A 3-ingredient recipe for manufacturing success in 2013

Cats are smart. That's a commonly held belief by many, especially those who live with them. Scrappy and Princess, our two feline housemates, each forked out the $18 fee and aced the Mensa Home Test (https://www.us.mensa.org/join/mht/), but neither has managed to pass the supervised admission test, mostly because curiosity always gets the best of them and they end up staring out the window at the whimsical air, which inevitably leads to cleaning and napping. Maybe they're just not genius-smart.

The holiday season tends to bring out the mischievous side of our cats, and this year they taught me a valuable lesson that plant managers would do well to study. It won't help you on the Mensa Home Test, which we all know you’re thinking about taking, now that I've supplied the link, but it could very well lead to a more productive and more profitable 2013 at your facility.

Our story begins on Christmas Eve. The tree was decorated, presents were laid out under it, and several cookies, along with a large glass of milk, were set out for the old fat guy in the red suit. Forget the visions of sugar plums. Our only friend who used to make sugar plums moved away to Florida years ago. It’s a lost art, to be sure.

On Christmas morning, we awoke to the joyous sounds of the holiday — children squealing with anticipation, carols playing on the stereo, cats puking on living room carpet. ‘Tis the season.

As we cleaned the carpet, we began to discover the clues that led to our Christmas-morning joy. One of our cats, most likely the notorious troublemaker who I firmly believe takes great pride in his ability to walk underfoot at precisely the moment when you’re carrying an object with the ability to stab or burn you, should you stumble, had drunk what I will now refer to as a “kitty cocktail.”

The first sign had been the pieces of curling ribbon that adorned the aforementioned Technicolor yawn that Scrappy had barfed up on the floor. Cats should not ingest string or yarn or, worst of all, curling ribbon. It can block their intestines, and they can die. But does that stop them from doing it? Of course not. Remember these cats did not pass the Mensa admission test.

The second clue was the empty milk glass we found lying on its side on the table. Santa almost never finishes the whole glass because, by the end of the night, he’d be sick to his stomach after drinking milk in every household around the world. Our super-intelligent cat (at least according to the Mensa Home Test) had drunk the remainder and then licked the inside of the glass and the table clean. While we all fancy the cute image of a cat lapping at its saucer of milk, the truth is cats are lactose-intolerant, and that was not Lactaid (www.lactaid.com) in Santa’s glass.

Our final clue came when we attempted to plug in the Christmas tree, only to find that there would be no holiday lights to sparkle in the ornaments because the cord had been chewed all the way through by our Einstein-like cat. The kitty cocktail, let it be recorded for future Christmases, comprises milk, curling ribbon, and electrical cord. Yum.

Luckily for him, the combination of milk and the electrical shock had caused him to vomit the curling ribbon, which turned out to be the best-case scenario, despite what we were thinking as we cleaned the carpet.

Of course, now you’re wondering how in the world that has anything to do with improving productivity and profitability in your plant. The lesson here is to behave like a cat. Try new things. Be curious.

As you decide on your New Year’s resolutions, consider this one: drink a kitty cocktail. I’m speaking figuratively, of course, but the idea is to move forward. So many tools and techniques are available to you. In 2013, resolve to implement three of them.

Perhaps you’re procrastinating that purchase of infrared thermography equipment because no one has the time or the training to use it anyway. Buy it. Schedule the training, and allocate the resources. There are myriad applications for thermography in your plant, from electrical safety to environmental quality and then some. If you make the investment and apply the personnel, it will make business sense.

Maybe you have been wondering how to improve the efficiency of your process and considering lean or Six Sigma. Do it. Design a plan for culture change and start the journey. The savings are just the beginning.

Vibration analysis and ultrasound might be beyond your staff’s skill or expertise level. Try it anyway. Whether it’s with internal staff or by contracting that competency, use these predictive tools to keep your rotating equipment operational.

Ever heard of autonomous maintenance? It’s one of the pillars of total productive maintenance and involves empowering machine operators to conduct basic maintenance tasks. An operator’s time is typically less expensive than that of an engineer, and who knows the machines better than the operators?

How many lost-time incidents have you had in 2012? Make this coming year the time when you set a new plant record. Proper training and proper equipment go a long way toward sending each one of your employees home to his or her family at the end of every day.

You don’t have to choose from my list. Pick any three improvements to implement in your plant in 2013. It could affect anything, from recovering heat in your compressed air system or integrating your control-system network with your CMMS to making more effective use of your dust-collection system or improving boiler controls. Choose anything. Corrosion monitoring, HVAC, arc-flash-hazard mitigation, energy monitoring, pumps and seals. Pick three, and resolve to implement them in 2013.

At midnight this Monday evening, when you toast the forthcoming year, forget the champagne. Fill your glass with a kitty cocktail. There’s no hangover, and I promise you won’t need to clean the carpet.