Modern rolling contact bearings, when installed and lubricated properly, can outlast the machines in which they function. In practice, though, less than 10% of all rolling-element bearings reach their full design life. As for the others, 30% of premature failures can be attributed to incorrect installation or damage done during (or prior to) installation. Continue Reading →
Temecula, CA-based Opto 22 has announced immediate availability of Node-RED nodes for its industrial programmable automation controllers (PACs). According to the company, these nodes significantly decrease time and complexity in deployment of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) applications.
Specifically, Node-RED nodes for Opto 22’s SNAP PAC programmable automation controllers are said to “enable nearly anyone” to rapidly prototype and develop IIoT applications by opening a path to quickly connect legacy assets to cloud services.
Node-RED is an innovative visual wiring tool to connect edge computing systems such as industrial automation controllers to various cloud services, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) IoT, IBM Watson IoT, and Microsoft Azure in new and interesting ways.
This open-source, cross-platform technology is currently available through GitHub.com and npmjs.org for a variety of platforms, including OS X, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Raspberry Pi, and cloud offerings like IBM Bluemix and AT&T Flow.
Maintenance management covers a variety of functions, including the managing of spare parts. We know that the quality of those parts has a direct impact on the reliability and maintainability of equipment, machinery, and facilities. There’s more to it, though, than simply managing a storeroom.
How spare parts are specified, purchased, shipped, stored, dispersed, and installed reflects critical elements in physical-asset performance and operating cost. Unfortunately, the parts are often overlooked in ways that compromise equipment reliability.
Even the most reliable equipment can fail if the right spare parts—fit for service and mission ready—aren’t installed properly. While a maintenance staff’s skill and knowledge is an important reliability factor, the inherent reliability of spare parts at the time of installation is even more so.
Consider these examples of how spare parts can contribute to machine failures, excessive downtime, higher costs, and financial losses.
Transportation damage. Several catastrophic failures of the fan in a plant’s heat-treatment carburizing furnace led to enormous production and financial losses, not to mention a disruptive domino effect on production schedules. Removing and replacing the fan is difficult and time consuming, given its location in the bottom of the furnace.
A failure analysis determined that cracks in the fan cooling jacket led to bearing failures. These events continued even after months of discussing fan construction with the OEM, changing welding methods, and carefully installing new fans.
Eventually a root-cause analysis session was held with operators, maintainers, supervisors, area managers, plant engineers, and the fan company’s owner. All potential failure causes were quickly ruled out based on prior actions. The facilitator then asked the group to take a hard look at the fan currently installed in the furnace and a new spare in the storeroom.
As participants checked out the new spare firmly strapped to a wooden pallet with its shaft in a horizontal orientation, the fan manufacturer asked a question that ultimately unraveled the mystery of repeated failures: “Is that how we ship these fans to you?”
At this point, a mechanic interjected that when a fan is installed, its shaft is vertical. “That could cause bearing problems,” he said. Others weren’t so sure.
The OEM began speculating: “These fans are shipped more than 800 miles to your plant by truck,” he said. “Imagine the bumping and jarring with the weight of the fan and shaft supported by the bearings on the cooling jacket. The cracks in the failed units seem to start around the upper side of the shaft-bearing mounts. Shipping them flat, in the same orientation as they are installed in the furnace, may prevent the cracking.” Was he on to something?
Once the manner of shipping was changed, i.e., with the fans strapped to pallets in the same orientation as they were to be installed, the failures ceased. The maintenance group also found that the fan bearings lasted longer.
In-plant moving methods. “It’s a big electric motor. How did you expect me to move it?” The speaker was a forklift operator who found it easier to pick up large motors by the shafts located at each end of the units. After all, they fit nicely between the forks, with minimal adjustment, and would roll to the back of the forks when they were tilted back slightly. Great move for the forklift driver.
