Reliability Hacks for the Individual

Reliability can be thought of as the resistance to failure. Or, put another way, reliability is the probability of success. We usually talk about ways to make equipment more reliable. But let’s explore some tips (hacks if you will) to make you and your work resistant to failure. To increase your probability of success. These are things that you can do mostly by yourself, but that will have a ripple effect beyond just your work. Whether the current situation has you at max capacity, or with a little extra time on your hands, the time you take to ensure your personal and professional reliability will pay off quickly, and keep paying.

First things first: Organize your ToDo list. Make sure that your ToDo list is actually a doable list and organized to help you get it done. Break tasks into milestones that can be knocked out. If the same task stays on your list for longer than a week, think about if it is realistic.

  • Should it be broken into smaller, more complete-able tasks?
  • Should it be moved into the future, to a time when you can effectively tackle it?
  • Is it a repetitive task that should be moved to calendar based reminders, rather than a perpetual ToDo?
  • Does it belong on a ‘bucket list” rather than a ToDo list?
  • What will it take to complete the task?
    • What will it take to complete the task?
    • What will it take to complete the task?
    • See what I did there? If asking 3 times doesn’t work, you may need to 5-Why your tasks. If you don’t know how to complete it, the task does not belong on the ToDo list. You first need a task to define your objective, brainstorm actions to accomplish, create a plan of action, then break that plan into action steps. That is a series of entries on a ToDo list, not just one.

Organizing your ToDo list as the precursor to your Accomplished list will focus your efforts more effectively. Every task on your list should pass the SMART test. It should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results oriented and Timebound. That is not to say that you should not have more esoteric, philosophic, or pursuit goals. But those belong on your life list, not your ToDo list. A focused ToDo list will help you accomplish your goals and lead to personal and organizational reliability.

Streamline metrics. By streamline metrics, I mean organize the data, goals, and metrics that you use to make decisions so that they provide the information you need to make decisions in a timely and organized manner. If your data comes from database(s), create an automated report that is delivered to you, automagically. If the database that you are working on, can’t do that, research add-ons to see if they can. If nothing else, set a calendar reminder to run the report. If the data does not come to you in a meaningful format set up a simple framework to dump the data into. The framework doesn’t need to be any more sophisticated than a spreadsheet. Your metrics should look at both absolute values and trends. Common metrics answer these questions:

  • Where is the reading currently?
    • What has changed since the last reading?
    • Where is the reading to goal?
  • What is the trend line of the reading?
  • Is the goal still valid?
  • Do I need to change the frequency of review?
  • Do we need to look at other goals in conjunction with this one?

From that information, a course of action can usually be plotted. From abandon the goal; to do nothing/continue monitoring; to stop the presses and let’s get all hands on deck! – Sorry for the mixed metaphors. Making your metrics review a consistent, repeatable process makes your decision making more reliability. The faster you can turn data into information, the more likely you are to continue to monitor.

Thank someone. How does thanking someone lead to reliability? When you thank someone for the help in your career, or life. You think about how that person changed your life. Reflection is the best way to achieve personal reliability. Thank someone and honor that thanks by upholding the work ethics that person has taught to you.

Smile. Think of your loved ones past, present and future. Think of kittens, flowers, and rainbows. Think of equipment running flawlessly, think of your outage going exactly as planned, think of all your lines running at designated rate, turning out perfect quality. Smile. Think of what makes you smile, and why it makes you happy. Capture that feeling. Being happy, centered, calm, leads you to make more balanced decisions, and to be more open and accepting. Take the time everyday to smile and enjoy feeling good. Then take that smile and pass it on. Give it to someone without the need for them to give it back. Just be happy and professional and you will find it easier to work with all types of people. You will be more reliable, and you might even inspire reliability in them.

Give back. We are each the person we are because of those that have inspired or guided us along the way. Give back to your community, including your professional community. Talk to classrooms about your job, get young folks interested in following in your career. Target those that are not traditional in your field. Make them feel like they belong and could make a big difference in the career. Reach out to training centers to see how you can help spread the word to gain interest in the field. Get active in a professional group. Write an article and share what you know. Teach the next generation, either formally or informally. Inspire someone to take up your field of work and watch how they grow an contribute. Mentor a protégé. Nothing is more fulfilling than watching a former protégé, mentor a newcomer to the field. Giving back makes you a reliable proponent of your field.

Learn something new. Minds are sort of like muscles in that they need to be exercised to keep them healthy. Mix learning something just for fun with learning to advance your professional understanding. Ideally, these are one and the same, but you know the story about Jack and no play. Learning a craft, music, balloon animals, or other skills are just as important to your curiosity as reading the latest trade journals and peer publications.

