Author Archive | Bob Williamson


7:01 pm
November 15, 2016
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Vision, Passion, And Talent Management

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Learning how to perform a maintenance task, whether a repair or a preventive-maintenance inspection, requires training, proper tools, spare parts, and general knowledge relating to safety. But, that’s not all: Aptitude is also required. It’s the natural ability to understand functional relationships and accomplish the tasks at hand. In the case of maintenance, that means mechanical, electrical, or electronic aptitude.

Yet, to qualify as a competent maintenance technician these days, training and aptitude are not enough. As my Oct. 2016 “Uptime” column noted, technology innovation and modernization of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have reached into nearly every aspect of equipment and facilities operations and maintenance—at a remarkable pace. Couple the escalation of technology with a widespread shortage of technical skills in the workforce pool, along with a shortage of maintenance-and repair-education providers, and we have a serious problem.

To put a different spin on the situation, as industrialist Henry J. Kaiser once said, “Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” Simply worrying about our skills shortage, the assimilation of rapidly advancing technologies, and demands for high-performing, reliable equipment won’t make these threats go away. Instead, we need to boldly confront them in a positive, proactive manner. That boils down to talent and how we manage it.

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets.

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets.

Food for thought

While attending Dematic’s Materials Handling & Logistics Conference in Park City, UT, two presentations stood out for me: One was a discussion about achieving your personal best and the other was about talent management. What, on the surface, might have seemed like two very different topics, became hard-wired together in my mind.

Although it sounds like an individual discipline, achieving your personal best is about aptitude, interest, willingness, and an associated passion to succeed under the guidance of talented, dedicated coaches and mentors. That was the premise for the presentation by Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic medalist of all time, who candidly discussed his award-winning journey. As I look over my copious notes from his interview session, I continue to be struck by two things that he highlighted: vision to succeed (to win) and passion for the sport.

When he was seven years old, Phelps dreamed that he would win an Olympic gold medal. At 15 years of age, he described how he wanted to do with Olympic-level swimming what Michael Jordan had done with basketball. And, at age 31, he has done just that. What began as a love for swimming, and some very skilled and motivating coaches along the way, still required a compelling vision for what he wanted to achieve. That’s where passion comes in. What may have seemed to be about wanting to win, win, and win some more was really this Olympian’s passion for the sport, and how it could be used for a bigger good.

This brings me to the presentation on “Supply Chain Talent Management” led by Mike Burnett of the Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI) at the Univ. of Tennessee Haslam College of Business, in Knoxville. His topic is described in detail in a white paper entitled “Supply Chain Talent–Our Most Important Resource.” While space won’t allow a full recap of the subject, there were a number of timely—and essential—takeaways.

Best practices

Hiring, developing, and retaining the right people should be the top priority of any business that depends on physical assets (machinery, equipment, facilities, utilities), now more than ever. This process must also become a truly collaborative partnership between the front-line business leaders and the human-resources professionals.

The “GSCI Supply Chain Talent Management” white paper provides a framework that makes sense for reliable equipment, plant, and facility operation, well beyond its supply-chain focus. The institute’s surveys and interviews of benchmark companies should help us create career pathways for our technicians and leaders. Here are some of the best practices the GSCI identified:

• Clear definition of the “who.” Describe the talent, the “who,” you need in terms of technical and soft skills to be successful on the job and in the company’s culture.
• Use of mentors, sponsors, and first coaches. Acquire the resources required to help everyone succeed.
• Individual skills-development plans. Start with a solid definition of the skills needed to be successful in the end-to-end supply chain, in supply chain disciplines, and in specific roles.
• Internships/co-ops. Provide opportunities to obtain experiential growth in job skills, learn from diverse thinking, and evaluate a work-culture fit.
• Top university partners. Find students who best fit the definition of the “who” and then place them in a role where they have the best chance for success.


Employee training is a must, and on-the-job-performance qualification is the practical outcome of efficient and effective training. But, let’s not blur the lines between talent management and training. They’re not the same. Yes, training is a vital element of a talent-management system. But talent management is the system that aligns the people side of the organization with the needs of the business.

The bottom line of the GSCI supply-chain talent discussion was summed up in their three recommendations.

• Create a clearly documented, talent development strategy. This is the first, and most important, step.
• Employ best-in-class talent-development programs. Include educational and experiential components with a mixture of internal and external experiences.
• View talent development as owned by the business and driven by ROI. Manage talent like you manage your supply chain (your business).

For our purposes

Now, back to my notes from Michael Phelps’ interview. To repeat, what struck me most about his story was the vision he had to succeed (to win) and his passion for the sport. We need to leverage those things for our own purposes.

