independently of the application provider and supported locally. The software can be easily installed by users. The PDA is small, light, and rugged. ODBC compliance means easy data upload to any mainstream database, ERP, or MRP software on a local PC or the company Intranet. Palm or Pocket PC devices are ubiquitous and reasonably priced.

During the winter of 2003, KSE began using the system to collect equipment and system readings at its Tewksbury plant. Readings are taken daily and stored in an Access database for equipment such as air compressors, air dryers, natural gas compressors, engines, electric power generators, furnaces, water pumps, liquid natural gas pumps, liquid natural gas vaporization exchangers, electric motors, tank heater circuits, battery charger systems, and cooling tower systems. Data gathered includes pressure, temperature, flow rates, amperages, kilowatts, voltages, and pressure differentials.

Improved data gathering
KSE configured its system so that a particular unit or equipment group to be inspected is given a unique location identity and all related reading points carry that association. This minimizes scanning actions and saves time, as only the first point for a location has a bar code label to be read. Once that first point is scanned, each successive point to be read is displayed by tapping the Next button. After the final point is entered, the display indicates that all readings for the current location are complete. The unit is then ready for the next location and its associated reading points.

Most readings for equipment are taken twice per shift across all three shifts. Other systems are inspected daily, weekly, or monthly as required.

Because of the cryogenic temperatures in the LNG storage vessel, foundation heating systems are required to prevent frost-heave from deflecting the tank’s base. This system consists of nichrome wire heating elements latticed across the bottom of the storage tank. Amperage readings from the heating grid provide quick indication of system performance. If one element fails, a drop in amperage will result. Weekly readings entered into the handheld system provide the baseline from which amperage drops are quickly discerned.

The company also uses the PDAs for tracking water pump performance. LNG must be vaporized to a gaseous state for distribution to customers. This is accomplished by a falling film of heated water and glycol being cascaded through troughs and over a series of thermally conductive steel leaves in the vaporization units. Performance degradation of the pumps controlling this process occurs gradually. Pump discharge pressures, amperage draws, and flow rates are recorded regularly for benchmark comparisons.

Many heat exchangers are in service throughout the plant, providing cooling tasks for various plant processes. Tracking the change in temperature across a heat exchanger assesses the unit’s performance. When the change in temperature narrows, it is time to service the unit. This is easily monitored from a table or a report generated by the software—much better than paper data sheets.

After collecting and uploading via the PDA cradle, the data is converted to information using a database. Then it is easy to query certain points across specific date ranges to view the performance of a unit more closely. Tables from those queries easily can be copied to a spreadsheet to create trend charts or other graphic representations to assist with data analysis.

Operational Excellence CBM coupled with the fiscal realities of twenty-first century energy distribution constantly challenge the KeySpan staff to increase efficiencies while maintaining safety margins. No longer being locked into the fixed data configurations goes along way in helping meet that challenge while discovering new ways to use plant data that is now convenient to collect, easy to use, and trustworthy. MT

Skip Doucette is plant supervisor at KeySpan Energy’s LNG facility, 20 Pierce Ave., Salem, MA 01970; (781) 466-4720. Read Hayward is integration manager at DST Controls, 651 Stone Rd., Benicia, CA 94510; (800) 251-0773

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5:48 pm
May 1, 2004
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A Clever Approach


Robert C. Baldwin, CMRP, Editor

A reduction in operating availability is a possible side effect to improving worker productivity, even though the equipment performs as well as it did prior to the improvements.

When equipment malfunctions in a loose production environment, there may be enough slack in the work that the failure is of no consequence or inconvenience to the operation. With a tighter, more effective system, previously inconsequential machine problems can have significant effects.

That reminder of how actions outside the maintenance and reliability domain can affect its perceived effectiveness in the eyes of others in the enterprise was part of the article “Learning to Lead at Toyota” by Steven J. Spear in the May 2004 issue of the Harvard Business Review. It is a case study of how an experienced American manager was introduced to the famed Toyota Production System (TPS).

