MRO Magazine

Making progress with PM – and people

By Cliff Williams   

Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance Operations

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO's February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archiv...

This article is part of an ongoing series. The introduction appeared in Machinery & Equipment MRO’s February 2005 issue and the series has run in every issue since. Previous instalments are archived online at In this issue, we pick up where we left off in our September 2007 issue, as maintenance manager Bob Edwards and his team at the Plentya Paper Company continue working with more advanced stages of predictive maintenance. We open with Bob heading over to talk to Ivan and Rob, who have been testing out a vibration meter.

I decided to talk with Ivan about the third set of readings that he had for his new pump vibration route, so I headed to the maintenance shop. Ivan was waiting there with Rob.

“I don’t know what happened, Bob, but we took the readings at the marked points, which is where I took them originally, and the readings were different for the third time on some of them.”

“Were they different on all of them?” I asked.


“No it seems that the different readings were only in one area — the screening loop. The rest were pretty much the same.”

“Then I wonder if the operators were doing something different on that equipment. Why don’t you check it out with them and let me know what you find out.”

Next it was off to the water treatment plant to hear what Dave had found out about the pump seal failures.

“Hi Dave, hope you’ve got good news — I certainly could use some.”

“Well yes and no. We’ve figured out what was causing the failure but we can’t change it just yet.”

“Okay so explain the problem first.”

“I met with the pump manufacturer and explained what we’ve been seeing. At first it seemed they were going to try and blame the seal manufacturer, but I managed to convince him that the seals were properly installed, they were failing in exactly the same way, and that we used the same seal on similar pumps and had no problems. Then, when I mentioned that this started happening about nine months ago, he seemed to get a little sheepish. When I pushed him on this, he admitted that they had changed the supplier of material for the pump shaft about a year ago.”

“So that was the problem?”

“As it turns out, it was. But before they would admit it, they did a few tests and these showed that when the pump is subjected to heavy loads, there was too much deflection on the shaft — and that caused the seal failure.”

“So what are they going to do about it?”

“That’s the problem. They have to go back and discuss it with suppliers and then get new material, so it’ll take some time. I wasn’t happy with that and I came up with a temporary solution. The supplier agreed to pay for what I want to do.”

“Hang on a minute Dave! Let’s not get too involved. If it’s their problem, let them deal with it.”

“Bob, the reason you originally came to talk with me was that we couldn’t go on like this, plus the fact that I was the one who had to keep changing the pumps. If this pump fails when there’s a high level of throughput, then it’s going to shut down the mill or we’re going to have an environmental incident. I don’t think we can wait for them to sort it out — it’ll take at least months, maybe years.”

“You’re right, but what exactly is it you’re going to do to get us over the problem?”

“I’ve got the manufacturer to agree to machine a back plate and install a bushing that will take the load before it reaches the seal. They’ll test it at their plant. I’m expecting a call back today.”

“Great, Dave. Thanks for your effort. It really helps when you take the interest you do.”

“No, it’s thanks to you, Bob. It certainly makes a change when the bosses give you the freedom to do what you’re capable of. At most of the places I’ve worked, the bosses just tell you what to do and don’t bother to even ask for your opinion. It really is neat when the manufacturers listen to me as if I know what I’m talking about.”

Dealing with different individuals

Dave’s comment made me think about what was going on with the group — they certainly were different individuals. Some, like Dave, just took the ball and ran with it; some, like Ivan, took a bit of persuasion to get involved and then needed support before they took on responsibility. And some, like Stan, needed constant prompting and would slip back to the old way very easily.

I was beginning to realize that most of my job wasn’t about machines but was mainly about dealing with people, although no one had mentioned this when I interviewed for the position. I was having to learn to take different approaches with everyone that I met — not only the tradesmen. Joe, the mill manager, was much more open than Fred, the production manager, and Carol had so much to offer if I gave her the opportunity. I needed to recognize this.

I decided that when I got back to my office, I would do a one-line summary of the type of people I was working with, hoping it woould help me get better results. On the way, I stopped by Carol’s office to let her know about Ivan’s problem and Dave’s solution.

“Dave’s always had an interest in making things better. He’s one of the guys who has always put in work orders,” she said.

“It’ll be interesting to see if his modification works. It would be nice if we could keep track,” I said.

Before and after

“Like I said, Bob, Dave’s been handing in work orders for all his work, so I can easily run an MTBF report on the pumps.”

“Oh yes — that’s Mean Time …?”

“Between Failure!” finished Carol. “That’s when we look at the number of failures and divide it into the overall run time. We can compare the time before Dave’s modification with it after the modification.

“Wow, Bob, we’re making progress! A couple of months ago I would never have dreamed of running such reports. Added to that, we’re trying predictive maintenance. We should celebrate!”

“You’re right. We should go over all of the good things we’ve done at the next team meeting.”

On the way back to my office, I bumped into Ivan.

“I was just coming up to see you, Bob. I found out what happened yesterday with that third set of readings. It turns out that the operators were having problems with another area of the plant, so they were just pumping through the screening loop — not really screening — so there wasn’t any load on the system.”

“So we’ve learned a few things already. We have to take the readings in the same place and we have to make sure the operating conditions are the same. Be sure to tell Carol about this when you give her the route to set up for the PM. Thanks very much Ivan.” I added, remembering my thoughts about treating people as individuals. I was sure that Ivan was walking away a little taller than usual.

When I finally got back to my office, I decided that I should start the discussion with Joe about the possibility of creating a new job position of reliability engineer.

“But Joe, we’ve only started with the program and it’s becoming a lot of work,” I countered after he had immediately dismissed my request. “We really need to be sure that we are doing things right and not just the right things so we don’t get into trouble later.”

It was obvious that I had a lot of work to do in preparing the business case for the reliability position and it all came back to money. “Joe, if I can show you how much more money this program will save, will you at least consider it?”

Joe agreed to listen to my case, but insisted that I look at all of the costs of the program and not keep coming back with new items, so that he could make a decision based on the whole cost-benefit analysis.

I was feeling pretty good as I headed home and recounted the day to my wife over dinner. She seemed very interested in my realization that my job was about managing people, not fixing machines, but seemed to disagree with my statement that I need to remember the Golden Rule, “You should treat people the way you want to
be treated yourself.”

“That’s not it,” she said, “you need to remember the Platinum Rule — ‘You should treat people the way they want to be treated’.”

She went on to describe a management tool known as Situational Management. It explains that people like Dave, Ivan and Stan fall into a pattern and each requires a different approach, with the ultimate goal of moving everyone to behave the same way Dave did.

It was amazing; no matter where I turned, I was getting good advice and learning about my job.

Then I got a phone call from the mill. “Bob, the mill’s down! We’ve just had a bearing seize on one of the paper machine rolls and it caused a lot of damage.”

Cliff Williams is the maintenance manager at Wrigley Canada in Toronto, Ont., and a consultant with TMS — Total Maintenance Solutions Inc., Markham, Ont. He can be reached at

Key Points

* Progress is not just about technology, it’s about people.

* Different strokes for different folks — a good leader is a flexible leader.

* Celebrate progress.

* Support your team — their success is your success.


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