When I began my maintenance career many decades ago, planners didn’t exist, at least where I worked. In this article, I’ll describe some common situations I faced on a daily basis, and ultimately, how planning could improve the situations and reduce the cost and drama associated with unplanned work.
Act I: The sources of our discontent
The following conditions are common to many facilities, and can be assumed to be present at the facility described in this article:
- Most of the time we had face-to-face communication with a supervisor/maintenance manager that was doing his best under impossible circumstances.
- We had personal cell phone/pagers, landlines, and occasional radio service, if the job site locations were not able to get a good signal. Radio repeaters were a “capital improvement,” but cash flow was not always positive.
- Tool room/spare parts were “cannibalized” or borrowed off machine A to use on machine B until machine C needed them and then back to machine A. With no records, they were found on a hand search through the building and basements.
- You were on a cash/credit card only basis from your local suppliers due to previous management and poor economic conditions.
- You ended up using your personal truck because the motor pool went out of service more than 10 years ago and the local wrecking yard had a better fleet of vehicles than you had.
- Assorted and missing critical tools in the tool box were not inventoried when you took this job.
- PPE was touch and go at best.
- LOTO was an unknown acronym.
- Veteran skilled and knowledgeable craftspeople were downsized into early retirement, replaced with apprentice or temporary workers because we have no internal training program and the market does not support blue collar work. And if we train our internal crafts, they will more than likely go somewhere else in a short time for a better work/life balance (a waste of time and money, as I have been told time and time again).
- There was no pre-planning or schedule to keep. Often the loudest voices led the way, but the day was full of multiple start/stops because of a lack of communication about priorities.
- No one had taken the time to write or record any tips. The veterans were physically worn out and emotionally drained doing this modus operandi for generations. No one needed records, when tribal knowledge was the reigning king.
Act II: Grim-Visaged War – the emergency rush repair scenario
Well, by now you realize that the doom and gloom needs to change, but where do you start? Let’s paint a picture of a repair scenario without a planner:
I hear the supervisor say, go fix it, ASAP. “It” is a gigantic O-ring main furnace seal replacement for a degassing chamber in a steel mill, a seal about 10 feet in diameter and 4 inches thick and bright red in color. I also see and quickly quantify that I have nothing to work with, except an uncertainty about spare parts, recon, knowledge, and lack of communication, causing total chaos.
Not to mention the argument on whose responsibility this was at the time in the morning meeting, which turns into a blame session. In short, this is a PM that was missed or ignored by production multiple times and ran to failure. In the past, production had changed “it” but due to a lack of operator experience, “it” fell into maintenance hands. Plant leadership was also not pleased, to say the least.
The reality is that the jobsite is on the opposite side of the plant two floors up, and the spares were on the ground at the exact opposite end of the plant. Please note that “boots on the ground” from the center of the maintenance office to the end of plant is a minimum 30-minute brisk walk one way.
After the morning walkdown to look for parts that took three hours minimum, including a walk to the jobsite and a walk to outside stores, I even get extremely lucky this time: parts were mis-labeled, hidden, or buried, but with my photographic memory, I had an idea of what to look for regarding color and size. Remember, previous prints and records don’t exist in the maintenance office due to poor storage practices, inclement weather, and water damage.
Now, I try to find secure “motor pool” transportation. After making repeated attempts from a dead zone, I find out that no one was there to answer, and from the far end of the plant, I have to hand-search for a truck/forklift. As per normal, the motor pool is out of spare vehicles and the tow motors that were supposed to be running have been issued out with no knowledge of their current location. Knowing that inter-departmental relations with production is at an all-time low, I call in a favor and advocacy request with the daytime supervisor, who informs me that his tow motor (that he would have been glad to let you use because this was his repair) was “borrowed” from another department. This leaves me back to square one, and it’s way past break time.
By this time, frustration is skyrocketing and my temper is about to “tomahawk” my hard hat across the plant into a nearby wall. By the way, did I mention the phone call from my supervisor asking for a status update and an estimated time that this repair will be done?
I calmly explain that this solo job was a major runaround with no assistance, and that I just found the parts and was going to go and pick them up in my personal truck. This gets me an “atta-boy” but still a request to rush the repairs because the supervisor’s the next call is to plant leadership, who is waiting for an update, thanks to our good friends in production. Why? They were blaming maintenance once again: “Can’t they get it together and respond in a better time without calling plant leadership for escalation and inspiration?”