As we look ahead to developing talented people to succeed at installing, maintaining, and repairing equipment and facilities, we must find ways to excite our in-school youth. For example, some have keen interests in sports because of what they see on TV, at sporting events, and what their friends are doing. Some get excited about computers and software and writing code. Some pursue teaching because of the role models in their schools and classes. Some want very much to preserve our planet, or to pursue agricultural interests. Some have a passion for mastering welding for their own use, but later find out that they can earn big bucks as certified welders.

Our challenge is to find ways to instill in them a vision to succeed and a passion for their futures. Sure, the focus on STEM education is resurfacing. But that’s not enough. We need more, younger-aged students learning about the rewarding careers they can have as equipment and systems technicians in manufacturing, utilities, process industries, and building and facilities management.

There are plenty of ways to do this. Look for opportunities to invite students, teachers, school administrators, and board members into your facilities. Institute and/or support plant tours, career days, bring-a-child-to-work days, co-op experiences, and summer internships. Over time, the payoff could be significant. After all, what if Michael Phelps had never seen a real swimming pool, learned to swim, or not had a motivational mentor who recognized his aptitude and talent? MT


• “Supply Chain Talent Management” white paper, April 2015, Global Supply Chain Institute, Haslam College of Business (

• Michael Phelps Foundation (

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


6:57 pm
October 11, 2016
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Uptime: Beware the Fourth Industrial Revolution

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

As a presenter at a recent material-handling conference, I took the opportunity to attend sessions on topics of maintenance, workforce development, and automated handling and sorting systems. Intriguing discussions on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a theme of recent World Economic Forum events, were a highlight for me. Technological advancements associated with this era are already entering our plants. Their larger impact on businesses and our socio-economic systems, however, could be overwhelming. Are we ready?

Industrial Revolutions 101

First things first: What were the previous Industrial Revolutions all about?

Most of us learned about the First Industrial Revolution in world-history and social-studies classes. The productivity of craftsmen, tradesmen, and artisans was transformed by steam, water power, and mechanization of traditional work that led to cotton-spinning machinery and railroads. Beginning in the late 1750s, it ramped up through the 1870s.

The Second Industrial Revolution was characterized by manufacturing and the division of labor, which included the introduction of electric power, interchangeable parts and, eventually, mass production with assembly lines. It spanned the 1890s through about 1970.

Many readers cut their world-of-work teeth during the Third Industrial Revolution, which began the transition from pneumatic logic to electrical controls, to microprocessor-control strategies. The digital age was upon us with information technology (IT), computer mainframes transitioning to personal computers, automated-manufacturing systems, industrial robotics, and the Internet. This timeline runs from the 1970s through today or, as some are forecasting, through 2020.

The work processes and enabling mechanisms and technologies of the world’s first three Industrial Revolutions grew at accelerated rates: 120 years to 80 years to 50 years respectively. If we are to learn from that pattern of growth and explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT)/Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), we should fasten our seat belts. The rates of change and emergence and adoption of advanced technologies are increasing exponentially.

What does this have to do with readers of Maintenance Technology? Plenty. We’re on the cusp of the most significant changes ever in modern industry. They will have a far-reaching impact on how business is done and how society interacts.

Creating false expectations

Hearing high-level engineering and technical experts discuss the Fourth Industrial Revolution, I became enamored with the possibilities. The speakers frequently referred to totally automated material-handling systems where everything is autonomous. The only human involvement is overall arrangement, control, and interlinking system components. Amazing!

If I were a chief financial officer, chief information officer, or chief operating officer, though, what would I have heard? “Automated machinery and facilities can, and will, replace people.” Wow! No more worries about overtime, healthcare, human error, grievances, vacation, cost-of-living issues, a  $15 minimum wage, and the list goes on.

Everyone—literally everyone—I hear waxing eloquently about the future of automated systems and facilities, though, seems to have forgotten about maintenance. That’s not unusual. Many people tend to think of maintenance as fixing things that people damage. From their perspective, if we remove the erratic and ever variable human element, all is well. Right? Wrong!

Technical skills must prevail

Automated machines and systems must be fabricated, assembled, and commissioned by people. Once these precision and technologically advanced machines enter the workplace, they must be programmed and integrated by yet another group of people. At that point, such machines should basically be ready to operate autonomously with technology that has been proven to work efficiently, and effectively. Are they really?

This is where some of the technological promises of autonomous equipment and systems fall apart. Those modern marvels still require maintenance. Sure, many now have, and will continue to expand their condition-monitoring/self-diagnostic capabilities. But, can they fully maintain themselves? Probably not.

In fact, maintenance of highly automated systems just became more complex because of automation’s sensors, transmitters, transducers, control loops, logic controllers, Wi-Fi networks, software, signal cables, connectors, circuit boards, and many other components that make the base system, machine, vehicle, or conveyor function without the aid of a hands-on human.