Create a job continuity book. Someday you will win the lottery, be promoted, move to a new town, or otherwise leave your current job. Creating a job book for your standardized work helps you become more reliable and will help with on boarding of the next you. Review the book annually to update it. This will only make you a more valuable employee. There is a myth that “if they know what I do they will get rid of me”. Do you really think your boss is after your job? More likely they will be impressed, not only with all that you do, but with your initiative to document the standard work, stream line the metrics, be pleasant to those around you, give back to the community, and still get a formidable ToDo list done.

Take the time to organize and make yourself more reliable. The less time you have to spend doing the routine, necessary work, the more time you have for the important, innovative work.

The ROI of Welcoming New Employees

Successful onboarding for employees includes both technical and social training. Too often experienced folks are hired to “just do what you do” and given very little company specific training. Sometimes HR will give a company history lesson, but that does little to indoctrinate folks into the social norms. Sometimes even new hires with very little job experience are thrown into the job without much social guidance. Onboarding new employees should be addressed like any other project. Determine your goal, plan your project, approve the resources, track progress, and have a conclusion to the project/onboarding process.

The goal for onboarding a new colleague should be two fold.

  • One to get the person contributing as quickly as possible
  • Two to make them a long term engaged employee. A truly engaged employee. I mean an employee who is actively engaged in their organization and dedicated to its success.

This isn’t touchy-feely stuff to give everyone a participation ribbon. This is bottom-line, good for business, smart management.

Goal 1: Contributing as quickly as possible. This is what you hired them for. The cost justification for this job was already done, so the sooner you get value from the new colleague, the sooner you validate the need for said employee.

Goal 2: Long term engaged employee. There are numerous studies on the real financial benefits of engaged employees. You can also do your own calculations on what it costs to hire a new employee. The cost of not having that employee in place, and the cost of firing an employee.

Using the benefits and costs from the goals, a business plan can be developed for creating a successful on boarding process for each new hire. Each new hire. Not just the ones fresh out of college, not just the ones in exempt positions. Every single position in your company should have an on boarding plan. The same template can be used for a lot of different positions, but do not overlook any position. When you get really good at on boarding employees, you may extend the concept to both suppliers and customers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Your plan should contain a mix of technical training, social interactions, and actual work. There is nothing more boring than spending your first weeks on the job in a powerpoint or computer training haze. A mix of actual job performance and background training is the best way to get employees excited about the job.

Create a checklist of activities and interactions that the new colleague must accomplish in a given time period. In addition, assign a mentor to the newbie. The mentors need to be trained in how to assist their new protegee.

By assigning the checklist to the new colleague (NC) to complete, with oversite from both boss and mentor, the NC is in charge of their own on boarding process. The NC helps balance the activities of the actual job with social integration.

At the conclusion of the on-boarding process, an after action review should be conducted. All NCs should give input on what worked well during their indoctrination, and give suggestions for improvement.

Bringing all this together:

  • Create an on-boarding program office
    • Create an oversite committee to ensure that on boarding is occurring for all new colleagues
    • Create mentoring process, complete with training for mentors
  • Develop checklists each job/job class
  • Allow NC’s to manage their onboarding pace
  • Ensure on boarding oversite of NC by both boss and mentor
  • Close each on boarding process formally

The welcoming process should make new colleagues feel valued and excited about the workplace. Done properly, an onboarding process creates engaged employees and promotes productivity. Improper onboarding creates frustration and leads to high turnover.

Below is an example of an onboarding plan. The ROI for onboarding is high, if you don’t already have a program office to address employee engagement, consider starting one this quarter.

Was the Ham Green?

Communication consist of two parts, the sender and the receiver. While we may think we are being very clear in our message, the receiver’s viewpoint has as much to do with clear communication as the sender’s actual words. Take the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Are just the eggs green, or is the ham green too?

There are probably as many people who think the ham was green, as think it was standard ham colored. Right now, you are probably second guessing your own color choice. That’s the problem with communication, it often takes an exchange to understand each other and the context of the communication.

In business, mistakes are made when we assume our message was clear. I knew an individual who was given the task to stamp numbers on parts. His first day on the job he was given the stamps 0-9 and told to stamp the parts in sequence. When the individual got to the tenth part, he started back at the beginning, with #1. At the end of the day, he had piles of parts with the same numbers stamped on them. There was no traceability. It seems “obvious” that 10 comes after 9, but not to this individual.

The mistake could have been avoided had the instructor made clear that each part needed a unique number, numbers could not be duplicated. The amount of rework could have been lessened if someone had checked in with the individual early in his shift to quality check his work.

