If all you have is a hammer, get a screwdriver.

Truth is a funny thing. It’s critically important to anybody’s effectiveness, but it’s very hard to measure. In fact, if a potential customer or client is wondering about your reliability on technical issues, he might not be able to measure it at all. If he could, he probably wouldn’t need your expert assistance. This creates a problem, since he still needs to decide whether to do business with you. What most prospects will do to resolve the issue is check the facts they do know to determine whether they think you are a truthful person. This is why the worst thing you can do to initiate a business discussion is to say something people think may be a lie.

A sign in front of a chiropractor’s office saying “We have the knack to strengthen your back,” makes sense. “We deliver cures for hay fever,” will tend to erode credibility, even if the doc has some neat acupuncture techniques that suppress allergies.

Reliability professionals have faced this bit of psychology from the beginning. Some of us have lost credibility by stretching the envelope regarding the capability of our tools. But what the heck, we’re talking about industrial tradition here. We’ve all known tradesmen who would torque head bolts, fix eyeglasses and probably deliver babies with water pump pliers. Some of them do it wearing tee shirts extolling the versatility of duct tape. The same guys will align a motor and drive using string and a flashlight. They get good at it because they have to replace the same motor once a year when the bearings crap out.

Talking to reliability vendors at the trade shows this year it has been refreshing to hear most of them rising above the temptation to prescribe their own technology for all purposes. Of course they are all working to stretch their capabilities, but they are also talking about the need for a complete condition monitoring tool kit.

The GTI Systems guys will tell you to scan a large equipment pool with ultrasound and then get the vibration probes out to diagnose the units that show anomalies. UE Systems people will tell you to perform a precision alignment with lasers and vibration analysis equipment and then set an ultrasound baseline to support daily, weekly or monthly equipment rounds. The Azima DLI team has stretched their remote monitoring capability to include oil analysis, IR and motor testing to complement vibration analysis. For safety’s sake the Allied Reliability Group routinely checks electrical cabinets with ultrasound to find arcing and loose connections before opening the panels. They also listen to VFDs for sound anomalies while they are running to improve diagnostic results. The LUDECA guys talk about ultrasound and vibration analysis as if they’ve always been a matched set.

The tool set approach builds credibility at the same time it builds effectiveness. Lower cost tools like ultrasound and thermal imaging help to pave the way for the more costly technologies by saving money and increasing management confidence in reliability. Nothing sells a new technology like having it recommended as an addition to the tool kit by a trusted practitioner of another established tool.

This isn’t the first time reliability pros have broken with tradition. Maintenance planning, KPIs to measure and eliminate emergency work and condition monitoring all started as new, subversive disruptions to factory life. Now it’s time to take a little of our own medicine. Add a new monitoring technology to your personal tool kit this year, and make it part of your annual reliability plan. You will build your personal capability and credibility while improving the safety and productivity of the whole operation.

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column Strategic Maintenance.

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