Author Archive | Jane Alexander


3:53 pm
August 14, 2017
Print Friendly

Don’t Let Tribal Knowledge Slip Away

The loss of invaluable ‘tribal knowledge’ at a site is inevitable over time, but not insurmountable.

The loss of invaluable ‘tribal knowledge’ at a site is inevitable over time, but not insurmountable.

Tribal knowledge, i.e., unwritten rules or information not known by everyone in an organization, typically resides in the minds of long-term employees. Garnered over time through the school of hard knocks, most of this invaluable, undocumented knowledge is lost when those employees retire. While this may not have been much of problem in the past, it’s now hitting a crisis point, given the perfect skilled-workforce storm bearing down on plant maintenance departments everywhere.

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington, notes that the Millennial generation, which, so far, has tended to avoid the types of jobs that keep plants up and running, will comprise approximately 50% of the workforce in 2020. With the number of industrial-mechanic positions projected to grow 16% from 2014 to 2024, it’s imperative for maintenance organizations to move quickly to develop adequate talent pipelines. According to Billy Hamilton, senior vice president of Human Resources for Motion Industries (Birmingham, AL), operations that aren’t proactive in this regard could find themselves facing devastating levels of production downtime.

What can you do?

“As it turns out,” Hamilton explained, “there are a number of steps a site can take to mitigate the issue at hand.” Among them:

First, partner with your human-resource department to determine if the skill sets you need now are the same ones you will need in the future. If so, sit down with your plant-maintenance personnel and determine a likely timeframe for retirements. Waiting until an employee tells you that he or she is retiring is far too late. Create a part-time program for those who think they are ready to retire. You might be able to keep them engaged for   several years.

randmIn addition to discussing retirement with maintenance-team members, start documenting processes in detail, preferably through video recordings. The cost associated with recording these processes is minimal if the data accelerates the learning curve of new employees.

Next, reach out to your already-retired maintenance personnel. Many retirees find themselves bored six months to a year after leaving the workforce. You might be surprised to find a number of highly skilled workers willing to work part-time, even if it is only a few weeks a year during a plant shutdown or major overhaul. In light of the lessons these people might pass on, a flexible work arrangement with them would be well worth having.

Finally, work with your local high school, vocational school, and/or community colleges to develop a certification program. Offer apprenticeships and help with obtaining the necessary equipment for the school. Again, there are upfront costs involved, but over the long run, they’re minimal if you develop a skilled workforce that meets your needs.

Don’t wait.

Hamilton acknowledges that there’s no silver-bullet solution for the problem of lost tribal knowledge. “But,” he said, “being proactive, flexible, and creative in your planning for this loss will certainly lessen the pain. The key is to start as early as possible.” MT

Billy Hamilton has 26 years of experience in the field of human resources, which includes his current role with Motion Industries, Birmingham, AL, and, prior to that, work with companies such as Overhead Door Corp. and Lockheed Martin. For more information on a wide range of plant-maintenance topics, visit


3:43 pm
August 14, 2017
Print Friendly

It’s Time to Inspect Your Steam Traps

Any steam system can leak, and any trap can potentially waste steam. Properly performed, well-planned, routine system inspections are crucial.

Any steam system can leak, and any trap can potentially waste steam. Properly performed, well-planned, routine system inspections are crucial.

Savvy maintenance teams are consistent and persistent in following a protocol that monitors plant steam systems. According to a Steam Trap Inspection Guide from UE Systems (Elmsford, NY) these systems should be inspected routinely—and for good reason: Faulty steam traps not only waste energy, they can contribute to pipe erosion, negatively affect product quality in various processes, and even play a role in environmental pollution.

To be clear, the frequency of steam-trap inspections is often determined by application. For example, steam systems used just for facility comfort, i.e. heating, are usually inspected annually (in the fall), while those associated with production operations might be inspected biannually or quarterly, depending on the impact of steam on the process.

Ultrasonic inspections

Ultrasonic testers translate the high-frequency emissions of a trap down into the audible range where they are heard through headphones and seen as intensity increments on a meter. Some units have frequency tuning to filter out additional signals and to tune into the sounds of steam and condensate while others have on-board recording and data logging.

