All of us who drive vehicles are "in tune" with our vehicles because when there is a strange noise, rattle or vibration we react to the change by investigating the change. We do this as we subconsciously sense this change as a possible failure to the vehicle and as we need the vehicle to commute, its important to us and we need to keep the vehicle reliable.

The same analogy can be used for our homes. Here we employ even more of our senses because when we walk into the house we pick up on strange smells, we see something that is out of place, we listen to noises and we sense the surroundings (cold and hot) and we react accordingly.

Even though we have some really great predictive maintenance tools and equipment, the human body is one of the best tools available to us. It can sense the smallest of changes.

The body does however need to be "calibrated" and taught what the "base-line" readings are. This is done by doing regular walks/inspections in a facility/plant/asset while it is operating in its normal mode. The person should be told to just walk through the plant and stop at key locations and simply just look, listen, smell and touch (if it is safe). Tasting is normally not required unless you work in a chocolate factory. The body will then become tuned into the plant and will be programmed with a "base-line" reading.

If the person does detect any differences to what is "normal", they should investigate it and report it immediately as after a while the change will be seen by the body as the new norm as it has not changed and the defect will become part of the plant.

A few examples from my own journey through reliability:

1: One day I walked into our control room building, which consisted of substations on the ground and first levels with offices and a control room on the top floor. While sitting in my office I could smell something burning. Instead of just ignoring it and assuming that someone was burning their lunch I went and investigated the smell. I found that the smell was strongest in one of the substations and with the aid of a thermal imaging camera we detected a very hot electronic card that was busy failing. We could then do a controlled shutdown and replace the card without any emergency operating.

2: It was on the same plant (power station) and as the Operations and Maintenance Superintendant, I had implemented a no leak policy when we took over the plant after commissioning. I could manage this as under all the parts of the plant there were concrete bases. So each morning when I drove into the plant I did a quick scan of all the bases and smiled when I saw no wet spots or I saw that someone had seen a leak and had devised a system for us to recover the water/condensate. This policy was one of many that was managed on a daily basis by personnel just walking around the plant without lengthy inspection sheets or specific tasks to do. They just walked around, listening, looking and smelling and touching where it was safe to do so.

With all the sophisticated monitoring equipment out there we get overloaded with too much data and alarms and we tend to "switch-off" to these technological aids as we know that an automatic plant will shut down and protect itself if it all gets too much.

The aim is to reduce the alarms before they happen and the one tool in this strategy is a Tuned In Human Being.

Reader tip submitted by Barend Van der Poll, Electrical Reliability Engineer, Roaring 40s, Launceston, Tasmania

Thanks for the tip Barend - your Reliability Elements T Shirt is on the way!

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