Giving instructions without clarifying what the expect results will be, opens to door for miscommunication and eventual mistakes. Even written instructions are open to interpretation. When a task is new or critical, it is important to check in regularly to ensure that work is progressing as expected.

It is important that when new or critical tasks are assigned that there is quick follow up after the work starts. The follow up should be a work quality check. This is a check for understanding and results. There should be measurable work product characteristics to check. This quality check should be performed no later than 10% of the overall work time. In the example above, of an 8 hour work day, the initial quality check should have been performed no later than 48 minutes into the workday.

No matter how often a job has been performed, the quality check should be performed at least once, half way though the production. The quality check needs to be documented. Often, experienced folks perform their own quality checks. But even those checks should be audited at least 50% of the time.

These checks are not a matter of trust, they are about ensuring good quality, consistent work product.

Was the ham green? There is no definitive answer. But the good news is understanding of the ham color is not mission critical. Sometimes imagination and creativity in work product is good. When there is a tight tolerance, follow up communication and quality checks are required.

The Case for Front End Engineering Design (FEED)

Front-end Engineering Design Reduces Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

When analyzing the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of a product/system, the initial or purchase price is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the life of a product/system, the majority of the ownership cost is incurred during the operation of the equipment. Fortunately or unfortunately, the factors that determine TCO are set at the product design stage.

Businesses across all industries face the challenges of maintaining a competitive edge and profitability. They are researching and implementing measures that improve productivity and reduce operational costs. The cost of operating equipment over its lifetime has become an important factor in purchasing decisions. A lower TCO is a competitive advantage.

The key to controlling TCO is a thorough analysis of a product’s design — both its operational performance and its effect on the manufacturing, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of the product/system. The analysis must take place on the front-end, very early in the design of a product or system. It is at this very front-end that small changes in scope and design can have the most impact in reducing TCO.

Front-end Engineering Design (FEED) is the application during the design stage, of a robust set of engineering best-practices that enable system designers to control TCO by designing a product or system to do its job most efficiently. FEED is applied throughout the design stage, starting with product specification and is revisited continually. This identifies even hidden costs as soon as decisions are made, cost- saving changes can be made at that time, where they have the most impact.

Understanding TCO

By definition, TCO is the cost to design, procure, operate and maintain equipment, minus the residual value. It’s a concept with which many people become most familiar ―after the fact. It is not until you own a dog, a car or a home that you are able to fully realize the TCO of that purchase. You may have compared the prices and features before making your final selection. But did you calculate the upkeep costs, both financial and time-wise, of each over its lifetime? Arriving at TCO for personal purchases requires a commitment to an in-depth analysis that most people are not able to make.

However, in the case of capital equipment, identifying the TCO can mean the difference between competitive advantage or disadvantage, profit or loss, and success or failure.

Impeding the view to TCO are the separate channels (silos) of accountability that designers/builders and users/maintainers often follow. Designers/builders are charged with and rewarded for a product built to specification, within budget and on schedule. Operators/maintainers are rewarded for keeping the equipment running and producing to achieve the expected Return On Investment (ROI). However, the price for meeting the design/build budget and schedule is too often paid by operators/maintainers who are challenged by a product or system that is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to operate and maintain. Separate accountability can lead to poor design decisions and animosity among stakeholders throughout the life of a product.

Understanding the Development Lifecycle

Figure 1 – The Development Lifecycle

The Development Lifecycle illustrates the stages a product or system will pass through during its lifetime. As shown in Figure 1, the Development Lifecycle contains five stages: design, test, manufacture and distribute, operation and routine maintenance, and overhaul maintenance. By understanding the Development Lifecycle, it is easy to see how decisions made in the early stages impact the later stages and eventually TCO.


Decisions made in the design stage have the most impact, positive or negative, on the rest of the Development Lifecycle. In this stage, system designers define the functional requirements: what the product/system must be able to do and how fast, how often should it be able to do it, and under what operating conditions. They then develop the design, select the material and components, create the interaction between product and operator, and determine energy consumption, reliability and availability. Once the design and bill of materials are defined, 85% of the lifecycle cost is set.


In the test stage, products are evaluated for how they perform in various conditions and under various circumstances. 3-D modeling and physical tests, such as prototypes, evaluate fit, operator interaction and potential interferences. Simulations determine start-up, steady state and shutdown capabilities.

Manufacture and Distribute

The manufacture and distribute stage focuses on the manufacturability of a product. Design complexity and the availability of components and materials factor into the production schedule. Packaging must protect the product and be appropriate for the distribution channel – retail, wholesale, OEM, etc. Large, bulky products or those that contain hazardous materials may require special transportation to reach their distribution outlets or end users.

