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This article looks at the past and asks readers if their companies have progressed from where they stood 20 or 25 years ago. In September 1999, I met with the reliability team of a Well-Known Petrochemical Company (let’s call it “WKPC”) to discuss ways of improving its reliability performance. During about four hours of discussion, we exchanged information on how best-in-class (BiC) performers achieved their often-enviable standing and what underlying factors might have caused WKPC to fall short of meeting reasonable expectations. 

By way of summary, we considered that top-quartile companies paid significant attention to the often overlooked, generally “unglamorous” basics. We made the point that these high performers emphasized the need to understand when, where, and how appropriate work practices and upgrade measures made economic sense.

I attempted to make the point that WKPC would achieve more rapid, readily quantified results with a near-term strategy of first identifying and picking the “ripe, low-hanging fruit” and addressing and remedying other important deficiencies before rigidly marching down the path of defining, selecting, and implementing plant-wide Total Productive Management (TPM) or similar packaged programs.

WKPC decided not to follow my suggested route. Instead, it engaged the services of a maintenance-management firm that did what maintenance-management firms tended to do: work on the maintenance process, but not on the reliability process. As a person who had previously had business dealings with WKPC, I received, in August of 2001, a note from the bankruptcy court advising that the company was reorganizing and was seeking court protection from the demands of its creditors.

It has been my experience that the most successful companies have followed the priority path of first identifying the ripest, low-hanging fruit, then going further. By taking this path, such companies have been able to accomplish an upgrading of the knowledge base of the maintenance and reliability functions. The resulting educational up-lift will then facilitate the initial acceptance and ultimate success of TPM or well-focused RCM (Reliability-Centered Maintenance) efforts. I have often expressed the fear that many purveyors of “magic bullet” work processes are themselves not sufficiently familiar with what basics they hope will be pursued. Moreover, they often don’t seem to grasp the financial loss that accrues from the lost opportunities in not first harvesting low-hanging fruit.

Knowledgeable professionals have no quarrel with RCM. But they are aware that many U.S. companies attempting to adopt RCM in its generally taught form abandoned it before very long. And we all know the reasons why: extreme cost; manpower being siphoned off from more worthwhile pursuits; years before bottom-line results are beneficially affected; and so forth. A notable exception has been reported by operations using certain experience-based Streamlined RCM (SRCM) processes that wisely single out approximately 15% of a site’s equipment population for this well-proven and rather effective modified RCM approach.

SRCM methods include visual inspection and qualitative assessments in the field; these are assigned on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Relying on the experience of highly experienced engineers or senior technicians, the short frequencies and subjective nature of these tasks make it impractical to schedule, report and manage the results of these inspections in a conventional Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS).

We will follow up on these points in next week’s article.TRR

Editor’s Note: Click Here To Download A Full List Of Heinz Bloch’s 24 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. 

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM, Total Productive Maintenance, Reliability-Centered Maintenance, Streamlined Reliability-Centered Maintenance