When you consider the elements and tools available to us and the promise of good things for any company, it is no wonder more companies are starting reliability processes. There are many successful reliability models that we could try to emulate, yet in true blue American style, we select pieces of a multi-faceted process and provide half the resources required, yet somehow we make it work. We are amazed that progress takes as long as it does, but when we see results and improvements, we all get that "atta-boy" we want.

We live in an industrial age where resources are hard to come by, yet results must be achieved. If implementing a reliability process only involves the basics, we would certainly be in high clover. However, the reality is much of our time at the beginning of this process is more about culture change and less about protocols and procedures. Implementing a process is easy, having people follow it is another story.

Consider the process of culture change and the level of complexity required if you are the driving force behind your reliability initiative. For example, you have a piece of equipment that requires a monthly preventive maintenance ((PM) that takes 45 minutes to complete. You ask production for the piece of equipment during a slow production day and receive a resounding "no." Your production counterpart knows the importance of a good PM, but wants the equipment to run all the time because shutting down during production hours just goes against the grain. Let's add to this scenario the fact that this piece of equipment is a very bad actor that provides daily stop and start action. Now we have a piece of equipment that reduces uptime several times a week, yet production will not shut down early on a slow day to let you and your team in to complete the PM. The downtime throughout the week clearly belongs to maintenance, which could not have possibly performed the PM properly last month, otherwise our equipment would run. I refer to this as the "red bicycle syndrome."

This phenomenon first came to my attention as a dairy farmer when I happened to notice all of my cows standing in an informal circle staring at something. When I walked closer, I realized that the cows were staring at my nephew's 20-inch red bicycle. This was culture change in a pure and raw form. I have often seen the same reaction anytime a cultural change suddenly appears on the horizon.

The red bicycle syndrome

The red bicycle syndrome

Cultural Change #1: How do you get production to shut down equipment for you during good processing time? Culture dictates that we need to run while it is functioning semi-normal. This can be a very frustrating time for both production and maintenance. Part of the answer to this challenge is to take a solid look at what you are doing. Look at the history of the machine and ask a few tough questions. Are the problems with this machine related to the PM? Are the machine problems associated with component failure or are there other causes? This is the time to perform a good analysis and review of all past work orders. Work orders, even if poorly documented, can give you good information. What type of issues are you seeing? How many work orders have "adjustment" in the description? What patterns are you seeing on the work orders? You may find that the same component is changed during a reactive work order on a regular basis.

This brings us to Cultural Change #2: Are we buying and using original equipment parts or something aftermarket? Generally, when looking at this factor, I have found that somewhere along the way someone found a cheaper part based on unit cost. While we all want to save money, we need to look beyond just the cost of each unit. On one such piece of equipment, I found the unit cost for a drive motor was actually about $200 less than the original equipment. That is a great cost savings; the problem is replacing 17 motors in five years, all during a breakdown situation. Our cost savings goes south when you consider production labor, loss of product, labor for reworking product and pulling a craftsman off a scheduled job to complete an emergency repair. Our $200 savings just cost us $2,000 or more depending on time.

The real cost savings is when we use the right component and change it out on a planned and scheduled job plan. Again, we face the frustration of a culture that sees a savings and jumps on that band wagon without a proper analysis. For our example, we will make the assumption that our components are of excellent quality. Looking at the patterns in the work orders, we also see a steady flow of those pesky adjustment work orders. When comparing the patterns, we may determine that even though our parts are first rate, we are significantly shortening the lifecycle of the component through over adjustment. However, we don't know why.

Time for Cultural Change #3: Are we looking at an alignment problem? We all know that equipment should be solidly mounted to the floor, properly squared and plumbed, but you know working on this thing is easier if you can slide it away from the line a bit for easier access. Anyway, we can tell it is properly aligned just by looking at it, right? So long as production does not speed up the cycles so the machine jerks, it can run smooth like that for years. Well, here we go again with that cultural thing; some people will just not see the plumbed forest for the trees. For these folks, it is obvious where the problem is, which brings us to the next cultural change.

