512-800-6031 editor@ramreview.com

Most readers would hesitate to disagree with the saying: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” I for one, however, don’t believe that all metrics presently used as key performance indicators (KPIs) make sense. As just one example, an oil refinery used “Pumps taken into the shop” as a KPI. It was reasoned that the fewer pumps go into the repair shop, the better our maintenance management must be. The numbers went down because broken pumps were placed on wooden pallets and these were positioned at an outside (!) wall of the shop. Machinists made new parts; assemblers worked outside; the pumps never entered the shop.

But pump maintenance costs went up. Reasonable people ultimately prevailed, and fewer pump-repair incidents became the new and better, more meaningful KPI. In other words, replacing a gasket or O-ring costing $10 was counted as a repair incident, as was a $7,000 impeller. Total cost of all pump repairs was compiled, but quick and risky repairs were discouraged with a KPI that did not reward speedy repair of a pump whose installed spare was running with very low vibration and at flow and head very close to best efficiency point (BEP). Giving the reader a comprehensive listing of KPIs of questionable value is of little use, but the above narrative points to KPIs that do make sense.

One of these would be a KPI claiming favorable compressor availabilities elsewhere. If I were a manager, I would issue a challenge to my reliability professionals. I would ask them to explain what, exactly, the competition is doing that makes them have fewer outage events and/or downtime hours than we are experiencing at our plant. I would expect my staff to know that our competitor has left 6,000 gallons of turbine oil in its charge-gas compressor for the past 15 years, and that this is attributable to conscientious monitoring of additives-content and continuous on-stream purification of the oil. The KPI would be “Cost of lubricant per gallon per year,” which would give credit for downtime avoidance. But that’s only for starters, because we often see plants that do a hundred things a little less effective than their seasoned best-in-class competition.

Let’s just imagine that I’m this manager and I’m confronted with a series of situations that need to be addressed (such as those listed below). These reflect issues where our competition had reported favorable performance and for which numbers are hard to come by. So, we will use common sense instead of numbers, and also acknowledge that the answers to every one of our questions can be found in books.



♦   Our on-stream factor is about 92% (low) and the competition routinely achieves 96%. (QUESTION: Wouldn’t we want to know the root causes of more frequent outage events? We might find the answer in “them” having weekly meetings where the root cause factors are discussed by representative of Operations [who wrote a work order], Maintenance [whose remedy was to repair], and Technical [whose contribution is to explain why few other plants ever have such incidents]. We called these PMT Meetings, because Process/Maintenance/Technical had to interact, and learn, and teach.)

♦   Operator errors are not only negatively impacting maintenance expenses but are affecting production and revenue. (QUESTION: Who is teaching the operators what role they have to fulfill to keep machines running well? What exactly do they have to observe and avoid? What is taught at Best-in-Class companies and who does the teaching?)  

♦   Equipment breakdowns are frequent, e., large number of Emergency and Priority 1 work orders. (QUESTION: After how many repeat failures do you take the machine away from maintenance department jurisdiction and assign a permanent upgrade responsibility to a reliability professional? ANSWER: After 2 pump repairs in 18 months, the precise steps for remedial action must be given by a subject-matter expert [SME]. Now he or she is in charge of the various steps and procedures.)

♦   Predominantly reactive rather than proactive scheduled maintenance work. (QUESTION: Do you have records that allow calculating optimum maintenance frequencies?)

♦   Job planning is at a low level. (ANSWER: Involve management! Planners should have templates with little change needed for different jobs.)

♦   Repairs are not always correctly carried out the first time, i.e., we do considerable re-work, here. (QUESTION: Do you have accountability? Do you have incentives for good workmanship? Hopefully, you will discontinue rewarding anyone for speedy slip-shot workmanship, refusal to measure and record, not using the right tools to do the job properly, etc.)

♦   Scheduled outages are over-budget and exceed scheduled duration. (QUESTION: Do you have realistic budgets?)

♦   Critical spare parts are not always in stock to minimize equipment downtime. (QUESTION: Who is in charge of defining and buying upgraded spare parts? The purchasing department has neither the skills nor the incentives.)

