MRO Magazine

How Root Cause Analysis aids in shutdowns

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

This article is part of an ongoing series. It first appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO's Feb. 2005 issue and has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived online at <a hre...

This article is part of an ongoing series. It first appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s Feb. 2005 issue and has run in every issue since. Previous installments are archived online at In this issue, we pick up where we left off in our Feb. 2006 issue. Maintenance manager Bob Edwards of the Plentya Paper Company had explained an example of the ‘Five Whys’ of Root Cause Analysis with his team. We rejoin Bob as he prepares the team for a plant-wide maintenance shutdown.

For the next week after our last maintenance meeting, there were lots of discussions going on in the maintenance shop and it was very encouraging to see that there were as many supporters as pessimists for our plans to use world-class maintenance methods and standards. It was also encouraging to see that the supporters were able to get most of the others to agree to try it.

As the discussions took place, I was tempted to join in and justify my plan, but I realized that I had talked about allowing the guys to make decisions and suggestions on their own. I remembered the comment from Pete in our meeting that they were used to “having things dumped on them” and decided that I should allow them to build the foundation themselves, rather than have me force it on them.

The day before the planned shutdown had arrived, so I went to see Carol, our maintenance planner. “Carol, I’d like you to make one change to the shutdown plan for tomorrow,” I said.


“But Bob,” she interjected, “that’s something you’ve always complained to the production people about — making last-minute changes.”

“You’re right!” I laughed. “But this is just moving one person and not a change to the work being done. I’d like to have one of the millwrights — Ted — assigned to work with John, the vibration analyst. If we’re going to change the way we do things, people have to know what tools are available to help them. I’ll talk with John about it, and I’m sure he’ll be okay with it.

“By the way, did we get work orders for all of the downtime occurrences last week?”

“We got quite a few, but I can’t say for sure if we got all of them. I haven’t been tracking the downtime,” Carol replied.

“Oops, sorry,” I said. “I’ve been tracking it and I meant to send you the report. I’ll do it this afternoon.”

Shutdown day arrived. I started the morning by greeting John, then introducing him to Ted. “John, this is Ted, one of our millwrights, and he’s going to be working with you today — I hope you don’t mind.”

“Absolutely not. In fact, I was going to ask for some help anyway. The first part of the day will be for gathering information. I was thinking we could look at the alignment of the drive motor to confirm that our analysis was correct, and then concentrate on detailing motor bearings and roll bearings to help with any further analysis.

“It’s up to you, Bob, but since I’m here, I could do the same for some of the other motors and rolls, and then I could take some readings of those again after you start up. I’m sure that there is some wear in all of the bearings, so we can’t get a true baseline reading, but at least you’ll know where you’re at today and will be able to tell if things get worse.”

“As long as the price is the same, I’m good for that,” I replied. “I’ll meet up with the both of you at five o’clock this afternoon in my office. Good luck, Ted.”

When they walked into my office at five o’clock, there was a stark contrast in their moods. John was bubbly and excited, while Ted was obviously drained.

“What’s up, Ted?” I asked. “It’s pretty simple, Bob. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until today. I’ve been a millwright for 15 years and I didn’t understand a thing John was talking about. In fact, I wasn’t sure if we were speaking the same language some of the time!” said Ted, who was starting to smile.

“That’s not true, Ted,’ said John, ” I told you this morning you wouldn’t understand the deeper analysis points but you definitely understood some of the principles. I could tell by the questions you were asking.”

“There you go, Ted,” I said. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. If it were that easy, people like John would be out of a job.

“Okay, John what did you find?” I asked.

“Well let’s start with the drive motor. It was definitely out of alignment. As the guys were realigning it, I noticed they were having problems, so I watched a little closer and noticed that they weren’t using the ‘soft foot’ mode on the laser aligner.

“It’s important to use that first, so I hope you don’t mind, Bob, but I mentioned it to the guys and they said that it was never dealt with in the training. So maybe you’ll want to go over it with them. Anyway, once they did that, they were able to get it aligned and the good news is that the misalignment hasn’t caused any detectable damage to any of the bearings.”