Managing the base machine

I’ve said for decades that automation by itself does nothing. Automation (whatever it is) must connect to a base system or machine. These can be configured in many different ways, including as automated guided vehicles (AGVs), conveyors, sorting systems, forked vehicles, pallet movers, tuggers, deck vehicles, and self-driving vehicles (cars, trucks, trains, and airport people movers).

Let’s focus on forked AGVs. This is basically a forklift truck that has been fully automated. The components of a forked AGV still require routine (periodic) maintenance, and an occasional repair, including, among other things, its:

  • mast system, rollers, sliders, chains, guards, hoses
  • hydraulic-lift cylinder(s), tilt cylinders, hoses, control valves, pump, fluid filters, fluids
  • forks, carriage
  • drivetrain wheels, tires, drive axle, transmission, steering
  • electric-motor connections, wiring, brushes, armature condition, filters
  • battery system terminals, electrolyte, status indicator, and the actual battery
  • electrical contactors, connections, lugs
  • lubrication of chains, rollers, motor, fork carriage, pivot points, wheel spindle bearings
  • electrical-system wiring, connectors, lights, annunciators, warning devices.

What’s missing from the forked AGV maintenance list that’s included on one for a traditional forklift? Not much: the operator’s seat, seat belt, steering wheel, protective cage/roll bars, brakes, and gear shifter. In the end, the reliability of the forked AGV depends on the reliability of the base systems and components, the automation system(s), and the interface between those two complex systems and components.

The teachable moment

Higher levels of automation complexity will introduce countless more opportunities for failure. The requirements for inherent (built-in) reliability, reliable work processes, and human talent will also grow exponentially.

The investment in human capital will become increasingly more important than the investment in capital assets in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Without investments in skills and knowledge to operate and maintain high-tech systems, the money spent on new automation will fail to achieve the desired businesses goals.

Key takeaway

The “Professional Equipment Technician” of the very near future will be required to master equipment/system maintenance fundamentals, interpret on-board diagnostics, and make necessary repairs to electro-mechanical systems. The good news is that all of this is achievable without a four-year college degree.

Businesses must accelerate their internal and external talent-management systems. Community colleges and technical schools must begin tooling up for transforming occupations. Beyond STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, our elementary, middle, and high schools must begin introducing careers for modern industrial/manufacturing and facilities maintenance that will continue to command high wages for high skills.  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


1:53 pm
September 14, 2016
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Uptime: When Best Practices Aren’t Enough

By Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

bobmugnewConsider the following remarks.

“Recently, our top executives announced that our cost of manufacturing still wasn’t what it needed to be, even with all the maintenance improvements and lean initiatives over the past few years. And while our quality and delivery continue to be topnotch, one of our largest customers served an ultimatum that they would be taking their business overseas unless we could improve our pricing.”

“Despite all the maintenance best practices we’ve deployed, we (and others) are finding the department under the cost-cutting knife again. We’ve improved our spare-parts management significantly in the past two years, including stock outs, inventory levels, critical spares, and obsolete parts. Our maintenance labor hours are 90% proactive. But, new equipment continues to be added to the mix to reduce operating labor costs. What should we do?”

Sound familiar?

The real goal

Cost cutting is not a goal. It’s an action deployed as a way to achieve a short-term business goal—one that’s often short lived.

Here’s the challenge: While executives may be preparing for another round of cost cutting, there could be a more powerful alternative. It’s going to take thinking outside the maintenance box, however, to look at manufacturing process reliability. The real goal here is to show management how it can reduce manufacturing costs and position the business for higher earnings growth by tapping into the plant’s hidden capacity.

I recently discussed this approach with a company’s top executives and plant-leadership team. They talked about how strong their business was this year and on into early next year. Their honest concerns centered around getting costs under control to improve the company’s earnings in light of the potential loss of a large customer looking for price cuts. They summarized their strategic performance indicators as three overarching goals:

  • On time, in full—orders shipped to customers on time in the quantity and quality requested.
  • Lead time—reduced time between order received and order shipped.
  • Cost per unit produced—lowest all-in, total cost of making a product.

These executives were describing their goals for a reliable manufacturing process, i.e., a process that performs as intended. Their vision reflects a real opportunity for the organization—one that eclipses another cost-cutting initiative.

Tapping into a plant’s hidden capacity can help cut manufacturing costs and position the business for higher earnings.

Tapping into a plant’s hidden capacity can help cut manufacturing costs and position the business for higher earnings.