As for the motors, their shafts were becoming hammered, especially at the keyway. Maintenance techs thought the units sometimes seemed to be out of balance. Taking note of the forklift operator’s preferred methods, they finally realized the cause of the problems: improper handling of electric motors from the receiving dock to the storeroom and from the storeroom to the job site.
Behind-the-scenes. One of the most frequent and penalizing mechanical failures on a brewery’s packaging lines was attributed to conveyor-belt drive- and tail-roller bearings. Improper installation and lubrication and incorrect bearing types were ruled out early on. The bearings themselves then became suspect.
Packaging-line parts were kept in a storeroom near the lines. Operated by the purchasing department, it was staffed 24 hours a day as an inventory-control measure. Nobody else was allowed inside—that is until the purchasing manager granted access to a consultant.
During a failure investigation, stored conveyor bearings, many in open boxes, were found covered in rust. “Not a problem,” replied the storeroom attendant when asked about the situation. He explained that with “a little steel wool, lubricating spray, and lots of buffing” those bearings would look just like new. The problem with the brewery’s packaging-lines was solved on the spot: High humidity in the storeroom and unprotected bearings were identified as major factors in the failures.
Extreme environments. Handling and storage of spare parts is especially challenging for offshore oil- and gas-production platforms. If bouncing around on the boat trip from an on-shore warehouse to an offshore platform doesn’t contribute to early failures, improper maintenance of the stored items will. Humidity and salt air are also tough on parts.
Offshore platforms are compact, often-congested configurations of piping, pumps, motors, and compressors. Vibration in these operations—ever-present and frequently ignored—can lead to spare-parts failures. For example, when motor and pump bearings are stored near rotating equipment, vibrations created on the platform can damage them. Moreover, regular maintenance of stored spares such as rotating shafts is mandatory.
The counterfeit scourge. The spare-parts supply chain has gone global. The upside is online ordering and competitive pricing. The downside is explosive growth of the counterfeit marketplace.
Knock-off trademarks, look-alike labeling and branding, and sub-standard-quality spare parts have invaded our storerooms. These reliability time bombs include bearings, seals, nuts and bolts, pipe and hydraulic fittings, electrical/electronic components, wiring, and cables.
Monitoring your spare-parts supply chain, buying from trusted sources, and rigorously inspecting parts before placing them in a storeroom should form the basis of your organization’s spare-parts management practices.
Sometimes, the inexpensive. One spare-parts-management technique I learned from working with top NASCAR race teams over the years is to carefully inspect parts before they’re put on the shelf—especially those that can affect racecar performance. And for good reason.
In the 1990s, a race team suffered a catastrophic engine failure caused by an unlikely culprit: a three-cent nylon zip tie. When the zip tie failed, the oil line it was restraining dropped onto the alternator fan belt. It was only a matter of minutes before the engine failed due to oil streaming from the cut line.
Inexpensive spare parts are often overlooked. These tend to be commodity items where low cost shapes purchasing decisions. With many commodities, though, you get what you pay for. Be sure to consider the function of such items and the impact of their failure when making purchasing decisions.
Manage your supply chain
Paying attention to the spare-parts journey from the OEM, through distributors, into your storerooms, and on to equipment makes sound business sense. The bottom line is that proactive storeroom-management practices, coupled with supply-chain management, can eliminate most causes of spare-parts failures. MT
Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the people-side of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at RobertMW2@cs.com.
Smart-sensing technology contributes to the predictive maintenance of wastewater and other facility pumps.
By Bobbie Montagno, Pulsafeeder Engineered Products
Pumping infrastructure represents an enormous investment for large processing facilities. In any given plant, thousands of pumps are needed to move liquids from point A to point B.
Some of the primary applications for which rotary-gear pumps are used in refineries and chemical-processing plants involve treating wastewater to be reused for cooling towers, boiler feeds, or to dilute chemicals that are required for other processes. For these applications, harsh chemicals such as bleaching chemicals, cleaning agents, and corrosion inhibitors are dispersed on a high-volume, continuous basis. Over time, this can take a toll on the pumping equipment, establishing the need for proper maintenance programs.
