Archive | February


6:00 am
March 1, 2009
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You Get What You Pay For… Or Do You?

Even in the best of times, you couldn’t afford to gamble on the efficiency and reliability of your pumping systems. Don’t start now.

you-get-what-you-pay-forOne of the most costly mistakes that almost every company makes with its pumps is to actually buy the wrong pump. Sadly, this is a situation that occurs with much more frequency than anyone would care to admit. The ramifications are truly enormous—and they are magnified even more in tough economic environments. Efficiency drops. Reliability plummets. Maintenance costs rise dramatically.

Two of the most common reasons behind buying the wrong pump are:

  1. Providing the supplier with incomplete information.
  2. Buying the cheapest pump.

Providing incomplete information to suppliers
Frequently, when a pump is being selected, it is known that the unit will need to operate at more than a single condition. Unfortunately, this information is not always transmitted to the supplier, and it is the customer’s engineer who decides for which of these conditions the pump will be sized. It is not uncommon for that decision to be made based on what is considered to be the “Worst Condition.” The thought process being that, “if it can handle the worst condition, it should be able to handle all the others.” Such is not the case. In fact, when a pump is selected for the “Worst Condition,” that immediately becomes the “Best Condition,” by virtue of the fact that it is the duty for which the pump has been selected.

The resultant problems show up in two ways: when the Static Head in a system undergoes a change and also when Friction Losses change.

Static Head changes…
A classic example of such a situation is in a batch transfer system, where the Total Head is constantly adjusting as a result of the change in tank levels throughout the batch process. Consequently, when the supplier is given only one set of operating conditions for this application, he is receiving inaccurate and misleading information.


Let’s assume that the operating conditions supplied will be the startup conditions where the level of liquid in the supply tank will be at its highest, while the level in the discharge tank could be zero. This will translate into a low value of Static Head as is depicted in Fig. 1. The pump also will be selected to operate close to the Best Efficiency Point (BEP)—which also happens to be the most reliable operating condition of that pump.

However, as the level of liquid in the supply tank drops and the level in the discharge tank increases, the Static Head will steadily increase. By the time there is no longer any liquid in the supply tank, the level in the discharge tank will be at its maximum. At this point the Static Head will also be at its maximum and the Pump Performance Curve will be as shown. At this point, the pump should be shut down.

As the pump operation moves steadily from startup to shutdown, there will be a corresponding change in pump capacity. However, as the system approaches the shutdown point, the pump performance will become unstable, thus resulting in low reliability and high maintenance costs.

Had the complete system information been provided to the pump supplier, an alternative selection with a steeper performance curve could have been made—placing the BEP midway between the startup and shutdown conditions. As shown in Fig. 2, this is a more reliable pump selection as it provides a more stable operation within a smaller range of flow rates.


A similar situation can occur in a boiler feed system, where the feed pump takes its suction from a de-aerator under vacuum and supplies a boiler under pressure. In this system, the Differential Pressure is not a function of the flow rate and will have similar consequences as the Static Head change in the previous example. Any change in pressure—in either the deaerator or the boiler—will cause the system curve to fluctuate as is identified in Fig 2.

Friction loss changes…
A closed loop system is one in which the entire system is pressurized by the pump. To achieve this, the pumpage is fully contained within a series of pipes and pressurized process equipment all the way from the pump discharge, through the system and back to the pump inlet. In such a layout, the Static Head in the system is effectively zero, and the pumping conditions are usually controlled by adjusting the friction losses.

A change in friction loss can be caused by a variety of conditions such as manual operation or automated controls opening and closing a different valving system. This will result in the System Curve adopting a different slope that will pivot about its point of origin at zero capacity.

The same effect also can be realized when the bore of the pipe in the discharge side of the pump reduces in size owing to some kind of buildup such as scaling, etc. This type of a buildup also may occur inside process equipment such as filters or heat exchangers. These buildups automatically reduce the bore of the pipe and, therefore, increase the friction losses in that pipe. The consequences of these changes will take years to become evident.

When we are selecting a pump for a particular service, it is important to be aware of all the ramifications of that service before deciding on which type of unit to use. Often, the basic operating data is insufficient for an optimum selection. Knowledge of any extreme or upset conditions must be made available to the supplier in order that the correct pump can be purchased. This will minimize maintenance costs and maximize pump and system reliability and efficiency.

Buying the cheapest pump
Although the policy of always buying the cheapest product or service is one that few of us practice in our private lives, it continues to be the single biggest mistake made by pump users. Why?

The reason simply may be one of ignorance. Many people think that if all pumps under consideration meet the specification (assuming there is one!), then the cheapest one is the best buy. Alas, that is just not true and the problem often resides within the specification itself.

Most pump specifications are either inappropriate or incomplete. This is a very serious situation—and one that occurs far too often. Typically it stems, not from malicious misrepresentation or withholding of data, but rather from the specifier(s)’ limited knowledge of field conditions and the understanding of how these conditions might impact a pump’s performance and reliability.