Thinking beyond maintenance

Let’s explore this opportunity by thinking about reliable manufacturing processes, i.e., thinking beyond maintenance. The executives who spoke with me agreed to form an improvement team of hand-picked personnel, including the maintenance manager, production operator, maintenance mechanic/union president, front-line supervisor, manufacturing vice president, and the continuous-improvement/quality director. The team used the following data-mining process to get started:

  • Identify the strategic key performance indicators (KPIs), i.e., lagging indicators.
  • Mine company data to determine the leading indicators and what form they take.
  • Determine how plant performance is inhibited, according to the current data.
  • The next step involved a review of top-level indicators that plant leadership was focused on improving, including:
  • labor efficiency variance as a percentage of standard
  • indirect factory labor as a percentage of revenue
  • operating expense as a percentage of revenue
  • obsolete materials and work in process (WIP).

Team members then began to look for specific factors that contributed to labor, operating expense, and materials cost. They also looked for factors that could interrupt flow through the entire manufacturing process to the paying customer.

Based on the team’s review of various ad hoc reports from the company, the improvement team found the most frequently listed reasons for the plant performance losses to be:

  • ran out of work in process (WIP) to meet an order.
  • ran out of raw materials to produce to plan.
  • inaccurate inventory: WIP and raw materials.
  • schedule change: materials delayed upstream.

The improvement team also learned that material cost was the highest cost of manufacturing and labor cost was the lowest.

Asking ‘why’

Drilling down another level into the most-frequently listed reasons for plant-performance losses was the improvement team’s next step: For example, answers to Why did we run out of WIP to meet an order? included:

  • no reason
  • system quantity was different than what actually existed
  • some named items were defective and could not be used.
  • items needed were on quality control hold.

Asking Why did we run out of raw materials to produce to plan at the upstream production processes? revealed some similarities:

  • not enough materials on skid, wrong count.
  • some materials were defective, damaged.

Team members soon recognized that they were discovering why production flow was being interrupted in the plant. In turn, they began wondering if equipment issues, i.e., breakdowns, might also be leading to performance losses. Digging into machine-downtime-tracking information, they found documentation that stated: Machine down for repairs, no operator, no reason listed.

To learn more about the nature of repairs in the plant’s critical-constraint production department, members of the improvement team began discussing machine downtime issues with personnel in the maintenance and operations groups. It was learned that the losses were not so much about equipment breakdowns, but rather:

  • setup problems
  • equipment damage
  • adjustments.

By asking why, the improvement team discovered that machine problems interrupted flow and were possibly linked to inventory and quality issues that had a direct effect on plant performance and the top KPIs (key performance indicators). Unfortunately, other than through maintenance requests, very few machine-related losses were being reported, tracked, or systematically analyzed. This situation had to change if plant reliability was to improve.

Tracking major equipment losses

What equipment-related losses should be tracked to improve plant reliability? The improvement team identified the types of losses that would most likely have a strategic impact on the business: equipment-utilization losses. Here’s how team members agreed to formally collect and categorize equipment performance data for the 17 most critical assets in the plant:

  • Equipment capacity (designed or historical best)
  • Planned capacity losses:
    • Planned shutdown: not scheduled/no demand
    • Planned shutdown: maintenance
    • Planned downtime: not scheduled (breaks, shift change)
  • Planned utilization: time that machine was scheduled to produce something
    • Utilization losses (during scheduled operating time, i.e., the hidden factory):
      • planned downtime: setup/changeover
      • unplanned downtime: no or defective WIP/material
      • unplanned downtime: breakdown
      • unplanned downtime: no operator
      • unplanned downtime: production schedule change and/or interruption
      • efficiency loss: slow-speed or throughput rate
      • efficiency loss: minor stops/startup/adjustment.
    • Yield loss: defects/damaged/scrap output
    • Yield loss: defects/rework
    • Yield loss: startup/adjustment.
  • Actual asset utilization: the bottom line; what the equipment actually delivers).

The reliability mindset

In this case, the improvement team recognized that improving plant reliability is not as much about maintenance as it is about identifying and eliminating equipment-performance losses and interruptions to flow. And, to do that, it’s crucial to have equipment performance data that are accurate and timely.

The good news so far is that top-level executives and other plant leaders have agreed to identify and address the most significant equipment-utilization losses in the manufacturing-flow constraints. Stay tuned for more as this story unfolds. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a 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


3:04 pm
August 10, 2016
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Uptime: Don’t Overlook Spare-Parts Reliability

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Maintenance management covers a variety of functions, including the managing of spare parts. We know that the quality of those parts has a direct impact on the reliability and maintainability of equipment, machinery, and facilities. There’s more to it, though, than simply managing a storeroom.

How spare parts are specified, purchased, shipped, stored, dispersed, and installed reflects critical elements in physical-asset performance and operating cost. Unfortunately, the parts are often overlooked in ways that compromise equipment reliability.

Real-world impact

Even the most reliable equipment can fail if the right spare parts—fit for service and mission ready—aren’t installed properly. While a maintenance staff’s skill and knowledge is an important reliability factor, the inherent reliability of spare parts at the time of installation is even more so.