One point of the article was that even though companies study and copy the TPS, few are able to match Toyota’s performance. The reason, argued the author in a previous article, is that most outsiders focus on Toyota’s tools and tactics and not on its basic set of operating principles.

This is quite apparent from some of the lessons learned, e.g., “There is no substitute for direct observation.”

Throughout the manager’s training, he was required to watch employees work and machines operate. “He was asked not to ‘figure out’ why a machine had failed, as if he were a detective solving a crime already committed, but to sit and wait until he could directly observe its failure—to wait for it to tell him what he needed to know.”

In one case, it was noticed that as one worker loaded gears in a jig he would often inadvertently trip the trigger switch before the jig was fully aligned, causing a failure. The solution was to relocate the switch.

In another instance, after watching an operator push a pallet into a machine and investigating several mechanical failures, it was realized that the pallet sometimes rode up onto a bumper in the machine. The solution was a different style bumper.

“This is a very different approach,” says the author, “from the indirect observation on which most companies rely—reports, interviews, survey, narratives, aggregate data, and statistics. Not that these indirect approaches are wrong or useless. They have their own value, and there may be a loss of perspective when one relies solely on direct observation. But direct observation is essential, and no combination of indirect methods, however clever, can possibly take its place.”

How clever are you? MT


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5:47 pm
May 1, 2004
Print Friendly Launches Search Engine

First, the name itself is too cool. I will bet it cost a pretty penny to buy that domain name. Second, what makes different than Google or Yahoo!?

There are several answers to that; however, the most significant is called Search Inside the Book and it allows you to search book contents also.

When I searched the term “reliability centered maintenance,” the standard Google results show up (yes, uses Google search results). The difference is that I have an option to click on Book Results and the search engine displays a new set of results from books that have a reference to reliability centered maintenance, including the page number, a brief excerpt, and a link directly to the full page from that book. With Amazon’s new software, you can actually read full page excerpts for the books listed.

This is important because research indicates that 90 percent of people log onto the Internet in search of information. Books are full of information and none of it is sales oriented.

Standard search engines now allow commercial companies to pay to be listed for certain search terms. Searching for reliability centered maintenance at Google or Yahoo! results in the top listings linked to companies that will sell you reliability centered maintenance training, software, or services.

That is fine if you happen to be searching for a vendor, but I did not enter “reliability centered maintenance vendor” as my search term. I was simply searching for information, not a vendor directory.

Search engines must make money; however, serving vendors first is not a very “web centric” strategy. Long-term winners on the Internet serve visitors first. It is still the people’s Internet (for now).

If you are registered with you also can open a tab that includes your search history, a convenient feature if you conduct repetitive searches on a regular basis or if you cannot remember where that cool page you found during your last search is located. If you are not already registered at, do so now and buy a maintenance book.

Reading is good for your brain and is the most efficient e-commerce site on the Internet. Try the One-Click service if you dare; all that stands between you and a new credit card charge is one simple mouse click.

Searchers at also get a click history to show how many times they have visited that page. This can save time if you are searching only for new information or new Web sites.

The search results include a Site Info button that provides you with the ranking, popularity, and even traffic statistics of that site. This information is provided by Alexa (another division) and we are not confident in the accuracy of the information provided. It is still interesting even if off a bit, and can let you know if you hit an information goldmine or if you landed in the hinterland of old and outdated information.

Of course, there is also the requisite toolbar available for download so you can add all these cool features to your Internet browser toolbar.

I really like the new service because I can focus my Internet searches on pure noncommercial information by using the Search Inside the Book feature. I still have access to traditional (and more commercial) searches so nothing is really lost. MT

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5:45 pm
May 1, 2004
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When is Technology Not the Answer?

It may seem like heresy to speak of slowing the expansion of technology within a technology magazine. However, sometimes a technology reality check is necessary.

All too often manufacturers turn to technology for answers while ignoring simple solutions for quality and quantity improvement. They miss essential clues that could help them in the decision process of automation—pro and con.

Some clues are obvious—quality and quantity should be improved. For example, automation that slows cycle time in order to enable the robot to be efficient is probably not an improvement even though cost is diminished by staffing reductions.

