Archive | September, 2004


2:46 am
September 2, 2004
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Asset Management Approach Transforms Maintenance

From its base in Evansville, IN, Vectren Resources, a $2 billion utility, provides electricity or natural gas to nearly two-thirds of Indiana and 16 counties in Ohio, servicing more than 1 million energy users.

On the electric power side of its business, Vectren operates two power plants, which together use five coal-fired units and six gas turbines to produce about 1400 MW of generating capacity. Keeping these plants running continuously and efficiently is vital. Vectren also sells power on the wholesale market where availability has tremendous financial implications.

“We spend a lot of money maintaining our plants to be sure that they are available when the demand calls for it. Our challenge is to reduce our overall operations, maintenance, and capital spending while keeping the availability high,” said Vectren reliability engineer, David Reherman.

Streamlining the maintenance process
To meet this challenge, Vectren management set out to eliminate inefficiencies in scheduling maintenance, ordering parts, and keeping track of completed work. The process of revamping maintenance operations at its electrical power facilities began in mid-1999 with an evaluation of procedures. To complicate matters, data, labor, and parts are managed in two separate locations about 30 miles apart in the Evansville area. The A.B. Brown and F.B. Culley facilities combined have more than 6000 unique assets and 33,000 individual spare parts. Changing the management of these assets and parts impacts the daily work activities for about 225 maintenance personnel.

According to company officials, the evaluation process was driven primarily by the need to streamline maintenance work and equipment processes more than by any explicit requirements for software functionality. “We weren’t necessarily looking to switch from our old software. It was really more a case of asking ourselves how we could develop a maintenance model that would help us drive down the cost of doing unplanned work and allow us to improve the ratio of planned to unplanned work,” said Gary McCarty, maintenance supervisor at the A.B. Brown facility. “At the end of the process, though, it did become clear that a new maintenance software solution was in order. The trick was to find a tool to help us do this without compromising the process.”

New program benefits
After evaluating several offerings, the Vectren management team chose Avantis software and the Avantis InRIM (Industrial Rapid Implementation Methodology) from Invensys Avantis, Burlington, ON. The software provides an enterprise database that enables Vectren to capture and analyze data about current and historical maintenance work. It also helps keep track of the cost of maintaining any piece of equipment, work orders and labor time, and key performance indicators (KPIs) and benchmarks throughout the maintenance operation.

The software also enables maintenance personnel to interface with other key programs—notably Oracle on the financial reporting, procurement, and accounts-payable side, and with the workforce time and resource planning/utilization software that the company uses.

The Windows look and feel of the software was a plus and helped Vectren to implement the rapid acquisition of replacement parts. “Previously, we would buy a part and it would just sort of disappear. Now, using the Purchase Item Catalog feature, it’s easy to find that part, to purchase it if it is not in our stock, and to keep track of it afterward,” said McCarty.

The software also helped the plants achieve a breakthrough in tracking data at the work order level. Previously, separating expenses from information about what planned and unplanned work was performed was the source of considerable frustration.

“Being able to track information about planned and unplanned work was one of the key performance indicators we were trying to improve on,” said Reherman. “Because of the way the software interfaces with the workforce time tracking program, we are able to get to this data more easily.”

Continuous improvement
After nine months of preparation, the system went live in July 2002.

“Using the program, we publish key performance indicators every two months. We look at work task backlog trends. We track the priority of work completed, so we know whether it was emergency, break-in, or scheduled and whether the work was preventive or corrective. We also get the top 10 system costs year to date and top 10 entity costs year to date that help us determine how to spend our operations and maintenance and capital dollars,” said Reherman.

With this type of information, Vectren knows that since July 2002, for example, it completed 12,000 work tasks; 7300 were corrective repairs and 3500 were preventive maintenance work tasks. In addition 250 safety work orders were completed.

“As planners and supervisors, we want to provide to the workforce the means to efficiently perform the task at hand by giving them all of the resources and information needed to do the job. The new software facilitates this and allows us to track what work was done, the costs involved, failure analyses, and even statistical information for us to do this job smarter if it shows up again. As the reliability engineer, I will be looking at and doing failure analyses to improve equipment performance and life expectancy,” said Reherman.