The cost of maintenance
In most plants, annual maintenance costs for pumping infrastructure can range from 2% to 5% of the replacement value of the infrastructure. At first glance, that range seems minimal. But the delta between 2% and 5% can equal millions of dollars (or in some cases, tens of millions) throughout the life of the plant. Total maintenance costs must also be measured beyond the physical expense of the parts, the tools, and the engineers who wield them. Maintaining pumps in a chemical plant, refinery, or wastewater facility directly affects uptime, which in turn affects the bottom line.
Pumps that run regularly, feature wear items, and handle hazardous and corrosive chemicals will inevitably require maintenance. This can be a blessing and a curse.
Plant managers who get it right, in a preventive and predictive fashion, can streamline operations and maximize uptime. Those who let maintenance slip into a reactionary or “run to fail” approach can hinder operations and create ripple effects that shorten the life expectancy of equipment.
Predictive maintenance requires a long-term view. It involves planning, scheduling, condition monitoring, analysis, and spare-parts management. Predictive maintenance for pumps is aided by smart-sensing technology that can alert engineers to dry-run conditions, temperature changes, increases in vibration, or decreases in pressure.
Today, sensors are readily available and their value (and deployment) will continue to expand as wireless communications connect plant infrastructure to maintenance personnel using tablets and smart phones across the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Predictive maintenance can also be done without advanced communications technology. Readily available information and historical pump performance can be used to schedule the replacement of wear parts with minimal disruption to plant operations and minimal investment in sophisticated cloud-based controls.
Short-term reactive maintenance
Although predictive maintenance is always the goal, sometimes reactionary maintenance becomes the reality. When budgets are cut, maintenance is often considered a quick fix to address short-term financial constraints.
Reactive maintenance provides short-term savings, until equipment fails. When a failure occurs, the response relies on the skills of the on-site team and the availability of spare parts. If either fails to meet expectations, substantial losses can result from downtime and lost production.
Maintenance starts with a simple design. Some pumps are designed for a limited life, and purchasing decisions are purely based on cost. Other pump designs seek to provide reliability over a longer life, while balancing the anticipated cost of repairs. Rotary-gear pumps are often deployed to pump harsh and aggressive chemicals, so sealless designs are easier to maintain because there is no leak point for the harsh chemicals to damage the pump or surrounding equipment.
When it comes to rotary-gear pumps, the number of spare parts should always be considered. Maintaining a sufficient inventory of gears, shafts, O-rings, and liners is critical. Spare-parts kits should contain every part that a pump requires, and kits should be easy to procure (with just a single part number). If tied to a proper design, spare parts should be simple and easy to install. Some pumps feature symmetrical parts that only fit in one way, making parts replacement mistake proof, and keeping time to repair at a minimum.
Access to the inner workings of a pump is another important design feature that affects maintenance. If the pump’s gears are not readily accessible, then engineers need to decouple the motor, close the valves, and remove piping at the suction and discharge ports of the pump. Pumps that feature a front pull-out design can be repaired in place. This minimizes downtime by eliminating the need to lock-out/tag-out the pump, and move it to the repair shop.
Maintenance costs for a single repair will always be insignificant, compared with the costs associated with lost production and process restarts. The true return on investment associated with maintenance should be connected to a plant’s uptime. The simpler the equipment is to maintain, the faster it can be done. This gives plant operators more flexibility to schedule maintenance between shifts or whenever it is most opportunistic (or least disruptive).