Consider these examples of how spare parts can contribute to machine failures, excessive downtime, higher costs, and financial losses.

Transportation damage. Several catastrophic failures of the fan in a plant’s heat-treatment carburizing furnace led to enormous production and financial losses, not to mention a disruptive domino effect on production schedules. Removing and replacing the fan is difficult and time consuming, given its location in the bottom of the furnace.

A failure analysis determined that cracks in the fan cooling jacket led to bearing failures. These events continued even after months of discussing fan construction with the OEM, changing welding methods, and carefully installing new fans.

Eventually a root-cause analysis session was held with operators, maintainers, supervisors, area managers, plant engineers, and the fan company’s owner. All potential failure causes were quickly ruled out based on prior actions. The facilitator then asked the group to take a hard look at the fan currently installed in the furnace and a new spare in the storeroom.

As participants checked out the new spare firmly strapped to a wooden pallet with its shaft in a horizontal orientation, the fan manufacturer asked a question that ultimately unraveled the mystery of repeated failures: “Is that how we ship these fans to you?”

At this point, a mechanic interjected that when a fan is installed, its shaft is vertical. “That could cause bearing problems,” he said. Others weren’t so sure.

The OEM began speculating: “These fans are shipped more than 800 miles to your plant by truck,” he said. “Imagine the bumping and jarring with the weight of the fan and shaft supported by the bearings on the cooling jacket. The cracks in the failed units seem to start around the upper side of the shaft-bearing mounts. Shipping them flat, in the same orientation as they are installed in the furnace, may prevent the cracking.” Was he on to something?

Once the manner of shipping was changed, i.e., with the fans strapped to pallets in the same orientation as they were to be installed, the failures ceased. The maintenance group also found that the fan bearings lasted longer.

In-plant moving methods. “It’s a big electric motor. How did you expect me to move it?” The speaker was a forklift operator who found it easier to pick up large motors by the shafts located at each end of the units. After all, they fit nicely between the forks, with minimal adjustment, and would roll to the back of the forks when they were tilted back slightly. Great move for the forklift driver.

As for the motors, their shafts were becoming hammered, especially at the keyway. Maintenance techs thought the units sometimes seemed to be out of balance. Taking note of the forklift operator’s preferred methods, they finally realized the cause of the problems: improper handling of electric motors from the receiving dock to the storeroom and from the storeroom to the job site.

Behind-the-scenes. One of the most frequent and penalizing mechanical failures on a brewery’s packaging lines was attributed to conveyor-belt drive- and tail-roller bearings. Improper installation and lubrication and incorrect bearing types were ruled out early on. The bearings themselves then became suspect.

Packaging-line parts were kept in a storeroom near the lines. Operated by the purchasing department, it was staffed 24 hours a day as an inventory-control measure. Nobody else was allowed inside—that is until the purchasing manager granted access to a consultant.

During a failure investigation, stored conveyor bearings, many in open boxes, were found covered in rust. “Not a problem,” replied the storeroom attendant when asked about the situation. He explained that with “a little steel wool, lubricating spray, and lots of buffing” those bearings would look just like new. The problem with the brewery’s packaging-lines was solved on the spot: High humidity in the storeroom and unprotected bearings were identified as major factors in the failures.

Extreme environments. Handling and storage of spare parts is especially challenging for offshore oil- and gas-production platforms. If bouncing around on the boat trip from an on-shore warehouse to an offshore platform doesn’t contribute to early failures, improper maintenance of the stored items will. Humidity and salt air are also tough on parts.

Offshore platforms are compact, often-congested configurations of piping, pumps, motors, and compressors. Vibration in these operations—ever-present and frequently ignored—can lead to spare-parts failures. For example, when motor and pump bearings are stored near rotating equipment, vibrations created on the platform can damage them. Moreover, regular maintenance of stored spares such as rotating shafts is mandatory.

The counterfeit scourge. The spare-parts supply chain has gone global. The upside is online ordering and competitive pricing. The downside is explosive growth of the counterfeit marketplace.

Knock-off trademarks, look-alike labeling and branding, and sub-standard-quality spare parts have invaded our storerooms. These reliability time bombs include bearings, seals, nuts and bolts, pipe and hydraulic fittings, electrical/electronic components, wiring, and cables.

Monitoring your spare-parts supply chain, buying from trusted sources, and rigorously inspecting parts before placing them in a storeroom should form the basis of your organization’s spare-parts management practices.

Sometimes, the inexpensive. One spare-parts-management technique I learned from working with top NASCAR race teams over the years is to carefully inspect parts before they’re put on the shelf—especially those that can affect racecar performance. And for good reason.