Cultural Change #4: Operator error. Following the progression of adjustment work orders, it should be clear to anyone that some operators simply cannot stop making adjustments. The constant adjustment of the machine is contributing to the wear of the components; anyone can see that, can't they?

When you begin the reliability process, it is amazing how many companies out there have just the answer you are looking for. Technology, proactive tools, oil analysis, computerized work orders and statistical analysis are all pieces of the pie that we want to grab a hold of and bring to our plant. They are all good and they all have a slightly different slant on what you need, for a nominal fee of course. Now don't get me wrong; without question, there are incredible tools and services available out there that can add value to the bottom line. What I see as a concern is moving forward with a product or service without having done our homework before making the leap.

In our example, we meet frustration on both the maintenance and production side. This frustration comes from our own internal history that may be less than stellar. What drives your business will always be the key factor. In other words, what goods or services do you provide and how do you measure success? We link time to that pesky thing called productivity, a term that at first simply means to cut staff. In reality, the metrics used to create that staffing cut is really a modern way of saying common sense business. Use the number of people you need to accomplish your budgeted production rate and just to make it interesting, let's try to do that in a cost effective manner so the price we have to charge for our product or service falls within acceptable limits for the consumer.

So where does this lead us? The answer is not as clear as the question. To see where we are, we must have some kind of history that calls for review. Our PM had to wait, so we had yet another failure that required replacement of a part. A few weeks later, we perform our PM that calls for replacing the part that we just replaced. Since the part is only a few weeks in service, we don't need to change it, do we? What if the part was a bearing and when we replaced it on the breakdown, we only replaced the one bearing and no one performed an analysis to see why it failed? We just potentially created a breakdown that has not happened yet. The common sense of the situation has eluded us and we move happily along the path of, "Hey, the thing is running, right?"

The culture most of us are probably used to is "keep it running" at all costs. When we break down, how fast can we get running again? The old adage of "time is money" hits this one dead on. Our comfort level changes based on downtime and leaves us fast when the line is down. So the 64-thousand-dollar question is: How do you move beyond your own culture when implementing a reliability process? First, there has to be a team effort from the very beginning. Maintenance and production have a partnership and both must be actively involved in the implementation process if you have any chance at success. Maintenance cares for the equipment, but who owns it? Correct, production owns their equipment in the same way that you own your own vehicle. When you have issues with your car, you call the service center and schedule an appointment at a time that works for every one. The service center will ask a few brief questions to glean a bit of data and the rest is up to the mechanic. The service center will schedule the mechanic's time on any given day and all of a sudden we see planning and scheduling in action. During the phone call, a few questions from the manager helped with his investigation to try to determine how much time the repair will take. Service center personnel will also use their knowledge of your type of vehicle to know which components typically fail on that model.

Similarly, to create cultural change in any industry, start the process of improvement by adopting a game plan based on accepted world-class standards and comparing it to your current culture. Create a process that includes:

  • Teamwork and ownership - cross-functional
  • Analysis as a simple tool - basic questions
  • Metrics and understanding - what do you measure and is it understood
  • Preventive maintenance timelines, procedures, skill levels
  • Work orders and equipment history - what is it telling you
  • Replacement parts original equipment versus aftermarket - Unit cost or total cost

Utilize cross-functional teams to make improvements that people can take ownership in and understand. Your process does not need to be complicated; it does, however, need to be understood. When you build small successes, there will be a hunger for more improvements that the cultural roadblock cannot stop. When all parties involved become excited about what is happening, you gain a greater hunger. This feeds the desire and receptiveness to purchase some of those services and products that can provide even more results.

Manufacturing excellence can provide great results if we are willing to take that step. The real key to cultural business change is a chain of successes that fuel more change. At our time in the industrial revolution, we have the potential to advance far beyond the vision from 80 years ago. The tools are right in front of you. The question is, Will you pick up those tools and put them to work?

John W. Scott, CMRP, MLTI, has been employed with Jennie-O Turkey Store for 22 years. His current position is Manufacturing Excellence and Reliability Facilitator, Training and Development Manager. John is a Six Sigma DMIAC Expert. Academic: Texan A & M; University of St. Thomas, University of Wisconsin. He is a Veteran of the United States Air Force. www.jennieo.com

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