All pump reliability problems arise from either internal or external stresses. The internal stresses mostly occur as a result of upset hydraulic conditions—which are rarely discussed in any specification, regardless of how integral they are to the system in which the pump must operate. The external stresses come from inappropriate installation or operation and they, too, tend to be ignored in the specification. In the end, the real issue is that the selected pump must be able to withstand these (sometimes) unknown stresses. The cheaper pump rarely does.


Negotiating the price…
Traditional pricing negotiation frequently shows up in the guise of “Your price is too high!” That instantly takes the emphasis away from the need to buy the best value, and not the lowest price. Many salespeople have not yet realized that this statement is simply a set piece in the informal script of the negotiation process, which has become part of the pump purchasing scenario over the years. Any purchasing agent worth his or her salt will use that phrase at some time during negotiations—regardless of the specific numbers in front of him or her.

Regrettably, this problem is aggravated by the fact that many of those who purchase pumps don’t know how to evaluate one pump bid against another on anything other than a subjective basis. Consequently, the low-bid policy continues to rule.

The sad part is that this misguided strategy, over the years, has resulted in elimination of the availability of some very-good-quality products in certain markets. This, ultimately, leaves the industries in those markets with inappropriate and usually inefficient equipment with which to transfer and process the liquids needed in their operation.

The long-term consequence of this scenario usually finds these same end users negotiating low bids on the prices of the over-abundance of spare parts they need to keep their pumps operational. Many of these parts are now supplied by third-party organizations that rarely accept responsibility for any inappropriate changes in hydraulic operation of the pumps for which they provide the parts.

The trouble is that, when we buy the cheapest pump, it almost always is less efficient, breaks down more easily—and more frequently—and often doesn’t even do the job that was expected of it. This results in more power draw, which increases the cost of running the pump. More frequent breakdowns increase the cost of spares and expended manpower, as well as an overall reduction in reliability.

The correction
Value-Based Purchasing helps us buy the pumps that are the best available in the market—and the ones most suited to the operation for which they are being purchased.

This approach involves a detailed evaluation and comparison of pump quotes, and always will require some degree of subjective evaluation about the accuracy of the data presented.

In this area, some previous experience with pumps and potential suppliers will be invaluable. The overall consideration, however, must continue to be the best long-term value for the money. To do that, we must consider specific aspects of the equipment being purchased, including:

  1. Hydraulic suitability to the service
  2. Efficiency of operation
  3. Mechanical suitability to the service

Reliability-focused organizations already include some type of evaluation for the first two factors in their considerations. The only comment that can be made would be in relation to the hydraulic suitability of the pump for the service. This only can be established if all the extremes of operation are considered, and not just the ‘normal’ conditions.

With respect to efficiency of operation, an evaluation of power cost is fairly standard, and is based on the particular cost of usable power in that plant. To ensure a real appreciation of the value of an efficient pump, it is strongly recommended that the actual power consumption cost for each pump under consideration be calculated. Do not be tempted into only calculating the difference in efficiency quoted, as it tends to give a false impression.

It is recommended also that life-cycle cost considerations for various system setups be considered along with the various mechanical options within the pump itself. In view of the ready availability of computer-based design programs and pump selection programs, this is a far simpler exercise than it used to be in the olden days when slide rules were accurate. One major benefit that has been identified in recent years is the ability to change the size of the pipes in the system design and show the resulting comparison of the system curves. With a larger pipe diameter, the flow velocities and friction losses are reduced, the Head required from the pump also is lowered, together with the power draw needed to drive that pump.

In other words, since we don’t always buy the “cheapest” of anything else in our lives, let’s start working with a value-based approach to pump purchasing, and stop buying the wrong pumps. By purchasing the right pumps up front, we will be able to increase efficiency and reliability and reduce maintenance costs over the entire desired service life of the equipment. MT

Ross Mackay is an internationally renowned expert in pumping reliability and the author of The Practical Pumping Handbook. He specializes in helping companies increase their pump asset reliability and reduce operating and maintenance costs through a range of pump training programs. Telephone: (800) 465-6260; Web:

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11:35 pm
February 1, 2009
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Capacity Assurance Marketplace

solution_spotlights_skfVibration Monitoring Technology Customized For Your Applications

SKF’s Microlog Analyzer AX, with simultaneous triaxial or 4-channel vibration measurement capability, speeds up data collection and saves time in monitoring rounds. Its 806 MHz Xscale processor means faster real-time rate and display updates, all viewed on the vivid 6.4″ VGA color display. Users can select from a range of application modules, to suit their individual requirements, and add modules as needs develop. Pre-configured models (AX-M, AX-S and AX-F) also are available with a selection of loaded modules to fit various needs. The Microlog Analyzer AX is compatible with SKF @ptitude Analyst 4.1 or later software.