In the 1990s, a race team suffered a catastrophic engine failure caused by an unlikely culprit: a three-cent nylon zip tie. When the zip tie failed, the oil line it was restraining dropped onto the alternator fan belt. It was only a matter of minutes before the engine failed due to oil streaming from the cut line.

Inexpensive spare parts are often overlooked. These tend to be commodity items where low cost shapes purchasing decisions. With many commodities, though, you get what you pay for. Be sure to consider the function of such items and the impact of their failure when making purchasing decisions.

Manage your supply chain

Paying attention to the spare-parts journey from the OEM, through distributors, into your storerooms, and on to equipment makes sound business sense. The bottom line is that proactive storeroom-management practices, coupled with supply-chain management, can eliminate most causes of spare-parts failures. MT

For more information on the management of storerooms and spare parts, see Put Efficiency in MRO Storerooms and Bob Williamson’s ISO 55000 column.

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a 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


8:07 pm
August 9, 2016
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Asset Management: Don’t Overlook Spare Parts

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

How spare parts are managed is an essential element in reliability and maintenance management of physical assets. It makes sense, then, for an organization’s asset-management system to address all requirements for spare-parts-management processes throughout the entire risk-posing supply chain. Here are key references to ISO-55001 clauses with my suggested questions regarding these processes.

Planning (Clause 6)

6.1 Actions to address risks and opportunities for the asset management system

  • Where are the organization’s objectives at risk due to failures of spare parts and/or spare-parts-management processes?
  • What practices should be put in place to prevent undesired effects from failures of spare parts?

6.2 Asset-management objectives and planning to achieve them

  • How should asset-management objectives within relevant organizational functions and levels be structured to include spare-parts management?
  • How should the strategic-asset-management plan address the spare-parts supply chain?

Support (Clause 7)

7.1 Resources

  • Organizational collaboration may be required to manage the spare-parts supply chain. What parts of the organization should be involved?”
  • What resources would be required to maintain reliable spare-parts-management processes?

7.2 Competence

  • What skills and knowledge are required to assure the spare-parts-management processes continue to achieve the asset-management objectives?

7.3 Awareness

  • What ensures that those involved are aware of the company policy, objectives, and plan?

7.4 Communication

  • What communication mechanisms are needed to assure effective management processes?

Operation (Clause 8)

8.1 Operational planning and control

  • What practices should be established to ensure that spare-parts-management processes are being carried out as planned?

8.2 Management of change

  • What processes are needed to ensure that any changes to the spare-parts-management processes don’t have any unintended consequences?

8.3 Outsourcing

  • How should the spare-parts supply chain outside the organization be managed to ensure that the objectives and plans are achieved?

Performance evaluation (Clause 9)

9.1 Monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation

  • What elements of the spare-parts-management processes should be monitored, measured, analyzed, and evaluated?

9.2 Internal audit

  • How should an internal audit be conducted to evaluate the effectiveness and compliance of the spare-parts-management process?

9.3 Management review

  • What elements of the spare-parts-management process should be periodically reviewed by top management?

Improvement (Clause 10)

  • What corrective actions should be established to address non-conformity with the spare-parts-management processes?
  • What processes should be in place to prevent failures or identify potential failures of the spare-parts-management processes?
  • What continuous-improvement processes should be established to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the spare-parts-management processes? 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 reliability and maintenance. Contact him at

The ISO 55000:2014 Asset Management Standard could play a major role in industry in the coming years. Keep up to date with our ongoing coverage of this Standard at


4:46 pm
July 18, 2016
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Uptime: Fuel Continuous Improvement with Data

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Making decisions about what to improve and how to measure the rate of improvement requires a systematic use of data. But, more than raw data, data bases, or spreadsheets, it’s important to use the right data. Many organizations today are already awash in data, anticipating a tsunami of numbers, thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and, as some are forecasting, the Internet of Everything. Professor Patrick Wolfe, executive director of the University College of London’s Big Data Institute noted, “The rate at which we’re generating data is rapidly outpacing our ability to analyze it.”

Data’s dark side emerges when unfiltered information is used as a threat, a smoke screen, or to obscure the facts. So it’s easy to see why some view data as a not-too-pleasant four-letter word.

Data alone can easily elicit anxiety, boredom, fear, sensory overload, and, in some cases, even excitement. Today’s business leaders must find ways to make data more user friendly to be successful in reliability/maintenance, in operations, and ultimately to the benefit of their organizations, their customers, and their stakeholders.

When organizations actually begin using their data, when they make data actionable for the benefit of the business, the employees and their customers all experience the bright side of data. Data is the foundation for eliminating problems and improving organizational performance.

What is data anyway?

When we delve into data we find digital data, bits and bytes, numbers and decimal fractions, text, alphanumerics, and mathematical symbols. Whatever the data looks like it is actually representing certain conditions or objects—and it is limitless.