Although the demographics for engineering staffs continue to change, the loss of vast experience is gradually being offset by new technology that can sense issues and alert engineers to problems before they occur. This type of sensing technology, coupled with simple designs, intuitive access, and fewer parts to maintain, forms the cornerstone of preventive-maintenance programs that keep plants up and running, and also provides management with the data it needs to make better decisions for capital budgets and long-term infrastructure improvements. RP
Bobbie Montagno is the aftermarket business line leader at Pulsafeeder Engineered Products, Rochester, NY. For the past 30 years, she has held leadership roles in application engineering, product management, and aftermarket. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The headline of an Education Week blog post by veteran education reporter Catherine Gewertz seemed mildly interesting: “Combination of Career, Academic Skills Pays Off for H.S. Grads, Study Finds.” That is, until I read the teaser under it: “High school graduates with advanced math and science, good grades, and a professional license or certificate earned more than young adults with bachelor’s degrees.” I was hooked.
Reading further, I learned that Gewertz was alluding to a recently released Center for Public Education (CPE), Alexandria, VA, report titled The Path Least Taken III. A final installment in a three-part series of reports based on data collected through the U.S. Department of Education’s (Washington) long-term study of Class of 2004 graduates, it offers some food for thought for those who might have an interest in development and deployment of a highly skilled technical workforce.
In a nutshell, as Gewertz wrote, “The right combination of career and academic skills can pay off for high school graduates who don’t go to college, producing higher wages and a better chance of working full time, than their peers who earn associate degrees or leave college without earning a degree.”
To be specific, the report’s authors, former CPE senior analyst Jim Hull and CPE managing editor Naomi Dillon, found that non-college goers did much better in the labor market if they had completed high-level math and science courses, earned average to above-average grades, completed multiple vocational courses focusing on a specific labor market area (occupational concentration), and obtained a professional certification or license.
Although each of those factors seems to exert a positive effect most of the time, Hull and Dillon noted they are “especially powerful in combination.” They refer to this formula as “high credentialed,” a term they coined and introduced in the second installment of this report series.
What Hull and Dillon didn’t do at that time was distinguish between those who attended a two- or four-year institution (trade schools aren’t included in the list) or between those who obtained a degree and those who didn’t. This third and final report does, including emphasizing that, among the college-going groups, “no one enjoyed a greater likelihood of success” than four-year degree holders, who pulled in dramatically higher wages and contributed much more to retirement by the age of 26 than the average non-college goer.
These differences shrank, however, when four-year university graduates were compared against high-credentialed non-college goers, who reported similar success in many areas, i.e., job security, supervisory experience, and job satisfaction.
According to the report, the head start from high credentials helped members of the Class of 2004, no matter where they ended up in life. The greatest impact was seen in non-college goers, “who, on average, had the lowest chances of landing full-time employment, making a living wage, and receiving medical insurance.” Hull and Dillon conclude that, with rigorous, more-focused high school courses, those individuals are the biggest beneficiaries of a high-credentialed curriculum, “attaining greater levels of economic success than even those who went to college but failed to graduate.”
There are more highlights in this report than I can possibly cover in a single page. Why don’t you read it yourself? Find the entire series here.
I’ll be interested in your take on it. MT
An advanced CMMS program helps manage the maintenance of a complex and diverse park facility.
By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor
Maintaining a 23-acre park with attractions, indoor and outdoor facilities, fountains, special exhibits, irrigation and landscaping, and more than 700 live animals—some of them deadly—requires coordination, diversity, and special tools.
The Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in southern Florida must accomplish all of this while also honoring its mission to inspire others to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world. With a full-time maintenance staff of just six professionals, facilities manager Jason Witmer must carefully coordinate the many job requests that range from checking and repairing safety latches to maintaining complex filtration systems, coolers, and HVAC equipment.
Using computerized maintenance management software from Mapcon Technologies Inc., Johnston, IA, Witmer can roam the grounds and receive maintenance alerts from anywhere in the park with a mobile app. Customized to the park’s needs, the technology can send him an alert from “Asia” that maintenance is needed on the Malayan tiger’s habitat, or he might be notified that the carousel is not functioning properly. Or, perhaps it’s time to maintain the filter on the two baby grizzly bears’ swimming pool.
