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!”
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.”
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 RobertMW2@cs.com.