Changing plant culture: It's all about the people

Jan. 20, 2022
In this episode of The Tool Belt, David Frye details how to listen to your people and trust their insights.

David Frye, CMRP, CRL, is principal at Legacy TPM Partners, and has more than 45 years of experience with reliability, starting with U.S. Navy weapon systems and then working for 21½ years at Kodak. He then became corporate director for reliability and maintenance excellence at Kaiser Aluminum, and then spent 10 more years at Kimberly-Clark, helping to lead global reliability. Plant Services Editor in Chief Thomas Wilk spoke with David in a wide-ranging podcast interview soon after connecting at the RPM Symposium in Kalamazoo, MI.

PS: For those of our audience who haven't met you, could you tell us about yourself and what you're working on right now?

DF: Sure, I have 45 years experience with reliability, starting with U.S. Navy weapon systems and going through 21½ years at Kodak, and then being corporate director for reliability and maintenance excellence at Kaiser Aluminum. Then 10 years with Kimberly-Clark, helping to lead global reliability. I also have my own consulting company to help other people with reliability. I've had that since 2008.

PS: What are some of the favorite projects that you worked on, either from the Navy or from Kimberly-Clark?

DF: Kimberly-Clark is the most recent one. And number one is global reliability, the concept of global reliability with Kimberly-Clark being kind of five major corporations under one roof; bringing that all together and having a reliability model was really big for me.

And then having the latitude to create an integrated deployment model that took what was maintenance in one camp and engineering in a different camp and operations in a different camp, and bringing them together under one integrated deployment model, and then having the opportunity to actually deploy that model. It sounded good on paper and made sense to me, but how does it work when you put it in motion? I had the chance being a deployment leader in the Latin America region, to actually play this model out, and was very, very happy with that.

A few other things that made a mark, that made a difference, was one is I created a lubrication network at Kimberly-Clark. At that time, we had 113 plants globally, and trying to get your head around lubrication is quite the challenge. We have started with North America and have a rep from each plant in North America, and I got them connected with the top vendors that are out there, the ones that I carefully vetted.

I also created a condition monitoring predictive maintenance network to bring some of the new technologies into Kimberly-Clark. One of the ones that I'm the most proud of is bringing ultrasound in as a technology to Kimberly-Clark. I also started a CRL network, a Certified Reliability Leader network. We had really smart people at Kimberly-Clark, no doubt about that but did they know how to lead? Do they know how these systems all work? So I was the first Certified Reliability Leader or CRL at Kimberly-Clark, and when I left there were 97 CRLs. I'm pretty proud of that, that was big.

PS: Wow, that is amazing. We've noticed that oftentimes, leaders and plants don't get that kind of formal training, that guidance to take the next step, even. They may get promoted and it may be years before they get any kind of formal leadership assistance or support like you're talking about, so that's fantastic.

DF: I was a CMRP and have been for a while, actually I was a Certified Maintenance Reliability Professional from the SMRP the first year it came out. Took that test, passed it, and said, That's what it means? I'll never take that one again. So I let my certification lapse, and then I picked it back up when I started my consulting company. I said, "You know, I need certifications to show somebody." And I re-certified as a CMRP.

But the CRL, I did it just to do my due diligence, I wanted to bring something into Kimberly-Clark, and so I went to take a look at this five-day workshop and see what it was all about. The Uptime Elements that are in there give you a framework, it's all the pieces you need, in nice and neat categories and descriptors of each one, and kind of show it all fits together. It doesn't tell you how, but it tells you the what of all the pieces that you need. There's quite a bit of examples in there on how to lead, so it was worth it.

After leaving Kimberly-Clark I actually retired, theoretically retired last April, but I've been working recently with a reliability startup called UpT Reliability Solutions out of Western Michigan, and that's been a lot of fun. Getting them started and started on the right track the right foot. I'm really happy with how that's gone.

PS: A lot of the work you described is some pretty heavy lifting in terms of change management. The “people work involved” reliability – you brought cross-functional teams together, you trained people to be leaders. Is there some part of that work that you're specifically drawn to? Is it helping people realize what's in themselves?