SKF Reliability Systems
San Diego, CA

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solution_spotlights_electronic_development_labsEnsure Accuracy Of Your Insulation Resistance Testing

According to Electronic Development Labs (EDL), its Megaohm Validator takes the doubt out of your insulation resistance testing by providing a simple method to ensure insulation resistance testers are operating properly. Measurements with insulation testers in high resistance ranges are often difficult to interpret when problems exist in the unit undergoing testing. Erratic readings caused by polarization, moisture and poor insulation result in faulty analysis and cause doubt in the measurement. This is why verifying the tester and lead performance is vital to understanding the measurement. Lightweight and portable, the Megaohm Validator can be used in the laboratory or field.

Electronic Development Labs, Inc.
Danville, VA

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solution_spotlights_iotechDynamic Signal Analyzer With Temperature And Voltage Inputs

IOtech has released the USB-based 655u, the latest in the 600 Series of Dynamic Signal Analyzers (DSAs). Offering both temperature and voltage input channels, the 655u is the first DSA in the 600 Series to offer the type of direct temperature measurements that can be a critical part of many vibration analysis and monitoring applications. It also is compatible with IOtech’s eZ-Series software: eZ-TOMAS and eZ-TOMAS Remote for rotating machine analysis, eZ-Analyst for real-time vibration and acoustic analysis, and eZ-Balance for machine balancing (DSA channel support only with eZ Analyst and eZ-Balance).

Cleveland, OH

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solution_spotlights_pumps_2000Efficient, Low-Maintenance AODD Pump Redesign

Pumps 2000 now offers the Dual Diaphragm Pump, the first redesign of the AODD. These low-maintenance units were developed for use in tough Australian mining conditions, where performance and reliability are paramount. They feature patented diaphragms and valves, and air motors that are stall-free and capable of running with low air consumption and no lubrication requirements. Their plastic design is not only lighter than that of earlier units, it helps these pumps resist deterioration even in low-pH locations.

Pumps 2000America/Megator
Pittsburgh, PA

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solution_spotlights_wahlNew High-Accuracy RTD Thermometers

Wahl has begun offering the DST500 Temperature Indicator and the DSX500 Transmitter Thermometers that are suited to many applications where accurate and reliable temperature monitoring and transmitting are critical. They both feature a 1″ high LCD display that is readable from 30 feet away and are available in a variety of standard and custom-built probe configurations, including MIG standard tapered bulb for drop-in direct MIG replacement and tight-fit installations. According to the manufacturer, a unique Quick Disconnect option allows the user to remove the probe and meter for calibration without removing the permanently installed cable.

Wahl Insruments, Inc.
Asheville, NC

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The Power Of A DCS For Smaller Plants

Honeywell’s Experion® LS control system provides the power and reliability of a distributed control system (DCS) in a small and flexible solution. It manages all continuous process control applications and optimizes batch and sequence-oriented applications. Scalable from a single PC and controller to multiple stations, it is suited for smaller plants. According to the company, because it requires less engineering effort to configure and is easier to maintain than a PLC or large DCS, Experion LS can help plants save up to $20,000 per year in support per system. Simplified configuration also enables faster and more-reliable changeovers, allowing operators to more easily modify batch recipes and increase production.

Honeywell Process Solutions
Phoenix, AZ

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6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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My Take: Get Back On Your Pony


Jane Alexander, Editor-In-Chief

Watching wave upon wave of terrible economics news roll in over the past few weeks has had me thinking back to the Christmas when Santa Claus left two weary-looking Shetland ponies for my brothers and me. I had just turned nine, and money was pretty tight for my South Texas farm family. Santa, though, was a consummate bargain hunter. He cut a deal with an even more cash-strapped carnival operation that was wintering near our home on the Mexican border and managed to deliver on every child’s dream—or so we thought.

Bless their insolent little hearts, unlike some big, sleek, even-tempered horses that had roamed our place in better times, these creatures were short, scraggly and downright mean. Having escaped bleak lives in which they were expected to shuffle endlessly around in circles with exuberant, often ill-behaved brats on their backs, they had no intention of pursuing the same goals as the four hopeful and excited little heathens that came with their new digs.

We kids could easily picture ourselves riding like the wind across the fields behind the house— the ponies couldn’t. It was a point they made abundantly clear by constantly snorting, stomping, snapping, biting and kicking at us. Even worse, every time we managed to get up on their backs, they would immediately begin bucking and twisting and throw us right off. Things certainly weren’t going as planned. After a few painful hours on Christmas Day, we all were ready to give up.

Our bruised behinds and even-more bruised egos, however, didn’t elicit much sympathy from our folks. It didn’t matter how loudly we wailed or carried on, “Get back on your pony and ride,” was all they would say to each of us, over and over. “Right now!”

And we did, of course. We had to. In fact, by early spring, when the carnival—along with our ponies—headed north for its annual swing through the Midwest, each of us had become quite proficient at hanging on and guiding our stubby little steeds in directions that they might not actually have chosen for themselves. In retrospect, though, I don’t think anybody in the family really missed the Shetlands after they left. They were, after all, very obstinate critters.