Some clues are subtle—robustness and obsolescence must be considered. Is the automatic equipment yesterday’s technology? The shelf life of some of today’s state-of-the-art technology could be very short. The possibility exists that even with the best planning, your equipment could become obsolete in a hurry, which would mean the investment in this particular automation may be short term, so the return on that investment may have to be extremely high. Be prepared for the possibility of continuous investment in automation once the choice is made.

Also, there is the training issue— without a commitment to training in programming, repair, and operation of automation, a company commits to headaches in the form of breakdowns, downtime, and reduced productivity.

Although these problems generally pertain to manufacturing automation, the maintenance department hears the siren’s song of technology as well. Given the proper circumstances and application, advancements in technology can mean real improvement and cost savings in maintenance expenditures.

However, again a reality check should begin with the basics. For example, vibration monitoring for rotating elements can help diagnose problems, but it cannot prevent bearing damage caused by improper storage, handling, or installation. Similarly, you can sample oil for contamination, wear particles, and lubricant quality, but if you are experiencing breakdowns due to lack of lubrication, obvious sources of contamination, the application of the wrong type of lubrication, or even over-lubrication, then it is time to review best maintenance practices.

Training assessment followed by the proper training to ensure that these best practices are followed can establish or regain control of work practices.

On the face of it these would seem to be simple and common sense means to not only improve and control your maintenance issues, but check-off items to analyze when considering automation. However, my experience would lead me to believe that many companies, if not bearing in mind these issues, are not granting them enough weight in the decision-making process.

Thoughtful preparation and analyzation are necessary for any project or cost-saving idea. This preparation should include contemplative study as to whether automation is the right choice for your application, as well as whether the automation will be robust enough to have longevity.

While robots don’t take vacations or sick days or require ergonomic improvements, they also do not have suggestions as to how to improve the manufacturing process. Contemplative listening to your employees’ suggestions may lead to enough process and quality improvement to forego the installation of automation, ultimately enhancing employee retention not to mention employee morale and productivity.

Manufacturing facilities that take care of the basics first usually are competitive. These basics include maintenance personnel who are true craftsmen by training and experience, who have the opportunity to practice these skills, and follow best mechanical practices. At these facilities, training on new automation and mechanical analysis tools is given as needed. Further, these facilities use participative management to enhance productivity and profitability.

Most of the time there are simple solutions to complex problems. As Jack Welsh (former CEO of General Electric) said: “Business is simple, don’t make it overly complicated.”

Take care of your equipment, train and listen to your employees, and promote best practices in maintenance and manufacturing. With these obvious common sense line items taken care of, some of your nagging manufacturing issues and problems may fade away. MT

Thomas Heiserman has a B.S. in technology and has been a TPM coordinator and CMMS administrator for 6 years and a skilled tradesman for 30 years. His consulting firm, Maintenance Solutions Group, advises clients on training and development as well as on maintenance strategic initiatives.

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4:31 pm
May 1, 2004
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Ownership, Accountability Give Employees Power

Craft employees keep postal service machines running.

How do maintenance managers, supervisors, engineering specialists, and support employees keep letter and parcel sorting automation equipment running and physical assets in good condition in the United States Postal Service? The simple and hackneyed sounding answer is that managers do not. Craft employees do.

There are more than 50 mail processing machines worth more than $10 million in the Richmond, VA, Processing & Distribution Facility and 300,000 sq ft in the plant. These machines process 40,000 letters per hour.

The wear and tear on bearings, pulleys, belts, and gates demands constant predictive (PdM), preventive (PM), corrective (CM), and operational maintenance (OM). The alignment of optical character readers and ink jet printers is crucial to maintaining an overnight delivery score of 96 percent.

There are hundreds of associate offices, stations, and mail processing facilities in the Tidewater and central Virginia area. The world’s largest address database resides in computers that communicate with all of the machines to make accurate delivery possible. This is just a small picture of the 24 hour, 365 day activities and assets that maintenance must oversee.