The success at Vectren is strong testimony to the value of approaching asset management solutions methodically with adequate planning, collaboration, and the right software solutions. Vectren has now completely transformed the maintenance operation at its electrical facilities. Its 225 maintenance workers have changed the way they work and are now actively engaged in the process of continuous improvement. They have better information about what work they have done, what needs to be done, and what can be done to make the process better. MT

Information supplied by Invensys Avantis, 880 Laurentian Dr., Burlington, ON L7N 3V6; telephone (905) 632-6015; e-mail

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9:15 pm
September 1, 2004
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Drive Package Cuts Auto Assembly Conveyor Downtime


The new drive package at Ford’s Michigan Truck Plant includes (front to back) Stearns 333-3 armature-actuated electric disc brake and a 2 hp right-angle helical bevel Rexnord gearmotor with High Efficiency EPAct inverter duty electric motor. Guards are removed to show the sprocket and chain.

A versatile drive replacement package that handles a variety of applications has reduced downtime, extended service life, and cut replacement costs at a major automotive assembly plant.

The package includes a helical-bevel gearmotor with a hollow shaft and motor brake. It replaces 10 different drive configurations on power roll bed conveyors and related material handling equipment. This project illustrates the ongoing effort to empower the company’s United Auto Workers (UAW) skilled trades personnel to partner with Tier 2 suppliers to solve maintenance problems, thereby increasing minimum time between failures (MTBF) on production equipment.

Skids hold vehicles on conveyors
Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Truck Plant, Wayne, MI, produces the Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator. Skids holding the vehicles in various stages of manufacture are transported on a series of power roll bed conveyors throughout the entire plant, from their start in the body shop, through the paint shop to their completion in the final assembly shop.

Drive systems for these conveyors consist of electric motors, speed reducers, chain and sprocket drives, and electric motor brakes that hold the skid-mounted bodies in place while assembly operations are performed. Similar gearmotor packages are used on Marmac lift tables in the paint shop as well as on pivot tables.

Problems developed
Previously, the number and variety of these gearmotor packages made spare parts stocking and replacement difficult, expensive, and time consuming. Several different speed reducers, each in right- and left-hand drive configurations with different shaft and sprocket sizes, as well as different brands and sizes of gearmotors used for roll beds, with a variety of horsepower ratios and frame sizes, added to the possibility of confusion when a maintenance worker went to get a replacement.

Another problem encountered with these conveyors was worn keyways, not only on the output shaft where the sprockets are mounted, but also on the input where the motor is mounted. These had been the weakest link. Less than half of the power roll bed conveyors are installed with a variable frequency drive (VFD) that gives them a soft-start capability. Without a VFD, the cycling on and off caused these keyed shafts to take a beating.

The accumulated stresses took a toll on the shafts and keyways of the gearboxes, but because many were behind braces or otherwise difficult and time consuming to inspect, frequent failures occurred.

The increased service factor of the new style gearmotor has solved this early-failure problem on the input shaft. On the output shaft, the problem has been solved by using keyless locking devices that hold the sprockets to the shaft with a fit in excess of a normal press fit.

The extra service factor capacity of the new drive package is more than enough to handle even the most severe applications. The worst cases were on the roll beds with a 1000 lb truck on urethane rollers and no VFD. Steel rollers would allow a load to slide and dampen the effect on the gearmotors, but with the urethane rollers, the load just stopped hard without sliding.

Another problem with the existing worm gear reducers occurred when a malfunction prevented the conveyor from running under its own power or caused a skid to be positioned incorrectly. In these cases, interaction of the worm gear sets made it impossible to push the loaded skid by hand in either direction. Backdriving, changing the reducer shaft position by rotating the output shaft, is simply not a capability of worm gear reducers. Often, it took four or five people to lift the skids up and pull them back into position.

In a few cases, when shafts failed, people simply removed the drive chain and pushed the vehicle bodies along the conveyor by hand temporarily, rather than shut down the line. The problem was especially acute in robotic areas, where light curtains prevented a maintenance worker from being in the area unless the equipment was shut down.



The adapter base speeds installation and alignment of the new gearmotor package in place of several others. Slotted holes make aligning sprockets easier.

Developing a universal package
After some research, it was determined that a single basic package would fit a broad range of applications by standardizing on a single hp size, ratio, and gearbox size, with only a few modifications in mounting. The package is built around a 2 hp right-angle helical bevel gearmotor from Rexnord, Milwaukee, WI, which incorporates a 2 hp High Efficiency EPAct inverter duty electric motor equipped with a Stearns 333-3 armature-actuated electric disc brake. The output shaft of the reducer drives a sprocket and chain that provides further reduction to the proper speed for each conveyor and pivot or lift table.