Although there are a variety of trap designs, for purposes of inspection, there are basically two main types: continuous flow and intermittent (on/off). Each type has its own unique pattern. It’s important to listen to a number of traps to determine a “normal” operation in a particular situation before proceeding with a survey. Generally, when checking a trap ultrasonically, a continuous rushing sound will be the key indicator of live steam passing through.

randmThe most common method for ultrasonically testing a steam trap is to touch it on the downstream side. The technician should then adjust the sensitivity to the point where the trap sounds are capable of being heard. This is usually a setting at which the meter’s intensity indicator is in a mid-line position. Adjusting the sensitivity to levels that are either too low or too high will make the trap sounds difficult to hear. If frequency tuning is available on the instrument, choose 25 kHz.

Important considerations

• Since ultrasonic testing of steam traps is a positive test, it provides results in real time. The main advantage of this technique is that it isolates the tested area by eliminating confusing background noises. Personnel, in turn, can quickly adjust to recognizing differences among various traps.

• While performing a steam-trap survey, it’s important to note specific trap conditions on a chart. Every trap should have a tag with a corresponding identification code. Poorly operating units should be documented in a non-compliance report and follow-up procedures planned. Be sure to include digital photographs of traps. These reports should reference items such as trap number, condition, and date of repair.

• As part of a quality-assurance procedure, all repaired traps should be scheduled for re-test. A comprehensive report describing the results of a steam-trap survey is recommended. This report should include items such as the number of traps tested, the number found in good condition, and the number of faulty ones. A cost analysis indicating the gross amount of savings, repair costs, and net savings associated with the survey should also be included.

Keep in mind

Any steam system can leak, and any trap can potentially waste steam. If performed properly, a routine, planned program of steam-trap inspection and repair can continually pay for itself and contribute to a company’s bottom line in terms of productivity, quality, and energy savings. MT

For information and registration details regarding UE Systems’ September 2017 webinar series on steam-system inspections, email Adrian Messer at, or telephone 914-282-3504.


3:16 pm
August 14, 2017
Print Friendly

Select The Best Seats for Your Butterfly Valves

randmButterfly valves owe much of their popularity to their economic cost and efficient designs. Among the butterfly valves available in today’s marketplace, the resilient-seated type (the most basic) is the design that’s commonly used in fluid-processing applications.

According to the fluid-handling experts at Crane Engineering (Kimberly, WI), the functionality of a butterfly valve is greatly dependent on its seat, which seals between the pipe flanges and the valve disc. In resilient-seated designs, the stem is centered in the middle of the valve disc that, in turn, is centered in the pipe bore. These valves typically feature a somewhat-flexible seat and rely on the disc for a high level of contact with the seat to ensure a proper seal.

Seat-Type Pros and Cons

Three basic seat styles are available for resilient-seated butterfly valves. A recent post on the Crane Engineering blog discussed the pros and cons of each, including their specific strengths and weaknesses. (Use Table I for quick reference.)

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 9.28.59 AM

1708rmcfluidhandling01dBooted (dovetail) seats. These seats have a dovetail shape that mates with the inner-diameter valve bodies. They’re easily removable and serviceable because the fit isn’t physically bonded. Unfortunately, they’re prone to movement when mounted between flanges, resulting in deformation that tends to bulge around the disc-contact points. This sensitivity to mounting conditions limits the versatility of booted-seat butterfly valves. Molded and cartridge seats were developed to address such weaknesses.

1708rmcfluidhandling02dMolded seats. These seats are bonded to the bodies of valves through an injection-molding process. While this provides a direct bond, it makes the seat irreparable. Since the seat is integrated with the valve body, the entire valve must be replaced if the seat becomes damaged. Still, a molded seat’s permanent bond with a rigid valve body has advantages over a booted seat. Molded-style seats also resist deformation and dislocation during valve mounting and are capable of dead-end or vacuum service.

1708rmcfluidhandling03dCartridge seats. These seats are created by compression molding a layer of elastomer onto a rigid phenolic backing ring, which supports the elastomer in multiple directions. This process is much more consistent than the injection molding used to create molded-style seats. It provides constant pressure to form the seat shape and maintains tight control of its dimensions. Because of the tight tolerances, cartridge seats offer the best torque consistency and highest wear resistance. This type of seat also improves upon the molded style by making the seat replaceable. In highly abrasive applications, i.e., where valves need to be replaced on a regular basis, the cartridge seat could simply be replaced rather than the entire valve.

