One of the painful things about performing a Reliability Centered Maintenance analysis on a piece of equipment is that we address all of the likely failure modes on a piece of equipment, whether a company believes they have a good PM task in place or not. Last year, I was working with a customer who shall remain nameless on a piece of filling equipment with 320 identical filling stations that operated with cams and springs that opened and closed the fill valves.

As we began addressing the failure modes of these items, someone on the team spoke up and stated, “We have a good PM in place to address these failures. I don’t think we don’t need to spend too much time here.”

I looked at the machine downtime history they had given me and noticed that the number 1 cause of downtime on the machine was assigned to the fill valves and the number 3 cause of downtime was attributed to the springs. Having this information in hand, I had to ask, “If the PM is good, why are 2 of these items in the top 3 causes of downtime?”

The technician looked up, smiled, and stated, “Well, I guess that’s why we have you here. We do the PM on these every three months, these things wear out, we replace the springs, the o-rings, measure the cams and followers, and it’s like new when we turn it back.”

“And yet, having performed the PM and giving the machine back with all parts meeting the specifications, you still are having all these other failures. Something doesn’t make sense here; there has to be other failure modes, so let’s address them 1 at a time and see what we find.”

The technician wouldn’t stop. “Well Doug, now I didn’t say we did the PM on all of the cams and all of the fill valves; we don’t have enough time for that. We can only do 80 stations at a time and we work 2 crews 24 hours straight to get that done.”

“Ok, so in reality the PM interval for these components is really one time each year?”

“Yes, I guess you could say that each station gets a rebuild one time each year.”

“And, do you think that is an effective interval for the task? Are you looking at the stations that do fail to see when they were rebuilt last? Are the ones that are failing the stations that you rebuilt 9 months ago? It seems to me like these are all wear-based components that should have a useful life and PM would be effective if we knew the right interval.”

The tech was now looking down and smiling; I sensed he was leading me to an answer he already knew, so I continued.

“Let me ask the team a few questions; how many of you have a car?”

Everyone in the room raised their hand.

“Ok, is it fair to say your cars all have tires, brakes, shocks, or struts?”

They all nodded yes.

“Do these items all wear out?”

They nodded again.

“So, when they do wear out, do you replace one tire, one set of brake pads, and one strut?”

They all laughed and someone said “of course not!”

“Then why are you doing just that to your filler?”

When all the laughing stopped, the technician sat back in his chair, smiled, and said, “Doug, this machine isn’t my car. It’s the production manager’s car; he brings it to my garage and tells me to replace one tire, one set of brakes, and one shock absorber. I tell him ‘Sir, I can do that, but I don’t think it’s going to work very well for you. But it’s your money.’ He then lets me know that he has lots of things to do and doesn’t have time for me to replace everything and if he did, that would be way too much money to spend on maintenance in one quarter. With that being said, I know who signs my paycheck so I go ahead and do the work.”

“So then, going back to the PM on your machine, do you still believe you have a good PM in place?”

“Well, I think the PM itself is good, but we are changing one tire at a time, which causes them all to wear a little faster. If we got the time to do all the stations once a year, I think it would work, but I have been through this with 3 supervisors, and 4 operations managers, and not one will listen. Then again, I never worded it quite like the way you just did.”

I tell this story because I often have to remind the managers I work with that their people in most cases know the right things to do when it comes to maintenance and it is management’s job to ensure they have the time and resources to get them done. In this case, the company we were working with experienced thousands of unnecessary downtime minutes simply because someone with very little experience with a piece of equipment elected to ignore the recommendations of others who had years of hands-on experience.

As we presented the RCM review meeting for company management, I asked them the same questions about their cars. Would you ever take your car to a shop and have the mechanic change 1 tire, 1 set of brakes, and 1 shock absorber? Interestingly enough, not one manager said yes. When I related the story of the filler, it became very quiet until the plant manager finally spoke up and said, “Are you telling us we caused our own problems by making the PM quarterly instead of once every nine months or once a year?”

No,” I replied, “I’m telling you that when it comes to making decisions about your equipment, listen to your people. That if you don’t understand why something needs to be done on a time-based interval to ask the question why, or show me proof of the wear, or show me some data that supports the interval you are proposing. I’m telling you that everyone in this room wants this machine to run better as much as you do and if you put your heads together and implement the results of this RCM analysis we just completed and start doing the tasks at the recommended interval, you will accomplish that.”

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