Author Archive | Jane Alexander


3:16 pm
March 13, 2017
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‘Lean’ Your Way To Workplace Efficiency

03175srandmThe 5S process has proven to be a highly effective organizational tool for modern, Lean work environments. Are your operation’s plant-floor personnel taking full advantage of this methodology?

According to experts in storage, organization, and material-handling solutions at Akron, OH-based Akro-Mils (, organizations that invest in a 5S process increase productivity, create higher-quality products, and lower operating costs through simple waste removal, visual identification, and efficient use of space. By incorporating a 5S Lean methodology, they note, facilities can:

• improve workflow and productivity
• develop a cleaner, more efficient environment
• create extra workspace
• increase safety
• reduce wasted time and effort
• boost worker morale
• ensure improvements remain intact.

A recent Akro-Mils blog post provided the following refresher on steps in the 5S process, along with some ways this Lean approach can lead to improved workplace efficiency.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

randm1. Sort.

The first step in the 5S Lean methodology is eliminating items that are not needed for the current workflow. This step is crucial to reducing clutter, eliminating outdated or expired materials and supplies, and freeing up valuable real estate in your workspace. A key decision point in this step is determining which items stay and which items go. Unnecessary items are moved out of the workspace and either immediately disposed of or stored offsite and dealt with later.

2. Set in Order.

Frequently used workstation materials and tools should be arranged so that all needed items are readily accessible and easy to find. In this step, the workspace is reorganized and redefined for the most efficient use of space. All tools and supplies are labeled and organized, and a system is implemented to make sure they are always returned to their proper locations.

3. Shine.

When first implementing a 5S Lean process, all work areas receive a thorough cleaning and inspection. A formal cleaning and maintenance schedule is then developed to prevent dirt from accumulating and keep equipment in proper working condition.

4. Standardize.

Benchmarking and evaluation tactics should be used in your 5S Lean process to maintain a consistent approach for carrying out tasks and procedures. For example, standardizing the storage of supplies through color-coding is an effective way to provide helpful, easily recognizable visual indicators throughout an entire facility.

5. Sustain.

The last step is to continue maintaining efficient workflow and productivity with your 5S Lean system. The best way to do that is through education and empowerment of those using the system. Communicating the benefits of an ongoing 5S process will help ensure personnel’s continued adherence to it and, just as important, that there is no falling back into bad habits. Equipping workers with a well-designed 5S checklist does more than merely support the following of those procedures. It’s an effective way to create accountability and keep this valuable process going strong. MT

For more information on 5S and other workplace topics, and to download a copy of the Akro-Mils 5S Procedure Checklist, visit


2:58 pm
March 13, 2017
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Keep Stored Gear Reducers Service Ready

When gear reducers and other capital spares are improperly prepared for storage, their service readiness can be seriously compromised.

When gear reducers and other capital spares are improperly prepared for storage, their service readiness can be seriously compromised.

Are your statically stored gear reducers service ready? That’s the first of several questions from Dillon Gully of Motion Industries (headquartered in Birmingham, AL, He has good reason for asking. In conducting borescope inspections of statically stored internal-gear reducers for customers, Motion Industries personnel discovered as many as one-third of these assets sitting on shelves in a failed state.

Next questions: Are you willing to gamble the OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) and profitability of your facility on gear reducers and, for that matter, other capital spares that might not be service ready? What would you tell your boss if a critical spare were to fail within mere hours? Think this scenario doesn’t apply to you? How can you be sure? Gully offers some advice for achieving peace of mind.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Effective management of capital spares involves up-front identification of these assets and making sure they are in service-ready condition prior to preparing them for long-term storage. Unfortunately, many operations don’t follow through on this process once purchased units arrive on site. According to Gully, these steps are the only way to support the reliability of stored spares.

Capital spares can be defined as any item that is critical to production, promotes safety, decreases downtime, and/or prevents environmental issues. Gear reducers certainly qualify. The best way of verifying that these assets won’t fail as soon as they’re put into service is to inspect them before they are stored away—perhaps for years. Minimally invasive borescope inspections are a particularly good inspection method.

In a borescope inspection of a gear reducer, a camera scope visually inspects the condition of bearings, gearing, and internal components. The procedure can be accomplished through a plughole, which prevents contamination of an asset, if it is, indeed, ready for service. (Compared to the cost of replacing a failed bearing, costs associated with borescope inspections are also minimal.)

randmStorage planning

While information gleaned from borescope inspections can be used to confirm service readiness—or help identify steps for making a spare service ready—it can also help determine how to prevent these units from improper storage.

