Electrical Testing
Tip of the Week: Make Sure There’s Enough Time to Do it Right

Tip of the Week: Make Sure There’s Enough Time to Do it Right

Cutting corners and rushing through maintenance jobs is counter-productive and potentially costly.

In the construction trades, substandard work probably will have to be done over to meet construction requirements. Typically, there’s someone (or a team) conducting pre-startup walkthrough, pre-startup acceptance testing, and other forms of sign-off on the completed work. A long punchlist resulting from this is not only embarrassing, it’s expensive. Work that was paid for once must now be paid for again, but not by the customer.

In maintenance, usually there isn't someone checking the completed work. If you’re in a rush and do a sloppy job, there’s no embarrassing and expensive punchlist generated. On the other hand, if you cut corners by not doing a pre-job tool count and then matching that to a post-job tool count and subsequently leave your wrench lying across A and B phases inside the switchgear, it would be best if nobody is anywhere near it when power is restored.

That may be a more extreme example. Everybody knows in such dangerous situations to do the tool count (ahem). So, of course, you wouldn’t have this problem.

But in more routine maintenance situations, the drill is like this. The maintenance department has undergone staffing and budget cuts, but must maintain the same equipment. Meanwhile, a reliability task force has increased the amount of work to be done on each maintenance work order. Generally invoking the “kitchen sink” theory, they’ve bloated out your PMs, but there’s not extra time allotted for doing all that extra work.

Credit: Jacek Kita/iStock/Thinkstock

The pressure to get these done has resulted in a piecework mentality, so maintenance workers work faster. Supervisors aren’t as concerned with getting the job done right as with getting the job done. That’s what they ask about. “Paul, did you finish the PMs you were assigned this morning?” rather than, “Tell me about the condition of the equipment.”

Visual inspections, instead of being thorough and methodical, are reduced to a mere glance and a checkbox for “OK” on the PM sheet. And now the pitted contacts on that 800A breaker are designated as OK because Jim “doesn’t have the time” to recondition them or order replacements. Sam walks right past that transformer with the odd hum coming from it. How long until something fails to operate or simply blows up?

And the problem expands to shutdown work. To “save time” during the annual shutdown, some feeders are taken out of the insulation resistance program. Connections identified by thermographic inspection as needing attention are taken off the resistance testing list. Never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to see the plant lose three major customers because of missed shipments resulting from preventable equipment failures?

So what’s the solution if you are the plant engineer or maintenance manager faced with the same equipment to maintain and fewer people to do it? And you’ve got directives adding more steps to your PMs?

If you let lazy management put the monkey on your back by simply expecting your whole team to work faster, you will fail. Things will go wrong on your watch, and that’s generally not a career booster. They can blame you, and then do the same thing to the guy who replaces you.

One choice you can make is to “manage up.” To do this, you must articulate specifics to the management above you along the lines of “This is the equipment we’ve got, and this is what it takes to maintain it.” (Determine what really is necessary before doing this). Explain that substandard maintenance is not very different from no maintenance at all. In either case, downtime will happen. One mistake, one oversight, or one corner cut during maintenance may not only leave a failure cause unaddressed, but also introduce a new one.

Time is of the essence, but in the reverse of the normal sense. It is essential to take the time to do the job right.

And you can give them some numbers to help them decide. Create a model of maintenance resources versus equipment. First, “assign” full maintenance resources to critical equipment (that which protects people, protects the environment, or is essential for the main revenue source). With what’s left over, calculate what percentage of non-critical equipment will simply have to fail because of no maintenance and ask the management above you to decide which lines or machines they want not running.

Unless they add more resources, they will have to choose which equipment they want to fail. It’s really that simple. How much is the output of that equipment worth? How does that lost revenue compare with the “savings” from not investing in adequate maintenance?

You need them to understand that this is the reality. Even a small decrease in the quality of the necessary maintenance may produce a spectacular failure, so pushing people to complete PMs faster is not an option for critical equipment. You don’t get to do over poorly done maintenance. You must ensure there is enough time to do it right the first time.

This discussion should open the door to discussing other, proven solutions. Instead of letting equipment fail, why not free up some limited maintenance worker time by adding monitoring equipment such as vibration monitors and power monitoring systems?

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