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Lean times are here again. Travel is out, and for good reason. Training is on hold, as it has been on several occasions since 1950. We know this because tough times have descended upon us before. What’s different now is the driving public has become the shut-in public and (almost) stopped buying motor fuels.

It follows that the few dollars today’s process plants make in profits are (almost) absorbed by having to address, time and again, their repeat pump failures. And many young managers were still in school when books about better pumps were published. Consequently, much of the proverbial low-hanging pump-related fruit in these plants hasn’t been harvested over the years, nor is be being harvested now.

But mandating the reading of technical texts to discover solutions isn’t possible in today’s economic climate. While such texts might be modestly priced, whatever profit a company thought it might realize has been evaporating. The problem is too much of what’s left is being spent on fixing equipment that’s been fixed many times before. Yes, history does repeat itself. And I’ll do the same here. Read on.

I’ve often cited a 1999 discussion with a reliability manager of a prominent multi-national oil company. Alluding to the fact that many operations were experiencing repeat failures of rotating equipment (especially process pumps), he noted employees should do more reading. 

Our conversation prompted me to publish a column in 2000 on the likely cost of blindly purchasing from lowest bidders (a management issue). In it, I discussed how cost-cutting out real training, coupled with a lack of mentoring, led to maintenance-intensive or unreliable equipment (another management issue). In the process-machinery sector, the emphasis should have been on maintenance avoidance decades ago. Of course, that would require intelligent procurement, active support of the best vendors, and issuance of knowledge-based and fully enforced specifications (other management issues).

Professional knowledge, though, comes from pertinent education. For true professionals, acquiring this education as adults requires reading. If you seek advice from a medical doctor who refuses to read, you’ll regret it. And so it is with managers who, if they refuse to read, will likely have to resort to guesswork instead of acquiring the wisdom to authoritatively guide their staffs on implementing failure avoidance. Specifics would cure the patient. For those in authority to mouth the usual weasel words cures nothing.

Motivating employees to read should rank high among the tasks for which good managers get credit. The feasibility of upgrading must be determined well ahead of the maintenance event and details can be retrieved from articles and books dating back to the mid-to-late 1970s. Whenever justified, maintenance/reliability professionals and their managers should be actively involved in making the monetary value of these endeavors known.  

 In 2000, I wrote: “The ever-present pseudo-training must be identified for what it is: a waste of time. Real training is a two-way street. It is well defined, supported in equal measure by employer and employee, requires motivation and effort by all concerned parties, and represents an investment in personal time. The intrinsic present and future value of such training is intuitively evident; such training is certainly pursued in the education of children and adolescents. Linking education to the economy is patently absurd.” I still believe that.TRR

Editor’s Note: Click Here To Download A Complete List Of Heinz Bloch’s 22 Books

Heinz Bloch’s long professional career included assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. A recognized subject-matter-expert on plant equipment and failure avoidance, he is the author of numerous books and articles, and continues to present at technical conferences around the world. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and is an ASME Life Fellow. These days, he’s based near Houston, TX. Email him at heinzpbloch@gmail.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, professional development