Cartridge seats offer advantages unmatched by other seat styles. When the valve body has an integrated retaining lip, a cartridge-seated valve is capable of dead-end service. Unlike booted or dovetail seats, cartridge seats can more efficiently operate in a system that requires vacuum service.

Update Your Valve-Speak

To learn more about general valve terminology, download Crane Engineering’s  “Ultimate Glossary of Valve Terminology”. MT

Crane Engineering is a distributor of industrial-grade pumps, valves, filters, wastewater-treatment equipment, and other fluid-processing technology. Services include repair, corrosion-resistant coatings, and skid-system design and fabrication. For more information and instructional videos, visit


7:22 pm
August 10, 2017
Print Friendly

Drowning In Data? Look To The ‘Stars’

Identifying and acting on the right data can transform reliability and maintenance programs from resource black holes to key business drivers.

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Advances in common communication protocols and wireless networks have created the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), technology that connects everything from material supply through manufacturing to product shipping. As IIoT data quantity increases, plant personnel are in danger of drowning in a flood of information. The dilemma for many is how to make sense of it all and derive answers that help them successfully operate and maintain their processes. Keith Berriman of Emerson (Round Rock, TX) advises to “look to the stars.”

To put things in context, a bit of history is in order, beginning with the ancient Greeks. They, according to many scholars, were some of the first people to recognize patterns among the seemingly endless numbers of stars filling the night skies from horizon to horizon. Assigning names to groups of conspicuous stars, i.e., constellations, they wove references to them into their beliefs, literature, and other forms of cultural expression. Over the centuries, explorers and others have looked to many of these constellations to locate certain stars that could help them navigate the globe.

While not advocating that plant personnel take up actual celestial navigation, Berriman encourages them to consider a similar approach when dealing with the seemingly endless amounts of IIoT-generated data they’re confronting. As he explained, they can locate specific “stars” in their facilities that will tell them about the condition of assets and processes and, in turn, allow them to take action to prevent and mitigate failure. It’s an approach that’s feasible for virtually any plant.

“From an economic perspective,” Berriman said, “the cost of installing connected devices that run on wireless networks has fallen to less than 20% of traditional wired devices. This allows us to install sensors on all sorts of equipment that we previously would have to monitor with hand-held devices or through some type of invasive inspection.” That’s the good news.

The bad news is, despite the affordability and widespread availability of continuous-monitoring technologies, personnel still need to know what to look for amid the data that constantly streams from them. Unfortunately, all systems for analyzing such information are not created equal. “Depending on the system you use,” Berriman observed, “you may not be getting a full and correct picture of equipment and process conditions in your plant.” This is where his “look to the stars” approach to data pays off.

Bringing order to chaos

Berriman’s approach starts with sorting data into fixed and variable groups. “This,” he said, “helps us solve the risk-identification and -mitigation equation.”

Fixed data is set when the plant or system is built or modified. This includes:

• plant layout
• equipment design
• equipment data
• material master data (spare/OEM parts)
• performance parameters
• potential failure data.

These items become the known variables in the risk-identification and -mitigation equation. Variable data, though, changes during the operation of a process or asset, including, among other things, as a result of raw-material composition, process variation, weather, equipment condition, and work history.

By selecting the right data points, personnel can populate the equation and determine their position, which, in this case, means the condition of their site’s assets. Doing this requires building a set of “constellations” to identify and capture critical asset data.

A reliability program is designed to proactively identify and mitigate failures, while eliminating defects. A maintenance program is designed to preserve or restore function to a system. Effective data constellations allow reliability and maintenance teams to detect and repair problems before they have an impact on performance.

Data and reliability programs

An effective reliability program consists of interconnected building blocks that include the following four steps, aimed at identifying impending failures with enough warning to allow repair or replacement. Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) determines the causes of unexpected failures to improve the program and avoid similar events.

Build a complete master equipment list (MEL). The MEL includes the fixed data for the next steps in the process and the information required for planning and scheduling work and ordering parts and materials.

The MEL also contains an organized hierarchy of assets that users can follow to identify equipment. Ideally, the branches should extend down to the “functional location,” i.e., the place in the process where an asset operates. Associating a particular asset with a unique identifier allows it to be tracked as it moves from one location to another.

To complete the MEL, fixed data must be associated with each asset. This includes, among other things:

• equipment type (pump, motor) classification (centrifugal), location, process and operating information, process drawings, size, power, material of fabrication, and motor-frame size

• bills of material (BOMs), i.e., spare parts needed to make repairs to the equipment.