Operation and Routine Maintenance

The operation and routine maintenance stage focuses on the useful life of a product, beginning with its deployment to address the need for which it was built. Because most of a product’s life is spent in the operation and maintenance stage, this stage incurs the majority of the TCOs. It is also in this stage that the effects of poor design decisions become most apparent.

The costs of operator training, consumables such as fuel and oil, preventive and routine maintenance, replacement of wear parts, etc., occur during this stage. Overly complex products or systems are more difficult to operate. Excessive, difficult to replace or specialty wear parts can severely impact the reliability and availability of the product/system. The ease of performing maintenance correlates to whether or not owners/operators adhere to the recommended maintenance schedules. Neglected equipment eventually leads to reduced performance, premature failures, dangerous conditions for operators, decreased profit, and a competitive disadvantage.

Overhaul Maintenance

Products intended for a long life will, at some point, need to undergo an overhaul to extend their useful life. More invasive than routine maintenance, overhaul maintenance, such as rebuilding a pump or replacing the system plumbing, will render the product/system unavailable. Some overhaul maintenance procedures can take place on-site; others could require components to be sent to the depot for rebuilding, testing and re-commissioning. When, how long, and how much it will cost to perform an overhaul are set by decisions made in the design stage.

The preceding overview of the Development Lifecycle stages illustrates the importance of understanding the impact design decisions have on the downstream lifecycle stages.

Under a traditional product development scenario, each stage has its own stakeholders, budget, schedule and accountability. There is little opportunity or incentive for stage stakeholders to evaluate the impact of their decisions outside of their area of responsibility.

Front-end Engineering Design Enables Better Design Decisions

Front-end Engineering Design, also referred to as Front-End Loading (FEL) and Pre- Project Planning (PPL), is robust planning and analysis during the Design stage,  when the ability to influence changes in design is relatively high and the cost to make those changes is relatively low. Figure 2 shows how FEED tools are applied during the Design and Test stages, and how regular TCO calculations should be made during the stage to ensure the most effective and cost-efficient system is designed.

Figure 2 – Application of FEED at the Design Stage includes TCO Check Milestones

Though FEED adds cost and time to the design stage, these are minor compared to making changes at later stages in the project. Identifying and implementing cost- saving modifications in the design stage are the keys to reducing TCO.

Before actual design work begins, FEED confirms and prioritizes the product/system requirements — what is critical, what would be ―nice to have,‖ and what should be categorized as beyond the scope. Refining the requirements before design work begins is critical, because the requirements drive the design which then determines the lifecycle. An overly broad scope negatively impacts other stages.

Once design work begins, FEED expands upon traditional engineering analysis, which focuses primarily on the operational function of a product/system. FEED goes beyond this by employing engineering best-practices to analyze how design considerations impact each of the development lifecycle stages. These best-practices include: mechatronics, 3-D modeling, simulations, Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (FMEA), and prototypes.

  • Mechatronics is the synergistic combining of electrical, mechanical and computer engineering disciplines in the design and test stages of product development. For example, mechatronics might be applied to the design and testing of a hydraulic steering system that uses joystick controllers and an LCD panel for navigation.
  • 3-D modeling creates a visual of the design intent that enables engineers to identify potential interferences and design flaws with a component or with the equipment on which the component will be installed. It also visually conveys the design intent to stakeholders early in the project to foster a common understanding and accelerate the approval process.
  • Simulations determine start-up, steady state and shutdown capabilities; very important aspects of a fluid power system. Simulation studies enable the design team to factor in the ―bumps in the road.
  • Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) and Failure Modes and Effect Analysis (FMEA) identify system components that are critical to the operation of the product/system. These tools determine the conditions under which components might fail, how likely they are to fail, and the consequences of that failure to the product/system. In combination with 3-D modeling and simulations, RCM and FMEA during the design stage provide the analysis to select the most cost-effective solution for the job.
  • Prototypes, including rapid prototypes are not-yet-fully-functioning versions of a product/system. In conjunction with 3-D modeling and simulations, they further aid the design team in testing fit and operator interaction.

Using these tools during the design stage to evaluate the effect design decisions will have on other stages, enables system designers to uncover design flaws, potential conflicts, and cost-prohibitive features before implementing a design. System designers are then able to change the design, material or components, to remove the conflict, improve the interaction, mitigate the failure or reduce the amount of operator training. The result is the most effective and efficient product/system design for the job.