DF: You know how they used to say in politics, it's the economy, stupid? Well, in reliability, it's the people, stupid. It's all about the people. The technology has been wrung out, it's all artificial intelligence now, and manufacturing 4.0, that's all taken over, and if you've got a checkbook big enough, you can just go buy it.

Everybody can buy the same technology, but you can't buy the same culture and people, so it's about empowering your employees, it's about showing them, what's in it for me? Why would they want to do this, and what's in it for me? I've done a lot of stuff with all levels of the organization all the way from the boardroom, down to entry-level shop floor people, and there's something in it for everybody in terms of reliability.

When I was with Kodak, I was trained by Shingijutsu senseis in Lean, I've got a pretty strong Lean background too, and I chose reliability. TPM reliability, I chose that. It's the only initiative that I'm aware of, that will improve safety, quality, delivery, cost and employee engagement – all five – with one initiative.

As a consultant, I go to plants all the time, and they've always got a safety department, they've always got a quality department, they're always working on this stuff. They're always sweating on-time delivery. And of course, they're always worried about cost. And if they have time left over, they worry about the employees. Well, the employees are how you get this stuff, if you engage them from the beginning.

One of the slides that I showed at the RPM Symposium, and it's one that's kind of near and dear to me, and I learned this from the Japanese actually, is the concept of individual kaizen or individual improvement. The slide says, "What's worth more? One $1,000,000 improvement, or 1,000,000 one-dollar improvements?" They're both worth a million bucks. What's easier to get? A million and one dollar-improvements, or a $1,000,000 improvement? The shop floor is full of one-dollar improvements. All you have to do is ask.

So there was another slide in there. I wish I could show it on this podcast, but it's what's the most powerful life form in the world. And that's not the elephants and blue whales and things like that. It's the insects. Think about it, if the insects are gone, we're all gone.

So how do you attack this problem? And I'm not calling shop floor workers insects because I have the utmost respect for them. I know where my paycheck comes from, it comes from them. It's they're already there, they already know how to do this stuff. We just need to be smart enough to listen to them. It's all about the small improvements. And that's where the culture piece comes in.

PS: I only had a chance to attend your first RPM presentation on operator-based care. Were these slides in your second keynote, “Bringing it all Together”?

DF: Yes, it was all about bringing it all together. There's a lot of well-written books out there, and they tell you what, but they don't tell you how, and that's where you bring the consultant in. However, you don't really need it, you need to learn to listen and listen to your people and trust them. You also have to set a vision out there, you have to be smart enough to be able to tell people “here's where there is” and then show them the first couple steps, and in some cases you may need to bring in an outsider to take a good look.

One thing I learned, and I've worked in well over 200 factories in my career, is that sometimes to bring a big change like this in, I always start out by interviewing and I talk to the people who are going to sign my paycheck, the executives, what do you want to get out of this? To make sure that it's practical. Then I talk a little bit about the approach that I've crafted, and they always say, “well, that's really great, but the union will never agree to that” or “the shop floor will never agree to that.”

Okay, well then, can I go talk to the shop floor and union leadership? So I go off in the corner and talk to them. I don't bring them to me, I go to the floor and talk to them and say, what do you want to get out of this? "Well, we just want a better place to retire to dealing with the same problems over and over again." Then I say, how about if we could get you involved and engaged and listen to what you're saying? "Well, that'd be great. But management will never let us do that."

So they both say exactly the same thing and they both want exactly the same thing. Sometimes middle leadership's a little different, but the top and bottom, they want exactly the same thing: (1) they all want to be profitable, (2) they all want a safe place to work, (3) they all want continuity with their jobs, and (4) they want to make as much money as they can. They all do, top and bottom, and they all want the same thing.

