Let’s speculate: You have an older facility, older equipment, some new technologies, a stable but aging workforce, and a compelling business case for improving machinery performance and reliability. Lower cost per unit produced, more throughput, or better on-time delivery are looming as the next business frontier. So, what’s next: more maintenance, newer equipment, more training?
These are the typical challenges and opportunities that face commercial and industrial facilities, mining and manufacturing, and a whole spectrum of other equipment-intensive businesses. The next steps could lead to breakthroughs or just more of the same.
Improving reliability almost always means improving (or changing) the way people think and work together toward common goals. While changing the way people think and work is a requirement for the move to new equipment and/or new technology, investing in new machinery and technology may not be the most efficient and effective option.
Improving the performance and reliability of the existing facility and equipment is another option to seriously consider. In many cases, this may be the fastest, lowest cost, most sustainable option.
No matter what path you take, a change in the way people think and work is required. That’s a culture change. Let’s explore a case example for improving the performance of an older plant while simultaneously creating a reliability improvement culture.
1. Prepare a compelling business case for change. Be ready to answer the most basic questions your workforce, supervision, and management will ask: Why change the way we are doing things? What’s the hurry?
Having a “compelling business case for change” is the most critical factor for fast and sustainable change. To answer the “why change, what’s the hurry” questions, be prepared to have evidence of the need to improve efficiency and effectiveness and/or to reduce costs.
A centerpiece of this approach is to have examples of specific reasons that the improvements are needed. These reasons can reflect changes in the traditional market, new competition, negative customer feedback, or opportunities to grow the business.
In many cases, all of these combine into an easy-to-communicate-and-understand business case for change that does not sound like a veiled case for more corporate profits.
2. Focus on a breakthrough opportunity. Review the plant, facility, and/or equipment performance for apparent improvement opportunities, where any changes would be very visible, and where an “island of excellence” could be established and thrive. Significant improvements made in your facility, with your equipment and with your people, carry a lot more weight than case examples of what other businesses have accomplished.
Think small for big changes. Focus on a specific department, module, production line, or equipment. Rapid and sustainable change is made excruciatingly more difficult (and risky) by attempting to make plant-wide changes. Identify a real breakthrough opportunity where results can be observed within two weeks to two months.
3. Gather data, evidence, and facts to define the breakthrough opportunity. Compile 10- to 12-month summaries of the critical metrics in Pareto-chart format: production/throughput rates, fulfillment rates, quality rates, costs, utilization, downtime reasons, failures, and chronic repairs.
Some organizations have ready access to data sources. A large number of organizations have lots of data. However, it is cumbersome to access and difficult to understand. Regardless, start with the data, evidence, and facts at hand. This exercise can also lead to breakthroughs for establishing reliable and consistent data collection and analysis.
4. Assemble the multi-functional breakthrough team(s). Top managers, middle managers, front-line leaders, support-organization leaders, front-line workers (operators, maintainers, inspectors, material handlers, et. al.) comprise the ideal breakthrough team(s). People at all levels who directly and indirectly influence the performance and reliability of the selected facility, department, module, or production line must be fully engaged in the improvement process.
Breakthrough team recommendations should never be met with “they’ll never let us do that” comments. Whoever “they” are should be fully engaged in the breakthrough team processes. This establishes trust and credibility, and opens a meaningful dialogue about what it takes to actually improve performance and reliability.
5. Schedule an improvement workshop for the breakthrough team(s). Clear the schedule in the selected area, assure the availability of all the right people, and schedule a four- to five-day hands-on event. Communicate the basic “business case for change” and the purpose of the workshop to the selected people, as well as others in the facility.
6. Learn and apply fundamental improvement methods in the selected area. Now is the time for the breakthrough team(s) to hear and understand the reasons for change from the top management team. Then, discuss the selected area designated as the breakthrough opportunity using personal insights, opinions, and the data, evidence, and facts gathered in Pareto-chart format.
Discuss the value of establishing an “island of excellence” in the plant for others to study and for the breakthrough team members to serve as advocates for the improvement methods.
Case examples from other businesses and improvement methods are critical to this step. But, immediate and simultaneous follow-up with application on the selected equipment is required. Hands-on inspection of the equipment, with reference to the data, evidence, and facts, helps build the root-cause mindset among participants.
Many hands-on equipment-improvement events stress “cleaning and inspecting” with an emphasis on “cleaning.” Unfortunately, this often destroys the evidence most important to identifying the causes of problems.
The fundamental purpose of this hands-on training event should be to create the expectations of root-cause analysis as the foundation for improving facility and equipment performance. Then, following through with improvement ideas and evaluating the results helps create the expectations of a bias for action—try something.
There are many activities that comprise Step 6. These will be explored in more detail in Part 2 (Dec. 2015).
7. Sustain and leverage the improvements. All of the improvements, successes, failures, and actual methods used should be documented, communicated, and leveraged for more improvements in the selected area, as well as similar areas in the facility. This is where the “island of excellence” becomes a showplace and the breakthrough team becomes the advocates.
Reliability is more about people than technologies. Reliability improvement in most cases is about changing the way people think and work—their behaviors and habits—to practice and support reliability improvement. MT
Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the people side of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at RobertMW2@cs.com.