Craft employee training
Craft employees receive general electromechanical and electronic training and experience in trade schools or military service just to qualify to be on a hiring register. They attend specialized training in our technical training center in Norman, OK, for months. They have their hands on our machines every day; they see the shapes, sizes, and colors of mail pieces that our optical character readers see at holidays and sweepstakes mailing times. They are well prepared to do the job.

It all seems simple, and many maintenance management professionals know and practice this. But it takes more for this to be successful. Management cannot just hire, train, and turn craft employees loose, then expect them to “buy in.” For buy-in to happen, management must “push down” to the lowest level—push down ownership, accountability, goals, the big picture, the good and bad news, communications, and recognition.

The demographics of our employees reflect their maturity, with many close to retirement, as well as a sense of security, with great health insurance, leave benefits, and union representation. It would be easy for management to continue operations on a day-to-day basis knowing that momentum alone would get the job done, despite inefficiencies or employee shortcomings.

The Postal Service is perceived as a business; there is competition, and many corporate goals now include exceptional performance and austere measures. Many savings opportunities present themselves in more efficient delivery and customer service functions, and additional revenue generation. Maintenance must contribute to this endeavor and, as such, we have adopted this pushing down philosophy.

Machine ownership
The most important component is ownership—an individual’s relationship with a particular machine. A maintenance employee is assigned to a machine and performs all the predictive and preventive maintenance on the nonproduction tour. He receives written performance reports on a daily basis that include jam rate, throughput, and other machine errors. Reports outlining machine performance are posted in high traffic areas for all to see.

Employees who have participated in this process have opened dialogues with production employees, asking for input and advice on optimizing equipment performance. Some production employees now do OM on assigned machines and have a bond with the employees who performed PM on them. There are exchanges between management and craft employees on opportunities to improve performance. Electronic technicians and mechanics not only see the fruits of their labor, but more importantly, they understand their role and how other operations are impacted by maintenance success or failure.

This ownership has raised the bar for employees and brought them to new heights. One can speak in terms of accountability when ownership is granted. Good performance and bad performance can be objectively measured and attributed to an individual. Corrections can be made, retraining is available, and results of these efforts are measurable. Some maintenance operations take this approach with ownership, but it does not end there.

Communication is vital
Employees may think the answer to their question of “Why ownership?” is answered by the above reasons. But there is more to pushing down than just ownership. Communication of goals to employees is important. We have consistently done that, and it is great when an employee knows the throughput goal is 39,000/hr or less than 3 jams/10,000 mail pieces. These figures provide a barometer for machine performance.

But we also communicate the big picture goals to maintenance employees. Delivery, customer and employee satisfaction, and income, expense, and revenue generation goals are related to maintenance employees on a daily basis; small gains are celebrated, knowing that we have contributed positively. When maintenance employees can speak with confidence on all aspects of our large business, then we have developed great ambassadors for the company and opportunities for individual success.

This retention of a broader knowledge of the Postal Service serves to enhance employee satisfaction and career development. When a maintenance person succeeds in other functions and creates a friendly bridge with other departments, all will benefit. So this ownership can go two ways—individuals owning machine performance and individuals owning a part of the organization.

The manager’s desk is full of information that can be pushed down, received via e-mails from within and messages from outside parties. Topics include past performance, future goals in all functions, revenue opportunities, safety directives mandating training and drills or citing accidents and suspected terrorist acts, sales pitches for the latest technical or diagnostic equipment, training initiatives from corporate employee development departments, etc.

What knowledge does each employee need to protect the company? Is it too much to disseminate all of it or will employees suspect a cover up when items are withheld? It is unlikely that management would be lucky or skilled enough to hit on the exact amount of information for every employee to optimize use of this information.

So it is better to err on the side of too much. Employees will sift through what is presented and retain the greater part of what is important and plant the seed in their minds for what can be held aside. Many employees will be able to say they heard or read something based solely on their brief exposure, even if the information is not digested thoroughly.

Employees should be presented at all opportunities with information that paints the big picture, not just maintenance and technical data. All the buzzwords such as “outside the box” and “moving cheese” and whatever mantra the corporate libraries lend guide us to the same basic duty to our employees—communicate.