Corrosion, i.e., rust and contamination, are two, of many, causes of failure in gear reducers. When borescope inspections identify the presence of these failure modes, steps can be taken to correct them before the equipment is put into storage, as well as prevent those problems from recurring during storage.

Once a plan to prevent failures in stored spares is developed and implemented, it should be consistently followed. Every unit that will be stored, for whatever period of time, should be carefully protected. Preventing rust and contamination is a great start in protecting asset reliability and, thus, ensuring service readiness.

An ongoing process

Keeping stored spares in service-ready condition requires management accountability. Someone must be assigned responsibility for these assets, and expectations should be clear and realistic. It’s the responsibility of that designated person to ensure all spares are properly prepared and maintained. Identifying failed spares and bringing them back to service-ready condition is an ongoing process. As Dillon Gully emphasizes, “It should not be done one time and then forgotten.”

This plan for reliability can lower the probability of failure and bring a welcome degree of certainty regarding your stored gear reducers and other capital spares. MT

Working as an analyst for Motion Industries’ service center in Pensacola, FL, Dillon Gully has been conducting vibration and borescope inspections and managing capital spares for three years. For more information on these topics, visit or


2:53 pm
March 13, 2017
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Mine Business Intelligence From Your CMMS

Car BoomBusiness Intelligence (BI) analysis is crucial to an operation’s success. In short, this analysis is the harnessing of software to mine an organization’s raw data. Analyzing that data through the use of reporting and analytics can support critical business decisions.

In the maintenance world, a computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system plays a vital role in collecting useful data. Technical experts at Mapcon Technologies Inc. (Johnston, IA, point to five areas where these systems can help your organization analyze and understand its valuable business intelligence and put it to use.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Inventory auditing

It’s important for maintenance personnel to know how many parts are needed and when they need to be reordered. By running an inventory usage report within a CMMS, users can find out exactly how many individual parts were used over a specific period of time. Once that information is gathered, a minimum number, or reorder point, of parts can be established to trigger an automatic reorder that, in turn, would be approved and sent to the vendor. This can ensure that stock-outs are no longer a problem and, accordingly, prevent downtime.

randmPredictive analysis

For maintenance departments, being able to predict when equipment will fail is a big deal. A CMMS can determine, based on meter or gauge readings and historical data, when a machine is most likely to break down. Take, for example, a machine that breaks a belt approximately every 1,000 hr. Since a CMMS would display that trend, a technician could set up a preventive–maintenance (PM) task to change the belt every 950 hr. By using a CMMS to predict when the machine will break a belt, downtime can be avoided.

Preventive-maintenance compliance

Since PM information is stored within a CMMS, it is easy to analyze. When reviewing such data, managers can break it down by type of work done, employee, area, or other metrics, and make necessary changes. For example, by determining why certain PMs weren’t completed on time, they could take steps to hire new workers or provide additional training to current employees.

Failure analysis

A CMMS stores an extensive amount of historical data, including repairs, for each piece of equipment in a plant. Therefore, when personnel notice that machines have required numerous repairs, they can analyze stored failure codes to help determine root causes. They can also review CMMS information on when repairs were done, associated downtime, and PM activities, among other things, to devise corrective measures. Say a technician discovers that a machine breaks more belts in the winter due to colder temperatures. With this information, he or she could plan ahead and turn up the heat in the area or order more belts to have on hand during winter months.

HR (human resource) reporting

Reports within a CMMS can be run for things other than maintenance-repair information. Many software programs can run HR-related reports, i.e., an open work order by craft or shift report. This capability allows managers to view the workload according to shift or craft, something that can be beneficial when it comes to hiring decisions. MT

For more information from Mapcon Technologies on this and other CMMS topics, visit


2:46 pm
March 13, 2017
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Eliminate Electrical Arc-Related Dangers

1703rmcelectric_AdobeStock_58371295.jpegLike any energy source, an electrical circuit is a ticking bomb, just waiting for the right conditions to blow. As Finley Ledbetter, CEO of Group CBS (Addison, TX,, explains, “A twisted pole, faulty interlock, and enough energy will turn an electrical firecracker into mortal lightning strike.”

Protecting personnel from arc-flash and arc-blast dangers isn’t an option — it’s mandatory according to OSHA and NEC requirements. According to Ledbetter, compliance starts with an accurate arc-flash calculation based on real field tests that can pay double dividends when the findings are used in a preventive-maintenance (PM) program. “But realize,” he cautions, “any time electrical equipment with sufficient fault current is operated, there is a danger. And PPE will not always protect workers.”