Spending on FEED Reduces TCO

Early-stage changes are the most cost-effective

FEED is able to identify and introduce changes at the design stage, where they can be made cost-effectively and have the most impact on TCO. As shown in Table 1, the cost of implementing changes at later stages increases exponentially – approximately 10 times more at each stage.

Development Lifecycle Stage Relative Cost of Change*
Design $10
Test – Theoretical $100
Test – Physical $1,000
Manufacture and Distribute $10,000
Operation and Routine Maintenance $100,000
*Source: Wohlers Associates

Table 1 – Relative Cost of Implementing Change at Each Stage

Changes are also easiest to implement during the analysis of a design, before system designers and stakeholders form an attachment to a design. Once locked into a vision, it can be challenging to see the project in any other way. This narrowed vision, along with subsequent decisions based on that vision, adds to the difficulty and expense of making changes at later stages.

Early-stage changes have the most effect on TCO

FEED does negatively impact the cost and length of the design stage. If considered only within the context of this stage, the impact can be significant. However, in the context of entire lifecycle costs, the impact is significantly positive. Up-front spending on design analysis reduces costs in the later stages. As shown in Table 2, spending at the design stage can significantly reduce the operation and maintenance costs of a product. Over the entire lifecycle, the savings can increase the useful life of a product by 50% and reduce TCO approximately 40%.

Modify the design to reduce failures

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then the best way to mitigate the effect of failures is to prevent them from happening. Changes at the design stage can eliminate the potential for or reduce the effect of failure on a product/system.

The bathtub curve illustrates the risk of product failure over time. It depicts an initial period of relatively high failure rates that gradually decrease, followed by a longer period of low failure rates, and then a period of increasing failure rates as a product nears the end of its useful life. The bathtub curve identifies the types of failures most likely to occur at throughout the life of a product. RCM- and FMEA-style analysis at the design stage enables system engineers to determine the probability of these failures and their impact to the availability of the product/system. They can then identify and implement design changes to mitigate the failure. Reducing failures reduces TCO because repair and maintenance decrease, and reliability and availability increase.

Figure 3 – The Bathtub Curve

The bathtub curve places failures into three categories:

  • Infant Mortality: Defects in design, material, manufacturing or assembly typically appear in the early releases of a product, when it is in its ―infancy.‖ FEED best-practices can identify the potential for defects in the design stage. Changes to the design can then mitigate or eliminate these types of failures. For example, reducing the complexity of a design can simplify the manufacturing process and reduce the risk of failure due to a manufacturing defect.
  • Random: These types of failures occur during the useful life of a product. They are infrequent and seemingly without a definitive cause. However, inferior components, lack of maintenance or improper use can increase the chance of failure. FEED best practices can reduce random failures. RCM- and FMEA-style analysis enables system designers to identify critical system

components, specify robust parts and develop easy-to-implement maintenance.

  • Wear-out: Failures of this nature occur toward the end of a product’s useful life and with increasing frequency as the product/system ages. The life expectancy of components is set by decisions made at the design stage. However, by applying RCM and FMEA style analyses in the design stage, wear-out failure can be delayed. Selecting the appropriate components for the environment ensures that a cost effective selection is made. The tradeoff between initial cost of components, accessibility, expected life and time to repair is evaluated. When wear-out parts, such as filters, are designed to be easy to replace, they keep a fluid power system clean, thus increasing availability and extending useful life of the system.

Changing the Accountability Clears the View to True TCO For FEED to have the most impact on TCO, project participants must be able to migrate from ―silos‖ of accountability to a shared accountability. With shared

accountability, a system designer’s responsibility extends past the design stage to

now include partial responsibility for the success of later life stages. This provides incentive for system designers to evaluate their decisions from total lifecycle perspective. It encourages them to share data and develop two-way feedback channels with operators and maintainers, the group that bears most of the lifecycle costs. This feedback enables system designers to better determine how products and systems will perform. In return, data from modeling and simulations provides benchmarks by which operators and maintainers can monitor performance.

Benefits of Applying FEED to System Design

  • Analyze and refine the scope to ensure the design and manufacturing are only as complex as necessary to produce the product.
  • Select components that are robust and appropriate for their operating environment to reduce premature failure.
  • Where applicable, design diagnostic instead of invasive measures to check system characteristics and conditions.
  • Develop models to emulate start-up, steady state and shutdown situations to ensure the system responds appropriately and conditions are controlled.
  • Reduce the frequency of routine maintenance and ensure procedures are easy to perform.
  • Protect the equipment from external damage by protecting them in the layout and eliminating interference — between components and between the operator and the product/system.
  • Ensure interaction with the product is safe for the operator and appropriate for their skill level.
  • Increase Return on Investment (ROI)
    • by reducing TCO
      • by increasing availability
        • by reducing failures!

