Planning and Scheduling

Not using deficiency tags consistently? Here's why you should

The cost of each tag – a few pennies to a few dollars – is insignificant compared with the great return a deficiency tag program yields, according to Doc Palmer.

By Doc Palmer, PE, CMRP, Richard Palmer and Associates

Deficiency tags greatly help a maintenance planning program in a number of ways. Using deficiency tags is a best practice, but as is often the case, a plant can be a good performer without them. Becoming a great plant involves doing things that are not necessary to remaining simply a good plant. People can think of a number of reasons not to use them.

Deficiency tags are small tags that work requesters hang on assets that need maintenance. The person who writes a work order first handles the deficiency tag. Usually operators each carry a small stack of blank deficiency tags and hangers. The hangers might be wires, strings, or plastic tie wraps. They might be carried separately or preattached to each tag. When the worker first observes a problem while standing at a piece of equipment, he or she takes out a deficiency tag, writes the pertinent information on the tag and hangs the tag on the equipment. The deficiency tag shown might have a carbon copy or perforated section that the originator can tear off and take back to the office. After maintenance work is completed, the craftpersons remove the tags.

These tags help in a number of ways. First, the deficiency tags help the planners quickly find a given asset. In many plants, some or all pieces of equipment do not have field-attached tag numbers. Even if there is a numbering system, sometimes equipment tags are missing, covered over, or not adequately visible. In addition, for a large piece of equipment such as a conveyor or a pipeline, a deficiency tag could mark the exact point of the problem. A leak might be difficult to detect after a pipeline is depressurized. Planners could take the extra time of finding the originator, but that operator might now be off-shift. If a planner is “worth 17 persons” (being able to help 30 persons be as productive as 47 persons), do we really want 17 persons wandering around simply trying to locate an asset?

Second, deficiency tags help craftspersons find equipment in the same way that they help the planner. At one plant, mechanics replaced the wrong suction valve on a tank that had two suction valves. Not performing maintenance on the asset that needs it keeps that asset out of proper service. Performing maintenance on the wrong asset takes a good asset out of service. Not doing the correct maintenance and performing unnecessary maintenance both are expensive in terms of labor and ultimately plant performance.

Third, deficiency tags help craftspersons find associated work. Although the scheduling process should bundle jobs for efficiency’s sake, a craftsperson in a particular area might find nearby deficiency tags that could be addressed at the same time. It could even be on the same LOTO.

Fourth, deficiency tags help reduce duplicate work orders. By virtue of seeing a deficiency tag hanging on a piece of equipment, another person would be steered away from submitting a duplicate work order.

Fifth, a deficiency tag program helps encourage everyone to write work orders in the first place. If someone sees a valve leaking and there is not a tag hung, that person knows to write a work order.

Sixth, deficiency tags give operators more visual information about the status of assets. The presence of a tag cautions the operator to be careful with the equipment. The tag should identify the issue to the operator. A cross-reference system would also help the operator find the work order in the CMMS and ascertain its status. In addition, operators would be able to see what new work another shift has written up (by seeing a new tag there) and what work maintenance has finished (by seeing that a tag has been removed).

Seventh, deficiency tags also give management a feel for the condition of an area. If an area has many tags, it might be an indication that maintenance is getting behind or that the plant is very good at writing up proactive issues to address before trouble starts.

Eighth, using the tags encourages the operators to record the equipment number on the spot. The tag portion that they take back to the office allows them to enter the equipment number directly onto a work order without having to use a CMMS drill-down. Drill-downs are difficult to navigate because of the sheer quantity of equipment in a plant of significant size. The importance of having the correct equipment number on the work order cannot be overstated. This number absolutely drives the planning group in quickly using correct information.

There are several styles of deficiency tags available. Some have a carbon-copy feature. Others are perforated. One of the best features available in a deficiency tag is a self-lamination feature to make the tag more weatherproof.

Reasons that people give for not using deficiency tags include giving the operators “something else to do,” making the plant “look like a Christmas tree,” and creating an extra expense. These reasons are a pretty superficial resistance against becoming a great plant. Operators must effectively identify concerns to maintenance. Hiding issues in the plant might hide a reality that everyone needs to see. The cost of each tag – a few pennies to a few dollars – is insignificant compared with the great return a deficiency tag program yields in terms of better maintenance efficiency and ultimate effectiveness.

Don’t settle for being good. Recognize and do the additional things necessary to become great. Deficiency tags are one of them. Take advantage of a best practice deficiency tag program.