Ledbetter offered several tips for managing arc-flash risks.

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Avoid common mistakes.

randmTechnicians refer to the National Electrical Code (NEC), Tables 130.7(C)(9-11), which define hazard risk categories (HRCs) for various classes of equipment, as well as what level of PPE employers need to provide to employees based on the minimum arc thermal performance value (ATPV). A common mistake is to determine the HRC and required PPE level based solely on the class of equipment instead of the actual 70E standard requirements. This approach assumes that the fuse or circuit breaker will actually perform to the OEM specification. A failed OCPD or even a slow breaker will result in higher incident energies than your technician’s PPE protection when the arc-flash calculation is based solely on OEM specifications.

Develop a maintenance-planning schedule.

Good maintenance is a first line of protection against arc flash/blasts. NFPA’s 70E Article 205.3 requires that all electrical equipment be maintained in association with the OEM instructions or industry standards. NETA’s maintenance frequency MTS table, based on equipment class and an environmental condition, is a good place to start when developing your PM-planning schedule. The best way to determine the arc-flash danger for a given device in a given installation is to use IEEE’s standard 1584 arc-flash calculations based on actual test data for the given device at a given installation.

Know that not all switchgear is arc-flash resistant.

Older switchgear and panel boards were not made with built-in remote actuators and extraction/racking capabilities, even though myth has it that switchgear is designed with arc-flash containment in mind. OEMs have started to develop switchgear cubicles with integrated remote actuation and racking/extraction features, and you can easily search the Internet for the latest equipment design. For a premium, this switchgear allows your technicians to actuate the OCPD or other device while it is still behind the metal enclosure. Arc-flash-resistant switchgear also strives to direct the arc flash up and away from the technician. Arc-flash-resistant switchgear that complies with IEEE C37.20.7 with remote actuation and racking/extraction is a move in the right direction, but it can be prohibitively expensive to replace all your aging switchgear with new enclosures and gear.

Use remote actuation and racking systems to keep your distance.

A number of portable remote actuation/extraction/racking systems work on virtually any OCPD or motor-control center and enclosure. Rather than having an embedded unit for each cubicle, these systems come with a portable design and power supply. In some cases, the technician can stand as far as 500 ft. away from the gear in question, well outside the arc-flash and arc-blast danger boundaries. These portable systems can also provide PM data on the force required to rack a unit. The best examples of remote racking/actuation work with horizontal or vertical racking systems, use magnetic latching that does not require any modification to existing equipment, and accommodate a variety of equipment makes and models. MT

Through a number of affiliated companies in the U.S. and U.K., Group CBS Inc., Addison, TX, provides electrical solutions and services for customers in the industrial, utility, power-distribution, and repair markets around the world. For more information, visit


2:38 pm
March 13, 2017
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My Take: Do Share — Calling All Tipsters

1014janemytakeSeveral recent conversations with David Mayfield, author of February’s feature “Boost Troubleshooting Skills at Your Site,” led to the focus of this month’s “On the Floor” Reader Panel discussion. They also kicked me into gear on one of those wanna’, shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’ things on my endless list.

Mayfield, a retired Canadian industry veteran, spent decades on plant floors and in the vocational training arena. Time and again, during those years, he saw the value and self-confidence that personnel in one type of operation could derive from reading about/hearing about successful work-related solutions, strategies, and tactics of others, regardless of industry sector. (You may have seen or experienced it yourself.)

With Mayfield’s encouragement, those nuggets, i.e., Reliability and Maintenance (R&M) “tips and tricks,” are what I asked our Reader Panelists to share with us—and you—this month. Our respondents came through with plenty (so many that we couldn’t include them all). And good ones, too. So why stop? Let’s not.

Here, I’m inviting all readers to share their own favorites through our new “Tip of the Month” program. Do you have a quick, proven problem solution; a clever workaround; or a better way to perform a task, evaluate a situation, document an issue, or communicate information? Please tell us about it and why it could help other R&M pros. We’ll be posting these submissions online, and select one each month to publish in the print edition of Maintenance Technology. Anything goes, as long as it’s work-related.

Email your tips (as many as you wish) to Include your full contact information (name, title, organization, location, phone, and email) in case we need to reach you. That’s the only way we’ll consider posting and/or possibly selecting your submission as a “Tip of the Month.” If you wish to remain anonymous, we’ll honor your request. We still need your contact information, though.

Share a proven problem solution in MT's new “Tip of the Month” feature.