Output from a machine sensor is also called data. This can be very useful, redundant, irrelevant, or totally useless. But, it’s still data. Real-time data is on-line. Archived data is off-line.

Amassing data for data’s sake can be a futile effort. It’s what we do with the data that’s most important—turning data into actions through smart, informed decisions.

Let’s take a quick look at one organization’s recent data-discovery journey. Production and labor data are collected by machine operators on tickets and forms, then keyed by others into a master database. To make the information more useable, data is printed out in spreadsheets. Some is then converted into graphs for reports or used to measure progress toward defined business goals.

Data collection continues with scrap production and material waste measurements. Quality data is collected from multiple sources for two separate reports—production defects and customer complaints. The defects are identified and categorized by QC inspectors through random inspections. Customer complaints are supplied by those who run a customer-feedback process.

Production-machine downtime is also written on sheets with a duration and a reason and later summarized in spreadsheets by department.

Maintenance work orders also capture machine work, problems, repairs, parts used, and labor.

Most data is looked at separately and the improvements are targeted by departments. The results are narrowly focused actions that lead to slow gains and short-lived improvements. There can be more. There must be more.

Make data actionable

Let’s make data actionable. Data used to chart a path for continuous improvement and measure progress along the way is essential to business success. But it doesn’t start with data.

The key element in business improvement is asking the right questions. Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist of and the author of more than 100 scientific papers on the application of machine-learning techniques said it best: “You have to start with a question, not with the data.”

Let’s look at an example for improving an organization’s performance in an evolving continuous-improvement work culture:

Big opportunity. Start by focusing on improving something that is very important to the organization: Where is the organization most at risk, where are failures most penalizing, where could breakthrough improvements be revolutionary to business success? These opportunities for improvement can be expressed as dire needs, a burning platform, response to regulatory issues, market changes, balance sheets, or changes in the organization due to buy-outs, mergers, or acquisitions.

Whatever the reason, start by defining the big opportunity for improving your organization’s performance. Specific opportunities for focused improvement are then defined. Be prepared to answer the question: Why are we doing this?

Right data. Identify and gather the right data. From where does the data come? Is the information easy to access? Is the data reliable and trustworthy? In the early years of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) we learned that machine performance data should be collected and analyzed by those people closest to the machine, the source of the data, and often the source of improvement. With the explosive rate of the IIoT, much of the data will likely come directly from the machines and equipment.

Information. Ask what the data is telling you. Here is where the improvement teams question the relationships among production efficiency losses, unplanned machine downtime, quality defects, customer complaints, scrap rates, and maintenance work (labor and parts). These collective data are now the information that guides improvement.

Knowledge. By connecting the information from the combined data sets, the improvement team can look for connections to the big opportunity for improvement. Armed with the knowledge between the information and the big opportunity for improvement, the improvement team is prepared to begin making improvements that will benefit the organization in a notable way.

Action. Develop a bias for action. Data analysis can be an attractive end to some. To others, it’s analysis paralysis. But, taking purposeful action is what gets things done in the organization on the plant floor. Action begins with root-cause analysis to determine the connections between what was learned from the data and the causes of poor (and successful) performance. Action continues with the corrective actions to address the root causes and putting countermeasures in place to eliminate the cause, or at least to minimize the penalizing effects.

Wisdom. Nurture the individual, team, and organizational learning that takes place from the specific improvement process. Ask the question: Are there similar problems that could be identified and eliminated in this manner? The wisdom to leverage additional improvements with the same body of knowledge is a powerful step in creating a culture of continuous improvement.

Creative/collaborative people and machines. Weaving together all six of these steps will result in an essential organization-wide behavior that I call Creative/Collaborative People & Machines. “Creative” meaning new ways of using data as a foundation for purposeful improvement. “Collaborative” is two-fold: People from different parts of the organization working together to make data a tool for continuous improvement and machines providing data that people use to improve performance.

Data is the fuel that drives the continuous-improvement engine and tells us how well it performs. Let’s find ways to make the right data actionable for the good of the organization and its employees, customers, community, and owners. MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a 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


10:14 pm
June 13, 2016
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Uptime: A Crime Against Machines

bobmugnewBy Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

Dispatcher: “Hello. This is 9-1-1 what’s your emergency?”

Caller: “I don’t know how it happened but my machine… it just quit. Please help!”

Dispatcher: “What’s the machine doing now?”

Caller: “I don’t know! It just made a loud noise and stopped! Like it’s dead!”

Dispatcher: “Is there any sign of movement? “

Caller: “It’s hard to tell for sure. I’m just a machine operator. But the panel lights are still glowing!”

Dispatcher: “That may be a good sign. Is there anything else you can see?”

Caller: “Oh, this looks bad! There’s fluid spraying from the back of the machine. It’s all over and I can’t stop it!”

