Archive | August, 2007


6:00 am
August 1, 2007
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Addressing The Staffing Challenges Of A Global Market


Mike Laszkiewicz, Vice President, Customer Support & Maintenance, Rockwell Automation

Ninety percent of manufacturers are experiencing a shortage of qualified production employees—from machinists to technicians— according to a recent survey by the Manufacturing Institute. In fact, a National Association of Manufacturers report predicts that by 2020, U.S. manufacturing will need up to 10 million new skilled workers to meet needs. Rapid global expansion of manufacturing centers, experienced engineers retiring in droves and declining enrollment in U.S. engineering programs are fueling this trend. Because of the enormity of these issues, automation suppliers have to step in to help companies bridge the gap.

0807_staffing1In light of the pressure to consistently produce more quality products with a globally shrinking pool of time and resources, automation suppliers offer companies services and solutions that can be leveraged to increase employee expertise and ramp up productivity and profitability with fewer resources than ever before. These services offer specialized expertise across a wide range of technical domains, such as process production, safety, networks and security. The knowledge, tools and experience that suppliers offer can be the difference between struggling to make on-time delivery of orders and fully optimizing overall equipment effectiveness and return on net assets.

The keys to global success
Technology-enabled services provide options that help manufacturers achieve consistent quality and production levels across the globe. Remote monitoring allows companies to allocate their limited worker resources where they’re needed. This bolsters the bottom line because of decreases in downtime. Quality is impacted as well—problems that can go unnoticed by busy operators are caught by remote engineers that monitor for any deviation from normal operating parameters. An online knowledge base including application notes, error messages, problems/solutions, release notes and downloads with an easy to use and flexible search engine is also key to putting all locations on an equal footing.

Despite technology allowing 24/7 service from anywhere, it’s still important for automation providers to offer local engineers delivering technical services and training, in local languages. Local service locations, remanufacturing hubs and training facilities are one way to ensure quick response and service times—key in a world that demands on-time delivery of products and services. A global account manager who can speak to what a customer is doing anywhere in the world is also a vital part of global consistency and effectiveness.

The diminishing expertise in the workforce makes it even more important for service vendors to be ready to help customers accomplish larger tasks, like migrating from legacy systems or maintenance programs. Companies can’t spare the manpower or keep up with the rapidly changing technology of today’s automated systems. Often the only way to get these efforts accomplished with little to no disruption to plant operation is to turn to a third-party service provider.

Bridging the gap
This shortage of skilled manufacturing workers is daunting. At Rockwell Automation, we view it as quite possibly the single largest issue the industry faces. Reputations are built on delivering quality goods on time to a global network of customers. An unskilled or understaffed workforce makes that extremely difficult.

Options exist to address these issues. Engaging a service partner that can provide technologyenabled services, skilled resources and training on a consistent global basis to bridge the gap between manufacturers’ global needs for staffing and the existing labor force is extremely effective.

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6:00 am
August 1, 2007
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Building Relationships With World-Class Suppliers


Rick Page, Vice President Marketing, John Crane America

The challenges Maintenance and Reliability Professionals face in today’s business environment are daunting. Not only are they being asked to do more with fewer people, but hiring well-qualified people is increasingly difficult. Expectations are much higher with respect to plant productivity, health and safety and environmental compliance. To add even more complexity, equipment suppliers are introducing new technologies at an accelerating pace. Invariably, these technologies overlap, leaving multiple choices available for a given application.