Recognition is fun
The last obvious part of pushing down is recognition. This is the fun and easy part. Decide what is appropriate and proceed in a timely manner. Many of the trinkets offered in incentive catalogs have some technical or useful aspect to them. Compact tools, flashlights, etc., with your maintenance mission statement, corporate logo, or safety reminder printed on the side are great for small accomplishments. If the bar is raised, elevate to gift certificates to a mall or restaurant and cash awards. Recognize the employees at the weekly stand up or safety talk.

This will complete the process of pushing down ownership, responsibility, expectations, and reward. The employee will buy in. MT

Norm Koslow is a maintenance engineering specialist at the U.S. Postal Service, 1801 Brook Rd., Richmond, VA 23232-9731; (804) 775-6102

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An important component in the maintenance program is ownership—an individual’s relationship with a particular machine. A console on a flat sorting machine (left) is one of three feed consoles that sort large letters, magazines, etc. The transport area of a multiline optical character reader (center) carries letters through the OCR that sorts letter mail by reading typed and handwritten addresses and moving them to 44 stackers. Components of the delivery bar code sorter (right) in the reader section are shown. A maintenance employee is assigned to a machine and performs all the predictive and preventive maintenance on the nonproduction tour.


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4:23 pm
May 1, 2004
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The Future of Asset Management

Strategic asset management integrates all aspects of an organization into the process, easing the implementation and leading toward financial success.

Strategic asset management (SAM) is a broader vision for asset management than previously has been articulated. SAM is an integrated set of processes that systematically derive the highest value from plant assets through a consistent philosophy, plans and objectives, and cooperative involvement by everyone in the plant.

For strategic asset management to be successful, it must have three key elements: lead, execute, and enable (Fig. 1).

Leadership in the plant involves creating consistency of purpose and action. Manufacturing is a set of complex and interrelated systems of marketing, technology, finance, human resources, execution functions, and equipment. Physical asset management must take all of these into account.

Putting things as simply as possible into the SAM model, leading consists of the managing system, strategic planning, and information management.

Managing system. Disciplined, aligned action is the underpinning of any human endeavor. That is the purpose of the managing system (Fig. 2). Among the elements found here are:

• Top down and cascaded goals. Goals of profitability at the company level become volume and product mix goals for the plant. At the unit level, these become volume goals, equating to equipment availability and product quality goals. For the operator, these become daily production and equipment surveillance goals. For the craftsman, they become equipment condition goals.

• Plan, do, review. Even a planned and scheduled job does not improve the system without a review process to examine the effectiveness of the plan, the execution of results, and a critical understanding of what is happening with the equipment.

• Measurement systems. Assuring that in addition to outcome (lagging) indicators, each job in the plant has process (leading) indicators will enable each worker to make a more positive contribution.

• Reward systems. A plant may reward behavior through promotion, admiration, or overtime pay. However, be careful that the reward systems actually encourage proactive behavior. Proactive maintenance cannot happen in a reactive managing environment.

• Clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities. If job expectations are not clear and results are not measurable, there is muddled accountability. Because fingers point in all directions, being proactive in such a system takes more courage than most people will risk.

• Feedback. This is part of the plan, do, review process but it gets special emphasis. We shape behavior by giving honest feedback without punishment. Under the right circumstances people want to improve. Leadership fails if it does not capture that spirit.

Strategic planning. In every plant environment there are the same (legitimate) complaints: “Improving maintenance is important, but we just do not have time. We have four major plant initiatives and five corporate initiatives and do not know how any of them are going to get done!” Or, “Everything we do is a ‘flavor of the month.’ We seem to start lots of stuff, but never finish.”

The product of functional strategic planning is alignment around a multi-year improvement plan. To get alignment requires more than a few words in a book; it requires that every level of the organization believes the plan makes the best use of the company’s resources. This means there must be a real and compelling business case for the senior executives. For plant executives, it means working on those things that are most practical and that make a difference in daily control of the work and reduction of variance. For the staff, it means an understanding of the support they must render to enable the plan to be successful.