On the other hand, my brothers and I did learn some valuable lessons from this episode—lessons that have served us well any time a situation or event in our lives has “thrown” us. The most important of these is that no matter how scared, how tired or how hurt you are, you can’t stay down. Whatever it takes, you have to get right back on whatever “pony” bucked you off, hang on as tight as you can and ride wherever you really want to go. Which brings me back to the worsening global recession…

More individuals, institutions and industries than we can count have been thrown violently by or from something in the past year. Today, as I write this column, hardworking people and companies all over America are STILL waiting for the House and Senate to pass a compromise economic stimulus package. While this “pony” may not be as perfect as some might like, it could be just enough to spark the type of hope and confidence that will help put workers and businesses across all sectors back in the saddle again. With their energy, enthusiasm and ability to innovate, you can bet that they’ll get our economy where it truly needs to be. All they need is the pony. MT


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6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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MT News

News of people and events important to the maintenance and reliability community


Honeywell has announced the appointment of Norman “Norm” Gilsdorf as president of Honeywell Process Solutions. He replaces Jack Bolick, who has retired from the corporation after 10 years of service, including six years as president of the Process Solutions business. Gilsdorf, most recently, had been vice-president and general manager of Honeywell Process Solutions in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Prior to joining that organization, he had been with the wholly owned Honeywell International subsidiary UOP, for which he had served in various executive capacities since 1977.


ASCO Numatics (ASCO), an Emerson Industrial Automation business, has announced the start of its 2009/2010 academic-year application period for two $5000 scholarships available to U.S. engineering students pursuing careers in industrial automation-related disciplines. ASCO also will make $1000 grants to the engineering departments of the colleges in which the winners are enrolled.

These scholarships are merit-based and will be awarded based on the candidate’s potential for leadership and for making a significant contribution to the engineering, instrumentation, systems, electrical, mechanical and automation professions, particularly as they relate to the application of fluid control and fluid power technology. A panel of ASCO Numatics and independent judges will select the finalists.

Applicants must be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate program in an engineering, instrumentation, systems, electrical, mechanical or automation discipline at an accredited U.S. educational institution for the 2009/2010 academic year. At the time of application, they must have completed at least their sophomore year in a bachelor’s degree program, have at least a 3.2 GPA on a 4.0 scale, and be a U.S. citizen or legal U.S. resident. For details and application forms, visit


American Superconductor Corporation, a leading energy technologies company, has announced that it has entered into a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) to validate the economics of a full 10 megawatt (MW) class superconductor wind turbine. AMSC is separately developing full 10 MW-class wind turbine component and system designs. A CRADA allows the Federal government and industry partners to optimize their resources, share technical expertise in a protected environment and speed the commercialization of technologies.

Under the 12-month program, AMSC Windtec™, a wholly owned subsidiary of AMSC, will analyze the cost of a full 10 MW-class superconductor wind turbine, which will include a direct drive superconductor generator and all other components, including the blades, hub, power electronics, nacelle, tower and controls. The NWTC will then benchmark and evaluate the wind turbine’s economic impact, both in terms of its initial cost and its overall cost of energy.

Direct drive wind generator systems utilizing high-temperature superconductor (HTS) wire instead of copper wire for the generator’s rotor are expected to be much smaller, lighter, more efficient and more reliable than conventional generators and gearboxes. AMSC estimates that its superconductor technology will enable a 10 MW-class generator system that would weigh approximately 120 metric tons, compared with approximately 300 metric tons for conventional direct drive generators with this power rating. In addition, direct drive generators eliminate the need for massive gearboxes, the component with the highest maintenance costs in conventional wind turbines. This will open up the opportunity for the development of wind farms in more areas on land and offshore.


The Center for Maintenance Optimization and Reliability Engineering (C-MORE) at the University of Toronto has signed a long-term agreement with Applied Technology Publications (ATP) to partner on future educational and developmental opportunities. The first event on which the partners will collaborate is IMEC – The Asset Management Conference, (, scheduled for September 9-11, 2009, in Toronto.

According to Ali Zuashkiani, Ph.D., C-MORE’s director of Educational Programs, this newly announced agreement formalizes a mutually beneficial partnership that connects C-MORE’s leading research and training in the area of asset management with the vast marketing and industry reach of ATP, a respected publisher of high-quality information for asset management practitioners in North America.

Prospective conference speakers and exhibitors should contact Bill Kiesel, Vice President and Publisher, Applied Technology Publications, at, or visit for more information.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Applied Technology Publications is publisher of a number of trade journals, including Maintenance Technology and Lubrication Management & Technology, and the producer of MARTS [the Maintenance & Reliability Technology Summit].)


According to a recent survey sponsored by Rockwell Automation and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe, among other things, that safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient production are the most important manufacturing issues in today’s economy. Commenting on the survey’s findings, Rockwell chairman and CEO Keith Nosbusch said: “Whether it’s toys, peanut butter or pet food, product quality is top of mind for Americans. Consumers recognize that government incentives to invest in more highly automated, modern factories can both stimulate U.S. economic growth and lead to safer, cleaner and more energy-efficient production at the same time.”Nosbusch also noted that while most Americans think incorrectly that the U.S. is no longer the world’s largest manufacturer, they feel there is an urgent need for government stimulus. “Government incentives to modernize manufacturing will help create highly-skilled, higher-paying jobs upgrading and operating more automated U.S. factories for many years to come,” he stated. “The technologies are cost-effective and ready to be deployed today for benefits that are both immediate and sustainable.”