Among potential solutions, almost all manufacturers that mount integral motors directly onto their gear reducers use a key and pinion on the motor shaft. This new gearmotor uses a press fit to secure the pinion gear on the motor shaft which eliminates the possibility of motor shaft keyway failure. On the output shaft, the sprocket uses a Ringfeder shaft locking device, which eliminates output shaft key failures.

In order to support the “low or no” maintenance concept for this new drive package, the Stearns dc brake that was selected requires virtually no maintenance for 3 million cycles, an estimated 12-year life in this application. The brake is direct acting, with only two moving parts.

In operation, when electric power is applied, the armature is pulled by the electromagnetic force in the magnetic body, which overcomes spring action. This allows the brake’s friction disc to rotate freely. When power is interrupted, the electromagnetic force is removed and the pressure spring mechanically forces the armature place to clamp the friction disc between itself and the pressure plate.

This develops the force necessary to overcome any inertia that could cause the loaded conveyor to continue to move. In this application, the brake’s primary function is to hold the skid-mounted body in position until the operation at that location is complete, then release it so it can move on to the next station.

One problem with the previous motor brake was the failure of rectifiers, which were difficult to replace. Because they were in the end bell of the brake, and a brace was in the way, workers could not get to them. With the Stearns brake, the rectifier can be located either in the cabinet with the VFD or in the motor terminal box.

Now, if a rectifier has to be replaced, it takes only about 5 minutes. The brake originally was designed for high-cycling applications in the food and beverage industry and is one size larger than the application normally would require, which ensures service-free operation for 3 years under the plant’s demanding production conditions.


Benefits of new package
Among the benefits of the gearmotor are its greater torque and horsepower capacity, which provides a higher service factor and longer life, and its hollow double-tapered bushing output shaft design. It is easy to convert to either right- or left-hand mounting, and interchanges with previous drives by using adapter plates that are furnished by the gearmotor manufacturer. The Class 12 helical bevel gearing reduces energy costs significantly and, unlike worm gear drives, can be back-driven manually when necessary.

With the previous worm gear drives, there was no easy way to push a skid backwards if it had to be moved. Now with the helical gearing, all the workers have to do is pull the brake release, and the skid can be moved freely in either direction. This saves time and eliminates waiting for four or five people to come and help move it.

Although solid-shaft gearboxes are less expensive initially and therefore are used for original installations, the versatility and ease of replacement makes the hollow-shaft gearboxes less expensive overall as a retrofit item. With this hollow-shaft output feature, maintenance workers have the ability to change shaft sizes, from 1 in. to 11/2 in., so they do not have to stock multiple shafts.

For applications that require a specific shaft size, it is not necessary to buy a different gearbox but only an inexpensive bushing kit. The new gearmotor package accommodates seven different double-tapered bushing sizes and shaft diameters. While gearmotors with hollow output shafts are traditionally shaft-mounted, this application is unique because this gearmotor can be foot-mounted.

Previously, the company had at least 10 different combinations of gearbox brands, motor horsepowers, ratios, and mounting configurations, making it necessary to keep 10 spare gearmotors on hand at all times to be covered in case of failure. The hollow output shaft can be used for either right or left hand, so it cuts the required stock in half.


The new drive package has allowed the plant to reduce its inventory. By standardizing on a single gearmotor design, Ford can maintain a small inventory of different shaft sizes (inset) and two adapter plates that make it easy to replace gearmotors when needed. The versatility of the drive package allows stocking only a small number of replacements that will fit all applications, using different size bushings to accommodate various shaft sizes.

Now maintenance personnel can create their own shaft, slide it in, and put a sprocket on it. They can still foot-mount the gearbox rather than shaft-mount it, but now they can use an interchangeable shaft. They also can do away with the different ratios by changing the sprockets and keeping the speed the same within a few feet per minute. The steel rollers used on most conveyors allow enough slip to take up the slight speed differences.


By standardizing on a 1 1/4 in. shaft diameter hollow shaft for all replacements, the maintenance department now can inventory a small quantity of replacement shafts and sprockets and a few replacement gearboxes in the same configuration, all with a 30:1 ratio.

