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In the maintenance and reliability world we spend much of our time thinking and planning out ways to better maintain or redesign some equipment to make it last longer or be more reliable. However, there are situations where a reliable solution or maintenance plan is not cost effective and the recommendation is to "run to failure".

For mission critical equipment that is evaluated as a "run to failure" candidate, you need to have a plan. The plan should include everything that is required to make the failure event as painless as possible, including identification of the skills, tools, materials, emergency procedures, etc. necessary to correct the event.

For example, one of my project's has three emergency generator's that all need to start and synchronize when a power failure occurs. We test these every month by shutting off the power to the plant and twice in the past 10 years, the equipment has failed to synchronize and bring the power back up during a test. This is a relatively infrequent failure, however, if generators don't provide power within 10 minutes there could be an environmental impact. Manually synchronizing the generator's is possible and, with proper training, not difficult. So our solution was to plan for the failure and build staff skills to handle it. The planning included developing very clear written instructions that included color coded plaques to identify the steps. In addition, a cross training program was put in place with annual refreshers to train and confirm that the designated staff do know the procedures to synchronize the generators.

Planning for a failure is much like preparing a race car pit crew. before the race, they put a great deal of effort into maintaining and preparing the car for reliable operation. During the race they have trained and prepared with spare parts, tools, and equipment to quickly deal with a "run to failure" when it happens. In my maintenance organization we do a great job of doing preventive and predictive maintenance and we have a great Reliability Centered Maintenance program which has improved reliability. Now we just need to prepare and train a pit crew to handle our critical "run to failures".

Reader tip provided by Marc W. Yarlott, P.E., Project Engineer - Asset Management, Veolia Water North America, Lincoln City, Oregon

Mr. Yarlott is project engineering with Veolia Water providing maintenance program design. His special interest is in evaluating and identifying mission critical systems. Click here to find out more on his blog

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