Among the statistics…
When considering a manufacturing company, survey respondents said some of the most important attributes included being able to:

• Provide safe, quality products (86%)

• Provide a safe workplace (84%)

• Use natural resources efficiently (80%)

• Produce minimal waste (71%)

• Keep current prices or reduce prices (59%)

Despite the economic downturn, this survey found that support remains strong and unchanged from a similar survey last summer for government incentives to U.S. companies to invest in technology and automation to remain competitive and keep manufacturing operations from moving overseas. More than three-quarters (79%) said the government should provide such incentives and that U.S. manufacturers need to invest in automating and modernizing their factories in order to:

• Use energy, raw materials or natural resources more efficiently (92%)

• Continue to remain competitive and grow (89%)

• Minimize waste and other environmental impacts (86%)

• Provide safer, high quality products (85%)

• Respond more quickly to customer demands (85%)

• Provide a safer workplace (83%)

The telephone surveys on which this research was based were conducted January 15-18, 2009 and May 2008. To review the full survey, please visit


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6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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Viewpoint: The Three-Person Boat


Christer Idhammar, President IDCON, INC.

Many years ago, one of my uncles asked me, “Christer, do you know what a three-man rowing boat is?” As I could not figure out the answer, he continued. “It is a boat with a crew of three. One rows, one is assigned to bail out the boat and one is crying for help.”

During my plant visits, I often hear the following comment from Maintenance employees: “Why do you talk to us about best maintenance practices? We know this stuff and we want to do all of it; the problem is within the Operations organization. They cannot count to more than one when setting priorities. They want everything ‘done now,’ so we don’t have time to plan work here.”

I, in turn, ask the questioners why they don’t just tell Operations that it will have to wait to get some work done. “Around here,” they typically answer, “we are told that Operations is our internal customer and Maintenance is a service to them. That makes it difficult to argue.”

“So who is responsible for the cost of maintenance?” I wonder. “I guess we are,” they say, “because if we spend more than what’s budgeted, we’re in the hot seat, and we ended there because we did what the customer requested.” In other words, these Maintenance staffs are in a very reactive state, which means they are trying desperately to keep their boats afloat.

From Operations, on the other hand, I frequently hear: “We do not understand what the Maintenance people do. We have many breakdowns and we often have to wait to get work done. They even work a lot of overtime. We agree with you, they should implement all of the best maintenance practices you talk about.” These Operations people clearly see themselves rowing their boats as fast as they can.

Then, from Plant Management, I’ve heard: “We agree wholeheartedly with you. Can you tell us how we can convince Operations and Maintenance? Sometimes we feel like we’re calling out for help from a sinking boat.”

The point is that Maintenance, Operations and Plant Management tend to agree that manufacturing organizations must change the old habits of departmental protectionism, differing objectives and blame. For your site (or company) to be successful, all parties must work together in a true partnership.

It is not enough to agree on this and then just hug each other. You must change the way you do business. You need to set one common goal to improve and that goal is manufacturing reliability. Improve manufacturing reliability and you will have faster throughput and lower costs for maintenance and manufacturing. Remember that you must agree to the partnership principle up front, then scrutinize the way you do business today and—more importantly—how you will do it working within the future partnership. MT

Christer Idhammar, president of IDCON, is a world-renowned expert and award-winning consultant on reliability and maintenance management best practices. He founded the Idhammar group of companies, in Sweden, in 1972, and IDCON, INC., in the U.S., in 1985. For more information on the strategies reflected in this article, e-mail: info@ Better yet, come learn from Christer Idhammar and other noted industry experts in person this April at MARTS 2009. For complete details, visit

The opinions expressed in this Viewpoint section are those of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect those of the staff and management of MAINTENANCE TECHNOLOGY magazine. Continue Reading →


6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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Uptime: The Terms We Use


Bob Williamson, Contributing Editor

The capacity assurance world of maintenance and reliability is like most other professions with unique words, phrases and terminology. Many of us grew up with this “language,” which makes some of the jargon and acronyms second nature—”maintenance-speak.” But, when we interact with the uninitiated in the “outside world,” sometimes they think we are speaking a foreign language.