Witmer can then virtually assign the task to one of the maintenance professionals. He is also notified when the job has been completed, along with a report of the job’s details. At any time, he can retrieve data that allow him to predict future maintenance and schedule non-urgent requests.
“We use Mapcon in at least 100 different ways throughout the zoo,” Witmer said. “From the conservation aspect, we use it to keep meter readings for our electrical panels. We have several throughout the zoo from which we can take manual readings and enter into the program. We track our water meters and keep data of our well usage, which we have to report to the city. This is important because all of the plants on the grounds here have irrigation. One little leak can cause a lot of water usage without even knowing it for a while. We even use Mapcon in our commissary to order food for our animals.”
Data are entered bi-weekly and monitored against previous-month trends. The software also monitors the amount of waste that goes to the compost pile, which is then used in the sustainability garden.
The software also allows users to automatically bill job tickets to the appropriate departments.
Urgent maintenance requests are those that apply to the safety of the animals, park staff, and park guests. However, some maintenance can be planned.
Witmer uses the zoo’s Mapcon CMMS program to provide monthly work orders on all of the HVAC units, which require regular filter changes. The park’s many vehicles also require routine work. These orders are generated automatically and assigned to the appropriate technician.
“Zookeepers inspect the animal exhibits every day–especially the dangerous animals,” Witmer said. “Once a month, we have a work order that has to be completed for the actual maintenance inspection of the exhibit. This is an extra layer to keep our animals and people safe. We like to have a fresh set of eyes other than a zookeeper’s. We go over everything pretty thoroughly, down to the basics of checking each chain link.”
General park maintenance
Non-urgent maintenance situations can include anything from landscaping and other activities classified as “zooifying” to make the park beautiful. Even members of the administrative staff carry the CMMS app. For example, if a tree branch has fallen, a work order can be immediately entered into the system by an administrative or maintenance staff member.
Each maintenance professional has special skills, and Witmer easily assigns work orders to the appropriate technician.
In addition to the major systems, the maintenance staff also maintains all of the building equipment for the restrooms, restaurant, administrative offices, and animal hospital. The fountains, water features, and cooling systems also must be properly maintained.
The power of solar
The Palm Beach Zoo takes advantage of the boiling south-Florida sun, which burns bright all year long. The park has three solar arrays. One feeds directly into the main pump room and supplements the power for the fountain pumps. Another is at the animal hospital. The third is in the parking lot.
The Solar-Array Data Display shows, in real time, the power that is being drawn from the sun. It calculates ambient temperature, module temperature, radiance, and wind speed.
Pumps control the large fountain at the park’s entrance and all of the activity is automated. All water features have filters. The solar power interacts with the hydraulic equipment to provide the best-possible energy efficiency.
“This is just a supplement to the power, so we have power whether or not we have sun,” Witmer said. “However, any power produced by the solar arrays is stored for future use. We are not just conserving wildlife. We are also conserving natural resources.” Power from the solar panels accounts for about 13% of the electricity used at the zoo.
When operating a facility with predatory and dangerous animals, special care must be taken when maintenance is performed in those areas.
“The animals must be shifted so that the maintenance can be performed,” Witmer said. “We have animal experts here and they coordinate with the maintenance staff. They lure the animals to another part of the exhibit or habitat, usually with positive reinforcement, to shift them to a secure enclosure, so that the maintenance professional is safe. For example, it’s tough to clean the glass with alligators in there.”
Another example is when maintenance is required for the black-bear-exhibit pool filter. “We use ozone for the water to keep it clean, and it is filtered,” Witmer said. “It turns out that when bears get in the water, they have a lot of grease and hair that needs to be filtered out. We use strainers and sand filters to keep the water clear. With the amount of hair and oil that is removed from the water, the filter needs a lot of maintenance.”
Zookeepers help with this by backwashing a few times every day.
The maintenance staff is also has responsibibilities at the animal hospital, including plumbing, general maintenance, and HVAC systems. The lab equipment is sent to outside vendors.
