Focus On Results and Change the Culture Along the Way

by Robert M. Williamson, Strategic Work Systems, Inc.

Part 1
The “breakthrough strategy” discussed here in June really works. (Click here to read Breakthrough Strategy for Changing Behaviors.) Equipment becomes more reliable, costs go down, and behaviors change along the way. The key is focusing on results-the kind of results that will get people’s attention on the plant floor as well as in the key decisionmakers’ offices. Select the equipment that, if it ran better and was more reliable, would generate sizeable savings. But more importantly, choose equipment that would generate more throughput and revenue. Focus on that equipment and virtually pull out all the stops. Put the applicable “best practices in place” only on that equipment and help everyone understand why.

But beware! The biggest mistake I have seen companies make is that they begin with a “focus on results” approach. Then somewhere just a short distance into the mission, they default to the same old thing-implementing a program on a broad scale-and they lose sight of what they set out to do: improve the reliability of a selected piece of equipment. It’s fairly easy to become enamored with setting up a new program to improve broadscale performance. It’s fairly easy to get a small group of people rallied around a maintenance improvement project. The problem with this “activity-based” approach is that the enthusiasm typically runs out before the sustainable results are realized. How many times have we heard about successfully installing a CMMS, or a preventive maintenance program, or a training program but then we haven’t been able to show the top decisionmakers a return on investment? Or perhaps short-term improvements just were not sustained.

Here is the key: Stay focused on results. If the goal is to improve performance, be specific. Focus on the desired results, and measure the progress every step of the way. If it doesn’t improve, try something else. Engage the people who work in, on, and around the equipment in the improvement activities every step of the way if you hope to change, or at least influence, the way they operate and maintain the equipment.

For example, one of our clients had a lube oil problem. In a recent three-month period, they spent more than $70,000 on lube oils for rotating equipment (compressors, engines, pumps, etc.). This was excessive and had to be attacked. When focusing on improving the performance of four pieces of rather large critical equipment, we repeatedly stressed the need to not just stop oil leaks but seek to eliminate the causes. Two reasons were discussed. One was easy: By stopping leaks, we will reduce the cost of lube oils. The second reason, which was not as obvious, was also easy: Leaking lube oil means that a component that depends on regular lubrication is probably not getting it. And this type of leak will result in premature equipment failure.

After spending a day on the equipment with the operators and maintenance mechanics discussing the woes of leaking lube oil, the oil consumption was reduced from an average of 12 to 14 gallons per day down to four gallons. The workplace and the equipment looked cleaner because the leaks were eliminated, and it definitely was easier to work there without getting dirty and oily.

The next step was to address contamination found in the lube oil that contributes to premature failure since these four large machines have each experienced a catastrophic failure within the past 12 months and signs of lubrication problems were discovered. The same work group found at least four sources of water and sand getting into the oil:

  • The bulk oil tank had a screw cap (bung) in the top, and it was stored outside.
  • The rubber oil transfer lines were draped over the handrail, also outside.
  • The fittings and hoses from the bulk oil tank to the day tank and from the day tank to the equipment were designed for compressed air, not liquids.
  • The pump used to transfer oil to the equipment was stored on the floor with its inlet and outlet ports uncovered.
  • We also found that oil sampling and analysis was done on an intermittent basis and never on the new oil from the bulk tank.

The good news is that they have begun hard piping the oil lines, storing the bulk tank under cover, and have developed a procedure for regularly sampling oil from the bulk tank and the equipment.

I tell this story because it is an example of focusing on results. Our client could have lost focus and implemented a massive lube oil cost- cutting program by stopping leaks. In their work culture, it is commonly believed that “Equipment is designed to leak” and “Leak containment is what we need to do.” Results were achieved and new practices were learned by involving the workgroup in a focus on four specific machines. There was a clear business case to improve performance and reduce costs. The benefits of this short session were seen not only by the workgroup but also by the management and leadership at many levels in the organization. The next step is to build on this success and target other reliability and work culture issues on the same equipment.