I've gotten to where I won't work on just technical things. If I can't work with the culture, I'm not interested in the job, I won't consult with you, I won't help you. I know how to do these things, but I just won't do it. And one thing I thought was interesting when I left Kimberly-Clark (and they had the Let's Roast Dave Frye Zoom meeting, because we couldn't meet because of COVID), the vice president of global supply chain said one thing different. He goes, "Most people at Kimberly-Clark are known for the projects. They're known for the big machines they bring in or starting up factories and things like that. You're not known for any of that. Your footprints are much deeper because you're known for helping the people see what needs to be done and actually changing the culture, and your stuff will last a lot longer than any of these projects."

PS: Wow, what a tremendous compliment.

DF: That just meant a lot to me. Because you wonder when you're going through this, it's thankless. It's the same mundane job every day, you got to go push the rock, you got to go push the rock, and the rock's really big and it doesn't seem like it'll want to move. But if you continue with it, if you believe in what you're doing and continue, trust me, the rock will move one day.

And when it starts moving and picks up momentum, you have a bigger problem. How do you get ahead of the rock, once it starts rolling downhill? There's a fine line between autonomy and anarchy, and you can't allow this to devolve into anarchy. It's a tremendous force. When you get the workforce behind you, it's a tremendous force for change.

PS: Well, and to extend the metaphor, it sounds like things like the Uptime Elements can provide the guardrails to help direct the rock. The “what” doesn't change even though the “how” does. Like you said, the “how” might be different from plant to plant, but the “what” of keeping things moving in the right direction can be the same.

DF: Well, if you implement in the right order, if you look at the Uptime Elements, it starts out with your mission and your vision, and your rules of engagement. As a leader, what are we going to do? What are we going to allow? What are we not going to allow?

We need to formalize those and nobody likes doing that. But it's necessary: just eat your vegetables, you'll get strong, you'll get big and strong, just eat your vegetables. Nobody likes that, but that's where it starts out with the elements. And if you have that and do that, and use that as a guiding document, now you got a reference you can always go back to and keep everybody on the same page.

PS: Let me dive into one of those elements. It was in your first presentation at RPM and it really resonated, the one on operator-based care. You mentioned at the conference too, that it was a very specific element. It's an element that everyone I think has been more aware of during the COVID pandemic because of all the challenges to work through COVID base sickouts, quarantines, and also still the ongoing retirements. Can you recap some of the types of tasks that in your experience, you think operators are suited for, or the ones that they're drawn to?

DF: Sure. Before you start down the path of operator-driven reliability you have to convince yourself that you're actually going to listen to the operators and their input has value. Don't even ask them if you're not going to listen to them.

But when you do, then the operators are out there all the time. No matter what level you're at, the closer you are to the machine, the more you know the machine. If they're in there on the machine 12 hours a day, five/six/seven days a week, they have a sense, they know when something is going to break. So I ask the operators, "How many of you knew something was going to break before it did?" And to a person, they will say "Yeah, here it is."

So: look, listen, and feel, but also ask the operators to look, listen, and feel. Is this wobbling? Is it making a clunking sound or squeaking sound? Or do you feel an unusual vibration? It's all about limiting the consequence of failure. And in some cases, using simple technology, like ultrasound, has gotten simple enough now that we actually have very successfully used the operators to do that.

Listen to the entire interview

They can look, listen, and feel, and maybe do rounds around their machine or routes or whatever you want to call them, just walk around the machine, see what it looks and sounds like. They can check oil levels very well. They can check gauges, they can check filters that are outside the cabinets, and if they are not outside the cabinets, move them out. The operators can check for simple wear part replacement, sometimes belts are very simple replacements, spring-loaded belts, stuff like that. Simple low-speed lubrication, non-critical lubrication.

Now, my philosophy is the operators are not genetically different from the maintenance people – they're the same genetic makeup. The only difference is the training. If the operators are already there like my wife puts her own gas in her car. She can take it to a mechanic to have gas put in but she puts her own gas in her car. She'll fill her own windshield washer fluid, she'll pay attention to her windshield wipers and tell me when things are going wrong. She washes her own car, she vacuums her own car, those are all maintenance things.