Along with the natural habitats and building services, there is other special equipment that must be maintained. That includes the zoo’s large carousel.
“Along with keeping the ride safe, of course, it is inspected daily by our maintenance team to look for anything that could be a safety hazard,” Witmer explained. “We recently found a way to conserve substantial energy. The carousel contains 1,690 light bulbs. We have changed them all from 10-W to 0.7-W lamps. This has reduced drastically the amount of electricity that it takes to run the carousel on a daily basis. This is also in conjunction with our mission of conservation. The cost of the bulb change will pay itself back in electrical savings in about eight months, which is incredible.”
For Witmer, maintaining the zoo provides daily rewards. “It’s a very rewarding feeling knowing that you are an active part of conservation, for animals and the environment, while maintaining such a beautiful facility like the Palm Beach Zoo,” he said. “We always put the safety of our guests, animals, and employees first, and routine and preventive maintenance is such a big part of that. Mapcon is such an incredible tool to have and help manage the diverse maintenance challenges in a zoo environment.” MT
Michelle Segrest has been a professional journalist for 27 years. She specializes in the industrial processing industries and has toured manufacturing facilities in 32 cities in six countries on three continents.
A Typical Day at a Historic Zoo
A typical morning for Jason Witmer begins with a walk through the park to see if anything catches his attention before the zoo opens to the public. He may stop with a group of children on a field trip from a local school to watch the pink flamingos play. “The best part about working here is that no matter how frustrated or busy you may get, you can always walk around and watch the animals, and the stress goes away,” Witmer said.
The Palm Beach (FL) Zoo had its beginnings in the 1950s when Paul Dreher, parks director for the City of West Palm Beach, FL, developed a lush botanical garden in what was then known as Bacon Park. Dreher decided to add a barnyard petting zoo for the children of the community.
With just $18, he opened his zoo with two ducks, a couple of chickens, a goose, and a goat. The collection was located on 1 1/2 acres and became known as the Dreher Park Zoo. The attraction soon became a favorite place for families, and the collection grew to include many more animals. In 1969, a group of committed citizens created the non-profit Zoological Society of the Palm Beaches and assumed responsibility for operating the zoo.
The zoo began charging a 25-cent adult admission in 1970. Within 18 months, attendance reached 125,000 visitors. In 1971, the zoo grew to its current size of 23 acres, and continued to increase the animal collection.
The facility now houses more than 700 animals from Florida; North, South, and Central America; Australia; and Madagascar. More than 314,000 people visit each year.
In October 2013, the zoo’s name was changed to the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. The addition of the “& Conservation Society” helps the facility bring many conservation programs it is working on to the forefront in an effort to inspire people to act on behalf of wildlife and the natural world.
A Meaningful Mission
To better fulfill its mission to “protect wildlife and wildlife habitat, and to inspire others to value and conserve the natural world,” the Palm Beach (FL) Zoo began working with the Palm Beach County school system and in 1981 established a formal education division.
This was the foundation for a successful program that now offers animal encounters, field trips, on-site classes, teacher training, summer camp, overnight adventures, and outreach programs. The zoo’s education division now presents more than 2,400 programs each year that reach more than 128,000 individuals. An additional 113,300 persons are reached by keeper talks and other animal-care staff initiatives.
Making decisions about what to improve and how to measure the rate of improvement requires a systematic use of data. But, more than raw data, data bases, or spreadsheets, it’s important to use the right data. Many organizations today are already awash in data, anticipating a tsunami of numbers, thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and, as some are forecasting, the Internet of Everything. Professor Patrick Wolfe, executive director of the University College of London’s Big Data Institute noted, “The rate at which we’re generating data is rapidly outpacing our ability to analyze it.”
Data’s dark side emerges when unfiltered information is used as a threat, a smoke screen, or to obscure the facts. So it’s easy to see why some view data as a not-too-pleasant four-letter word.