CMMS systems organize and sort this information in various ways and allow the roll-up of metrics, costs, and information to identify performance and trends.

Rank asset criticality. With an accurate MEL, sites can rank the criticality of their assets. While organizations often focus on one potential impact, such as production or safety, to completely understand the relative criticality of their equipment systems, they need to review a number of factors. Five basic categories are used to determine asset criticality:

• safety
• environment
• production
• maintenance cost
• quality.

Additional categories may be used and the weighting adjusted for the specific process under review. Weighting uses a series of questions with points associated with the severity of impact.

Ranking asset criticality requires data and expertise. The resulting distribution can be sorted into categories to determine the next level of analysis and develop preventive- and predictive-maintenance (PM and PdM) programs. Criticality should also be used to prioritize work and ensure high-risk issues are addressed in time to prevent failure.

Develop strategies. At this point, strategies to detect and mitigate impending failures can be developed. Tools for doing so include Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) and Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). They ask structured questions about the function of an asset, how it might fail, the impact of failure, and how to detect signs of failure. Since RCM requires a team of subject-matter experts and significant time, it should focus on the critical group of assets and systems. FMEA, which can be conducted by one or two participants, should focus on the essential group. Templates can be used to create strategies for the monitor group. In applying templates, it’s crucial to understand the context of an asset, given the fact the same equipment in different locations may not require the same strategy.

Note: Since the impact of their failure isn’t great, assets that fall into a No Scheduled Maintenance group won’t require routine or continuous monitoring.

Select PM/PdM condition-monitoring tools. Understanding failure modes allows personnel to select the appropriate tools for the job. Typically, this selection is based on the warning that a tool provides and the cost of performing the task. The classic P-F (performance-failure) curve illustrates the relative effectiveness of different techniques. IIoT data allows sites to combine indicators and move further back up this curve to provide earlier warnings of failure and, thus, allow plant personnel more time to plan repairs and procure replacements.

Once personnel know the data they require from a site’s network of instruments, analytics, and inspections, they can generate alerts and warnings to restore assets to good operating condition. The more advanced warning they have, the more planned and organized they can be. To that end, they should set warning alarms that allow time to plan and action alarms that indicate when prompt intervention is required. These alarms, and the data they generate, are an important part of the solution to the risk-identification and -mitigation equation, in that they help determine asset condition. As Berriman emphasized, however, “The information must still be acted on.”

Data and maintenance programs

Regardless of industry sector, type of operation, or location, one constant is the basic maintenance process. All plants need to complete the following six steps to be consistent, strong performers

Identify work. Maintenance work is identified through a variety of sources. Most work should come from PM/PdM activities and the previously described warnings and action alerts. However, there will be issues identified by operations that the program missed, requested improvements, and other tasks. These issues need to be reviewed and approved before effort is expended on planning and scheduling.

Work entering the system needs to be reviewed for the completeness of information and approved before moving to planning. Known as gate keeping, this requires a dedicated resource for consistency. Ideally, the gate-keeping role belongs to Operations, i.e., the equipment owners.

Plan work. Planning is where a job is broken down into a logical sequence of tasks, maintenance craft assigned, parts ordered, and other resources identified, including such things as scaffolding and contractors. A good job plan allows accurate scheduling and work execution. Job plans should include safety and environmental precautions, work permits, and other procedures. Data collated at this step should include equipment data, materials/parts data, work history, safety/environmental data, and resource availability.

The output of this step is a backlog of planned work to build schedules and balance workforce composition, especially where contract resources are used to augment in-house maintenance personnel.

Schedule work. This step takes the job plan data for duration and resources, and integrates production-planning data and asset criticality to create a maintenance schedule that fits the production schedule. This requires collaboration between departments to understand priorities, equipment availability, and other issues. The scheduler role should be owned by Operations since, again, it owns (controls) the equipment.

The outputs of scheduling are long-range plans and a weekly calendar of maintenance work used to create daily schedules. Daily scheduling is a joint effort to select new work for the next day from the weekly schedule and to ensure incomplete work is carried forward.

Execute work. When a day’s schedule is completed, Operations can prepare the equipment and Maintenance can execute the work. This phase includes the integration of unplanned work that might supersede scheduled tasks, known as break-in work. This work needs to be managed to prevent organizations from becoming highly reactive.