We want to get the operators to treat the machine like it's our own and not a rental car. I don't care how dirty your rental car is when I turn it in. I really don't. And I make sure there's gas so I don't have to pay $9 a gallon to get it filled up. But that's about all I do with a rental car.

PS: Right. It's someone else's asset. Exactly right. Yeah.

DF: But my own cars, no, I take care of my cars. And so we want to get that mindset of just treat it like it's theirs, and then provide training. You do want to be very careful with lubrication because I've seen more damage from a grease gun than probably any other tool in the toolbox. Just look, listen, feel and then listen to them when they say there's something not right.

The standard answer that I've seen going into these things is they'll call a maintenance person and say this thing's making this clunking noise. And then the maintenance person will say, "Okay, well call me when it breaks." Well, you just lost your opportunity to head off the failure so it's really more of an organizational change. The operators, most of them, are more than happy to do things like this.

PS: That reminds me of a conversation I had on a plane flight where the two people next to me happened to be operators who were being trained up to do operator-based maintenance tasks. They were excited about it! As you said they were being listened to and they were being trained to pitch in and they couldn't have been more excited. They saw it as both job security and a way to get more professionalized.

DF: When I was at Kodak I created a deal there, we called it MOA, maintenance operator agreement. And that is specific training to change specific components, specific tasks, but they're the most commonly performed tasks and they do require a pretty fair amount of training.

We were under FDA GMP regulations where we made Class II medical devices, so we had to actually have certifications, but we had the training for the operators and for every, I don't know, five MOAs maybe they got 10 cents an hour or something. We rewarded them for it. But what we found was they had enough training, enough skills that if maintenance people called in sick (or like this COVID deal where you don't have that many maintenance people) the operators can do an awful lot. They're the first responders basically.

Once they had this training, we didn't turn them loose. We didn't say, hey go do whatever you think you can do. It was very specific tasks they were certified to do. And you can take this far and when you get into union, I mean you can run into some issues when you get into union shops about the tools they're allowed to use, and you have to take it on task-by-task basis.

PS: Okay, well then let me ask a follow-up question to the operator question. When it comes to the care like that, what types of tasks have you discovered are best kept in the hands of maintenance and reliability professional? What are some of the things that you simply wouldn't ever want to delegate out?

DF: Most lubrication work. That sounds funny, because that's where most people start, give them all the grease. Two guys and a grease gun and we’ll call it good.

Lubrication is the science, there's a lot to it. With anything high-speed – motors, things like that – getting the right grease and the right amount, at the right time, you can do a lot of damage, so I tend to keep that specialized. At Kodak they called themselves the lubricanos, and they came from operations, but they had Noria training, they had a lot of training in lubrication. So when we were running, they were operators. And when we were shut down doing maintenance, they worked for the maintenance group doing lubrication, but they were highly trained to do that.

Also, most electrical work, OSHA says that if you send an operator into an electrical panel that does not have recognized electrical training, whatever that means, and they're injured, the maintenance manager or plant engineer is criminally liable. They can go to jail for it.

PS: Wow.

DF: So I would not send an untrained operator in to reset and overload, because it can blow up in their face, and I've seen that happen. Most electrical work I keep within the skilled trades. And even when you have the different trades if you have somebody that's just a millwright or just a pipefitter, just something like that, and doesn't have recognized electrical training, I don't send them in electrical cabinets either.

So it's things that require special training, boilers, things like that. Work requiring rigging and hoisting, I don't send operators in from the safety aspect. Precision alignment, there's a lot of tools, I mean, if it's a basic belt, just like a V belt or something like that, you want to take a look at it but that's easy to train the operators. But there's a lot of things – couplings and soft foot, and bearing alignments – things like that. I leave that to the pros.

Almost all bearing installations. If you look at how bearings fail, they're kind of a bathtub failure curve, and there's a lot of bearings destroyed by installation. Put a brand new bearing in, it didn't last very long, must not be the bearing. Well, yeah it is, but it wasn't installed right. So I usually have skilled trades to do that.