Creating the strategic plan involves:

• Benchmarking the function. Where are we today? What are the measures saying?

• Developing a vision for the future of plant operations. This difficult task sometimes requires “industrial tourism” to see the bigger picture, and using outside help to understand what is possible. This part has to be done right, or the plan will fall apart.

• Identifying gaps. Where do we fall short of the vision?

• Identifying strategies to close gaps. It would be easy to shortcut this task, but it is one strategy that may cover several gaps. For instance, a distributed control system may be a strategy that helps with product quality, product mix direction, faster changeovers, and equipment condition monitoring.

• Describing projects to implement strategies. This can be a creative step—an integrating force. For instance, a planning and scheduling project may combine with a safety improvement initiative, or a preventive maintenance improvement may combine with an ISO calibration standard.

• Developing the implementation plan. This step will require resources—do not shortcut or lowball what the implementation will require.

• Developing the business case. Integrating the initiatives into a single strategic plan can avoid the silliness of double-counting for results. Was contractor reduction due to the purchasing initiative or planning and scheduling? No one will care, as long as the goals for contractor reduction were met, and the project stayed within the resource guidelines requested and approved.

• Creating the implementation governance structure. Plant leadership integrates the strategic plan into the annual planning cycle, and the entire managing system is engaged to see that the results of the strategic plan have accountabilities built into the entire organization.

Information management. As of the end of the last century most plants are working with an ERP system. Initial results are typically negative—the new system is hard to use and it is difficult to get reports. But slowly organizations learn to live with and even like the new systems.

A deficiency typically found in IT is confusion regarding the difference between the system and the tool. The system is a set of internal processes and procedures. The tool may be the SAP PM module. When actual work process and methods are not reflected in the tool, the disconnect creates great dissatisfaction and waste; when integrated, there is great synergy to get information to manage the business.

Four areas are the typical focus of the execution of the SAM process. If done well, they lead to excellence.

• Capacity development is usually considered to be the design engineering and project management function, which consumes millions of dollars in what are often risky bets made on optimum market assumptions. A thoughtful and disciplined method to assure excellence in the assumptions, design, construction, and preparation for production can be a valuable tool.

• Production management is the vehicle for value creation. Everyone in the plant understands that production is the reason for being.

• Asset healthcare management might be considered maintenance and reliability, but it is concerned with optimizing and integrating all parts of the business based on risk and value and so goes beyond the traditional boundaries of maintenance and reliability.

• Logistics include materials management, purchasing, and movements of people and materials. This function can make or break the production and asset healthcare management functions.

For an image of how these four components of the execute level work, visit

Many programs for change are viewed as a simple matter of documenting procedures and providing training. If these things are done, change should happen.

However, human nature does not work that way. Prescriptive formulations may work for machinery, but the human machine is more complex. Some criteria for change of any kind to take hold in the plant are:

• Intellectually it makes sense to the plant population. The workers must understand that improved productivity will likely result from the program.

• The plant population has a major say in how it will happen. They have the power, collectively, to determine whether it will proceed and how it will proceed.

• The plant population sees true commitment to the results, which could mean an executive’s future is tied to making this happen, it has worked somewhere else that is similar to their environment, the leadership team are all on board with no quibbling or sidebars, the results are measured and posted at visible locations in the plant, or valuable line people are assigned to the job, taken from other important tasks.

Enabling employees to execute the plan works best when three elements are in play: consensus, peer support, and empowerment.

Consensus. Both leaders and workers should have some sort of a say. The plant’s leadership team, at the appropriate level, must have consensus to proceed. Do not violate the cardinal rule: Anyone who has not been consulted does not feel he has to support the decision. No matter how assured the person at the top of the organization is that the group will follow the decision, lack of commitment by the entire leadership team is the number one cause of failure for improvement initiatives.

In many cases, leadership wants the hourly workers to be willing to change; the hourly workers in turn challenge leadership to do its job and lead with strength of purpose, consistency, and high standards. The assessment process brings these views together, enabling them to see they want the same results: a productive, safe, and competitive workplace where people are valued.

