The 6 Signs of a Failing Plant
About a year ago, I wrote an article about the 6 signs of a reliable plant that got warm reception and a few nice comments. More interesting however was a private message I received from a Reliability Engineer who asked if I had a list of signs that a plant was in chaos and needed a wake up call to turn things around. I responded to the note, drafted a title page and a list of some of the sure signs a plant is in trouble.
This is the resulting article.
For those who don’t know me, I’ve been a Reliability Engineer for going on twenty years now. I created the RCM Blitz™ methodology while attending RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) in the mid 1990’s and have been working as a RCM Practitioner helping companies to improve equipment reliability since 1999. As part of my job I have visited hundreds of plants sites to either train their people as RCM Blitz™ Facilitators or to work with a team of their people to facilitate RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) analyses to develop a maintenance strategy based on known failure modes. In performing these services over a period of time, one gets a good sense on how well a plant is performing or if the plant is in total chaos. The plants in chaos have the following things in common;
1) The plant equipment, manufacturing floor, shop and office area are dirty, cluttered and disorganized. We all know what this looks like and I often hear that this is a cultural issue; one of today’s fancy terms we like to throw around when a site lacks a strong leader or individuals who are capable of stepping up to take ownership for the area they work in. (Evidence of this are pockets of cleanliness at a dirty/cluttered plant) I have to say it breaks my heart when I visit a plant in this state because it’s a sure sign that nearly everyone has given up. Plants that are dirty, cluttered and disorganized typically have more safety and environmental incidents and accidents. Have consistently poor reliability measures (OEE – Overall Equipment Effectiveness, and TEEP – Total Effective Equipment Performance) and struggle to produce consistent product quality.
If your site is in this condition, it’s sending a loud and clear message to everyone who works there and anyone who visits that the only thing viewed as being important is keeping the equipment is running. (It should be noted that many of the next signs of a plant in chaos can be resulting effects from this sign)
Recovery from this state is not impossible, it’s in fact how the 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) program got its start. To make 5S work however remember you will need a strong Manager/Leader to make the effort part of daily way of life. Understand that the people who have worked at the plant will need training, guidance and positive reinforcement to sustain the improvement. I can’t stress enough the importance of a strong leader who has a thorough understanding of the tools and methods available to help develop a sustained reliability program.
2) Emergency and Demand Maintenance are greater than 60% – I often struggle with what the ideal is for this number. I have seen plants that have emergency/demand that was less than 10% of their maintenance work and on the flip side I have seen other that were as high as 90%. Looking for a number where that I believe to be the tipping point where things are going to get worse before they get better I came up with 60%. If your emergency and demand maintenance combined is 60% or greater the likelihood of completing your proactive maintenance tasks; PM (Preventive Maintenance), and PdM (Predictive/Condition Based Maintenance) on time is nearly impossible without overtime. The slope at 60% emergency/demand is very slippery and while some bad habits might start earlier, at 60% I can guarantee your tradespeople have stopped thinking about why this component failed, they instead are thinking about how they can swap it out faster than last time. Critical maintenance tasks such as precision alignment, balancing and torqueing are abandoned in an effort to get the equipment back up and running.
Recovery from this level of emergency/demand workload will be a long and arduous task. The mindset to recover will not be clear to most and this dilemma often results in finger pointing and blame. Recovery from this will require that nearly everyone involved (Managers, Supervisors, Engineers, Tradespeople and Operators) be trained in how they play a part in how our equipment was designed to operate and the things we do that result in early life failures. One of the easiest ways to do this is to identify a critical asset that is struggling, (Has a history of multiple equipment failures) perform a RCM Blitz™ analysis on that asset, implement and perform the tasks identified by the team. Show the impact of how identifying and mitigating failure modes improves equipment reliability.
3) Nothing Starts on Time – When I’m working with a customer and I ask the question; “How often do things start on time here?”
I know we’re in trouble if I get a look of confusion and someone asks if I’m talking about the equipment or meetings.
I want to know about it all.
If I’m a lead operator and we are scheduled to run a specific product for a customer and the job is supposed to start at 9 am, what is the likelihood it starts at or before 9 am?
If I’m a maintenance technician and I’m scheduled to replace a motor or gearbox that is in the process of failing at 2 pm, what are the chances the equipment will be ready for me to work on at 2 pm?
If I were to schedule a meeting with some people from Operations, Quality, Engineering and Maintenance and I schedule it to start at 1 pm, will that meeting start on time?
Companies in chaos struggle to do anything on time and as a result, they end up wasting precious time that could be better spent improving the plant.
I recently worked at a site that had a very strict policy regarding employees who showed up late to work yet it was quite common to walk out to their production floor at 6 am and see 30 people standing around talking waiting for the equipment to start. When I asked the people who were standing around how often they started the equipment on time the answerer was rarely.
When I asked to see the data in the PLC it indicated the operators were right; in the last month, the line had started late (10 minutes after scheduled start time) 68 times and on time just twice. Now look at that same set of data in look to see if there is a code or reason for starting late.
Again, I can almost guarantee you that if you ask the question do we ever identify why things don’t start on time, the answer will be no.
Recovery here is simple, we need to identify why anything we plan fails to start on time and work to eliminate those causes. Our schedule and our people’s time is important and they should be treated that way.