How tragedy inspired a PM revolution

In March 1854, a new steam boiler at the Fales & Gray Car Works in Hartford, CT exploded.  It was a horrible tragedy and nearly 20 people perished.  The fact that it was a new boiler and the industrial age was in full swing, was a wake up call to many.  Among the changes this incident inspired was the Hartford Steam Boiler company.    The establishment of company to provide equipment breakdown insurance,  led to the natural development of the methodologies necessary to avoid these breakdowns.

It’s important to remember that current state of preventive maintenance, condition monitoring, and intervention has its root is such a horrific event.  Complacency was part of the reason for the 1854 boiler explosion.  Today, complacency is just as dangerous.

Placing too much faith in “having” a PM program is not good.  It is in listening to and understanding the actual health of the equipment, that progress is made.   High PM compliance is of no value if the equipment health is not correlated with that compliance.

Many companies remain proud of their vibration programs, because the resources are dedicated to taking and analyzing the readings.  However, if the results are not acted upon timely, the program is not truly providing value.

Do not let complacency into your program and allow history to repeat itself.  Ensure that the PM program is relevant to maintaining equipment health.

Some metrics to ensure that the program remains relevant:

  • Condition monitoring (CM) defects fixed within 30 days of being reported
    • This requires that there is a standard to what constitutes a defect
    • Standard could be absolute value or trend line slope
  • Work orders initiated from PM inspections
    • Inspections should generate work orders at least 30% of the time
    • Work orders from PM inspection should be closed within 30 days
  • Total asset health (the percent of total equipment that does not have a CM or PM inspection defect work order open) >90% goal

What are some of the other methods you use to ensure that your PM program (inspections, CM inspection, and time based replacements) are adding to your equipment health and overall operational value?

Image result for fales and grey car works



Visual Noise

Visual noise is anything that may distort, transform, block or add to what we see.  This is one of the factors that contributes to industrial mistakes.  Visual noise can be anything from too much posted (useless) information, to too many alarms and blinking lights.

2015-07-29 17.07.04

5S gone awry, or information campaigns that fizzled out and were never cleaned up are the most common source of the excess posted information.  Take the photo of the sink, labeled “WATER”.  I’m pretty sure this was a joke, but you can seed from the damage around the sticker that it has been there for some time.  I observed the sign there over several years.  (Note: I’m pretty proud of catching an actual drip in the photo, showing actual water.)

Information campaigns, and 5s signage comes and goes in most companies.  I am all for both, but – those signs need to remain relevant or be removed.  I recommend that as part of the monthly safety audits, a signage audit needs to be conducted.  Outdated information needs to be removed, useless 5s signage needs to be removed.  Leave only what is relevant and current.  When looking at a visually clean environment, it is easy to see what is out of place.  Leaving old information, starts the clutter, and then it continues, until it is hard to tell what is useful in the work place, and what was just left there accidentally.  The purpose of 5s is a place for everything, and everything in is place. Not to pass an audit from some corporate … individual.

Next in the visual noise is the actual clutter.  Workplace clutter is often a safety hazard.  But beyond that, it is actually a time and money waster.  If items are not stored properly, they cannot be found when needed.  This wastes time looking for the item, and incurs costs when extra materials are purchased because the ones on hand cannot be located, or have been damaged due to improper storage.  The cost of clutter is well worth the time it takes to ensure that clutter does not happen or is dealt with promptly.  Clutter can start with poor maintenance practices.  I often see leftover screws, bolts, wire bits left after a repair.  This shows sloppy workmanship and a disregard for the colleagues who work in the area.  It doesn’t take long after one worker, in a hurry, leaves a mess behind, for everyone to start leaving messes.  It is noticeable the first time leftovers and trash are left, after that it becomes a snowball effect and within months, the workplace looks and feels dirty.  Lighting and requiring clean up as part of the work order are good methods to overcome this issue.  Periodic audits of completed jobs will help everyone understand their part in keeping the workplace organized, clean, and safe.

The last source of visual noise is engineered into the work place.  Machine alarms become visual noise when they mean nothing.  Anyone ever encountered high, and high-high alarms?   When flashing lights and audible alarms mean nothing, and are ignored.  Once you start ignoring some alarms, it is easier to ignore or miss meaningful alarms.  The workplace needs to be properly designed so that alarms and trips mean something.  A reset and go on is not acceptable.  I have seen instructions like “do not reset more than 3 times in one hour”.   Who is counting that?  Are 4 resets in 2 hours acceptable?  Make alarms meaningful and have an action plan associated with them.  Operations and equipment should run within the boundaries of acceptable.