Evaluating your options
It is more important than ever that Maintenance and Reliability Professionals maintain strong relationships with world-class suppliers who not only can offer the full range of technologies, but also can make educated recommendations as to the most cost-effective solutions for a given application. For example, let’s look at the mechanical seal technologies that can be applied to pumps handling environmentally sensitive process fluids covered by EPA’s Clean Air Act:

  • Single seals generally are preferred by pump users, the advantages being simplicity and potentially lower life-cycle cost (LCC). Single seals have been proven to perform to low emission levels, in compliance with regulations. Data, however, also shows the potential for significant variability in emission readings during upset conditions, which can trigger an LDAR event, even though the seal may be capable of recovering once conditions return to normal.
  • Dual seals with a buffer/barrier liquid are used to contain leakage from the inner seal during upset or failure, and built-in alarms notify the control room of a problem. Various arrangements are available, including un-pressurized buffer systems (API Plan 52) and pressurized barrier systems (API Plans 53A/B/C and 54). Despite their widespread use, dual seal arrangements generally have higher initial cost and ongoing maintenance disadvantages associated with the care and feeding of the liquid buffer/barrier fluid reservoir. In some cases, though, they remain the best solution.
  • Dry gas seals with specially designed lift-off groove patterns on the seal faces are extremely effective in containing environmentally sensitive products, and require only a simple pressurized gas barrier system (API Plan 74) to act as the barrier fluid. Dry gas seals can operate maintenance-free for years. While they may carry a higher initial cost, their total LCC is low.
  • Secondary containment seals with lightlyloaded dry-running outboard seals also are effective at containing emissions from the inner seal, diverting them to vapor recovery or flare. They utilize a simple leakage diversion system (API Plan 76), leading to a reliable system at low LCC.

Making informed decisions
Which technology is best? It depends on any number of application variables. Only a global supplier of all available technologies with access to real-world data can make a truly objective recommendation.

At John Crane, we maintain databases detailing hundreds of thousands of specific seal installations around the globe. For the 200,000+ applications where we also contract to deliver reliability improvement services, we have additional insight into RCFA performed by on-site engineers, MTBR trends by customer and by application and adoption rates for various technologies. This accumulated knowledge provides direction for our application recommendations, new product development and technology research. I suspect other global equipment manufacturers have similar capabilities.

Maintenance and Reliability Professionals should take full advantage of the comprehensive knowledge bases available to them through their global suppliers to select the best technologies at the lowest LCC based on real-world experience.

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6:00 am
August 1, 2007
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The Road To Sustainability Is One Truly Worth Traveling


George Dettloff, President and CEO, SKF USA Inc.

If “sustainability” is not yet part of your organization’s lexicon, it likely will be very soon. Proactive sustainability programs aim to help businesses become more productive and competitive, safeguard natural resources, cultivate community outreach and involve employees as valued partners. For all the right reasons, sustainability is gaining share-of-mind among forwardthinking companies around the world, regardless of their market sector or industry.

Capturing the benefits
Benefits derived from sustainability initiatives can extend throughout all aspects of an organization. For the maintenance function, the road to sustainability offers opportunities to move in more effective strategic directions and develop more efficient approaches. Along the way, operations can realize measurable energy savings, improved equipment reliability and a smaller environmental footprint.

The outlook for industry, in particular, and the world, in general, brightens whenever the concept of sustainability is embraced, goals are identified and meaningful programs are fully integrated into an organization. In our case, we have made great strides since becoming the first bearings manufacturer to achieve group certifi- cation to ISO 14001, the international standard for environmental management systems. In 2006 we reached yet another milestone when, for the seventh year in succession, parent company SKF AB was recognized in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes.

Such distinctions combined with a long history of sustainability-related experience have instilled us with keen insights into how the process of sustainability can best fulfill its promise. Our experience further has led us to one of many important conclusions: Sustainability is good for maintenance.

As an example, a top-to-bottom energy and environmental analysis typically serves as a starting point on the road to sustainability. This type of analysis is intended to evaluate highenergy consumption areas, lubricant use and other operating processes with an eye toward meeting sustainability objectives.

A real-world example
Illustrating the benefits in the world of maintenance, an analysis performed recently for one of our customers ultimately led to a cut in lubricant consumption for plant machinery by 18%. This was followed closely by a significant reduction in the time and money previously spent for associated lubrication-related maintenance.