Because the new reducers are a helical bevel gear design, they will transmit torque more efficiently, with a higher output capacity than the previously used worm gear drives. This allowed Ford to standardize on this same 2 hp motor and brake, instead of the 3 hp motor used previously, on a 90 deg pivot table. The helical bevel reducers have a substantially higher efficiency than the previous worm gear reducers, which translates into a significant annual energy savings.

In addition, many gearboxes were failing every 3-6 months, incurring both the expense of a replacement unit and the 2-hour downtime cost every time one needed to be replaced. By contrast, some of the 29 new drives installed to date have been in service for as long as a year and a half without a problem. One unit was taken apart twice and inspected but did not show any measurable wear.

Easy installation
To make installation of the new drive packages easy, adapter plates with slotted mounting holes are provided. Only two different plates cover all 10 previous configurations, and the slotted holes simplify alignment. When the plant was built, it used two different roll bed designs, each with a different type of drive mounting. Now, a maintenance worker needs to know only the type in order to replace it quickly.

Formerly, aligning the sprocket used to take another 20-30 minutes. It was necessary to loosen the set screws and move the sprocket back and forth, and the set screws usually ended up on the bottom where they could not be reached easily. Now, the slotted adapter allows the worker to leave the mounting bolts loose until everything is lined up and then tighten the bolts down. To ensure uniformity, Rexnord sent a team to the Ford plant and trained maintenance workers and millwrights on all three shifts in the most efficient way to replace existing drives with the new design.

As a result of the success at the Michigan Truck Plant, two other Ford plants also are implementing the use of similar gearmotor packages. In addition, it is being shared with Ford plants worldwide as a Ford Best Practice. Although there may be some slight differences in weight or configuration, the body shops at all plants use the same type of roll bed and perform similar operations, such as installing doors. MT

Information supplied by Gene W. Pokes and Donna Akers , Rexnord, 4701 Greenfield Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53214; (414) 643-3000

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7:04 pm
September 1, 2004
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Assessing Your Training Needs

Facing the Facts About Maintenance Skills

• Most companies do not have fully skilled maintenance personnel.
• It is hard to fire everyone who is incompetent.
• Hiring skilled maintenance personnel is difficult.
• Most repetitious equipment problems that cost companies billions of dollars
a year are a direct result of skill deficiencies.
• A person that feels competent is a better worker and more easily motivated.
• Often maintenance personnel are disciplined by managers because of skill
deficiency, not because of a lack of concern or commitment.
• People become frustrated or stressed when they do not know the proper way
to do a specific task.
• Companies spend millions of dollars a year on maintenance training without
regard to the results expected from it or without a way of measuring results. (Money spent does not always equal value received.)



How do you know where to start with maintenance skills training? For many of us, that’s the million-dollar question. That training is needed is usually self-evident. But what kind of training, in which areas, and how much training are questions not easily answered. That’s what a needs assessment is about.

In the beginning
The first step in a needs assessment is to identify the problem. Then a needs assessment can determine if training will provide the answer.

As management looks at all aspects of its maintenance organization, it needs to find the answers to some basic questions:
• Will training resolve my problem?
• How much money will I save by implementing this training program?
• How much will the training cost?
• Is there a payback on this training?

Some hints at the answers to these questions can be found in a study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education with the Bureau of Census, to determine how training impacts productivity. Some of the eye-opening results were:
• Increasing an individual’s educational level by 10 percent increases productivity by 8.6 percent.
• Increasing an individual’s work hours by 10 percent increases productivity by 6.0 percent.
• Increasing capital stock by 10 percent increases productivity by 3.2 percent.

Of course, training alone is not sufficient. In most cases, training is only part of the real problem: the lack of an organized and disciplined maintenance process. The development and implementation of a maintenance skills training program must be part of a well-developed strategy. Skill increases that are not utilized properly will result in no changes. Once an individual is trained in a skill, he must be provided with the time and tools to perform this skill and must be held accountable for his actions.

Will training solve my problem?
To answer the question, we must look into the problem. We know from research that 70 percent of equipment failures are self-induced—that is, caused by the introduction of human error.

Not all self-induced equipment failures are maintenance related. Some will be induced by operator error, by being bumped, by vehicles or other equipment, etc.