When the operation or equipment parameters go above or below the control limits, it is time to act.  Setting alarms within the control limits that do not require action, adds to visual noise.  Setting alarms that are not meaningful to the operation, or the health of the employees or equipment is pure visual noise.  Make all alarms mean something and there will be fewer mistakes.  When there are fewer mistakes, there are fewer accidents.

Over reaction to alarms and postings is just as detrimental as under reaction.

Eliminating visual noise from the work place creates a safer, more productive workplace.  Visual noise can come from posted signs and materials – including an excessive usage of color, physical clutter, and poorly designed alarms.  Conduct a review of the workplace, poll the colleagues who work there every day, and see what they notice and what they do not notice.  Question the position of every item, and every alarm.  Regular audits of the work place will remove visual noise which will make the work environment more productive.

Emails at Work

Email is a powerful business tool.  Like any tool, it should be used with precision and skill.  Written words should avoid emotion, so remove as many adverbs and adjectives from your emails as possible.  Never send a ‘friendly’ or ‘gentle’ reminder.  That is passive-aggressive at its worst.  Reminders are good and helpful.  Passive-aggressive is not.

Make your subject line meaningful.  If room allows, add your expectations in the subject line.

  • Manhattan project specs – please review and comment by January 1, 1943
  • Agenda for Boxcar 45 08 09 – confidential – information only
  • Results from Little Boy – information only

Keep emails short.  No more than a couple of short paragraphs.  If it requires 3 scrolls on a handheld (phone) then it is probably too long.  Put supporting information in an attachment and only pull the top 1-3 points out for the email.

Don’t forget the attachments.  Do not forget attachments.  Make sure you have added any attachments.

Check your distribution list.  Add only the people who need the email.  If you haven’t put your expectations in the subject line, put them in the first or second sentence.  Are you expecting a response?  Use CC (carbon copy) only to people that you do not want a response from.  Use BCC (blind carbon copy) wisely.   For instance, if it is a large distribution list, or you truly want to hide that you have copied someone’s boss from the intended recipient.  Do not copy yourself, unless it is to a different email address.  Your sent folder keeps your copy of the email.

Do not use “receipt” unless you really need it.  The recipient can always ignore that and it requires extra steps from the recipient to get to your email.  Do you really want to make it harder to read what you wrote?

When forwarding or responding, keep the string if necessary.  It is ok to edit the string to the new subject matter.  If you do not keep the string, repeat the pertinent info, so the recipients to not have to go back and find out what your response means.  Review the recipient list and remove those that do not need to see your response.  Change the subject line as necessary.

  • Manhattan project specs – comments add
  • Agenda for Boxcar 45 08 09 – declassified – information only
  • Results from Little Boy – updated 2018 – information only

Never reply ALL.  Do not reply All.  Reply All is never the right option.

Email is a precision tool.  Use it as such.  Read what you wrote and remove unnecessary words.  If it sounds like a Fox or CNN commentary, you have way too many descriptors in your email.

CNN Version: President Donald Trump was upbeat immediately after his news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, but by the time he returned stateside, his mood had soured considerably amid sustained fury at his extraordinary embrace of the Russian leader.

Business Email: Presidents Trump and Putin met in Helsinki, Finland.

Closing the email.  Close with the expectations, including timing of actions or follow-up.  End with a signature that includes the sender’s contact information and relevant title.

Manage emails promptly, including filing as necessary.  If an email was sent expecting a response from you, but did not include timing.  Respond within 1 business day with when you will provide the information.  There is no need to respond to emails that are information only.

  • Manhattan project – will respond by February 30
  • Manhattan project – responses and comments in Blue

Understand the features of your email system and use them to your advantage.  Filing, flagging for follow-up, assigning responsibility, automatic signature, integrated calendar and contacts, etc.

The best business emails

Have a descriptive subject line which includes expectations for the receiver(s)
Are pithy and lack emotional extras
Have a well thought out recipient list
Have attachments as necessary
Have a signature line
Forwarding and responding is also performed with precision

Email is a tool.  Use it with precision.  The tool itself is inexpensive, but used incorrectly, it can cost thousands of dollars in inefficiencies.

ISO 55000 is Good for Business

ISO 55000-55002 is called the asset management package.  It is a roadmap for how to set and maintain an equipment reliability program.  When equipment is reliable, production is more stable and costs can be managed more accurately.  Therefore, the 55000 standard is good for business.  A reliable operation provides the stability for innovation or for profit taking.  It provides business with the option to execute their strategy.  People are in charge.  In an unreliable operation, the equipment is in charge, because all the people are reacting to the availability (or lack thereof) of the equipment.