Obviously, a “journeyman lunch” in the truck is in order by now. Then, I maneuver the seal into my personal vehicle with a quick update to my supervisor, reminding him that “I was coloring outside the lines once again and to please run interference.” Then, I head back to the jobsite. By this time, did it really matter if I had breaks or that lunch was compromised, ignored, or missed once again?
I use my personal lock and PPE in the truck since the company-issued equipment was not yet in, and I perform a LOTOTO and notify operations and maintenance that repairs are just starting. Also, the daytime supervisor hints at some personal tribal knowledge from the past that could help move the repair along, but does not communicate that effectively due to the habit of that supervisor to engage in a bit of “employee seasoning,” a habit that has not yet been addressed by HR in a successful manner.
Halfway into the next shift, the primary seal removal and replacement is completed; however, at the point of startup, the Unplanned Downtime Dragon shows up again, right on cue. Additional PMs and calibrations need to be done per QC, before the asset can return to being fully operational. I have to make an emergency call to the QC team to verify exactly what and when regarding replacement, and that OEM specs are acceptable. I then have to make an emergency call out to a local calibration company with expedited off-shift call-in rates, and with the help of some very disgruntled techs on premium overtime.
We’re back in business the next day with only 24 hours of downtime at $10K/minute, a total of $14.4 million of downtime on this one repair. It was not necessarily a great day in all, and all agreed that change needed to occur, but who is going to be the champion and follow through on change?
Act III: True hope is swift – planning and scheduling to the rescue
Now, let’s see how we could have done this repair job using a planner first.
In the morning meeting, production/operations noted that their quality had not been up to spec for a while. They were overdue on requesting PM procedures to repair or replace this seal, and they politely asked that this request be moved to the top of the list. Plant leadership was present, and authorized a work priority change, even though this was not standard operating protocol.
Due to my insistent methodology of proper planning and scheduling, I knew another opportunity has arisen, and I could make something good happen. Knowing that the plant was 500 acres in size and that downtime cost $10K/minute, I used my “planner express” power to expedite the job, locate parts, and get the daytime supervisor and his crew on LOTO and removal, cleanup, and disposal of the original seal. (This express plan included time saved by designating qualified personnel to work on concurrent tasks.)
I used the information from the daytime supervisor on where the seal should have been at in the past, and it was there. He also told me that QC had to sign off on specs, and that it was probably a really good time to re-calibrate the unit as well, as PMs were late and coming up in the next days as well. Tribal knowledge is good but written records can be paramount in times like these.
We had a really good I/E master tech that knew his way around the machine, causing minimum downtime to run as a concurrent repair. He could perform most of that work while the machine was down and update the logs/stickers at the same time. We also had a qualified veteran and willing apprentices, motivated by overtime, that could hammer out those PMs as well. We had continuous improvement and the recording of data and tribal knowledge to shared services that are backed up electronically and on paper.
With the time I had gotten back with the new seal, I had a tow motor placed to hoist to the second level, and it was prepped for a plug’n’play install. This saved a lot more time than doing it step by step as we had in the past, and not coloring outside the box.
In short, we had this repair done and unit calibrations performed before lunchtime. With a little “out of the box” thinking, a 24-hour repair became 3 hours with a $1.8 million reactive downtime cost (instead of $14.4 million), minus my paperwork. Action interviews turned into a job plan electronically stored in the CMMS. I adjusted the min/max of critically needed spares, and the time, crafts, special tools, and equipment needed, and made a nice job plan with step by step directions and photos.
I also took the liberty with my administrator rights to make this a recurring PM to be scheduled out a month in advance, and set limit points from QC on when replacement was mandated. At the same time, I was able to reduce that to a nominal cost, simply by planning and scheduling in advance. Naturally, further research had shown other items of interest that needed to be done at the same time or close to it, and I adjusted the MTTR to coincide and got the maximum bang for my buck. The job plan was written, planned, scheduled in advance, and verified before work began with a simple checklist.
The situation went from a traditional emergency and rush repair with no foresight, which caused a lot of emotional trauma and financial drain resulting very possibly in customer loss, to a data-driven proactive repair with proper planning and scheduling, resulting in extreme customer satisfaction with minor costs incurred.
Overall, this would minimize our downtime and maximize our plant’s hidden ability, greatly improving our uptime/profit margin for the shareholders. This aligned with the long-term vision championed by plant leadership of always engaging in continuous improvement.
Until next time, stay safe and healthy, True Believers.