By Gary Mintchell, Executive Director
I am passionate about technology. Have been most of my life. But I have enough practical experience to know the limits of applying technology in manufacturing. During a busy week from the end of January through the first of February, I had the opportunity to witness the opening of a technology center and then interview several people for podcasts.
Safety is one of the pillars of good manufacturing, as well as good maintenance and reliability practice. When I interviewed Steve Ludwig, Rockwell Automation Safety Programs Manager, for a podcast just before writing this column, he mentioned that most safety incidents now seem to occur when the machine is down for maintenance.
I started recording podcasts in 2006. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it’s a little like radio talk shows (only in my case, not about politics or sports). I listen to podcasts daily as learning tools. Tekzilla is a good one for technology geeks, and Revision 3 produces many more technology podcasts. For mine, sometimes it’s an audio essay, and sometimes it’s an interview. You can find me on iTunes, or go to automation.libsyn.com.
Ludwig and Mark Eitzman, Safety Market Development Manager at Rockwell Automation, chatted with me about a tool they developed called the Safety Maturity Index (Gary on Manufacturing 138 podcast). They had identified three Cs about safety programs—Compliance, Culture, Capital—and developed a scale where companies could rate themselves. Then, the companies could upload the grading anonymously and compare to other companies. Rockwell is a technology company (Capital), but upon investigation discovered that developing good compliance procedures and building the right culture mattered as much as technology.
Todd Gordon leads the computer/instrument team at the We Energy Corp. power-generation plant in Milwaukee. He discovered that the plant’s instruments were HART-enabled. HART is a digital protocol that rides along with the usual analog signals on the same wire. The protocol includes information about the device status, as well as diagnostic information. Combined with FDT technology to display the information, Gordon discovered that the technology prevented numerous shutdowns. We recorded a podcast (No. 137) that also can be found at automation.libsyn.com.
Embracing the appropriate use of technology will do more to elevate the professional status and effectiveness of maintenance and reliability teams than anything other than team-leadership skills. Gordon’s experience from actual practice provides additional credibility for this view. He cited one example of a new boiler that had start-up problems. Supplier engineers were stumped. He accessed the device network and looked into the status of the valve positioners in question. Turns out the valves were sticking. With both problem and solution at hand, the start-up proceeded rapidly.
My last trip was to Austin, TX, to attend the Grand Opening of Emerson Process Management’s Innovation Center. The company’s Austin-based staff was moved to a larger campus in Round Rock—across the street from Dell Computers. Michael Dell himself spoke at the ceremony, along with Texas Governor Rick Perry. The $70 million investment includes a Customer Collaboration Center complete with a working Integrated Operations Center (iOps). This is a technology that enables collaboration among operations, maintenance, planning, engineering and others to solve problems.
I welcome ideas and feedback. You can send an email, message me on twitter @garymintchell, or message me on LinkedIn. MT&AP