♦   The maintenance budget is out of control and escalating at a double-digit rate each year. (QUESTION: Are you subordinating reliability engineering and favoring maintenance personnel?)

♦   Equipment-maintenance strategies are informal, vague, not optimized, or plain non-existent. (SOLUTION: Involve a knowledgeable consulting engineer who has decades of applicable experience in reorganizing.)

♦   The economy is improving, and good, experienced people are leaving the company at an alarming rate. (ANSWER: Retain people by treating them as professionals. Reward managers on the basis of achieving results. Give specific guidelines on realistic expectations.)

♦   Use of contractors for maintenance is not optimized, and no in-house expert has jurisdiction over the contractor’s quality of workmanship. (ANSWER: Make competent employees the “quasi owners” of each contractor function. As just one of dozens of examples, are you allowing the cooling-water-treatment contractor to achieve clean heat exchangers by using lots of acid, which will cause the exchanger tubes to thin out and fail prematurely? How would an experienced “quasi owner” employee react to that? Would it not make sense to involve the “quasi owner” in the decision-making process, which starts with interviewing and selecting a water-treatment contractor?)

♦   Completed capital projects are not reliable. (ANSWER: Make your project executive the future manager of his project, unit, or plant. Make him or her live for a few years with the decisions he or she made.)

♦   “Lost Time” and “Near Miss” safety statistics are trending upward. (ANSWER: Don’t talk safety and rarely enforce it. Use proper standards and never waive them for the sake of expediency. Mean what you say.)



Now ask yourself if the above hypotheticals are, to some degree, similar to situations in your plant. Are your remedial actions and pursuits consistent with your proclaimed objectives? Are your facility practices moving in the right direction?

We might benefit from a plan that ultimately drives plant profits and ensures the safety of people and equipment. The knowledge that unbiased SMEs have gained during decades of work in the industry deserves to be presented and illustrated with case studies that are time-tested. If that is not done at your plant, your operations will probably not live up to their true potential. With that in mind, the depth of information at your plant should not be limited to only one person’s experiences. Designate a few key professionals to share the contents of two or three solid technical books with other staffers and make presentations to management.

If you’re a manager, consider upgrading the knowledge base of your organization and ask key individuals to present a list detailing work practices and procedures at Best-in-Class (BiC) competitors versus how things are done at your site. If you’re an SME, try to enable (enlighten) your manager. By definition, all managers are empowered. The question is: Are they enlightened? Can they move the organization toward becoming BiCs if they, the managers, are not enlightened?  Familiarity with the framework that readers can use and adapt to their situation would be helpful.

Years ago, I was breathing a sigh of relief when reading a book authored by (Georgetown University) Professor of Computer Science Cal Newport. He found that an SME’s work product should be such that, in case he or she would quit their jobs or depart for other reasons, their absence would be noticed. Translation: Our work should aim at adding value, but not excel in degrees of passion for the job that would create undue anxiety, hurt our families, or cause us to die prematurely.

My own view of overtime is very simple: Apart from the occasional (and hopefully very rare) event where our unscheduled late-evening presence at our place of employment makes sense, we should not be the persistent overtime workers. Having to do overtime work on a consistent basis is attributable to one of two possibilities:  the company overloading a worker beyond what is reasonable, or a worker so lacking in proficiency that he or she must put in more hours to keep up with the output of average employees. Either case calls for remedial action.

Accept that mistakes will be made in executing your plan and learn from your successes and failures. Persevere when the going gets tough, because the road is long, winding, challenging, even treacherous. Realize that you are not alone in this pursuit. You have access to many fine books, publications, and conference proceedings. Stay in touch with mentors, consultants, and industry professionals willing to share their experiences and knowledge. Competent manufacturers will explain their products and services. In turn, make them your technology and training providers, and let them assist you. Learn from them, for they will serve you well.TRR



Editor’s Note: Click Here To Download A Newly Updated 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, key performance indicators, KPIs professional development