Analysis of condition-based monitoring data. Maybe instantaneous and alarming, we'll let the operators do that, but not the analysis of trends and things that the condition monitoring gives us. And work requiring advanced power tools most people can use like a drill motor or a sander, okay, fine. But lathes, mills, Ener-packs, you can do a lot of damage with the hydraulic Ener-packs and things like that. I leave that to skilled trades. Those are the kinds of things that we stick with skilled trades.

PS: Let me ask a closing question with an area we haven't really talked about directly, which is planning and scheduling. We did a survey, sort of a post-COVID survey, asking our readers if their maintenance practices changed during the pandemic, and have they snapped back to where they were before. And one of the questions was, "What is your greatest need when it comes to human resources?" The number one choice, even ahead of “better interactions with EHS,” was “stronger planning and scheduling programs.” What are your thoughts on the value of the planning and scheduling function can bring to programs like the ones you implemented?

DF: Oh, planning and scheduling, I can tell you that my planner will be the one to turn the lights out in the plant, and I was a plant manager for a short period of time.

PS: Really?

DF: Yes, sir. If I have more than seven skilled tradespeople, I have a planner, and people think I'm a nut, but I've been proven right time and time again. And I've been involved in a number of big turnarounds – I was part of the turnaround in Kaiser, was with Global Brass and Copper to help turn around their 135-year-old industry, and then Kimberly-Clark Europe, when they were still in the diaper business over there. We had a plant there that went from the highest-cost producer to the lowest-cost producer, and we did it by planning and scheduling. The plant had good skilled tradespeople, had good training, they just didn't execute well.

Planning and scheduling is an organizational decision, and people can confuse planning and scheduling. Scheduling is when you execute the work, planning is what you're going to do and it's step by step. And so a planner's job, for anybody that works on cars you got a motor's manual or a Chilton's manual, or Haynes manual to work on your car. A planner's job is to write that manual for your plant. It's step by step. It doesn't tell you righty, tighty, lefty, loosey, but it has the sequential steps that they go through and the materials that they need, so they can execute the job efficiently.

And then wrench time is how you measure your skilled trades. It's the percent of time that they're actually applying their craft or trade. And there's a tremendous amount of waste of maintenance. World-class in wrench time is 56%, 57%. But when I go into plants, I see them at 7, 10, 15% when I measure it, so if you can get it from 15% to 30&, and you're not even close to world class, you just doubled your maintenance workforce, so it is huge.

Terry Wireman wrote a whole series of books touching on the topic, and Doc Palmer wrote the book on maintenance planning and scheduling. But don't confuse the two (Planning and Scheduling) and actually, I haven't found a place anymore. When I first got in consulting, I had hats made up, they were like ball caps that had two bills, one side said planner and the other side said scheduler. And when they would talk to you the person would turn around that hear you talking to this, could be the same person, but it's a different function.

Most people get the scheduling and call it good, and planning is to improve the efficiency. So it minimizes the amount of time you're down, minimizes the waste. If you get good at planning and scheduling you can eliminate some of your inventory and your MRO storage, your part stores. It has a huge impact on the business and it's been documented time and time again.

PS: I got a little business card from Doc one time, which all it said was permission to make imperfect plans.

DF: Yep, no such thing as a perfect plan.

PS: PDCA: make the plan, execute and improve it if you can.

DF: But see, the way that works is again, when I said the whole organization has to buy into this, you give out an imperfect plan. It's the best we know right now. And the person doing it, you don't expect them to do stupid. I mean, if it's stupid, don't do it; document why it's stupid and how it should be, and then give it back to the planner. And they can give out a less imperfect job plan next time.

When you're in the fire, you lose time and you don't realize how much time you're losing. Because when I was a maintenance person, I prided myself on the amount of work I could do. And then when you watch yourself on videotape, you go, "that wasn't very good." You should've realized it at the time. So that's what planning and scheduling does is it helps to formalize it and improve it.

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