Maintenance supervisors need to monitor progress on work to communicate with Operations and to ensure time is added to the next day’s schedule for incomplete work.

Follow up/capture data. Upon completion of work, data must be captured to drive analysis, planning, and other activities. That includes capturing “as found/as left” data for instruments, repair history, failed components, time, materials, and labor, among other things. The information should then be recorded in the CMMS for future use. Responsibility for this step typically falls to maintenance technicians and supervisors.

Analyze data. Once data has been captured, analysis can be performed on failure modes to determine and mitigate bad actors, or equipment with high costs and downtime. Cost and lost-production data can be used to understand budget variances and drive key performance indicators (KPIs). Reliability teams use maintenance data for detailed statistical analysis, such as Weibull, that identify patterns of failure and predict future events.

Navigating your data

According to Keith Berriman, the Industrial Internet of Things is an opportunity to increase the generation of accurate timely data without the use of invasive and time-based processes. As the integration of systems improves, the interconnectedness of data allows more accurate and simplified presentation of information for repair/replace decisions.

“But,” he cautioned, “too much unnecessary data can obscure the information personnel are looking for and hide problems that might become critical and dangerous. While technology is a great enabler, without a strong foundation, it won’t deliver the results plants seek. “The key,” Berriman concluded, “is to be able to identify and then act on the right data.” Looking to specific “stars” in your plant is a good way to ease that voyage. MT

Keith Berriman P.Eng, CMRP, is a senior reliability consultant for Emerson, based in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information, email


7:01 pm
July 12, 2017
Print Friendly

Interpret the IP Code Correctly

Electrical mill machinery for the production of wheat flour. Grain equipment. Grain. Agriculture. IndustrialPlant personnel often see the terms “sealed,” “waterproof,” and “dust tight” in marketing and technical literature for electrical equipment. In dusty or wet applications, such as industrial slurry manufacturing, offshore oil rigs, water/wastewater treatment facilities, and milling/hulling processes, the level of “sealedness” is of prime importance to avoid contamination. But what do these terms really mean and is there a way to precisely quantify that “sealedness?”

The answer is yes, according to Meredith Christman of IMI Sensors, a division of PCB Piezotronics (, Depew, NY). In fact, an international standard that helps personnel do just that has been in place for almost 40 years.

In a recently posted white paper, Christman cites the International Electrotechnical Commission’s IEC Standard 60529: Degrees of Protection Provided by Enclosures that, in 1976, introduced the concept of quantifying a product’s level of “sealedness” with the establishment of the Ingress Protection (IP) Code. Limited to enclosures for electrical equipment with a rated voltage of less than or equal to 72.5 kV, this standard defines protection against ingress of body parts, solids, and liquids toward hazardous electrical or mechanical components.

Christman then goes on to explain how plant personnel can interpret the IP Code. Among other things, she includes details on:

Specified tests

randmIn defining and quantifying the “sealedness” levels of the three ingress protection categories, i.e., “sealedness” against body parts, solids and liquids, the IEC Standard 60529 prescribes corresponding tests. General test requirements recommend the atmospheric conditions during which each test should take place, while specific test procedures stipulate the following:

• location of the contaminant source as compared to the electrical equipment

• length of time that the electrical equipment should be subjected to the contaminant

• amount of contaminant to which the electrical equipment should be subjected.

Specific IP ratings

Once a product has successfully passed the appropriate tests, it can be marketed with a specific IP rating. This rating consists of the IP designation followed by one of four alphanumeric characters, with each character identifying a particular level of protection or a specific nuance about a particular protection level.

Alphanumeric #1: Protection against ingress of body parts and solids (with priority to solids).  Ratings range from no protection to protection against solids as fine as dust. When a product is rated to a particular level, it can be automatically assumed that that product could also be successfully rated to all other levels below it. Performing the tests associated with the lower levels of protection is not required.

Alphanumeric #2: Protection against ingress of liquids. Ratings range from no protection to protection against any liquid during a continuous-submersion application. When a product is rated to a particular splash level, it can be automatically assumed that that product could also be successfully rated to all other levels below it. However, when a product is rated to a particular submersion level, it can only be automatically assumed that the product could also be successfully rated to the other submersion levels below it without additional testing, but not to the lower splash levels. If a product needs to have both a splash and submersion rating, then both sets of applicable tests need to be performed.