Data alone can easily elicit anxiety, boredom, fear, sensory overload, and, in some cases, even excitement. Today’s business leaders must find ways to make data more user friendly to be successful in reliability/maintenance, in operations, and ultimately to the benefit of their organizations, their customers, and their stakeholders.
When organizations actually begin using their data, when they make data actionable for the benefit of the business, the employees and their customers all experience the bright side of data. Data is the foundation for eliminating problems and improving organizational performance.
What is data anyway?
When we delve into data we find digital data, bits and bytes, numbers and decimal fractions, text, alphanumerics, and mathematical symbols. Whatever the data looks like it is actually representing certain conditions or objects—and it is limitless.
Output from a machine sensor is also called data. This can be very useful, redundant, irrelevant, or totally useless. But, it’s still data. Real-time data is on-line. Archived data is off-line.
Amassing data for data’s sake can be a futile effort. It’s what we do with the data that’s most important—turning data into actions through smart, informed decisions.
Let’s take a quick look at one organization’s recent data-discovery journey. Production and labor data are collected by machine operators on tickets and forms, then keyed by others into a master database. To make the information more useable, data is printed out in spreadsheets. Some is then converted into graphs for reports or used to measure progress toward defined business goals.
Data collection continues with scrap production and material waste measurements. Quality data is collected from multiple sources for two separate reports—production defects and customer complaints. The defects are identified and categorized by QC inspectors through random inspections. Customer complaints are supplied by those who run a customer-feedback process.
Production-machine downtime is also written on sheets with a duration and a reason and later summarized in spreadsheets by department.
Maintenance work orders also capture machine work, problems, repairs, parts used, and labor.
Most data is looked at separately and the improvements are targeted by departments. The results are narrowly focused actions that lead to slow gains and short-lived improvements. There can be more. There must be more.
Make data actionable
Let’s make data actionable. Data used to chart a path for continuous improvement and measure progress along the way is essential to business success. But it doesn’t start with data.
The key element in business improvement is asking the right questions. Andreas Weigend, former chief scientist of Amazon.com and the author of more than 100 scientific papers on the application of machine-learning techniques said it best: “You have to start with a question, not with the data.”
Let’s look at an example for improving an organization’s performance in an evolving continuous-improvement work culture:
Big opportunity. Start by focusing on improving something that is very important to the organization: Where is the organization most at risk, where are failures most penalizing, where could breakthrough improvements be revolutionary to business success? These opportunities for improvement can be expressed as dire needs, a burning platform, response to regulatory issues, market changes, balance sheets, or changes in the organization due to buy-outs, mergers, or acquisitions.
Whatever the reason, start by defining the big opportunity for improving your organization’s performance. Specific opportunities for focused improvement are then defined. Be prepared to answer the question: Why are we doing this?
Right data. Identify and gather the right data. From where does the data come? Is the information easy to access? Is the data reliable and trustworthy? In the early years of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) we learned that machine performance data should be collected and analyzed by those people closest to the machine, the source of the data, and often the source of improvement. With the explosive rate of the IIoT, much of the data will likely come directly from the machines and equipment.
Information. Ask what the data is telling you. Here is where the improvement teams question the relationships among production efficiency losses, unplanned machine downtime, quality defects, customer complaints, scrap rates, and maintenance work (labor and parts). These collective data are now the information that guides improvement.
Knowledge. By connecting the information from the combined data sets, the improvement team can look for connections to the big opportunity for improvement. Armed with the knowledge between the information and the big opportunity for improvement, the improvement team is prepared to begin making improvements that will benefit the organization in a notable way.
Action. Develop a bias for action. Data analysis can be an attractive end to some. To others, it’s analysis paralysis. But, taking purposeful action is what gets things done in the organization on the plant floor. Action begins with root-cause analysis to determine the connections between what was learned from the data and the causes of poor (and successful) performance. Action continues with the corrective actions to address the root causes and putting countermeasures in place to eliminate the cause, or at least to minimize the penalizing effects.