“Whoa! What damage to the bearings?” I exclaimed. “I thought we were trying to get rid of the vibration so we could run faster.”

“That’s what I had said,” interrupted Ted. “But John explained that was how we were seeing the problem — reduced speed — but it was because of vibration, and the vibration was because of the misalignment, and another effect of the misalignment could have been bearing damage. Also, the misalignment was because of the soft foot not being addressed, and the soft foot wasn’t addressed because of poor training.”

John and I broke into spontaneous applause. “See what I mean,” laughed John.

“Okay,” protested Ted, “this is really a new way of thinking about my job and when I thought about what John had told me, I realized that the answer to ‘Why?’ is ‘Because.’ We had carried out one of those ‘Five Whys’ Root Cause Analysis scenarios you talked about, Bob. And when John talked about bearing damage, I remembered what you said about finding the consequences of failures and finding ways to deal with them.

“John says that if we had taken vibration readings when we first changed the motor, we could have found the misalignment, addressed it and taken away any danger of bearing damage,” Ted added.

“Unbelievable.” I said.” I was trying to think of ways to show how these things could be done and you have come up with meaningful examples in one day.”

“The rest of the bearings seemed okay, except for the drive-side bearing — on the press roll, wasn’t it, Ted?” added John.

“Yes, the press roll. John says he detects an inner race fault through FFT or something,” Ted replied.

“Never mind the tech talk, what does it mean, John?”

“It means you should keep an eye on that bearing, Bob,” John answered. “The problem I have is that I don’t know if this was caused when the bearing was installed or if it’s the start of a bigger problem.”

“Do you think it will last until the next shutdown?” I asked.

“Yes, I think it will be okay,” said John.

“Great!” I replied. “Maybe you can come in during the next shutdown and take a look again; we could start to build a trend.”

“You’ve got the right idea, Bob. Trending is what it’s all about at this stage. But your timing is off a little. If you want me to come back and do some follow-up readings, it should be before your next shutdown. That way, if there are any dramatic changes, you can plan your work accordingly,” John suggested.

“You’re right, of course. How about the week before the shutdown? That way we can make sure we have any parts or equipment we need ready for the shutdown,” I said. “Now about that training ….”

The next morning, Ted seemed like he had become John. He was excited as he told the rest of the guys what John had shown him. He starting using technical terms, safe in the knowledge that the little he knew about this was more than anyone else knew.

When I walked into the shop, a few of the guys wanted to know when they were going to work with John and the skeptics suggested that that was the last we’d see of him. They were all surprised when I said John would be doing thr
ee sessions of training the next week on the fundamentals of vibration.

I felt pretty good about the situation as I got back to my office, when Carol came in to report on the downtime and work order analysis.

“We weren’t too bad, Bob,” she started. “But there are still gaps. We’ve got 90% of downtime covered but neither the work orders nor the reports give enough detail and there’s still the discrepancy between times.”

“We really need to get as much information as possible to point us in the right direction,” I commented.

“One thing I noticed, Bob, was that we don’t use the ‘failure’ field in the CMMS. If we did, the CMMS would do the first step of analysis for us and we could run reports on similar failures by equipment, area or even part. That would help us.”

“Carol, I think we need to sit down so you can tell me everything the CMMS is capable of doing. I’m beginning to get the feeling we already have a lot of the tools to become world-class.”

Cliff Williams is maintenance manager at Coca-Cola Ltd., Toronto, Ont., and a consultant with TMS Total Maintenance Solutions of Markham, Ont. He can be reached at Your comments on this ongoing series, which will be continued in our next issue, are invited.

Key Points

* Ensure training is set up to

achieve the results you want

* Engage everyone with new contractors and technologies

* Allow peer pressure to become a driver of change

* Make examples relevant

* Learn as you proceed.


Stories continue below

Print this page