MRO Magazine

Explaining and Engaging

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

This article is the seventh in an ongoing series. It first appeared in MRO's Feb. 2005 issue and has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived at <a href="http://www.mromagazine....

This article is the seventh in an ongoing series. It first appeared in MRO’s Feb. 2005 issue and has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived at In this issue, we pick up where we left off. Maintenance manager Bob Edwards of the Plentya Paper Company had explained the need for more detail to be captured when recording problems and downtime. We rejoin Bob as he tries to get the agreement of the plant’s maintenance technicians.

When Thursday rolled around, I was excited about the maintenance department meeting, as I had seemed to get a buy-in from the production group two days earlier. “As you see, we have an agenda item for Pete, Tom, Ted and Brian,” I began as the meeting started.

I then explained the discussions we had and what we had tried with the PMs (see Machinery & Equipment MRO, November 2006). “What we need to do is make these PMs relevant and doable,” I continued, “and the question is, who should do it?”

“That’s your job,” “Not me,” and “Hire a consultant” were some of the responses.


“But who knows our equipment best?” I asked. “Who has to carry out the PMs and who has to repair the equipment if PMs fail?” After a few moments of silence, Pete offered, “Well of course it’s us, Bob, but we’re so used to having things dumped on us you can’t blame us for being apprehensive.”

“I understand, Pete,” I replied. “But we have to build trust somehow and I think this is a good place to start. I’ll tell you what I’ll do — if you take on this project and come up with suggestions to make it better, I’ll commit to implementing them or give you the reasons why we won’t.”

“Here we go again,” said Stan, the millwright from stock prep. “You ask us to do something and then ignore it.”

“That’s not what Bob said,” exclaimed Ted. “All he’s saying is if something is not practical, he’ll tell us why. I’ve heard some of the comments that have been made on what we need to make this place more efficient, and honestly, I think they would bankrupt us. There has to be a balance between what it costs and what it saves — sometimes it won’t make economic sense to do it.”

“That’s it exactly, Ted,” I said. “And we’re not going to do this in isolation. We’re going to look at how things fail first and then find the best way of dealing with it. There is a process I’ve been reading about that I’d like to spend some time talking about it — it’s called Reliability Centred Maintenance — RCM. We can take parts of it to help us, but before that, we should finish talking about the PMs. Let’s talk about what you guys found on Tuesday.”

“Well,” said Pete, “we’re pretty much agreed that we change parts when there’s nothing wrong with them. We also check things but don’t have a clear idea of what is acceptable and what is not. There are some things that seem simple until you look at our operating conditions.

“Take the conveyor that passes through the floor as an example. The PM says grease the conveyor — it sounds easy until you try it — and we’re also convinced that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing when it comes to shutting down equipment.

“If there was a way we could measure wear, then we could solve the first two issues. The third one we can deal with by looking at the OEM recommendations and make them fit our plant, or even better, figure out how our plant can cause the equipment to fail, just like you said earlier.

“As far as making sure that the equipment is shut down, that’s up to you.”

“That’s great. Thanks,” I said. “It seems as if we need to make as many decisions as we can that are based on conditions so we’ll get the longest life possible out of our equipment.”

“That’s great for belts and wear or brake pads,” answered Ted, “but how does that help with bearings, valves, pumps and motors that we change on a routine basis?”

“You’d better not do anything with those,” commented Stan, “or Jack, the old maintenance manager, will be turning in his grave! His philosophy was if something failed once, you were unlucky. If it failed twice, you were a fool.”

“He was right, Stan, but what if there was a way that we could predict when it was going to fail and only then did we change it,” I replied. “Just changing it on a routine basis would seem a waste, and even worse, I’ve noticed that every now and then, when we start up after a shutdown, one of the pieces we have just changed fails — not to mention those that were running OK before we shut down!”

“That’s not unusual,” interrupted Carol. “Studies have shown that more failures occur on start-ups than at any other time. People believed that equipment used to fail over the same period of time and so if they changed it just before the time was up, they would get the maximum life. Though this is true for some things, for most it isn’t.