Alphanumeric #3: Protection against ingress of body parts if not adequately described in alphanumeric #2.

Alphanumeric #4: Supplementary information.

For more details, download the white paper, “Keeping Out Contaminants: Understanding Ingress Protection Ratings” by clicking here and choosing the “Industrial” tab. MT

Meredith Christman is a product manager II with IMI Sensors, a division of PCB Piezotronics, Depew, NY,


6:57 pm
July 12, 2017
Print Friendly

Adhere to a ‘Best Practices’ Cyber Framework

Security concept: Lock on digital screen, contrast, 3d renderIn 2013, the United States’ National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, Gaithersburg, MD, was tasked with developing a framework that would become an authoritative source for cybersecurity best practices. Other countries have similar standards or are actively working on versions. In some places, such as France, these standards carry the weight of law.

According to Andrew Kling, director of Cybersecurity and Software Practices for Schneider Electric (, Andover, MA), the standards that emerged from the NIST framework established an ordered, structured approach to addressing cybersecurity challenges and helped translate vague, fear-based concerns into commonsense risk analysis, risk-tolerance assessment, and risk avoidance.

“Confronting the cybersecurity challenge as part of a focused risk-management program,” Kling noted, “allows an organization to take on one of the biggest threats to its ability to deliver shareholder value. For plants to operate profitably, they must protect the reliability of their assets and operations. Cybersecurity attacks threaten their reliability, which in turn jeopardizes their ability to turn a profit.”

randmHe explained that, while the set of core cybersecurity practices necessary to manage cyberthreats are well known, there are still barriers to adoption. For the most part, these obstacles are related to an improper understanding of the risks at hand, as well as to an organization’s ability to resist them.

Consequently, despite regulatory and risk-management incentives, Kling said finding companies that effectively address cybersecurity is rare. To his way of thinking, it’s time to change the conversation away from the fear of a cyber attack to something understood in all boardrooms: How do cyber attacks threaten the reliability of plant assets and operations and their ability to contribute to the bottom line.

This requires managers to know and understand their plants’ cybersecurity positions and appetites for risk tolerance. This information helps them recognize the difference between where they are managing cyber risks and how much gap there is to close. Here’s where a strategy to improve an operation’s cybersecurity readiness through comprehensive security-risk management pays off.

Crucial steps

What’s an operation to do? Andrew Kling points to these specifics:

• Discuss and understand your risk-management plan and objectives (which usually means protecting your ability to produce).

• Locate responsibility for risk management in your organization so that decision making, execution, and incident response are efficient and successful. Assess your risk-management workflows.

• Ascertain the value of your manufacturing processes and assets to your organization and potential attackers. Basically, you need to calculate your security risk. For example: If the plant were to go down for a day due to a cyber attack, loss of production would equal $X.

• Model the cyber-threat landscape. Analyze threats specific to your industry and your plant. Remember that threats are constantly evolving as new skills, techniques, and tools emerge. You might need expert help.

• Determine where security-risk-management functions should integrate into your organization’s infrastructure. These functions can take many forms, i.e., risk avoidance, mitigation, acceptance, and/or transference.

• Construct a cybersecurity plan that lets the organization respond to an evolving threat landscape. Analyze options to the plan and rank the effectiveness of its elements in reducing risks.

• Prioritize and execute the plan to manage your organization’s cyber risks.

• Keep in mind that program elements, such as bug patching and threat monitoring, are continuous. A cybersecurity risk-management plan isn’t a single event, but a continuous operation.

In short, have a plan, execute it, measure its effectiveness, and, if necessary, adjust it. Taking these simple steps to manage your cybersecurity risks can have a significant impact (in a good way) on your bottom line. MT

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

For more information, visit and


6:52 pm
July 12, 2017
Print Friendly

On The Floor: Continuing Storms Ahead for Industry

Stormy landscape background with street

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

This month’s MT Reader Panel question was sparked by Bob Williamson’s June 2017 “Uptime” column. In it, he recounted asking an audience of approximately 90 maintenance pros at an Oklahoma Predictive Maintenance User’s Group event to list the top three maintenance challenges they expected to see in the next three, to five, to 10 years. They came up with 117 challenges, which Bob discussed in detail. We wondered if our Panelists shared similar concerns. For purposes of this unscientific survey, we asked them to discuss a single “top” challenge—the most critical one in their respective views.

