One of the basic concepts of understanding equipment reliability is the Potential Failure Curve (P-F Curve) and several years ago I added some additional slides and graphics to my P-F Curve module to help people better understand the importance of a sound maintenance strategy.

I once again woke up this morning and turned on the news to see a rather large refinery fire in the state of Washington and while the details of this event have yet to be disclosed, I can’t help but think about Albert Einstein.

While our old friend Albert is credited for some high level scientific discoveries, he also had a knack for making some complex things become very simple. My favorite is Einstein’s definition of insanity; “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”.

It would appear that one company might want to consider making this statement their company motto.

In the nearly two years that have passed since I wrote the blog I have attached, I have had the pleasure of working with some very proactive companies in the Oil and Gas business. Companies who understand the importance of using tools like RCM Blitz to build a complete maintenance strategy based on the failure modes that could occur to critical components and parts. And, for some strange reason, the companies we have worked with never seem to end up in the front pages of world and national news.

The shame of what has happened again is it makes yet another huge scar on the face of what can and should be safe and environmentally sound business. I wrote the blog I have attached below this line in the days following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a tragic event that occurred as a result of poor operating and maintenance practices.

This morning I find myself asking this company and our elected officials; what has changed?

RCM Blitz -What Can We Do Before Things Go Wrong?

Seems like every time a company is faced with the tragic circumstances we have witnessed over the last few weeks with the coal mine explosion in West Virginia that killed 25 workers, and more recently the oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisianan, that killed 11 workers and has resulted in thousands of gallons of oil leaking into these waters on a daily basis, our news agencies and people around the world are demanding investigations as to what went wrong with each incident. Human nature demands we investigate what went wrong and who was responsible. There must be a cause, we must find someone to blame and that person should be held accountable. It would seem at times like these that finding those responsible get more attention than making sure events like these never happen again.

In truth the pain for the families who lost loved ones and the companies who will be held responsible has just begun. Moving forward experts in each field will be hired to voice their opinions regarding the likely causes. The news coverage will likely focus on the one or two most likely potential causes and several months down the road a figure head for both companies will proclaim that their company has now addressed these issues removing the chance that this will never occur again!

And, as a seasoned RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) practitioner I will close my eyes, say a prayer, and hope that one or two things they focused on are the only things that could have caused these American workers their lives. I say a prayer because I know as other RCM and RCA (Root Cause Analysis) practitioners know that events like these seldom have a single cause. In reality tragedies like these are typically a series or chain of events that lead to catastrophic failure and the only way to reduce the likelihood of these failures to an acceptable level is to identify and mitigate the all the failure modes that could cause them.

The real shame comes in the understanding that what has happened, didn’t have to happen. While all failures might not be predictable they are all preventable. Preventing failures takes leadership, structure, discipline, resources, expertise and patience. Being honest, these are characteristics seldom seen or displayed in companies as we face a very tough economy and this being said we all have to make tough decisions so the question always turns to; What would it have cost to put a team of experts together and identify every failure mode that COULD lead to catastrophic failure? And; had we put this team of experts together several years ago, would we now be in the position we find ourselves in today?

Reliability Centered Maintenance is a very structured process that asks a series of questions to discover and mitigate the failure modes that result in functional failure of your assets. In performing this process over the past 15 years I am continuously amazed at the unforeseen failure modes we uncover as a team and while this process is not perfect the companies who elect to perform and implement RCM always see an improvement in equipment reliability as well as a reduction in health, safety and environmental incidents and accidents.

To perform a thorough RCM analysis on your equipment you need to hire a seasoned RCM practitioner who believe it or not has little or no experience in the equipment you are about to analyze (Experience brings bias and leads to missed failure modes), a team of process experts, engineers (Mechanical, Electrical, Process, Safety/Environmental) equipment operators and a cross section of trades people (Mechanical, Electrical, Instrument). This RCM team should be composed of experts who are respected by their peers who are honest and open to change. In performing analysis of assets where failure could result in catastrophic events this team will need the patience required to discuss the causes and effects of all failures that could lead to catastrophic events and in discussing these failures we can then address tasks intended to mitigate each failure mode. The most important thing to remember as you assemble your RCM team is understand that the word “Expert” requires that this person actually has hands on experience working with your equipment and the environment in which it operates. (In 2011 we were hired by a very responsible company to perform a thorough RCM Blitz™ analysis on a deep water blow out preventer the team of experts addressed hundreds of failure modes to develop a unique proactive maintenance strategy)

So, while we all wait to find out what happened and why these events occurred, I really hope that we all take a step back and think what could happen at our workplace. When it comes to our people and our assets we have two choices, the first is to be proactive and identify a team to identify and mitigate failure modes, the second is to cross our fingers and let an outside team of “experts” identify a couple of things we did wrong and hope they were the only causes.

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2 Responses to The Definition of Insanity???

  1. Mark O'Brien says:

    Thanks for the important article. This is foremost and obviously, a safey issue; just by coincidence, it applies to profitability as well.

    It doesn’t have to be hard, mysterious or costly to maintain machines properly. Follow the lessons being offered here and keep educating yourself. There is a path to safety and lower life-cycle costs, get the maps and keep to the trail. Knowledge really is power.

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