Work orders are the best source of information to determine self-induced equipment failures. We must identify the true cause of the failures by randomly sampling the work orders of equipment breakdowns over a three-month period. The question to be answered: Was lack of skill (self-induced failure) the problem?

If lack of skill was the major problem, then you can easily estimate the losses due to lack of skill. First, add together the cost of production losses, the cost of maintenance labor, and the cost of repair parts. Then multiply this sum by the percentage of maintenance labor hours attributable to emergency self-induced breakdown work orders. The final figure will be a rough indication of what your plant skills deficit is costing you.

Perform a skills assessment
The skill level of the maintenance personnel in most companies is well below what the industry would say is acceptable. The technical training division of Life Cycle Engineering has assessed the skill level of thousands of maintenance personnel in the U.S. and Canada. The assessments indicate that 80 percent of these maintenance personnel scored less than 50 percent in the basic technical skills required to perform their jobs.

A maintenance skills assessment is a valuable tool in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a given group of employees in order to design a high-impact training program that targets those documented needs. The skills assessment should be based on the critical skills.

Maintenance personnel have often found it difficult to upgrade their technical skills because much that is available is redundant or does not take their current skill level into consideration. The assessment is designed to eliminate those problems by facilitating the construction of customized training paths for either individuals or groups based on demonstrated existing knowledge and skills.

When the assessment is used in conjunction with a job task analysis, a gap analysis can be performed to determine both what skills are needed in order to perform the job effectively and what skills the workforce presently has. All training must be based on a job task analysis.

You must then fill the gaps with training that is performance based. This analysis detail identifies the exact task needed in each skill area so that all training is developed based on the actual job requirements. Gap analysis also ensures that training is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission compliant.

Three aspects of assessment
Each skill area in a skills assessment should have three components:
• Written: Identifies the knowledge required for a specific skill. Theories, principles, fundamentals, vocabulary, and calculation should be among the skills tested.
• Identification: Assesses knowledge in specific skill areas. Employees are asked to name components and explain their uses in this oral assessment.
• Performance: Assesses the critical skills required. To analyze this aspect, employees carry out typical maintenance tasks in accordance with generally accepted work standards.

The written assessment may be proctored by the plant’s own personnel, but certified assessors from an outside agency or a local technical school should perform the identification and performance portions of the skills assessment. This practice ensures that the assessor does not have preconceived notions about what someone knows. Here is an example of why this precaution is important: During an assessment at a paper mill, the maintenance manager pointed to one of his employees and said, “See that man? He is the dumbest mechanic I have.” The results proved otherwise. Out of 250 mechanics he rated as the fifth most skilled.

The assessment data should be analyzed and compiled into a series of reports that depict scores in three ways:
• Company summary, showing a composite of all personnel tested
• Skill results, showing the scores of all personnel by subject area
• Individual results, showing scores of all tests by each person

The results should be shared with company management as well as with the individuals tested.

The assessment report becomes a benchmark study on the status of your existing maintenance workforce and is useful as the tool against which to measure progress or as the profile against which to hire new employees in order to round out the department.

After completion of the assessment process, you can begin to establish performance standards for each employee or for the group, develop a training plan to address the identified needs, develop curriculum to meet training goals, or deliver training in the targeted skill areas.

Increasing pressure to improve productivity and reduce costs is forcing organizations to search for innovative solutions. Targeted training is both effective and efficient, regardless of whether the goal is to design a full apprentice-to-journeyman program or just identify skills for high-impact brushing up.

Time and money spent on a training needs assessment will help you get the most out of the limited training dollars available by helping identify the training opportunities, allowing money to be allocated effectively. MT

Ricky Smith is the executive director of Maintenance Strategies for Life Cycle Engineering Inc. For additional information, contact Richard Jamison at 4360 Corporate Rd., Charleston, SC 29405; (843) 744-7110

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7:02 pm
September 1, 2004
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Five Steps to an Online Off-the-Shelf Portfolio of E-learning

Creating an e-learning program for your company can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. However, if you make the right choices up front, you can minimize hassle and still realize substantial return on investment.

Today there are hundreds of e-learning companies offering everything from off-the-shelf computer productivity courses to custom on-line universities. Just sorting through all of the options can eat up a substantial portion of your training resources.

Since we are focused on saving you time and money, our five-step process sticks to three major principles: online, off the shelf, and a portfolio from multiple vendors.