Q: From their perspectives as end users, consultants, or suppliers, what was the top maintenance challenge they would expect to continue nagging sites or emerge as another fact of life in industrial operations in the near future (over the next decade)?

The answers we received point to several storms rolling across the industrial landscape. Here, edited for brevity and clarity, are some of our Panelists’ thoughts.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…

More testing is now tied to computers and maintenance departments use them to not only operate equipment, but to track maintenance and repairs. That means the average maintenance employee will need classroom training and hands-on experience in these technologies. On a related note, years ago, new equipment came with a user’s manual of about 20 to 50 pages. These manuals are now complete books, with as many as 500 pages (including 100 pages just on troubleshooting). Going forward, industrial maintenance or operations personnel will probably require at least a two-year associates degree. Those who used to be able to learn on the job may be left behind.

CBM Specialist, Power Generation, South…

The biggest challenge I see coming for maintenance and reliability across all industries is impending inexperience within the craft. It takes about three years for a reliability technician to become proficient in collecting good data, downloading it, analyzing it, and making good, solid recommendations. I don’t see any movement by upper management to begin incipient training in the reliability field or leverage valuable training from experienced reliability technicians that will retiring from industry within the next decade (and taking their knowledge and skills with them). This is my personal experience, knowledge, and general observation of the industry.

College Electrical Lab Manager/Instructor/Consultant, West…

Companies can’t find skilled technicians that have the values and ethics to stick to maintenance functions. Many techs don’t seem to want to learn continuously and tend to jump from one employer to another for a few dollars more.

Many colleges teach theory with little hands-on training and trouble- shooting skills. I’m 72 years old and still working. I’m educated, skilled, have degrees, licenses, all that stuff you earn after 50 years in the field. The people entering the maintenance field today want to solve everything with a computer and not get dirty.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…

This is a pretty easy question to answer, using another question: How do we replace our aging tradesmen and tradeswomen? At our facility, the average age of our trades force is in the mid-fifties. Within the next five to seven years, close to two thirds of our workforce could retire. Given the lack of young people interested in skilled trades over the last two decades, we really are in a bad situation. Having to hire a retired tradesman who is in his early sixties to fill a position goes to show you how much trouble we’re in.

Maintenance Manager, Food Processing, South…

To sum up the top challenge that will be affecting industry for years to come, we’ve basically lost at least two generations of maintenance technicians. Those that we (our operations) get now are what I call “gamers.” They’ve done nothing but play video games.

When I “signed up” for maintenance, everyone knew weekend work was part of it. Most newer maintenance workers seem to be against working weekends, the time maintenance really has to do their PMs and project work.

Our turnover is very high, which has really taken a toll on experience in my department. Having lost most of the senior techs, we are finding that the younger generation takes no ownership of equipment or shows much dedication. They will call in [take off work] regardless of our plans, knowing we’ll be in a jam. What’s worse, they’ll show no concern [for putting us in a jam] when they return.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been anywhere from 10 and 12 to 20+ short in maintenance (from a 67-person total staffing). This leaves us with 20% to 30% of our workforce open, which creates a backlog of work that just keeps getting bigger, with no end in sight. About 50% of my current maintenance staff has less than three years seniority, and 75% of these have about a year to year and a half. We are challenged to say the least.

Industry Consultant, International…

Any and/or all of the points Bob Williamson discussed are of concern. As a consultant, I would say one challenge that has developed over the years involves almost all of them.

Senior management used to plan budgets with maintenance managers, plant engineers, maintenance superintendents, and others, on at least an annual-budget basis, with five-year plans furnished as estimates. These days, senior management frequently is tied to quarterly bottom-line results that tend to push quarterly financial results as a high priority.

The overall result is that maintenance asset management is often short-changed for the short-term goal of maximizing the quarterly bottom line. While this is basically a corporate management problem, it continues to interfere with good asset-management practices. MT


6:23 pm
July 12, 2017
Print Friendly

Change Your Lubrication Mindset

Achieving desired goals requires an honest assessment of the status quo.

Oiling Gears Close-up

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

While physicians can diagnose health issues and recommend appropriate treatments, patients can often help themselves get better by changing some of their personal habits and/or lifestyle choices. Mike Gauthier of Trico Corp. (, Pewaukee, WI) stated that the same holds true with equipment-lubrication issues. As he put it, most industrial operations “could gain a gold mine of benefits” through better management of lubricants and lubrication practices associated with critical equipment. “But only if they really want to change.”

