Electrical Maintenance: Poor Planning Can Lead to Catastrophe

Unless you have a solid maintenance plan, you are planning to fail. What are the criteria for a solid maintenance plan, and how do you make it work? How do you plan for success, instead of failure?At the break of dawn on the Fourth of July, a plant engineer watched smoke roll out of his service entrance. The 500kcmil service cables danced and bucked, putting on a firework display that would rival

Unless you have a solid maintenance plan, you are planning to fail. What are the criteria for a solid maintenance plan, and how do you make it work? How do you plan for success, instead of failure?

At the break of dawn on the Fourth of July, a plant engineer watched smoke roll out of his service entrance. The 500kcmil service cables danced and bucked, putting on a firework display that would rival anything seen that evening. How did this catastrophic failure happen? Why did it happen? Let's first visit the cause: poor planning.

In many plants, management focuses on "vision," making sure to plaster signs proclaiming its new wisdom. Yes, fresh coats of paint look good. Charts and graphs throughout the plant are nice. But those efforts take time and money. When they are extreme, they reduce resources for maintenance planning.

When you work without a well-thought-out plan, you're like a ship without a rudder. A maintenance department that functions in a reactionary mode is on the losing end of things. Have you ever felt that's where your maintenance department is?

You won't find a single "right way" to plan maintenance. One size doesn't fit all. However, certain principles and tools have universal application. Let's look at what those principles are.

Focus. Before you revise or create a maintenance plan, decide what maintenance people must do. What is your mission? Yes, this sounds obvious, but do you really know the answer? If you answered, "To fix things," you're wrong. If you answered, "To keep things running," you're still missing the mark. If you answered, "To maximize the flow of product out the door," you're on the right track. You also have energy savings and cost reduction to figure in, but product flow is king. Safety and environmental concerns are primary concerns of yours; they are also direct threats to product flow.

Focus helps you see what makes the most money for the plant; and that puts you in synch with upper management. Production managers know which equipment needs the most uptime and where downtime costs the most; make sure to question them thoroughly. See Fig. 1 in original article.

At one plant, every product (weighing about 90 lb each) must pass over a complex conveyor. This conveyor fails several times a year, and the maintenance people spend three frantic hours replacing the one or two bearings that caused the failure. The permanent loss of production capacity is $750,000 each time that happens. An entire replacement is about $5,000. Looking at the costs, doesn't a different plan come to mind?

Suppose they could just swap out a spare section in 20 min and do the bearing replacement "off-line?" Ah, but that would take planning! The focus of that maintenance department is on "cost reduction," rather than product out the door. So, they end up with neither.

Making plans. Once you've decided on your focus, look at how each production line fits that focus. Prioritize each piece of equipment in relation to overall product flow. Then, look at what you need to keep it running. Good sources for this are manufacturer's manuals.

Make sure you have adequate Preventive Maintenance (PM) and Predictive Maintenance (PDM) procedures to keep the equipment in good shape. This includes infrastructure as well as production equipment.

Also, make sure you PM your maintenance tools; meters, personal safety gear, and test procedures are just a few that come to mind. PM your test procedures? Make sure you're doing the right things, not just doing things right.

Look for non-value-added activity. An example is walking back and forth to the shop for tools, instead of using a well-stocked rollaway toolbox. Fig. 2, in original article, shows a simple decision chart for determining if you need to prune an activity out of your plans; you can elaborate on this to create your own. Use your Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) to remove such activities. For example, your CMMS should schedule group relamping. Consider the mobilization costs involved in changing a single lamp. Your maintenance electrician has to go to the fixture, get the lamp number, and then go to the stockroom to get the lamp; which may not even be in stock. Then he or she has to bring a replacement lamp to the work area and get a ladder. The electrician has to dispose of the old lamp, put the ladder back, etc. In group relamping, you have a small crew do these same steps, but not over and over. It does them once to change all the lamps. But to do this, you must plan for it.

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Good maintenance planning starts at the time of construction. Photo 1, in original article, shows an example of good construction, while Photo 2, in original article, shows a maintenance nightmare. Looking at the two photos, can you see the difference between planning and planning to fail?

Procedures. It's a common assumption that all maintenance people know how to fix anything. And it's a common expectation that anyone doing maintenance work will flawlessly execute all requisite steps to complete work. Both the assumption and expectation are false, yet we often fail to plan around that fact. Successful maintenance groups use procedures. In most cases, these procedures serve as checklists or work quality checks. They're not detailed tutorials. Good procedures assume the maintenance person has the skills to execute the steps the job requires.

Some of the best procedures consist of nothing more than bullet points or an outline. They are much like the "to do" list you might use for a busy weekend; you may list "take kids to movie," but you don't jot down how to park your car.

You need procedures for technical tasks, administrative issues, ethical issues, unusual situations, and emergencies. Just writing down the procedure isn't enough. You must ensure everyone on your team understands the plans and has ready access to them.

Tools. For maintenance planning to meet the demands of today's global economy, the CMMS is essential. You have other tools for planning, as well; and not all of them are software. You have tools for gathering information: monitors, meters, surveys, and conversations. You have tools for analyzing information: In addition to spreadsheet modeling and other software tools, you have the minds of people inside and outside of maintenance.

If possible, establish small task forces that exist only long enough to address a particular issue. Include people in other departments: operations, accounting, etc.

Networking is another important "tool." Talk to people in other companies. Form an association if there isn't one already; e-mail can reduce the time requirement to maybe an hour a month; so you can share ideas. You could create a "best practices" forum on e-mail, to boost your planning process. Your vendors and suppliers can bring useful information to you, too. They may be able to tell you about how ABC Company saves many hours doing a particular maintenance task, or how they're using a plan or product that saved them 100 hours of downtime in their extrusion department. The point is this: the experiences of others can save you considerable time over the trial and error method.

Consider the point just made. EC&M brings you the experiences of others; such as Jean-Pierre Wolff, who is a regular contributor to the magazine. If you haven't read his March, 1998 cover story about maintenance failures, you need to. When you read anything about maintenance failures, do you think of how that should affect your own maintenance planning?

Implementation and revision. Departmental plans are useless unless everyone follows the same plans. Make sure you have an easy way to communicate plans clearly to all involved. Make sure you have an easy way for people to know when plans change and what those changes are.

The best plans are flexible. When you implement your maintenance plans, do you make them "living documents" so they can adapt to the changing realities of whatever you're maintaining? Is it easy for those who work with the plans to suggest changes? Do you audit your plans to make sure they work?

If you're unsure of how to go about implementation, you have more access to advice than you might realize. You can find people with ISO9000 and TQM experience in various trade groups, such as the IEEE; or perhaps within your company. They may not have a maintenance background, but anyone who has implemented ISO9000 knows how to implement and revise plans. Fig. 3, on page 29, gives a simple overview for making plans and procedures that work.

When nobody has plans. How did that service entrance fireworks show happen? The plant engineer was new to the plant. He hadno CMMS in place, yet. He had inherited an infrastructure that got by with no maintenance for over a quarter century. He had convinced the plant manager and division vice president to arrange for downtime to inspect the service entrances, but the company president said no. The failure was in a splice between the pad-mounted service transformers and the service entrance. The intended inspection would have revealed this outrageous Code violation. But that inspection never made it into the plans.

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