All of the courses for your portfolio will be delivered over the Internet. This makes it easier for users to learn from home or the road.

It also reduces the amount of cooperation you will need from the IT department. While looking at vendors, be sure that the purchasing and tracking also occur online.

Off the shelf
Custom-made courses are fantastic. However, they are also time-consuming, risky, and expensive. If you do not need industry- or organization-specific content, then you are better off going to the off-the-shelf offerings.

While off-the-shelf courses may not be precisely tailored to your company, they can be very cost-effective. The most common types of off-the-shelf courses cover computer skills, management, and regulatory compliance. If someone has written a book on the topic, there is probably an online course for it.

Multiple vendors
Since the e-learning industry is relatively young and changing rapidly, it is unlikely that you will find one vendor that meets all of your needs. One vendor may have fantastic computer skills courses but nothing for managers; another may offer stunning simulations but nothing for project management.

Our approach allows you to cherry-pick the best from each vendor while keeping the total number of vendors down.

The process
Our five-step process will help you identify what you are looking for and get the right courses at the right price while ensuring that your organization actually uses the e-learning once it is implemented.

1. Laying the groundwork. Determine what you are trying to achieve with e-learning and ensure that e-learning is in fact the most appropriate solution. E-learning works best with self-directed learners with intermediate level Internet skills who have a clear training need. Before researching vendors ensure the following:
• Your learning objectives can be met by off-the-shelf courses.
• Your users can (and will) use the Internet to not only complete the courses but in some cases purchase them.

It is also important to identify and communicate with your stakeholders at this stage. Be sure that you have discussed your initiative with your HR/training department, IT, the supervisors of the learners, and some of the learners themselves. By including your stakeholders at the beginning of the process, you make it much easier to gain their commitment later.

2. User profiles and selection criteria. The easiest way to come up with your selection criteria is to imagine that you are a potential learner or end-user. Identify the types of learners who will be using the content and create a sample profile for each one. These are called user profiles. A user profile will contain all of the relevant characteristics of that type of learner. It should include:
• Level of computer proficiency
• Software/hardware that they have access to
• Learning needs
• Motivation
• Logistical details (access to company credit card or expense account for online purchases)

Combine all of your user profiles to create selection criteria. This is a list of must-have characteristics that include technical, logistical, and financial considerations. Having an objective list of criteria in hand will make your decisions much easier and faster throughout this process. It is also a useful tool for communicating to your stakeholders that you understand their needs. The selection criteria may contain your learning objectives or you may already have a list of courses that you need to purchase.

3. Supplier short list. Start your search at or a similar Web site. Do not forget to examine your software, hardware, and equipment vendors as they may offer product training online.

At this point you want to eliminate as many vendors as possible, so do not waste time going into the courses. Either the vendor can meet your selection criteria or it cannot. Keep track of who you have eliminated and why to prevent backtracking later on in the process.

4. Test the offerings. Now go to each supplier and ask for demonstration accounts so that you can examine the courses in more detail. Once the sales representatives understand what you are looking for, they may be able to make your search more efficient.

When examining the courses, ask yourself if they meet the learning objectives and are appropriate to your organization and audience. A vendor may provide great content but its style may turn off your users. Ask selected end-users and stakeholders to review a few of the demonstration courses and provide feedback. Not only will this ensure that you do not select the wrong content, but it will generate additional buy-in down the road.

Try to use as few vendors as possible; however, an exceptional course may be worth the added hassle of managing one more vendor.

5. Deliver and upgrade. It is crucial to have an implementation plan. A solid implementation plan ensures that users get the benefit of e-learning with as little difficulty as possible. No matter how brilliant your courses are, they are a waste of money if no one uses them. Your implementation plan should account for the following:
• Presentation. How will you present information about the courses (how to order, who should use it, etc.)?
• Motivation. How will you get users in front of the courses?
• Instructions. What instructions will they need to purchase and complete the course? Will they need to keep track of user names and passwords?
• Feedback. How will you know if the program is working (surveys, interviews, supervisor feedback)?

You will need to have your IT department onside, as they will inevitably get calls from confused users. Help them by providing a support contact and communicating the process to your end-users up front.