According to Gauthier, if your plant is like countless others, with thousands of lubrication points spread out across multiple areas, the idea of changing its lubrication mindset, including simply getting started, might seem daunting. If that describes your situation, Gauthier suggests taking a graduated approach based, in large part, on an understanding of your organization’s current lubrication practices. He offers several tips for moving forward with this approach, along with sample questions from a 13-page self-assessment form that could help facilitate needed changes.

A graduated approach

“Sometimes,” Gauthier explained, “sites look at reliability programs on a scale of 1 to 10, and then fail to put a program in place because they could only hope to reach a 5.” The good news, he said, is that personnel don’t have to solve everything at once. Moreover, not every plant needs to achieve world-class status to realize a bottom-line boost in reliability.

A graduated approach can be a better option. It begins with identification of your most critical assets and the problems associated with them, establishment of key performance indicators (KPIs), and setting goals. If you can document the benefits of incremental reliability improvements, this typically creates all the buy-in necessary to get to the next level. “Start with one production line, building, or area,” Gauthier advised, “then build momentum from there.”

Before you can set reasonable goals and a plan to achieve them, however, you must fully understand your current practices. That’s why an honest self-assessment is an essential first step. To that end, Gauthier suggests taking a moment to consider your site’s current maintenance strategy. How would you characterize it?

1. (Poor) Reactive—running-to-failure and fixing things when they break down

2. (Fair) Preventive—preventing breakdowns by performing regular maintenance

3. (Good) Predictive—periodically inspecting, servicing, and cleaning assets

4. (Excellent) Proactive—predicting when equipment failure might occur

5. (Optimum) Condition Monitoring—continuously monitoring assets while in operation.

Once you’ve come to terms with the overall maintenance strategy, it’s time to dig deeper into how the site tackles lubrication. To simplify the process, Gauthier recommends going through a detailed, lubrication self-assessment exercise. Sample questions include:

1. Storage, handling, and disposal: What system best represents your current visual aid for lubricant management?

• We have adopted a color-coding system or a similar system using shapes.
• We only use one grease, one hydraulic fluid, and one gear oil. A color-coded visual-aid system is not necessary.
• No color-coding or labeling visual-aid system has been adopted.
• Not sure.

2. Lubrication and re-lubrication practices: How are equipment-oil changes determined in your facility?

• Oil changes are initiated based on oil analysis provided by a commercial partner or independent oil-analysis laboratory.
• Oil changes are initiated based on oil analysis conducted in the plant by certified lubrication technicians.
• Oil changes are performed based on a visual assessment done by our lubrication technicians.
• Oil changes are done on a calendar-based interval.
• Oil changes are done on an as-needed basis, due to a failure, a rebuild, or replacement.

3. Contamination control: What is the most common method for excluding contamination from sumps and reservoirs in your facility?

• Breather or vent originally installed by the OEM on the component.
• Normally closed, desiccating, and particulate-filtering breathers.
• No breathers of any type installed on any equipment.
• Standard, normally opened, disposable desiccant breathers.
• Standard particle filters on breather ports.
• Not sure.

4. Sampling technology: What location best describes where most oil samples are taken from your oil-lubricated equipment?

• Static oil reservoirs or sumps through the vent or fill ports.
• Turbulent zone in a representative location.
• Long runs of straight pipe.
• Downstream of system components and upstream of system filters.
• Not currently taking oil samples from any component or system at a regular frequency.

5. Lubrication-analysis program: Who is responsible for setting oil-analysis alarms and limits for the majority of your equipment?

• Not currently using oil analysis as a condition-based maintenance tool.
• Lab owned by our lubricant supplier sets all alarms and limits.
• We have not set any alarms or limits.
• We worked closely with a commercial laboratory to help define the most appropriate alarms and limits to help us achieve our reliability and production goals.

Often, according to Gauthier, the hardest part in improving management of lubricants and lubrication practices at a site is for personnel to be honest enough among themselves to acknowledge/admit to their current situation. “But if an organization is serious about changing its lubrication mindset,” he said, “this type of self-assessment will put it on the path to success.” MT

Mike Gauthier is director of Global Services for Trico Corp., Pewaukee, WI. To access the complete lubrication self-assessment described in this article, click here.