Share a proven problem solution in MT’s new
“Tip of the Month” feature.

Relax. You don’t have to be a member of the MT Reader Panel. We welcome R&M tips from everyone.

BTW: Since David Mayfield helped get this ball rolling, I asked him to share one of his favorite tips. Here it is:

“Determine if your department has any missing skills or poorly performed skills that affect production or reliability, i.e. a skill gap. By checking this aspect of maintenance performance, you’ll know what parts of your system could be vulnerable. This can be done by checking what processes were delayed or didn’t perform on time after servicing and then determining if the issue was hardware non-compliance because of weak maintenance. The lack can be in-house or contractual, but in all cases this gap must be corrected to prevent future losses.”

 According to Mayfield, an audit may be required to identify whether the skill is an “enabling” one or a “terminal performance” skill. Enabling skills permit more complex tasks to be performed, say reading diagrams, using measuring instruments, and calculating values. Terminal performance skills include, among others, replacing machine components using diagrams and measuring tools and calibrating machines for production.

 Mayfield says that a missing part of the equation for most plants is the lack of a current inventory of skills available within the plant (or for hire). When a site knows for certain that specific skills are required and who in its current maintenance team can almost perform the missing skills, gap-filling strategies can be identified and employed.

Now, it’s your turn. Do share. MT


2:37 pm
March 13, 2017
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On The Floor: One Question, Lots of R&M Tips and Tricks

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Sharing proven R&M tips and tricks can make life easier (and happier) in all plants.

Sharing proven R&M tips and tricks can make life easier (and happier) in all plants.

As the headline on this page notes, we posed just one question to MT Reader Panelists this month. It must have been a good one: Oh, how they came through with answers (lots of them). 

Q. What was their (or a client’s/customer’s) top reliability or maintenance tip or trick and why?

To be clear, we also asked respondents to discuss the value their submitted tips or tricks have for their organizations (or their clients/customers) and how they might be of value to other Reliability and Maintenance (R&M) pros, regardless of industry sector. Edited for brevity and clarity, here’s what several Panelists shared.

College Electrical Lab, Manager/Instructor, West…

Knowledge of process equipment is one of the most important pieces of data needed for trouble shooting. We developed a program supported by skilled technicians that we do weekly with our newer crews: One of the experts on a piece of equipment will take two or three other technicians to the equipment and discuss how the equipment works, past problems, past solutions, troubleshooting concepts, equipment-danger symptoms, etc. This process is similar to a doctor’s morning hospital rounds with medical residents. The program has been very effective in reducing downtime.

Industry Consultant, Northeast…

The neatest trick that I’ve ever used in explaining equipment problems is to look at the machine with a strobe light. Freeze the image (set the strobe frequency) at the frequency of the peak vibration, then shift the strobe frequency by 10 or 20 cpm and focus on the machine. You’ll be able to see the relative movement and it gives a “real time” ODS (operating deflection shape). Using this, my clients have seen coupling torsional vibration waves in tank-mounted bases that are 1/4-in. high.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…

I would say, once you find a program that works, stick to it. As I’ve mentioned in past MT Reader Panel discussions, we had struggled with our R&M and PM programs for years. The company finally brought in a consultant who listened to the end users (the trades people). When the resulting program was rolled out and the maintenance team saw that their ideas and suggestions had been included, they took ownership of it. Before, whenever “flavors of the month” were rolled out, they were introduced as, “this is the program, and this the way it’s going to be done.” And they generally failed.

Industry Consultant, Mexico…

My top tip is to review asset history (at least a year’s worth) to detect major and repetitive failures, through statistical analysis, and using paretos, compare with the PMs to assure you have specific procedures to attack potential failures.

Technical Supervisor, Public Utility, West… 

In the power-generation industry, one of the most valuable assets is the (GSU) generation step-up transformer. The lead-time to replace a failed transformer is very long, and the chance of a failed unit causing a catastrophic fire is high. The electrical-power industry has developed online monitoring systems that monitor partial-discharge (PD) activity on transformer internals and high-voltage (HV) bushings. This monitoring equipment is “cheap insurance” that can detect problems and alarm on transformer or bushing internal issues. That can prevent transformer and bushing failures and keep the generating units operating safely. 

Industry Consultant, International…  

While this may not be a tip or trick, as such, I’ve found that equipment ownership and assigning operator responsibility can pay big dividends and drive reliability-cost improvement when properly applied. I may have mentioned this in previous MT Reader Panel discussions, but one of my major clients established an “Equipment Ownership Program” where operators, sometimes in partnership with a maintenance person, “owned” the equipment. The program was confined to critical equipment elements involving major production units, not just any items. These positions eventually became highly sought after. Maintenance personnel still handled overhauls, supervised lube programs, and dealt with major repair situations, of course. Equipment uptime improved dramatically.