In fact, maintenance and reliability terminology differs from industry to industry and geographic region to region. In my travels around the world, all over North America, in more than 400 plants, across some 45 different industries, I admit that I, too, have been confused by some of the words and phrases used in maintenance and reliability discussions. When a “raw recruit” enters the mysterious world of maintenance and reliability you can imagine the communications gaps, the confusion and the errors that can be attributed to the words we use as second nature. Just to be able to communicate, my own daughter developed her own “glossary of jargon” when she came to work with me years ago. And, what about others, especially decision-makers in our own plants and facilities, who listen with frustration as we baffle them with our unique language? To borrow a quote from Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Sometimes we use “maintenance-speak” to communicate something really important about why something happened, but the listener just isn’t listening. “What we have here is a failure to communicate! What? What we have here is a failure to communicate! Huh? I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening.” That was the disconnected dialogue between the prison warden and Johnny in the 1997 movie Johnny Bravo. OK. Go ahead. Make my day! Tell me you haven’t had similar situations in your routine communications about maintenance and reliability issues where you work.

A society of acronyms
We certainly are a jargon- and acronym-rich business. For example, we often have to determine what caused a problem with a critical piece of equipment. What happens next can begin the confusion. We can talk about root cause analysis, RCA, root cause failure analysis, RCFA, failure analysis, FA, failure modes and effects analysis, FMEA, finite element analysis, FEA… Only to hear words of frustration—”I don’t care what the heck you call what you’re about to do. I just want to know what caused this thing to stop in the middle of the day!”

Then we also have an alphabet-soup of three-letter acronyms (TLAs). You know them. They range from CBM and PdM to RCM and TPM, TQM and SPC to LCC and MDT. The list continues with two- and four-letter variants such as PM, BM, MTTR, MTBF, MTBM and CMMS… And we have to arrange these clever TLAs so there are NO vowels, so they cannot be pronounced easily—so we spell them out like PLC and DCS. Of course, vowels occasionally creep in with CAD, CAM, OEE and ERP. (Excuse me. It’s best not to pronounce that last two.)

Sometimes we also mix in letters and numbers. That’s our attempt to communicate something that must be really big and important such as ISO 9000, TS 16949, QS 9000, ISO 14000 and OSHA 1910.

In the past 20 years, Lean Manufacturing (LM) and Japanese and German words have crept into many companies—offering us even more ways to baffle ourselves and others with “lean-speak” mixed with our own “maintenance-speak.” We start with the basics of 5S, KAIZEN and TPS. Then comes KANBAN, TAKT, JIDOKA, HEIJUNKA, POKAYOKE (it’s not polite to use BAKA-YOKE). Then, the scientific Greek language creeps in with SIX SIGMA (the lower-case Greek letter s), which leads into ANSI/ISA 88, IEC 62264. These terms, subsequently, have to be followed up with Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts and Green Belts. But that’s not all. At this point we certainly cannot overlook the six sigma tools of DMIAC and DMADV or DFSS plus SIPOC or PARETO (named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto).

As the business of maintenance is connected to the business of the business we often hear (and sometimes actually speak) RONA, ROFA, RAV, ROCA, ROA, ROTA and other real and made-up terms to describe a financial return on assets of sorts.

This discussion of our terminology would not be complete without our professional associations SMRP, AFE, APICS and SME, to name a few, and their respective certifications CMRP, CPMM, CPE, CPS, CPIM, CSCP, CIRM, CFPIM, CMfgT, CmfgE and CEM. Put those certifications on your resume along with the colleges and universities you attended, and you get to add UTK, UofM, MSU, A&M, UCLA, MIT, UGA, AU, USC, ISU, UT, FSU and so on with BA, BS, AS, MS and/or PhD degrees. We are a society of acronyms!

The point of this exercise
Most of us have encountered someone who does not speak our language—for most of our readers, that’s American English—and we should remember what it’s like NOT to understand or to be understood. Awash with so many unique utterances and spoken shorthand elements that come to our lips as second nature, however, we often forget when we speak.

If you notice a bewildered look on the face of others as you speak the capacity assurance languages of maintenance and reliability, take a step back and think about what you are really trying to communicate. As a younger generation begins exploring careers in our field, it will have an overwhelming amount of skills and knowledge to embrace and learn—not to mention countless straightforward and valuable concepts that are promoted through confusing jargon and acronyms.

Near the end of the movie Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman, the reprobate inmate “Luke,” repeated the famous lines he learned from the guard, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Let’s be careful not to be forced to utter—or to hear—those same words spoken around our plants and facilities. MT

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6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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For On The Floor: The Downturn And You


Rick Carter, Executive Editor

You’ve seen the numbers: the U.S. jobless rate at 7.6% (as of January) and 2.6 million jobs lost in 2008, nearly 800,000 of them in manufacturing. Many of those jobs disappeared from states long associated with manufacturing and where state-wide unemployment levels are running higher than the national average: Michigan, California, Illinois and Ohio, for example. States in the Southeast have been hit hard, too, especially South Carolina, which not only has higher-than-average unemployment, but also recorded the biggest jump in unemployment (with Indiana) from November to December (1.1% each).

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of these sobering statistics. But in this avalanche of a downturn, few businesses are untouched, and yours has probably been affected in some way.

At least that’s the word from some individuals on Maintenance Technology’s new Reader Panel. We created this Panel to provide us with timely, regular feedback on the critical issues that impact today’s capacity assurance professionals. The column you’re reading—For On the Floor— is our way of sharing what we’ve learned with all of our readers. Look for it to deliver some of the most insightful of the responses we receive in alternating issues of this publication.