Dispatcher: “Back away from the machine. An EMT is on the way to your location now.”

Caller: “Please hurry! I don’t know how much longer we can wait!”

Granted, the above doesn’t seem like a typical maintenance trouble call. But what if crimes against machines were actually handled the same way as people-related crimes?

What if mortally wounding a machine were a crime that had to be investigated? Let’s continue…

Dispatcher: “EMT James, what’s your 20?”

EMT: “This is James. I just arrived. Production supervisors and managers are everywhere, pointing fingers, waving their fists at what looks like a first responder… a ‘para-mechanic.’ Oh no!”

Dispatcher: “Repeat.”

EMT: “James here [winded from running]. I just inspected the scene the best I could. Hemorrhaging fluid at the back of the machine. This is serious. We don’t have much time! Looks like it blew a main seal or pressure hose.”

Dispatcher: “What do you need from Central Shop?”

EMT: “James here. Five gallons of hydraulic fluid, main seal part number QM-29145578, pressure hose QM-854132, filter QM-2985-1. But please, we really need crowd control STAT. Got a 10-34 starting. Supervisors and managers verbally abusing the para-mechanic and coming after me… shouting something about ‘got to get this thing fixed NOW…truck’s waiting for these parts… you’re costing us thousands of dollars a minute!’”

Dispatcher: “Crowd control EMS [emergency maintenance superhero] is on the way. Two minutes out.”

(silence… 30 minutes pass)

EMT: “James to Dispatch.”

Dispatcher: “I’m here, James. Whatcha’ need?”

EMT: “We lost it. Couldn’t stop the hemorrhaging… wrong hose. Did all we could on scene. Will be transporting critical parts back to Central Shop. Send a flat-bed. Got plenty of help here. 10-36?”

Dispatcher: “Sorry about that. Will get the flat-bed out STAT. 10-36 is 10:25 a.m.”

EMT: “Thanks for your help on this one. James out.”

A post-mortem

EMT James had his hands full with a dying machine and a verbally abused para-mechanic, not to mention his boss, the EMS, and a crowd of production folks wanting someone to blame. James suspected he’d get the nod, but his boss, too? This could get very nasty.

The machine parts were back at Central Shop—being analyzed by two OEM techs that had raced to the site. One of them disassembled the hydraulic pump. Parts were cleaned, measured, bagged, tagged. The damaged hose was next. The other tech started on the old filter. After about 10 minutes, however, the one with the hose began whispering loudly to his associate.Word spread. A verdict was imminent.

The production personnel gathered in Central Shop looked as though they wanted to hang someone. The EMS was there, as was the para-mechanic. James and other EMTs were close by.

Silence fell over the crowd as the OEM techs approached the bench covered in bagged-and-tagged pump parts, the damaged hose, and a cut-up filter. Once there, they announced that, after careful investigation, they had eliminated the pump as the problem. “It was perfect.” James was relieved. He had rebuilt that unit just the week before.

The techs continued: The filter, while dated with a marker as being changed a week before, showed signs of discoloration. “But,” they said, “that was normal.”

“The true culprit,” one explained, “was the hose.” His tone was neither accusatory nor blaming. James and his EMS boss wondered what the deal was. They didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

The OEM techs inserted a high-intensity light into one end of the bent hose and held it up for all to see. At that point, a bright glow began to come through a small slit. A cut hose, the investigators announced, with a degree of satisfaction. Their job was finished.

“Just order a new hose, and let’s get this machine running again,” directed the production manager. But the investigation was not really over. More investigators had arrived.

The true cause of death

Due to the large financial loss from this single incident, a CSI (Capital Situation Inquisitors) team was dispatched. Preventing such losses was a top priority of the company. This team was known for quickly getting to the root cause and identifying countermeasures to prevent recurrences. It soon transported the cut hose back to the failed machine—the scene of the crime. The inspectors were mystified by what they saw. The machine had been removed, relocated, reconfigured, and the mess cleaned up. Not a single piece of evidence could be found.

It was then that the CSI team looked closely at the slit in the hose: smooth, not jagged, not abraded. Inside both ends of the cut, however, they could see small bits of yellow paint. After talking with the machine operator who survived the incident un-blamed, the team had its answer.

The root cause of the catastrophe was determined to be a newly designed prototype cutting-tool rack sitting near the back of the machine at the time of the incident. The rack had tipped over, and a large cutter coated with yellow paint fell on the floor. Without alerting anyone else to the incident or checking for any fallout from it, the operator simply cleaned up the mess and went back to work. No process was in place to do otherwise.

Crimes against machines, especially the most critical ones that put a business at risk when they fail, need to be quickly, but adequately, investigated, causes identified, and corrective actions taken to prevent future failures. Does your site have processes in place to do this and are they appropriately communicated? MT

Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a 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