CBM Specialist, Power Generation, South… 

While performing thermal imaging, I use a high-definition, name-brand camera that normally operates in the automatic mode. I, however, like to obtain most images using the manual mode. Here’s my timesaving tip: To quickly obtain the correct span for an image, I fill the viewfinder with the desired image. The camera will automatically select the desired span. Pressing the manual button simply locks in the span that has been acquired by the automatic function of the camera. This will provide an object of interest with a span very close to what is desired. It’s a simple way to adjust the span of the camera and provide a fast, accurate thermal image.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities,  Midwest…  

I recommend using a pocket-sized laser thermometer (that fits in your shirt pocket) because it’s easier to carry (and not forget). Mine has a range of  –22 F to 932 F, which covers most temperatures that our maintenance personnel confront. It also has an AA battery (not the button style). On a related note, you can convert any type of expandable pocket tool into an easy-to-carry expandable ruler. Using a scribe/awl or etching tool, simply mark your distances on the tool when it is fully extended. I’ve picked up many of those types of tools as tradeshow giveaways over the years.

Industry Consultant, Southeast…

What a couple of our clients have recently found helpful is the idea of a line-of-sight through their businesses from top to bottom (strategic direction) and bottom-to-top (performance management). As they plan maintenance, this concept is helping them to think of why they need an asset, what performance it needs to deliver, and how they determine that it’s not performing adequately (through SCADA, field inspection, notification from Operations and/or Engineering). This is allowing them to define what type of maintenance an asset needs, what data they need to collect prior to doing preventive maintenance, what data they need to document while inspecting for the need for corrective maintenance, and, getting all of that configured in their work-management system. 

The line-of-sight aspect focuses the conversation on why: why are you inspecting that asset, why are you doing that every six months, why are you collecting that piece of data. 

The result of one of those conversations was that tracking the physical condition using inspections and a 1-to-5 score wasn’t particularly helpful. What they really needed were notifications from Operations personnel, who observed the asset in the field and were the first to know that it wasn’t performing or able to perform its service function.

Not to worry

Although we couldn’t include every tip or trick our Panelists submitted, we’re not done with them. We’ll be using their additional recommendations and — I hope — some from you non-Panelists, in another way.

Check out below to learn how everyone can participate in “MT’s Tip of the Month” program. MT

Introducing MT’s “Tip of the Month” Program

As a reliability and/or maintenance (R&M) professional, do you have a tip (or many) that could provide value for others working in the field? Is it a quick, proven problem solution, a clever workaround, or a better way to perform a task, evaluate a situation, document an issue, or communicate information? Please tell us about it and why it could help other R&M pros. We’ll be posting these tips online, and select one each month to publish in this space. Anything goes, as long as it’s work related.

Email your tips to Be sure to include your full contact information (name, title, organization, location, phone, and email) in case we need to reach you. That’s the only way we’ll consider posting and/or possibly selecting your submission as a “Tip of the Month.” (If you wish to remain anonymous, we’ll honor your request. We still need your contact info, however.) And, no, you do not have to be a member of the MT Reader Panel to contribute. We look forward to receiving your tips!


2:59 pm
March 8, 2017
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RDI Technologies’ Iris M Lets You See Subtle, Yet Harmful, Machine Motion

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 9.05.22 AMRDI Technologies (Knoxville, TN), says “seeing is believing” when it comes to the company’s Iris M powered by Motion Amplification video-processing product and software package. The patented technology measures subtle machinery motion (including deflection, displacement, movement, and vibration) and amplifies that motion to a level that’s visible to the naked eye (see example application video). Every pixel becomes a sensor, creating millions of data points in an instant.

According to RDI, the user simply has to point the camera at an asset, obtain the video data, and push a button to amplify the true motion of the entire field of view. By drawing a box anywhere in the image, he/she can then measure the motion with a time waveform and frequency spectrum.

Editor’s Note: A recently released Stabilization Update software module for the Iris M powered by Motion Amplification package allows users to  stabilize video that contains motion from camera shake due to environments where ground vibration is unavoidable (see video). In addition to automatically stabilizing based on the entire image, this update features an option to draw a Region of Interest (ROI) in the image that the user knows to be stationary. This helps in complicated motion environments.

For more information, CLICK HERE.