The first question we posed to our Panelists was: “In what ways has the economic downturn affected your job, your company and you personally?” Here are some of their observations.

Shifting job duties
“The economic downturn/recession has caused a major shift in my job duties,” says a recently hired maintenance planner in the Midwest. As workers at his plant have had to do more with less, the duties of trainer, data processor and researcher have been added to his own, newly created position. He speaks highly of his employer and fellow workers, noting the company’s numerous programs designed to not only improve productivity, but improve worker retention. With his ability to plan ahead reduced, however, he believes a critical shift in importance is taking place. “The importance in this company now,” he says, “is on cost and cutting overhead.”

In the Southeast, a maintenance supervisor says the downturn has affected his company “dramatically,” and in a number of ways. Not only do “new technology businesses face a shortage of venture-capital funding,” he says, but “the economic downturn in our area exacerbates the already difficult task of training and retaining technically competent staff.” He explains that because his company’s manufacturing process depends on a new, sophisticated technology, the pool of qualified applicants that meet even a minimal requirement is small. Adding to this difficulty, he continues, is the fact that “job opportunities in our geographic area are primarily to replace retiring technical maintenance staff from employers that usually pay well and have good benefits.”

This Panel member says his company is also “finding it hard to forge relationships with business partners due to the uncertain retail environment they face.” And, without capital for large-scale production equipment purchases, his operations are constantly having to come up with economical alternatives such as retrofits and modifications to existing equipment. Consequently, he’s spending more time on equipment fabrication or modification, technical training and reactive maintenance instead of preventive maintenance and other longer-term activities.

Ongoing skills crisis
The ongoing challenge of finding qualified workers, worsened by the downturn, was on the mind of a West Coast-based industry consultant.”My clients have suffered because of the downturn and they’re cutting back on manpower,” he says. This decision, he thinks, will be exaggerated for them when they want to go out and hire somebody. “Where are they going to find experienced people?” he asks.

The consultant calls this skills crisis a “progressive problem” because of a rapidly aging workforce that he estimates accounts for as much as 70% of the employment pool in some areas. “When they retire and disappear, they’ll walk out the door with corporate memory and expertise,” he says. “So there’s a double-edged sword here. One edge is having to deal with the financial climate itself, while the other is that in the race to become lean and mean, long-term manpower shortages are being created” that will only make the financial crisis worse.

Another consultant with expertise in steelmaking and the nuclear industry says that the slowdown of business among his steel clients—including the shuttering of a large steel plant—has made it more difficult for him to grow his own business. Unable to hire and develop new people, the consultant “won’t be laying anyone off,” he says, “but the downturn has made us essentially a one-industry company, probably to mid-year.”

Not all gloom and doom
There still are some bright spots among our Panelists. A maintenance technician in the Northeast, for example, says he has experienced no impact from the downturn in his job. And from South America, a senior mechanical engineer tells us that despite scattered layoffs at his company, he has not been personally affected by the downturn. Still, he notes that his company has intensified its cost-cutting efforts by reviewing supplier contracts, especially those involving energy and oil. “In the future, I don’t know,” he says. “If the economy continues the same way, I think all will be affected.” MT

What’s on your mind? Have questions or comments on what you’ve just read in this column? We want to hear from you. E-mail:

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6:00 am
February 1, 2009
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Toward Better Shutdowns: Approaches For Improved Turnarounds


Switching off a process plant and equipment to inspect and service it in accordance with safety requirements, then starting everything back up again is no simple matter. The good news is that with running times in today’s process plants having been considerably extended, shutdowns and turnarounds (TARs) are being performed less often than in the past. The bad news is that when a scheduled shutdown/turnaround does take place, more tasks must be carried out during the event than might have been required previously. Effective planning, clearly, is crucial.

Management usually is preoccupied with planning and preparing the downtime long before it is scheduled to occur. In fact, this stage of the undertaking, required by law, takes up considerably more time than the actual event. There is so much to consider, however—which poses so many opportunities for things to be underestimated or missed.

On top of the standard inspection, maintenance and repairs that are to be conducted during the shutdown and TAR, other value-enhancing projects may have to be carried out, including, for example, capacity expansion or the replacement of complete machine components. The scope and complexity have increased, too, because a TAR project usually combines multiple asset groups. The number of employees involved rises with the size of the plant and the number of separate projects that have to be completed in the shortest timeframe possible. Whereas a maximum of 600 might have been normal just a few years ago, nowadays, up to 1000 personnel may work on a TAR, including plant staff, contract firms and subcontractors.

With this comes a process that must incorporate a careful gate-keeping element. The rigor around gate-keeping is driven by a predetermined business process map that meets the requirements to deliver a world-class shutdown at the most optimal cost. The business map and timeline, along with gate-keeping of all the elements that need to be managed throughout the course of the TAR is critical to success.

