Predictive Maintenance / Asset Monitoring / Vibration Analysis / Condition Monitoring / Ultrasound

'You’re basically the doctor of the machines'

All-around asset doctor Mike Macsisak shares his thoughts on the reliability challenges across industry and what’s next for the profession.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

Editors’ note: Three years ago, Plant Services met veteran millwright and newly minted predictive maintenance technician Michael Macsisak (https://plnt.sv/1810-MM), and PS then caught up with him a year ago as he began work in mining (https://plnt.sv/1910-MM). Macsisak sat down recently with Plant Services Editor-in-Chief Thomas Wilk to look back at his work as a PdM specialist and look ahead at what’s next for our industry.

Read Part 1 of the interview

PS: Looking at the other major industry you’ve worked in recently, what was your biggest win in food processing?

MM: The biggest win for me was the first win, when I started out using predictive tech. I found a bad gearbox on a conveyor line and said to myself, “Wow, this really works.”

Then I took the initiative more often once I had the confidence that this approach works and the confidence to believe in myself. I just started finding bad jobs, bad motors, bad gearboxes. After a couple of them fail after you pick up warning signals and you share what you see, the company normally will take the lead from you.

PS: Is one industry or the other easier to work with? Or would you say it depends more on the asset?

MM: I went from food to mining, which is from one end of the spectrum to the other. And what I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter if I’m mining or if I’m in food or I’m in any production. They all have specialized equipment for a special job. For example, with food, everything must be clean and follow good manufacturing processes. But basically, everything that rotates has a motor, has a gearbox, and it has bearings – it doesn’t matter if it’s an auger or a conveyor belt.

To me, a PdM practitioner is like a doctor, oil analysis is like blood work, and ultrasonics is like a sonogram or other ultrasound procedure. Vibration is like a CAT scan, and infrared’s like X-ray. You’re basically the doctor of the machines.

So, there’s really no difference except for special machines for special jobs. I don’t care if there’s rock on it or food. It’s going to run and it’s going to send the product along. I had a conveyor gallery at a mine where I worked, and I had a conveyor gallery to send up food. But each of those assets still had a belt, had bearings, a motor, and a gearbox.

With any production today, no matter if it’s ore or food, for the shareholders, there cannot be any downtime. They want to maximize their profits. So (it’s better) when you can plan and schedule something versus letting it blow up, because when you let something fail, it shuts down everything behind it and ahead of it. Nothing can move.

The real challenge in each industry is turning the culture toward predictive maintenance and then moving toward reliability. When companies buy a machine, they buy it with price in mind, so my thought is there should be somebody from reliability involved in the purchase. Instead of buying this thing and installing it and having failure before it even starts up, go over the machine and make sure every part on it is what you need, and make sure you know it’s going to work. That way you start off running perfectly.

How much reliability worth? The money you save when you bypass reliability you can lose in a half of a year. It’ll cost you more to redo everything, and you shouldn’t have to do that. You should buy a machine, put in place, and maintain it, and it’ll go forever.

PS: When you were bringing unfamiliar tools and methods down to the plant floor or the mining operation, what were some of the challenges or pushback that you encountered?

MM: Well, first of all, they said, “That won’t work, because I’ve been doing this for 30 years and what you’re doing is stupid.” Then, after a while, everybody loves you when you start to find things. Finally, when you’re not finding anything because everything’s right, they look at you like, “What are you doing?”

I’m like: “I’m doing my job, because everything’s running. That’s the whole point of it all; nothing’s failing.” It may look like you’re not doing anything, once you get everything fixed, but then you’ve got to stay with it. If you don’t stay with it, trust me, it goes right back to fail.

Middle management is often the layer that gives the most pushback to using predictive tools. Upper management believes in it, and I believe in it at my end, but I have found that the people in between are the ones that you have to persuade to come along for the ride. You need to show them what you’re doing and how it works. Once they believe in it, then it’s a whole team effort.

PS: Did it ever happen where someone came to you during a period of success, when things were running fine, and was like, “So what is it you do, anyway?”

MM: Yes, but their attitude was: “What are you doing? How is it working?” So I would take the millwrights with me and show them what I do. And believe it or not, after a couple of weeks, it’s: “Hey, Mike, there’s something going on here. Can you come check this out for us?”

If you show people what you’re doing and explain it to them, then you can bring them with you. At my last job I had someone shadowing me, a young kid who wants to learn, and I loved it. If you’re a teacher, you’ve got to be twice as good as you are an operator, because they ask questions and you have to have the right answers. You have to really be on your game.

We’ve got to train the young people coming up with hands-on technologies, and it’s hard, because everybody wants to sit in front of a computer. The industry’s answer to that lately is to make sensors that send data right to the cloud, so you can have data coming in 24/7. Now, I believe in remote sensors; they do work. But in all honesty, when you’re sitting in front of a computer 2 miles away, you don’t see the big picture. You won’t see the machine; you won’t see what’s shaking…you don’t see that on a screen; you have to be there.

Remote sensors are great if you have to travel to a tower somewhere or a location half a mile away, and then it’s going up 200 more steps. Then the way to go is definitely with a remote sensor, so you don’t make the trip until you see something trending.

PS: If I’m hearing you right, you have to make sure that the sensor you choose fits the machine – and not just the machine, but the application.

MM: Exactly. You could stick any sensor on any asset, but is it the right sensor for the process? I’d rather pull something out that’s halfway failing than wait until it’s three-quarters failed. Then it’s fixed. And when something breaks, you never know what it’s going to break. It can turn into all kinds of problems because if it shuts off and it’s fed, now you’ve got all this force that has nowhere to go, and it’s going to find a way to get to something, and it’ll kill it.

The real thought process is, (the goal isn’t about) the count of your wins, but to have no losses. The whole goal of this is to have nothing ever break, and I’ve achieved it before and it can be achieved. It’s not an impossible dream. Also, when you’re done with your breakdowns, you should do a breakdown analysis, or a root-cause analysis, or a 5-Whys. You want to make sure that what whatever you’re taking apart and dissecting can be done again the next time.

PS: You’ve tackled the food industry, and you’ve worked in the mining industry. If you’re looking forward to a next challenge, what kind of challenge do you want next?

MM: Probably the best would be a fast-paced industry that could not have any breakdowns because there are no extra lines to run if something breaks. I love hustling, moving, and keeping it going. My job is to try to make it run faster and never break. That makes everybody happy. Make it go faster and make it never break. So that’s a challenge.