Even more dramatically, overall production eventually rose by 30%. This was accomplished by repositioning equipment maintenance practices to reliability-centered paradigms driven by condition-monitoring technology. Recurring and costly unscheduled downtime for machinery virtually vanished.

Developing your roadmap
How an organization maps and implements a viable sustainability program will depend on a wide range of factors, not the least of which is an organization’s culture. Clearly, there is no “one size fits all” blueprint for success. But, the road to sustainability—by whatever route—is well worth taking.

For our part we have logically organized our established sustainability program under four umbrella cornerstones: Business Care, Environment Care, Employee Care and Community Care.

In Business a key mission is to partner expertly with customers to develop environmentally and economically sound solutions for industry challenges. Under Environment, our everyday job is to minimize negative impact, exceed goals and set a shining example. Our Employee approach seeks to encourage pride, loyalty, dedication and full potential. For the global Community, our mandate is to serve as “good neighbor” around the world.

Perhaps the most meaningful way to view sustainability and the intrinsic potential can be summed up quite simply: Sustainability is not about us, it’s about all of us.

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6:00 am
August 1, 2007
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Uptime: I Want America Back!


Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Remember when we, our businesses, our industries, our government and our educational institutions focused on the fundamentals—the basics? Things seem to be different today.

These days, the very foundation of what made America strong has been eroded to the point that we often feel like hapless victims of self-serving decision-making and lack of informed leadership. Although we should hold bragging rights as the most productive, reliable plants and facilities in the world, in reality, our capital-intensive businesses and industries are at more risk today than ever before. What a discouraging state of affairs given all the reliability-enhancing tools and methodologies that have blossomed in the past 20 years.

Maintenance methods and process reliability have improved significantly with the advent of state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies. For example, ultrasonics let us detect problems that we normally cannot spot with our senses, including leaking valves, loose and arcing electrical components and high-frequency warnings in hard to access places. Vibration analysis technology lets us peer into machinery components to detect the earliest signs of deteriorating bearings, looseness and out-of-balance conditions that we could not detect otherwise. Oil analysis, among other things, helps us understand the amount of wear on specific components inside gearboxes and hydraulic systems. Infrared thermography provides insight into temperature differentials that can cause mechanical and electrical equipment failures. The list of these types of invaluable maintenance tools goes on and on.

0807_uptime1Where’s the gap?
What good is all our superior technology if a mechanic does not know how to properly inspect, remove, replace, repair, adjust or calibrate a problem component? What good is this technology if a technician does not know the inner workings of the machines and components he/she is analyzing in order to pinpoint problems and their root causes?

A workforce clearly can be trained on the reliability tools that are available to them—and how to interpret the reports these tools generate. But, without the F-U-N-D-A-M-E-N-T-A-L-S, the basics of good maintenance methods AND equipment-specific skills and knowledge, such a workforce becomes little more than an army of parts changers that can only hope whatever problems erupt will eventually be corrected.

Back to the basics
We have addressed the deterioration of our education and training systems in prior columns. Now, let’s explore this issue from a different perspective.

How did we learn to work on things when we were growing up? The answer will differ depending on our respective ages. For example, many of those who now are retiring from the workplace—in the 60- to 70-year-old age range— would say they learned to make, build and fix things from Dad, Grandpa, Mom, Uncles, Aunts, etc. They also would mention skills learned in school, shop class, projects and hobbies. This group grew up in the WWII era through the 1950s, when high school graduation became an important goal in America.

The number of high school graduates more than doubled between 1950 and 1975. With the “Baby Boom” generation came increased enthusiasm for education: a high school diploma was a must, and a college degree was viewed as THE ticket to success.

Back then there were three basic choices in school: college prep, general education or vocational education. Parents, teachers and counselors placed a high priority on “career” preparation versus “gainful employment” immediately after graduating. Yes, there still were those who finished high school and went to work in factories and mills with little or no advanced education. These individuals did fairly well—as long as the jobs remained stable. All of this has changed, however.