High costs, but great savings potential
The costs incurred by a shutdown and turnaround are substantial. First of all, the plant owner or operator loses sizable sums through the plant downtime. The large number of personnel needed also swallows up significant sums. Each unscheduled hour of the shutdown increases the costs exponentially.

The challenge for management is to plan between 10 and 150,000 individual tasks with the optimum usage of all necessary resources such as personnel and equipment in a way that the duration of the shutdown can be kept to a minimum and resources can be used effectively to meet the requirements of the whole project. In individual cases, this can mean that particular resources are only used to 50% capacity. In the attempt to find a balance between resource costs and the entire task duration, planners frequently make the serious mistake of roughly basing the shutdown duration or costs on values from past shutdowns. In the case of smaller, easily manageable downtimes, this approach poses few problems. However, with more complex TAR projects, it usually results in targets not being reached. About half of all shutdown projects are delayed by more than 20%, about 80% of such endeavors go over budget by more than 10%. In some cases, the work scope increases unexpectedly by up to 50%.

Professional risk management vs. positive thinking
That the goals set by project management are frequently not fulfilled is not only the fault of the complexity of the project. It is due also to the fact that turnaround projects are characteristically subject to constantly changing conditions. The success of a TAR project is often dependent on unpredictable factors. Either employees find the equipment to be in a state that deviates from the original assumptions, or it becomes evident that the time and resource requirements for individual work processes were estimated inaccurately at the planning stage. These are just a few of the many risk factors which can cause well-intentioned plans to fail.

In order to overcome this particular challenge, planning and risk management must be as realistic as possible. Risk management can be understood as a formalized process to deal with risks that serve to identify and evaluate critical areas. Contrary to the attitude often popular to management following the motto “we’ll manage it somehow,” this new planning approach takes into account that the length of time needed to complete particular jobs cannot be precisely predicted in advance. That means expected risks are built in to the project plan with flexible dimensions (minimum and maximum resource usage/ requirements) and are calculated in terms of their impact.

The human factor
A further approach to an innovative planning management of TAR projects is the so-called critical chain. Expanding on well-known critical path methods for computing schedules, the concept of the critical chain focuses more closely on the human factor. In other words, this approach is based on the assumption that estimates and plans and their execution are carried out by people and not computers. Therefore, it is to be expected that when staff, for example, estimate the duration of jobs, they will always include a time buffer as a precaution. Generally, this type of buffer is used to the limit during implementation—even when no actual problems occur (Parkinson’s Law). Consequently, the possibility of ending a task earlier than scheduled is excluded from the outset in many projects. The common aim is to finish projects punctually and on time—not to finish them as early as possible or before the scheduled time.

Another pattern that is revealed in conventional planning is that of multi-tasking. For example, according to a plan, one work crew will be allocated to three different pieces of equipment over three consecutive days. Yet, because all three equipment groups already are experiencing difficulties in meeting the schedule, each of the three coordinators urgently demands their crews to do more than originally planned. The result is inefficient multi-tasking, with time being wasted as the teams readjust to each new activity. Furthermore, the possibility that at least one of the jobs could be finished earlier is also ruled out.

Many planners fail to adequately consider these demands because they operate merely in a static rather than a dynamic time and resource optimization mode. This is not only true for the advance planning of a TAR; in the execution phase, project leaders frequently neglect to dynamically recalculate the schedules that were created—with a lot of effort—through use of a project planning tool. Instead, rescheduling often takes place by hand on a drawing board.

The time-cost-tradeoff approach
A project plan with optimum costs and evenly allocated resources can be realized in two steps.

  • First, the relation between time and costs must be optimized. In this initial step, the respective durations are set for each of the jobs and tasks and for the whole shutdown with the goal of keeping costs as low as possible.
  • Second, a time-cost curve is applied to calculate and illustrate the combinations that, on the one hand, could lead to a reduction in the overall project duration, while on the other hand keep additional costs to a minimum. Building on this, the second step deals with resource allocation: the main aim is to link all required jobs in such a way that all resources involved are optimally utilized throughout the shutdown. This can be achieved by moving non-critical jobs to the end, i.e. jobs that do not have a designated start time and do not influence the completion of other tasks and thus the overall completion date.

The result is a critical path focusing on resources that takes the philosophy of the critical chain into account.

To ensure the project is completed on time and to reduce the risk of delays in specific processes, the precautionary time buffers normally built into each scheduled task duration are removed and bundled at the end of the chain. What does that actually mean time-wise? How long are the buffers that have been incorporated into each step of the project—and can they be removed?

The comparison of project plans and current data on completed turnarounds and shutdowns shows that a large part of the estimated duration can be seen as safety buffers. Such a buffer now serves the whole project and creates the needed flexibility, so jobs that are finished early or those that are delayed end up balancing each other out. In addition, this method ensures that built-in reserves are not wasted but rather are of benefit to the whole project cycle. An example of the TAR optimization process is shown in the accompanying sidebar. MT

Larry Olson is operations director for T.A. Cook Consultants Inc., headquartered in Raleigh, NC. Telephone: (919) 510-8142; e-mail:

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