A fork in the road

DATELINE: Chicago, August 1999 -- Heat wave. The lights have gone off. Electric power is out. Some areas will be without power for days. Others will have it returned only to have it go out again.


DATELINE: Chicago, August 1999 -- Heat wave. The lights have gone off. Electric power is out. Some areas will be without power for days. Others will have it returned only to have it go out again. Throughout the city, power failures have become so common and so serious that the mayor is steaming. The CEO of the power company is making public apologies. Within the company, heads are rolling. The vice president of engineering, construction, and maintenance, a 23-yr employee, has "resigned." The problems, a company official explains, are "inevitably attributable to lack of rigorous maintenance and attention."

The experiences of ComEd, the power company serving Chicago should be a lesson to all industry. Cutting back on engineering, maintenance, personnel, and equipment is not good business in the long run.

For many companies, the Chicago Tribune hit the nail on the head when it ran a commentary that said, "Today's industrial leadership is more interested in immediate results, head counts, cost per square foot, perks, bonuses, parachute packages, and Wall Street recognition."

Of course, the downsizings, cutbacks, and reorganizations are always couched in the business-speak of return on investment, strategic repositioning, stockholder equity, competitive threat, and all manner of other obfuscation.

All of this translates into a frustrating dilemma for the conscientious plant engineer who is expected to prevent breakdowns and protect the corporate assets while supporting management's business goals of maximizing short-term profits and returns.

Under such conditions, the best course of action, it seems, would be to follow the advice attributed to Yogi Berra: "When you come to the fork in the road, take it." If only you could.

It's easy to see which road should have been taken long after you've gone through the intersection. Hindsight is always 20:20 and all that. But at each decision point along the way, it's not so clear.

I'd like to give management the benefit of the doubt by saying that they make the best decisions they can at the time, given the information available at the time. But it is becoming increasingly difficult to be so charitable. When an industrial infrastructure deteriorates, the condition of equipment and components is nearly always well known. And the decisions not to correct the conditions are nearly always based on short-term profit considerations.

With responsibilities both for preventing equipment failures and for supporting financial objectives, which route do you tend to take at the fork in the road?

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
Welding ergonomics, 2017 Salary Survey, and surge protection
2017 Top Plant winner, Best practices, Plant Engineering at 70, Top 10 stories of 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Setting internal automation standards
Knowing how and when to use parallel generators
PID controllers, Solar-powered SCADA, Using 80 GHz radar sensors

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.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me