When the snow hits the fan

Plants that don't put a high priority on maintaining their assets, even when times are tough, are taking a big risk.


Plants that don't put a high priority on maintaining their assets, even when times are tough, are taking a big risk. That fact was brought home to me again as the public transportation system in Chicago struggled to provide service after a January snowstorm.

Eighteen inches of snow were dumped on Chicago the first Saturday in January. And as the city began to dig out, it quickly became apparent that it would be some time before the public transportation system would recover. The reason: Inoperable equipment and an unsafe stretch of rapid transit track. Maintenance, it seems, had been neglected in an effort to keep costs under control.

The problems didn't show up while temperatures were relatively mild and snow was nonexistent. And the worst storm in 30 yr seemed an unlikely event. But when the snow hit the fan, so to speak, the system broke down.

Now some might say that management was justified in taking the risks of some deferred maintenance here or there. Those are the kinds of decisions managers are expected to make. In its more elevated forms, it has a name: risk management.

We daily see the parallels in industry -- the "what if" games and the "what are the odds" bets. Unfortunately, the scenarios played out in the board rooms are seldom connected with the realities of life on the plant floor. And overall maintenance budgets are somehow disconnected from the probability of failure under severe circumstances. The management assumption is that maintenance will somehow be adequate, even if not optimal. The bet is that the snow won't hit the fan.

But the reality is that the risk takers are making their decisions without a true assessment of the condition of the plant or even of its most critical equipment. Plant engineers, or course, are usually caught in the middle of all this. And when the snow hits the fan, they're the first to feel the blast. Given these scenarios, it behooves plant engineers to do some risk assessment of their own. And the place to start is with the identification of critical equipment.

A good maintenance organization will know exactly which equipment will cause a production shutdown if it fails. Add to that any equipment that poses a safety, health, or environmental danger in case of failure, and you have your critical list. This is the equipment that must be maintained at optimum conditions at all times. Of course, this sounds easier than it is in practice, but it is essential to real maintenance management effectiveness.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safety for 18 years, warehouse maintenance tips, Ethernet and the IIoT, GAMS 2016 recap
2016 Engineering Leaders Under 40; Future vision: Where is manufacturing headed?; Electrical distribution, redefined
Strategic outsourcing delivers efficiency; Sleeve bearing clearance; Causes of water hammer; Improve air quality; Maintenance safety; GAMS preview
SCADA at the junction, Managing risk through maintenance, Moving at the speed of data
Safety at every angle, Big Data's impact on operations, bridging the skills gap
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Applying network redundancy; Overcoming loop tuning challenges; PID control and networks
Driving motor efficiency; Preventing arc flash in mission critical facilities; Integrating alternative power and existing electrical systems
Package boilers; Natural gas infrared heating; Thermal treasure; Standby generation; Natural gas supports green efforts

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role of plant safety and offers advice on best practices.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me