Wisdom. Nurture the individual, team, and organizational learning that takes place from the specific improvement process. Ask the question: Are there similar problems that could be identified and eliminated in this manner? The wisdom to leverage additional improvements with the same body of knowledge is a powerful step in creating a culture of continuous improvement.
Creative/collaborative people and machines. Weaving together all six of these steps will result in an essential organization-wide behavior that I call Creative/Collaborative People & Machines. “Creative” meaning new ways of using data as a foundation for purposeful improvement. “Collaborative” is two-fold: People from different parts of the organization working together to make data a tool for continuous improvement and machines providing data that people use to improve performance.
Data is the fuel that drives the continuous-improvement engine and tells us how well it performs. Let’s find ways to make the right data actionable for the good of the organization and its employees, customers, community, and owners. MT
Bob Williamson, CMRP, CPMM, and a member of the Institute of Asset Management, is in his fourth decade of focusing on the people-side of world-class maintenance and reliability in plants and facilities across North America. Contact him at RobertMW2@cs.com.
The terms “elevator talk” or “elevator pitch” refer to a brief presentation or explanation delivered in the time it typically takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another, i.e., anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Savvy people in all walks of life have them ready on key topics to efficiently and effectively get their points across to others. So how do we explain reliability engineering in an “elevator talk?”
To another engineer, my pitch would go something like this: “Reliability is the likelihood that process/product/people will carry out their stated functions for the specified time interval when operated according to the designated conditions. Maintainability is the ease and speed of maintenance to get the system back to its original operating conditions. Availability is being ready for use as intended. Since availability is a function of reliability and maintainability, reliability engineers work on improving both throughout the lifecycle of assets and products.”
If that discussion were to go well and time permitted, I would go on to explain that a comprehensive reliability process can be used to perform continuous improvement and enable any organization to attain top quartile performance.
A definition from Wikipedia.org is, “Reliability engineering emphasizes dependability in the lifecycle management of a product… Reliability engineering deals with estimation, prevention, and management of high levels of lifetime engineering-uncertainty and risks of failure.”
A generic definition might be, “Reliability engineering enables an asset to perform its intended function without failure for the specified time, when built, installed, and operated as designed.”
Visit businessdictionary.com and you will find, “Principles and practices associated with reliability requirements (such as prediction of failure time and conditions) and their translation into specifications that are incorporated in product design and production.”
All of these definitions, however, assume a level of knowledge of the referenced concepts on the part of the audience. Also, by using broad definitions, much is left to individual interpretation. Explaining our work to non-engineers can be tough.
At a recent social event, a lawyer asked me what I do. When I answered “reliability engineering,” he asked what that meant. After 10 minutes of explanations, it was clear he still wasn’t close to understanding the importance or relevance of the field, or what it is. Spending about five more minutes trying to clarify things for him, I came to realize that even with all I know about reliability, I still needed an elevator talk for non-engineers. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
“If your car starts every time you need it and gets you to your destination, it has high reliability. If your car can be quickly and properly maintained (preserved in a like-new state) when something does go wrong, it reflects good maintainability. Because of high reliability and good maintainability, your car is available whenever you need it. Reliability engineering uses calculations, tools, and techniques to evaluate the risks of human and asset failure and avoid related consequences. This applies to everything from a single component to an overall production process. These concepts are applied to the machinery, equipment, and facilities that produce products such as cars, chemicals, steel, food, energy, aircraft, spacecraft, and household goods. Because it can improve so many parts of any organization, reliability engineering is an ongoing process.”
Reliability is so all-inclusive in what it can positively affect, that our attempts to explain it often seem vague. Conversely, using only a single example makes it sound too simplistic.
If you have a good reliability-engineering elevator talk (for delivery to non-engineers), please send it to me. I would like to hear it. MT
Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a College of Engineering research professor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.