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Thinking about integrating new technologies in your manufacturing or utility systems? Beware. Equipment-performance data collection goes back to zero to build a new baseline of performance rates, points of failure, and failure modes. All too often, new tech is sold on improved performance, lower cost of ownership, and maintenance-free aspects. Again, beware.

New technologies, whether they’re diagnostic or operational, bring new failure modes and new maintenance and spare-parts requirements. My advice? Beware of sales pitches and trust your own data collection and analysis after new equipment goes into service.

I know of operations whose equipment engineers have insisted on bringing in the latest and greatest technologies, only to experience increased downtime due to operational glitches and failures after their installation. While this doesn’t happen in all plants, unexpected problems do occur. Here’s a real-world example.

New conveyor lines were designed and constructed in ways that integrated nearly 20 separate machine centers in a final assembly operation. Once they were up and running, the speeds and quality rates were awesome. After six months, though, a new point of failure reared its ugly head. Each conveyor corner required a separate drive motor to power the rollers. Debris accumulated in and around the corner rollers and motors because of the materials being conveyed.

Having no prior experience with these advertised “high reliability” conveyor rollers or their drive motors, site personnel lacked a plan for preventive maintenance inspections or periodic cleaning. Consequently, as the debris built up in the rollers, a drive motor became stressed, overheated, and failed.

Simple solution? Institute routine inspection and/or cleaning. Better yet, modify the conveyor-corner-roller assembly and motor system to allow debris to fall through onto the floor or into a catch pan. But that wasn’t the initial solution to be implemented. Read on.

Contrary to OEM and engineering advice, the recommended spare parts weren’t purchased and placed in inventory. After all, as the operation’s financial officer had decided, “This equipment is new. Why invest all that money in parts that will sit on the shelf for several years before they’re needed.” So, the ball was thrown back into his lap: “Order a new drive motor STAT!”

While the Purchasing department was hunting for a new motor, Production developed a workaround: A laborer sat on a stool at the problem conveyor corner and manually pushed assembled products around it and onto the moving rollers.

The conveyor speed, of course, had to be slowed down to accommodate this old-school intervention in the new technology. Production continued at a lower rate per shift, which, in turn, would have a negative impact on customer-order shipments if the situation were to last more than 24 hours.

Due to the newness of this conveyor system, the OEM had not yet stocked additional spare parts. They were on back order. Initial searches found NO motors of the required type in North America. After a global-supply-chain quest, one eventually was located in Japan, put on a plane, and flown to the U.S. plant. This effort proved costly to the operation and customer shipments, as well as to the finance officer who made a short-sighted, uninformed decision nine months prior.

As RAM pros, our job is to investigate new equipment during its design, installation, and startup phases to determine failure issues around the machinery, work processes, and people. Moreover, we should all beware of uninformed decisions by the “carpet dwellers” in a plant’s supply chain: They’re a serious point of failure on the people-side of reliability.TRR

Bob Williamson is a long-time contributor to the “people-side” of the world-class-maintenance and manufacturing body of knowledge across dozens of industry types. His vast background in maintenance, machine and tool design, and teaching has positioned his work with over 500 companies and plants, facilities, and equipment-oriented organizations. Contact him directly at 512-800-6031 or bwilliamson@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, asset management, failure modes, failure points, supply chain, spare parts