Don't let Murphy's Law determine policy

Feb. 7, 2012

There's no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating roadblocks to and problems encountered during the execution of what one might have intended to be a prime example of best-of-class industrial maintenance. Quite simply, things go awry. You dismantle it, replace the worn parts, reassemble the thing, push the button, and all you end up doing is fill the room with acrid smoke that triggers the fire alarm system. One could air a comedy series based on that premise. As they say in the real world, however, "It would be funny if it wasn't happening to me."

There's no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating roadblocks to and problems encountered during the execution of what one might have intended to be a prime example of best-of-class industrial maintenance. Quite simply, things go awry. You dismantle it, replace the worn parts, reassemble the thing, push the button, and all you end up doing is fill the room with acrid smoke that triggers the fire alarm system. One could air a comedy series based on that premise. As they say in the real world, however, "It would be funny if it wasn't happening to me."

People are the problem. “Because humans make mistakes, manufacturing processes cannot achieve zero defects without a system that’s been designed to avoid errors,” is an article by Gary Connor, that appeared in the online version of IMPO magazine.

He argues that we must eliminate the potential for defects rather than try to find the errors. And, humans are the primary potential source of defects. His conclusion is that achieving an error-free process, be it related to manufacturing or maintenance, requires an open discussion and brainstorming among those people who are involved with the process, its stakeholders.

An item that appeared in Medical News Today, “How To Break Murphy's Law,” echoes the theme that people are the problem. The article, based on an article by Franz Knoll that appeared in the International Journal of Reliability and Safety, suggests why that’s so. It’s a matter of economics. Everyone is watching the bottom line while they make decisions. Cost pressures have a nasty way of making us cut so many corners it’s enough to turn a cube into a sphere.

The article makes the point that it would be better for people to focus on the job’s details rather than being burdened by extraneous bureaucratic nonsense and reporting responsibilities.

The whole concept of error-proofing a process is commonly called the Japanese term poka-yoke.

The Quality Portal offers a brief review of the historical background for the concept in “Poka Yoke or Mistake Proofing : Overview.”

Although “Using Poka-Yoke Techniques for Early Defect Detection,” a paper that Harry Robinson presented at a software conference, is aimed at software errors, it opens with more detail about the idea of poka-yoke. You should find it worthwhile as a resource for building your case for developing your best-of-class industrial maintenance program.

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