Creating your own online university is time consuming and requires all of your organizational and management skills. However, the pay off is in the delivery of the right training to the right people at the right price. MT

Jason Lewis is a consultant at ExperiencePoint and has designed and developed online learning and management training. He can be reached at (602) 488-7786

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5:35 pm
September 1, 2004
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Maintenance Outsourcing Is the Answer, Or Is It?

There is no single position regarding maintenance outsourcing that is correct for all organizations. With this in mind though, I have always believed that there is tremendous value in retaining core maintenance competencies in capital-intensive industrial environments and developing internal maintenance expertise on equipment that is key to the manufacturing process.

To successfully support physical assets, a high level of knowledge and skill needs to be present, as well as a strong sense of ownership for the performance of the assets. To have an environment that emphasizes positive thinking and to incorporate continuous improvement into the way things are done it is imperative to look at the pros and cons of maintenance outsourcing before making your decision.

Work identification suggests that there is a minimum maintenance workload associated with the management of every physical asset. If this minimum workload was defined for all assets and an attempt made to balance the timing of this work, an optimal maintenance resource level for the organization could be determined. From a skill and ownership point of view, it makes sense to have a properly sized workforce to address the workload associated with these assets, generally leading one to recommend that these resources be internal. Peak workloads and noncore maintenance activities, such as carpentry and painting, can be contracted out, providing flexibility and allowing organizations to focus on building a knowledgeable and committed maintenance workforce.

In this case, maintenance contracting refers to an organization hiring external resources to perform maintenance, while the maintenance being performed remains under the direction of the corporation. Maintenance outsourcing means handing over accountability and responsibility for the entire maintenance process to a third party.

In the above scenario, I subscribe to maintenance contracting to address peak workloads and to gain access to specialized expertise. A maintenance outsourcing model could successfully be used to accomplish the same end, where a dedicated group of individuals from an external organization are assigned to the maintenance of specific assets. Outsource personnel could be provided incentives to develop a sense of ownership, training and, in time, the experience to develop expert knowledge and skill.

The caution, however, is that it is quite probable if externally owned and controlled, the personnel and therefore the expertise could be lost if and when the supply contract comes up for renegotiation. It is important to note that, typically, outsourcing resources also have a high turnover rate, making it difficult to create continuity with the equipment they are looking after.

There are key factors that are essential to consider prior to making any decisions:

• A major part of the outsourcing controversy stems from a lack of in-depth understanding by management of the many contributions maintenance can make to the success of the enterprise.

• Maintenance is too often thought of as a liability and not an asset; a service and not a business partner. As a result, there is limited investment in people providing the maintenance function. If companies do not invest in their people, they will not achieve a proficient, stable workforce and it will be next to impossible to develop personnel with the knowledge and skills required that allow companies to differentiate themselves from the competition.

• Many companies believe that the value of outsourcing lies in bringing process, technology, and practices to their plant. In reality, most outsourcing firms do not have a true understanding of the concepts of proactive, predictive, and process-based maintenance.

Successful companies that invest in sustainable growth recognize the strategic impact maintenance can have on their business and are prepared to invest in their own people, not advocate responsibility to a third party.

My core ideology is against maintenance outsourcing. However, I would be the first to admit that in some situations, a business case may exist to outsource. Some examples might include:

• A lack of sufficient skilled trades in a geographic area (ensure the outsourcing organization is not also restricted by geography otherwise it will be unlikely that you will get a better caliber of professionals for maintenance improvement initiatives).

• The nature of equipment maintenance required is highly cyclical with extended periods of low maintenance demand.

• The nature of the equipment is highly specialized where an external organization has the expertise and it is not cost effective to build it internally.

• The physical size of the facility is too small to invest in a world class maintenance function. MT
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5:25 pm
September 1, 2004
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Olympic Notes

bob_baldwinI had been looking forward to the Olympic Games of 2004 with the hope of being able to see some of the fencing, the sport I’ve been competing in, off and on, for about 50 years. This year’s games were expected to be special because for the first time, the United States was going into battle with a strong chance of winning several medals over the traditional powerhouses of Italy, France, and Hungary.

Unfortunately, I missed most everything because I was traveling and the hotel did not have the channels I needed for middle-of-the-night viewing of an obscure sport. However, I thought I could at least check out some of the action over the high-speed Internet connection in my room, but the Olympic feed did not take American Express, only Visa, which I do not have. Unable to identify myself as an American eligible to view the Olympic Internet feed licensed to the U.S., I had to settle for basic broadcast coverage, and very little fencing.