What’s different?
Three big factors are having a significant effect on established businesses in America today: Retiring or aging “Baby Boomers,” a society that values a college education at the expense of “career preparation” in a balanced social-economic system and disconnected decision-making by politicians (our “representatives”) and corporate leaders. Just look at what’s happening.

The high school dropout rate has soared to 30%. Yet, while these dropouts and a large number of public school students are denied meaningful and appropriate educational preparation, our public school systems are continuing to strongly promote the importance of “college education” for all.

0807_uptime2School teachers of today can’t easily deviate from standardized curriculums in their classes. Federal and state governments base their financial support of schools on student test scores as a determination of the effectiveness of teachers and schools.

The much-heralded No Child Left Behind initiative emphasizes test scores and college preparatory studies. But, if a parent doesn’t reinforce study habits, homework or meaningful class projects, or if teachers aren’t allowed to give homework, or if extra-curricular activities take time away from “education,” what do test scores really show? They truly say “Johnny has not learned…” Consequently, the bureaucrats and politicians seem to believe that “the schools are not doing their job and teachers aren’t teaching!” Pressure is then put on schools and teachers rather than on the real roots of the problem—on parents, societal pressures and the students themselves. As a result, the very system that was intended to advance good education is actually leaving many children behind—behind in careers and behind in life.

As educators we used to be able to recommend that some students were suited for “higher education” and college degree studies and others were better suited for “career preparation” and vocational- technical studies. In many states today, that approach is against policy or even illegal. Students can no longer be “tracked” into one educational path or another. So, what happens to the “noncollege- bound” students? They struggle! What are their options? Do they even know what their options are?

Take the following example of educational dysfunction. Recently, a vocational high school serving an entire county school system in Michigan cut back on some of its traditional vocational programs (welding, auto mechanics) because of teacher shortages, fewer interested students and administrative decisions. One of these administrative decisions was based on the notion that the “automotive industry in Michigan is downsizing so we’ll need fewer mechanics.” Wait a minute!

Will people in Michigan be driving fewer cars and trucks? Will the need for automobile maintenance and repair decline because Michigan is making fewer vehicles? NO! But, that is the type of thought process that disconnects public education from the actual needs of society.

Big corporations also make changes that affect how things get done without considering or getting the buy-in from the people closest to what is being changed. Corporate decision-makers need to realize that the very wealth they hope to create is generated on the plant floors and not in the board rooms. Executives who think and plan in a vacuum often fail to develop the types of comprehensive strategies that allow them to obtain the results they desire. A strategy that does not engage the people closest to wealth-generating mechanisms and fails to gain their understanding and buy-in can be a prescription for disaster.

Many of our country’s decisions (i.e., laws and regulations) are made for political gain, often based on speculation rather than on comprehensive fact-based prescriptions for our Nation’s interest. Preparation for a “college education” is not the only answer for American competitiveness. Measuring a student’s progress through testing is not solely a function of teaching and curriculum effectiveness. Parent and family values play a key role too. That’s a fundamental part of the learning process.

What do we want?
You better believe it. I want America back! We need to take our country back from the disconnected decision-makers, policy-makers and self-serving politicians who are not looking out for our future life style and our national competitiveness.

I want school teachers, counselors and administrators to listen and respond to the needs of the communities they serve, not the politicians holding the purse strings. I want fair and balanced “career education” provided to school students beginning in the sixth grade. I want parents to realize that their future lifestyles, healthcare and social security, among other things, depend on the abilities of their children as meaningful and productive members of our society.

I want Johnny and Sally to learn that a vocational program can lead to secure and rewarding careers and that a one- or two-year post secondary vocational-technical is “college” too. I want employers to spend time with their local schools and boards of education to let them know what is required to be employed in their businesses. I want companies to offer field trips and tours of their workplaces not only to students but also to teachers, counselors and administrators.

I want America to continue to be the most productive nation in the world with a life style that commands respect. But, of course, that’s just me. That’s what I want.

What do YOU want and what are you willing to do about it?

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