Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Five Ways to Improve Plant Reliability with the Internet

Many of us are becoming more and more dependent on the internet to manage many parts of our lives, however some of our reliability peers and brethren still have not embraced the power of the web. So, I though I would share 5 great places to start improving your reliability with Al Gore's incredible invention, the Internet.
Five things reliability folks should use on the internet:

#1 Google 
Google is the most obvious tool but also the most powerful, it can provide access to any one of the following:
Vendor websites   
Old pdf vendors manuals and sales literature with specifications 
Common problem with equipment in the form of articles from publications, blogs, bulletin boards, and historical sites
Spare parts for obsolete equipment
Special tools
New technologies
The key here is to search different combinations of words because not everyone calls a piece of equipment or technology by the same name. You know, it is the old grease zerk, fitting, nipple issue that has plagued CMMS users for years. 
I will be facilitating a root cause analysis tomorrow and the first step in that process for me is to google the equipment manufacture as well as the product and a list of common failures of that equipment. Sometimes I am amazed by what is already out there on the web that I can use not to prejudge the root cause but to improve my understanding of anything from design operating context to expectations for maintenance and known weak design points.
#2 Wikipedia
Wikipedia is my go to site for information about companies, product, equipment, industries, and concepts. You can click on each linked word above to see an actual example.
Say you are curious about Monte Carlo Simulations (if you are just click), quickly you can see a definition, details, and many times even examples of how to use the tool. The one point to remember is that it is all crowd sourced, meaning that the "facts" come from many people and are reviewed regularly but it can still have some inaccuracies.
#3 LinkedIn
LinkedIn is where you can connect with many different people from your and other industries. It is a networking site for professionals and a great place to get answers to questions from others in similar situations. On LinkedIn I find both the Groups and Answers section extremely useful. Groups is where you can find a congregation of folks who are interested in the same topic, or company, or discipline and you join them in this interest. You can pose questions to the members of the group or just read their post and learn from their questions and thoughts. The Answers section, which you can find under the more button in the header menu, is a great place to go to ask a question of a larger audience. Your questions can be sent out to more than just a group, it can be sent out to everyone who has interest in the topic you select. This can be thousands of people. You can also address the question just to your network of connections depending on what your needs are. If you send it out to everyone on a topic then you will be amazed how quickly people will respond with great answers and along the way you may make some great new connections.
#4 Ebay
While everyone knows you can buy clothes or toys or cameras or cars most people do not realize you can buy industrial equipment and parts. I find myself sometime searching specifically for obsolete items to keep an old unit running late in its product life cycle. Here is a link to the business section where you will see list of item that you may have been looking for for quite some time. You may find the one switch you need to keep that one original widget machine running that you can not get the capital to replace.
#5 Twitter
Twitter, while clogged with reports or 'tweets" of lunch locations/meal details and celebrity death hoaxes, can be a great place to see what is new in your industry or maintenance and reliability in general. The key here is to follow only those people with similar interest and then you will see when they share information, a quote, a blog post or a relevant news story. This is one of the best ways to see what is new and find new content to use in your reliability toolbox talks from a past week's blog. I constantly see new articles that I can use with clients and with our internal folks as well. Also by following or setting up searches for the hashtags for conferences you get a great look at the content that all of the presenters are sharing real time even if you cant be there.

What sites would you add? What site has been a lifesaver for you?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Preliminary RCA Reports Promote Failures

Numerous government agencies including the FAA create preliminary failure reports however like many other things our government does preliminary failure reports are a bad idea for businesses as they drive many bad behaviors including reoccurring failures.
If you are currently providing these "educated guesses" to your organization prior to the actual root cause analysis report then the best advise I can give is to stop as soon as possible. I know it is not quite that easy but, when these preliminary reports are issued the manager and those effected are quick to review them even though they are merely guesses at the causes and may not be based on real data. The second issue is that once your complete analysis report is generated with all of the contributing factors, full causal chains, solutions and the data to support them is released then no one is really interested enough to take the time to read them after all they have already seen the prelim. It is like trying to read a book after someone spoils the ending, it is just not worth the effort. If you issue the prelim that  means that major decisions that effect the business are made based off of a quick reviews of partial sets of facts and strait conjecture. This conjecture leads to repetitive failure. In fact, many of the preliminary reports are nothing more than regurgitation of past experiences and not the facts related to this situation and real proven data.
I know many of you feel the pressure to get a report out with in 24 hours but in most cases this is just not a reasonable request and if you can not immediately change that expectation your should at least be working toward it. If you need to have a fast turn around on your RCA investigations then streamline your RCA process to limit the number of analysis required per month, request more resources for each investigation, and/ or speed up the report creation process. One way to speed up the RCA process is to use our A3 RCA reporting process where you put all of the information from the RCA on an A3 size sheet of paper that is populated as you move through the analysis process not at the end. I don't have the space here to show the full document but for an example send me an email at
The point is don't put out your reactive quesses at a cause if you can streamline your RCA process and put out a complete analysis in less than a week. Just like you can't get to excellence in reliability overnight you also can not complete an effective RCA in an overnight time frame either.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tool Box Talks: Not Just For Safety Anymore