Part 2
See how one company reduced equipment downtime by more than 50% in less than one month

All too often, businesses try to improve performance by “implementing” improvement programs. Unless these programs are focused on specific measurable and observable results, they are short lived. Why is that? Human nature clashing with the world of business. Getting people to quickly embrace change while achieving sustainable business results can be challenging.

Well, here is a real down-to-earth success story that shows how to focus on results and change the culture along the way. The subject plant is a very large manufacturing facility that operates seven days, 24 hours. It is part of a multi-national corporation producing a common product world wide. With many of the traditional cost-cutting, down-sizing, and ISO 9000 programs well behind them, they noticed little improvement in their bottom line. In fact, their equipment performance and reliability was declining at a steady pace. Something had to be done, but the cost of doing “something” was a real issue. They asked repeatedly, “How can we be assured that this Total Productive Maintenance/Manufacturing (TPM/M) approach will address the issues and give us a significant return on our investment?” That’s the right question. They had to see the methods and results without taking a massive leap of faith.

The approach they took was focused, rather than a wide-spread implementation. First, they sponsored a day-long session to teach the fundamentals of TPM/M to operations, maintenance, technical and plant management, including about 50 salary and hourly leaders. At the end of this session, a smaller group brainstormed possible applications and approaches, keeping in mind something had to be done to improve the performance and reliability of their equipment.

Within the next few weeks, they invited me back for a plant tour and meetings with potential TPM/M starting points. They looked for signs of equipment problems. They discussed equipment history and performance data. They looked at the preventive and predictive maintenance methods. The shops and spare parts conditions were reviewed. Lastly, they discussed plant process flow and the constraints or “bottlenecks.” It was unanimous. There were two major constraints, and the most troublesome was about to get worse after January 2000 because of market demands. In fact, there were four of these machine cells, each one identical to the others. This was to be the TPM/M starting point. The discussion also pointed to the next constraint to address when the first one was cured.

After some preparation, the company assembled a “Pit Crew” to learn and apply the elements of TPM/M to one of the four constraint machine cells. The “Pit Crew” included a mechanic, an electrician, a lead operator, the maintenance coordinator/planner, the area supervisor, the reliability leader for the department, the department process quality technician, and the area-manufacturing manager. If the reliability and performance of this constraint was to improve, this was the group that had the responsibility and the authority to do it.

Three days of “TPM/M Pit Stop” training included a blend of classroom theory, case studies, demonstrations, and hands-on application. The group had full access to the equipment each afternoon during the training. During the hands-on portions of the training, real-time root-cause analysis was learned and performed on all of the chronic equipment problems. With the root causes of poor performance known, it was a matter of using the TPM/M learnings to eliminate the causes and then establish countermeasures to ensure they would not return. The group then applied the proven practices and improvements to the remaining three machine cells.

After one full month of operation, the bottleneck no longer existed. The results to date: 89 percent reduction in downtime-causing contamination, more than 50 percent reduction in unplanned machine downtime, and less operator intervention to free jams. This new machine performance and reliability led to increased production throughput of nearly 250 percent per shift of operation. Additionally, work requests now have correct machine and part nomenclature and work orders have meaningful information on the causes of problems. Operators have visual procedures and guides to assist in performing their tasks. The Pit Crew continues to meet weekly to address other machine issues and to complete the remaining improvements. A return on the investment in TPM/M Pit Stop training was conservatively estimated at 20 to one in less than two months considering improved production throughput and reduced maintenance calls!

The key learnings from this example?

  • Focus on results and change the culture along the way.
  • Build on the sub-optimized systems and methods already in place.
  • Involve those who have not only the responsibility but the also the authority to make the necessary changes.
  • Formally train the group using sound adult-learning principles: Adults learn by doing and they learn what they can apply to make their work easier.
  • Do things that make the equipment easier to operate, easier to maintain, and easier to inspect.
  • And most importantly, focus on the constraints in the process – the high maintenance cost, high maintenance downtime, problem-prone equipment – equipment that if it improved would get the attention of many people at all levels in the organization.

Oh, one last point: Not only did they improve one of four machine cells in their plant within a matter of a few weeks, but there are nearly 150 similar machine cells in the company, all with the same design and chronic problems. If the company can standardize the minor equipment improvements alone, just imagine that return on investment!

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