4) They have a high amount of contract labor – Like nearly every consultant, I have a canned set of questions I ask new customers. One of the first is; what percent of your shop floor operations people is contract labor? If I hear a number above 10 percent I’m concerned. If it’s above 20 I’m alarmed when it rises above 30 percent I know it will be nearly impossible to implement and recognize any sustained improvement. Depending on a high amount of contract labor crystal clear sign that the company has no idea how to properly plan and schedule their production and workload. Worse yet, it’s also quite clear that their managers don’t value the shop floor workforce.
I should add here that this isn’t always true, there are companies like Amazon that must increase their contract workforce for certain seasons, that’s understandable. It’s the companies who month after month rely on numbers above 20 percent need a wakeup call.
Think of it this way, according to Business Week, the typical good contract employee will last 6 to 18 months. Remember, these are the good workers. Good luck finding the number on how many not so good contract employees you will go through to find a good one. Now try implementing TPM or Operator Care with your contract workforce that is continuously turning over. As soon as you have a core group trained on how to perform their job properly someone from HR is telling you it’s time to replace them.
Business leaders like George Eastman and Henry Ford built empires on the belief that if they provided their proven hourly employees with the best pay and benefits, they would reward the company with loyalty and produce quality products. An interesting concept that has long been forgotten.
5) They have little, none and/or highly disorganized equipment documentation – As I stated earlier this serious flaw is born out of disorganization and clutter. I have yet to work with one company that was physical mess and then turned to me and said; “We’ve got all the drawings, revisions, OEM documents and equipment history if you would like to see it.” The sad thing is, we all know at one time someone had the information, they may have hung on to it for some time then got moved to a new job or loaned the information out. Whatever the reason once it disappears, the likelihood of someone tracking down another copy is slim.
Five or ten years later when you suddenly have an electrical problem and the machine won’t start, good luck troubleshooting, identifying parts or trying to understand the programing logic. This form of disorganization will come back to haunt you over and over again as experienced operators and maintenance technicians move on through promotions or retirement with the only record of how things work stored in their head or on personal note pads.
Recovery from this flaw is time consuming, frustrating and expensive. The best plan here is to start organizing what you have and create a work process that protects that information. Scanning and electronic storage of documents is much easier today but remember it still must be organized. If by luck someone were ambitious enough to create a proper equipment hierarchy, the electronic documents can all be linked to the proper equipment ID’s.
6) There is no visible evidence of goals or measures in the plant –Having learned my trade in a work environment that was very visual I was shocked to find out that other companies and managers didn’t have a visual scoreboard at various places in their plants.
The first company I worked with as a consultant who shall remain nameless was also the first plant I visited that had no visual display of how the plant was performing. I walked miles in this plant through different buildings, office areas, break rooms, shops and conference rooms. I started asking questions to the people participating in the RCM Blitz™ training event questions. How much product did you make last month?
How much of that product met first pass yield standards?
Did you have any product sent back last quarter?
Did you meet your target for production?
How are you performing in regard to this year’s budget forecast?
For each question, I was met with a blank stare. Granted most folks selected to be trained as RCM Facilitators aren’t Operations Managers but I can tell you that when I worked as a tradesperson and even back when I was an apprentice, I could have answered each of those questions or at least have gotten the answer within minutes.
Great plants have a lots visual performance indicators.
Plants that are in serious danger have nothing.
Three years ago, I had a plant manager tell me he stopped posting his plant numbers because they were making people nervous. I asked him if his people should be nervous and he replied that yes, “we’re in trouble.” So, isn’t it time you posted the numbers with a clear message that we are in trouble and we need to work together to turn this place around?
I want to make this as clear as possible, visual measures alone won’t change the numbers. Just because you posted some information doesn’t mean that people will suddenly see the light and say we need to work harder or smarter. The visual workplace is about letting people know we are in this together. It’s a communication tool that helps people to understand the state of our business, our goals and our progress in attempt to achieve those goals. If you have noting displayed, nothing will change.
So there you have it. Six things I think underperforming plants have in common. I could certainly add more to this list. Not one of the underperforming plants I visited had a formal skilled trades apprentice program. All of them considered their maintenance craftspeople to be multiskilled and every single one had a spare parts budget that was out of control.
Is there good news here?
Yes, I have seen one of these plants turn it around. They brought in a new leader who was able to energize his people and they began working one machine at a time to turn their plant around. He told me the first day I worked with his team that his plant was the worst performing plant his company had in the world and that he told his people they had two choices. The first was to quit and find another job, the second was work with him to turn things around. I promised them I would not hire anyone new, that I had faith in the fact the we had the right people and the wrong leaders. Less than two years later they were one of the best in the world in terms of cost and productivity.
So tell me, are you a leader? Are you up to the challenge?
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Doug Plucknette, Principal & World-Wide RCM Discipline Leader at Allied Reliability Group is a Reliability Engineering Consultant and Published Author of “Reliability Centered Maintenance using RCM Blitz™ and Clean, Green and Reliable. Having created the RCM Blitz™ Methodology he has been an RCM Practitioner and Trainer for over 20 years. Doug resides in Spencerport, NY and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org