Time for some fundamentally good ideas

Juggler and comedian Michael Davis used to start his act by taking a single red rubber ball and tossing it straight up and down in his hand. It wasn't much of a trick, but that was the idea. “I do one thing,” Davis would tell the audience, “and I do it very well.” From there, his act involved juggling chainsaws, axes and bowling balls – simultaneously – but t...


Juggler and comedian Michael Davis used to start his act by taking a single red rubber ball and tossing it straight up and down in his hand. It wasn't much of a trick, but that was the idea. “I do one thing,” Davis would tell the audience, “and I do it very well.” From there, his act involved juggling chainsaws, axes and bowling balls %%MDASSML%% simultaneously %%MDASSML%% but the simple idea that began the act stuck with me. Before you can move on to juggling chainsaws, you have to begin with the fundamentals.

In these times, some manufacturers have seen the need to cut back and retrench. Others are seizing the opportunity to retool and to rethink their operation. Getting back to fundamentals seems to be a fundamentally good idea.

Let's start with maintenance. What is your scheduled equipment maintenance practice? If we assume for a minute that break-fix doesn't count as a maintenance strategy (and it doesn't) then what plan do you have in place to keep your equipment up and operating. If you can't think of it as maintenance, think of it as worker's compensation for your machinery. You wouldn't allow your employees to do a job injured or tired. Why would you allow your machine to operate that way?

If one of those equipment categories that needs attention is motors, then is this a good time to do an analysis of the energy savings that would come with replacing motors. An important stat that I've often heard repeated is that about 2% of the total cost of ownership of a motor is its purchase price; 97% is the energy it uses. If you can reduce the cost of that 97% by 20% or more, does it make sense to take a look at your motors?

That brings you to a fresh look at your overall electrical system. Some people I've talked with say replacing fluorescents with T5 or T8 bulbs can make a huge difference in energy consumption in any facility. Another place to look is more energy-efficient ballasts.

Energy continues to be the single greatest variable in costs in a facility. We've seen energy prices stabilize in the last six months; certainly the summer of 2009 looks to be far less volatile than in 2008. But the lessons of last year should still be fresh in our minds. Is there greater urgency to cut 20% of your energy costs when gas is $4.50 a gallon than it is at $2.25? This is our continuing issue on energy: we conserve only when the prices get past a certain point. If you think energy providers haven't taken note of that, you're wrong.

In my economics class in college, I learned that consumers don't just affect demand; they can also affect supply. With products, it explains why we're all not still driving Edsels. With commodities, it means we can choose to use fewer or the resource without affecting production output.

All of this requires measurement of your systems and your output. While automation itself has made many tasks easier and has streamlined your operation, the areas I'm really excited about are the improved diagnostics and system analysis available on the market today. Managing what you measure is a cliche, but we can all use a good cliche now and then. System analysis gives plant managers the knowledge they need to identify problems and to solve them quickly. Which brings us to another cliche: time is money.

Right now, we have time. These are the times when that time can be turned into better operating plans, into better production systems, into better training for our employees. When we were running our plants flat out three years ago, we didn't have the time to deal with these issues. That time is now. We want to be ready when manufacturing improves. We need to be ready.

In all of the areas we talk about each month, from proper lubrication techniques to the best way to manage your maintenance crib to the newest automation equipment, the goal is to take costs out of your plant floor without affecting output. If there are other factors that have lowered your output, then this is a good time to re-examine your operation to find where the process can be improved.

In the end, it may look like you're juggling chainsaws, but for you, it will be as easy as tossing a single ball up and down. You'll have mastered the fundamentals.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
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.
October 2018
Tools vs. sensors, functional safety, compressor rental, an operational network of maintenance and safety
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
October 2018
2018 Product of the Year; Subsurface data methodologies; Digital twins; Well lifecycle data
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
October 2018
Complex upgrades for system integrators; Process control safety and compliance
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
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 Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me