Now, let the sports metaphors, similes, analogies, and comments begin:

  • Success in not always proportional to available resources. Although the U.S. garnered more medals (103) than any other country, fourth place Australia was able to take home half as many medals (49) despite having less than one-tenth the population. Australians are effective in the maintenance and reliability arena, too. Monash University (, Australia’s largest, offers a number of distance learning opportunities in maintenance and reliability engineering at the graduate level in cooperation with the University of Tennessee.
  • Past success is no guarantee of future success. The favored American men’s basketball team went into the competition with a 109-2 record and came out with a 114-5 record, holding on to a bronze medal. If you have a great maintenance and reliability program and your equipment is in great shape, don’t assume it will continue as such. Performance will degrade unless you invest enough energy to resist the downward trend (check out “Time’s Arrow” on page 11).
  • Stars typically start early and train hard. Mariel Zagunis, 19, who won the women’s saber event, earning the first gold medal by an American fencer in 100 years, started fencing when she was 10 years old. Although we cannot begin training our maintenance stars that early, we can certainly train members of our current team, including ourselves, to Olympic standards. Tom Byerley’s comments on page 26 provide some suggestions of where to begin.

What is your training plan for 2008? How about the rest of 2004? MT


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5:24 pm
September 1, 2004
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Get Your Own E-Mail Address

The Internet has changed how information is accessed and e-mail has changed how information is delivered. These developments have been nothing short of revolutionary, and many people have derived tremendous benefit from this new medium.

In my business as an e-format business information publisher, we are facing huge challenges delivering our message to more than 30 percent of those subscribers who have actually requested it.

It is not hackers, viruses, or worms that block our e-mail messages. It is not the government or any law enforcement agency. Who is blocking e-mails from being delivered to more than 30 percent of the people who request it? It is the kid who runs your corporate computer network. He is empowered to decide what information gets through and what does not.

He may not like e-mail messages that include graphics and photos, so will block all HTML (Web-page type) formatted e-mails. He may not like plain text e-mails that have Web links, so will allow the message through, but will disable the hyperlinks.

Some corporate networks are so ultra-secure that even when a willing recipient and a willing sender cooperate directly to solve the problem, e-mail delivery is still not possible.

Not all the people who run corporate networks are kids with pocket protectors and X-Box fever but they all share a disdain for the flood of junk e-mail, or spam, and are doing the best they know how to control and contain it. Until an effective spam solution is found (don’t hold your breath), these network guardians will likely tighten access—not loosen it.

So what is a person who wants to be plugged into industry information and timely newsletters to do?

It is time to strike out on your own and get a free Web-based e-mail account from Yahoo! or Hotmail by Microsoft, or perhaps Gmail by Google. A list of dozens of free Web-based e-mail accounts is available at

By signing up for your own e-mail account you are now the master of your own communication domain. You get 1 GB of storage, spam filter, anti-virus scanning, and access to your e-mail from any Internet-connected computer from anywhere in the world.

Remember, everything you send or receive on your company’s e-mail system belongs to your employer and can (and will) be used against you if it suits the owner. In addition, you are a de facto company spokesman when using your employer’s domain e-mail. With a public e-mail like Yahoo! or Gmail, you speak for yourself and can expect privacy from your employer and others. When posting questions or comments on public message boards (see Online Maintenance Discussion Forums Offer Peer Advice) use your public e-mail account to avoid attaching your opinions and advice to your employer and speak for yourself.

You also can use your new e-mail address when requesting sales literature or filling out Web forms to avoid vendor contact at work. You can use it to store e-mails you received at work that you wish to keep for the future. If you happen to change jobs, you still have your public address and can maintain seamless communication. You also can use your public address on your updated resume to find a better job, one at a company that does not restrict Internet and e-mail functionality.

There are dozens of industry-based e-mail newsletters that deliver valuable advice and information that can help you do your job better and easier.

At Yahoo! you can even get your own name as an e-mail address (example: for just $30 per year. These premium accounts allow single e-mail messages up to 10 MB in size where most corporate networks lock out any messages over 5 MB, a relatively small file these days.

We generally disagree with anything that restricts communication and we support anything that empowers it. A public e-mail allows you to break the bonds that your employer feels are required to protect the company network. It also allows you to be who you have always been first and foremost—an individual. MT

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