Peer support. It is also important to develop a workable process and passionate owners. Most plants have a work process design phase. The designers, typically a team of 8-10 part-time people, represent all types of jobs and all levels of the organization. This team goes through the forming, storming, norming, and performing stages of development. They should be prepared for the “J curve” effect (they go down emotionally before they go up). Their product is a completely thought out work management process, with all the details that will enable it to work in their environment.

Usually the product is 95 percent the same at any plant. The 5 percent difference is critical, though, in making the process work. The most important result of the design is a team of people who see the future and are passionate about making that future happen.

Only when workers see peers passionate about change will they pay attention. Outsiders (consultants) are seen as nuisances to be avoided. But if a respected peer is deeply committed to a new method of work, team members will pay attention.

Empowerment. Empowerment has a bad connotation from the failures of quality programs in the 1980s and early 1990s. The popular method of empowerment was a week’s worth of training in “soft skills,” and an admonition that employees should step up and be their own bosses. The result was lack of direction, anger, disempowered supervisors and management, and a decrease in productivity. Empowerment as implemented not only did not work, but it made things worse.

Actual empowerment is enabling a worker to do more and to take responsibility for his own performance. This is best done with a disciplined, well-defined system that the worker can follow and be successful in.

Next, the worker should be successful in an expanded role. It is possible that employees can work at much higher levels than they are today. (See accompanying section “Roles of Employees in Reactive vs Proactive Environments.”) Changing these roles is partially a matter of removing obstacles to being proactive and clarifying expectations, roles, and responsibilities. But to a significant extent there is a requirement to assist people to be able to fill new roles. This requires training, coaching, and testing the limits of the individuals in the job. Some operators are mechanically inclined, and some are not. Some will be eager to take on new roles, and some very resistant. Development takes time and energy for a supervisor to be able to understand what is possible and work with each person on a specific development program, customized to the specific task, and the native abilities of the worker.

Finally, a worker needs the tools to understand whether he is mastering the job including measures, feedback, coaching, and encouragement. Empowerment is the result of a disciplined system of work, not a prerequisite.

Leadership alignment around the strategic direction of the organization may be the single most important result of implementing the SAM model. This cohesiveness within an organization will lead to financial results as well. Fig. 3 depicts an actual cost/benefit analysis detailing financial benefits from increased efficiency and increased plant capacity vs the costs of implementing the SAM model over a period of a number of years.

SAM emphasizes a logical approach to best practices. However, functional excellence will never be enough to be the best. Leadership brings all the pieces together in an optimized set of systems, especially through the managing system and strategic plan. Also, success will follow if workers endorse and participate in the process. They must be enabled to bring the desired success. MT

S. Bradley Peterson is president of Strategic Asset Management, 25 New Britain Ave., Unionville, CT 06085

Strategic Asset Management


Fig. 1. Implementing a successful strategic asset management program involves three key elements: lead, execute, and enable.

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The Managing System


Fig. 2. Under the new lead element, the managing system will allow the plant capability to continually be evaluated and improved.

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Cumulative Cost/Benefit for Implementing Strategic Plan


Fig. 3. According to this actual cost/benefit analysis, the benefits to implementing the SAM model outweigh the costs over a period of years. Note: Gross capacity evaluated at $10/BEQ margin.

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Roles of Employees in Reactive vs Proactive Environments


Reactive Environment

Proactive Environment


Component replacer

Troubleshooter/RCF analyzer


Victim, problem identifier

Proactive worker, minor maintenance



Work enabler, coordinator, troubleshooter



Equipment defect elimination/optimization





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Characteristics of Success

Any useful model to guide action will have several characteristics:
• Simplicity. All of the greatest ideas are simple in concept. If not kept simple, they are not fully understood or remembered and fail as guiding principles.
• Intuitiveness. Readers should be able to understand the underlying principles without guidance.
• Utility. The model should work consistently in application.
• Completeness. All necessary elements of success should be contained.

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