Many companies have made great improvement in the area of safety in the last ten years but some have begun to plateau. They are looking for that little push to get to the next level.We know based on data that was released by Ron Moore in his book "Making Common Sense Common Practice" that safety has a strong correlation with reliability. So I would suggest that if you want to break through to a new level of safety performance then focus on your organization's reliability.
Photo by Shon Isenhour
How? Treat reliability just like we have safety. Make it everyone's responsibility. Keep it in front of the organization.
Many of us already have a morning tool box meeting where we stand around the tool box and talk about the jobs and the safety aspects of the days work. If you add reliability topics to this discussion as well then this is one way you can  keep the topic in the forefront of everyone's mind. It does not need to be a lecture as we are looking for a short five minute topic. Now this alone will not step change your reliability performance but as part of a balanced diet of other improvement task it can begin to turn the tides on reliability and on safety.
So what does it look like? I have seen it done many ways. In some cases the supervisor covers a topic from a single point lesson or other communication tool or a member of the team researches and covers a topic with the group. Getting a team member involved is great because the individual learns through their research and through teaching while providing the information for others to learn from.
What should we talk about?
I have seen topics that covered task like how to operate the bearing heater for precision installs, or how to choose the correct bolt grade or Loctite type. But I have also seen quick job plan reviews and root cause analysis report outs. As you rotate through you will want to focus on why each topic is important to the individual and the overall improvement effort. The key is to, like safety, keep the organization focused on the goal and the prize.

What topics would you cover?
What other ideas have you used to keep reliability in the organizations eye?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity Mars Rover, NASA, Engineering Excellence and a little bit of Reliability

So, ever since the NASA Shuttle program was canceled the view from the outside of NASA has been a bit drab but today they shot an arrow and hit a bulls eye 350 million miles away. This physics forum was predicting a 60-70% chance of success. Those are not great odds but when you look at the complexity of this delivery system, success becomes even more incredible. That's why this is so exciting.
This mission cost about $7 per every American citizen, according to the technical team however I get the feeling that is initial build and launch cost not life cycle cost. The nominal mission length is two years but they have now said they won't be shocked if it lasts much longer than two years. As an example of longevity look at the history from the last two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. They were designed for 3 months use and Spirit made it 6 years and Opportunity is still going in its 8th year. That is serious reliability.
Many things that we as engineers design or procure will far exceed their "design life". I have spent time in 90 year old hydroelectric dams, 6o year old rolling mills and 50 year old smelters that were as reliable today as they had ever been. The key point to remember is that according to Nolan and Heap 89% of all failure modes are not time based. So with that said, age is not the major driver. It is how you design, operate and maintain them. In the end, that is all you can control. NASA engineered in flexibility to their rovers. This flexibility comes in the form of redundancy, but also the ability to re-purpose elements to do new functions as the situation dictates. They also practice a supreme form of precision assembly that equates to our precision maintenance. It includes standards of alignment, torque, cleanliness, and lubrication. They also make use of sealed for life products like bearings because it is somewhat hard to change out a set of bearings on the surface of Mars.  Finally they use predictive maintenance technologies to their fullest, measuring and trending all aspects of the craft as it operates to identify defects and mitigate where possible.  Are you thinking like NASA? Does your equipment demonstrate their levels of reliability? What could you change today?
 I will leave you with one little piece of trivia that I learned while putting this post together:
According to Miles O'Brien, the holes in Curiosity's wheels (seen above) spell "JPL" in Morse code. This is interesting because NASA made JPL take their name off the treads during the design and build phase. See even rocket scientist have a since of humor.