“As I said, most failures are at the beginning and the rest are at a random, but much less, rate. What seems to be most important is what we’ve been talking about, the conditions the equipment is running in, not how long it’s been running.”

“Great, changing equipment routinely doesn’t help, so what do we do — just let it fail?” asked Stan. “How do you know so much about these things, Carol?”

“To your first question, yes, sometimes we just let it fail, but most of the time we do as Bob suggested and find ways of predicting when it’s going to fail based on its condition — it’s called Condition Monitoring or Predictive Maintenance.

“To answer your second question, I go to evening classes to study maintenance management, read as many magazines as I can, and generally network with the people in the class. It’s amazing what some of them are doing.”

“That sounds really interesting,” said Brian. “Maybe you could get us some of that training, Bob?”

“We’ll definitely work toward that,” I replied. “In fact, I’ll be sitting down with John from the vibration company to set up some training when he comes in to look at the main drive motor.”

I explained what we had found with the motor and everyone seemed encouraged. Just then, Dave commented, “There are so many pieces of equipment in the plant that figuring out failures will take forever to complete.”

“You’re right, Dave,” I replied. “So it makes sense to start with the most critical pieces.”

“And how are we going to decide which ones they are?” he asked.

“That’s easy. We’ll look at the consequences of the failure — that’s what RCM does,” I said. “Those pieces that will shut down the whole plant — such as boilers and compressors — will be the most critical, and then we’ll move on to the pieces that will shut down the paper machine.”

“But the boilers and compressors never break down,” said Dave.

“Again you’re right, Dave, so we’ll need to take that probability into account. It’s amazing — you guys are coming up with the questions RCM asks. If we use it as a template for making sure we don’t miss anything and keep everything in an organized form, we’re going to make great improvements!”

“What’s going to happen to the rest of the plant while we’re busy doing this?” asked Stan. “There are pieces of equipment that are always breaking down.”

“Remember our Jeopardy game? (Machinery & Equipment MRO, June 2005). We don’t really have the facts about which pieces those are and what causes the breakdowns. Well, we’re going to do something about that.”

I told them about the meeting I had with the production group and how they had committed to recording more details around any downtime (Machinery & Equipment MRO, December 2005).

“The most important commitment I made to them on our behalf is to use the measurement to change something, so you’re right, Stan, we’ll have to look at those ‘repeat offenders’ as well as use a big picture approach, although thinking about it, it’s all aimed at the same thing — reducing failures and mitigating their consequences.”

“Well, we know one piece of equipment that keeps breaking
down — the conveyor that goes through the floor,” said Pete. “We seem to change bearings every week. Even though we’ve gone through four different types of bearings, none of them work for long.”

“Good point, but let’s think about that — if none of the bearings last, is it really a bearing issue? Why do you think the bearing failed?” I asked.

“Because it runs out of grease.”

“Why does it run out of grease?”

“Because it doesn’t get enough grease to start with.”

“Why doesn’t it get enough to start with?”

“Because the PMs don’t get done.”

“Why don’t the PMs get done?”

“Because they’re stupid — the thing is up in the air!”

“Exactly!” I replied. “It just shows that we’ve been dealing with the symptoms and the not the causes. What we just did is called Root Cause Analysis. There are many complicated ways of doing it. We began a simple thing called the Five Whys. This is great — we’re on our way!”

It felt good as I watched the guys, who were obviously excited as they left the meeting. We were going forward and we were going together.

Cliff Williams is maintenance manager at Coca-Cola Ltd., Toronto, Ont., and a consultant with TMS Total Maintenance Solutions of Markham, Ont. Your comments on this series are welcomed. Williams can be reached directly at

Key Points

* Engage everyone in the process.

* Listen and respond — even to the critics.

* Introduce new ideas in meaningful and relevant ways.

* Train people in the tools you want them to use.

* Use simple forms of analysis — Five Whys, etc.


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