Sometimes your peers are the best source of information

Dec. 22, 2004
Sometimes the best way to get the best information is to put down that book written by a stuffy academic-type and dial up your peers.  They tell great stories of fun and profit.

I don’t know about you, but I get awfully tired of articles and books that describe how to improve maintenance operations in what seem to be theoretical and academic terms. You know the type: lots of words and charts describing what seems like unattainable perfection, often with a long list of steps that always seems to include something to the effect of, “Obtain total buy-in, commitment and support of top management, all the stakeholders and everyone involved.”

These instructions always seem to be written by some so-called expert who may have actually worked in a plant in some prior life, but now makes a living consulting with or training the people who do the real work. I think they throw in that instruction partly because there is some truth in it, but mostly because it makes their jobs easier (with everyone’s total buy-in, commitment and support, success is almost inevitable) and sets them up with a great excuse if things go wrong (“You didn’t do enough or spend enough to demonstrate total commitment and support”).

I’d much rather read the story of an improvement or implementation by a practitioner -- someone who worked on it from the inside, who understands and can describe the problems and difficulties, and can offer solid advice about how to overcome them from the experience of actually doing it.

The most pleasant and perhaps the best way to hear such a story is in an informal atmosphere over the beverages of your choice, but presentations are good, too. When someone tells what they did in their own words and fields some tough questions from their peers, you get a real understanding of what happened and how the critical difficulties were handled. That’s why I’m always eager to attend the practitioner presentations at maintenance conferences and user group meetings.

Anyone who has not been to a professional gathering with their peers in the past year or so should really consider making time to do so soon. Along with inspiration from the firsthand accounts, you have the opportunity to hang out with peers and re-fire your enthusiasm for this great and important profession.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several such meetings recently where engineers or managers talked about implementing condition-monitoring software, wireless handhelds or a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Although they talked about different technologies, several of the presentations had something in common: Each implementation uncovered a huge opportunity to increase reliability, reduce downtime and cut maintenance cost, in each case simply by causing a few people to really look at their most troublesome piece or type of equipment.

Many industrial facilities rely heavily on equipment that has been around for a long time. It may not have been the best equipment for the job or well understood even at the time it was purchased, and since installation, there may have been a series of modifications and/or process changes. Documentation is nonexistent and you can bet that the people who were involved are either long gone or have faulty memories. As a result, the equipment is being asked to do something it was never designed to do, is poorly or wrongly maintained, or is being unknowingly abused in operation.

In the presentations I saw, implementing new software, handhelds or a CMMS led to discoveries that no one in the plant really knew much about their most troublesome equipment. Simply figuring out what it can do and comparing that to what is being asked of it was an eye-opening experience for those presenters.

We’re working to bring more stories like theirs to these pages. Meanwhile, when you read about how you have to “obtain total buy-in, commitment and support” before you can begin to make a difference, remember that while you might need that to complete a full, successful implementation, you might be able to solve your biggest problem (and get everyone’s attention and respect) simply by listening to your peers and taking a good look at it.