First, what is ISO.  It is the organization for international standards for products and services.  Many people think of the one or two standards they are familiar with, but as of today:

ISO has published 22,195 International Standards and related documents, covering almost every industry, from technology, to food safety, to agriculture and healthcare. ISO International Standards impact everyone, everywhere.

In other words, ISO is big and broad reaching.  And who doesn’t love a story that anecdotally begins with a horse butt?  The story, which is at least partially true, goes that the width of modern railroads are standardized on the old Roman roads.  Since the Romans’ main mode of long distance transport was horse, the road tracks are spaced at about the width of two horses.  Therefore, one of the first standards was based upon horse width, or as the driver sees, the horses’ behinds.Horse ButtThe Asset Management package, ISO 55000 series, was published in 2014.  It arrived without much fanfare, and even today, I can tell how hardcore into reliability someone is, by their familiarity with the standard.  That should not be the case, every maintenance and reliability manager should be familiar with the package, and own at least some version of it.

The most common phrases I hear about why an organization does not have a working reliability program are

  1. We don’t know where to start.
    • The organization is in such a reactive mode that they don’t know how to prioritize forward thinking reliability work – the equipment is in charge.
    • Those charged with reliability leadership don’t have the skills to create a reliability roadmap.  They have no formal training, and their OJT training has been focused on fixing and maintaining, rather than reliability strategy.
  2. We can’t get management support for a program.
    • Those charged with reliability leadership do not understand how to ‘sell’ reliability.  They don’t have the background to put together an ROI for the reliability roadmap.
    • Management thinks maintenance, not reliability, and does not view it as a competitive advantage.
    • Organizational mind set needs to be :
      • Reliability is not a cost to be cut.
      • Reliability is a continuous improvement program to invest in.

The ISO 55000 series addresses the roadmap and can be used as leverage to help convince management of the necessity for reliability.  The standard does not address ROI or funding questions.  Engage experts to nail down the financial rewards of a reliability program.

The standards are

  • ISO 55000:2014 Asset management — Overview, principles and terminology
  • ISO 55001:2014 Asset management — Management systems — Requirements
  • ISO 55002:2014 Asset management — Management systems — Guidelines for the application of ISO 55001

They layout a roadmap for reliability.  They are well organized and written in pretty easy to understand language.   They even include handy diagrams and relationship charts.  The standard starts with asset management.  What are your assets, then how do you put together a program to manage their health and life cycle.  It includes self assessing and a process for sustainability in the reliability program.

Start small to get “wins”, but use the package to build both your overall strategy, as well as your tactical execution program.  Now you know where and how to start.  Problem 1 – Solved.

The package can be used in conjunction with the financial estimates to gain management support.  By showing that you are following a standard, and that your ideas are well rooted in solid business practices all over the world, you can convince the conservative leader.  Show them that you are not trying something new, but catching up to your competitors.  For the leaders that like to push the envelop, show them how the standard is a jumping off point.  You are one of the first in your industry to adopt and conquer this standard.  After all, have they heard ISO 55000 talk around the c-suite water cooler?  Convince them they are an innovator by backing this program.  Problem 2 – Solved.

Some who were involved in the ISO9000 quality series implementation of the 1990s may see following ISO standards as a huge money drain with little results.  If that is true, they embraced the idea of being certified, but not the ideals of the actual standard.  It is true that the certification companies were/are expensive, and that you could have a quality program, but not a quality product.  But you had to work pretty hard at cheating the system to not wind up with a good quality system.  The problem often came that overly complicated internal systems were developed rather than tweaking current processes to met the standard.   The standard set up a good system of checks and balances, as well as the roadmap for success.  The 55000 standards set up that same type of system, and expressly encourages internal validation.

Setting up a quality system, a reliability system, or any other business process to comply to ISO standards, should not mean creating new processes from scratch.  Rather they should build on your current processes and strengths to meet the standard.  You know how to run your business, use the standard to ensure that processes are actually process based, not people based.  They ensure standardization.

A properly executed and maintained ISO5000 series compliant reliability program does yield a reliability operation at the optimum cost.  Depending on the current maturity of the organization’s reliability program and the available resources, it may take a year or it may take 10 years to see these rewards.  However, since the asset management program is good for business, and its bottom line, I highly recommend spending the resources to become compliant in the 1-2 year range, rather than stretch it out over several years.  The more involved the organization’s commitment to reliability, the faster and deeper the rewards.

It is not easy to transform a business, and there are investment costs to doing so.  The ISO standards will not help you with the dedication and perseverance you need to implement reliability.  But they do provide a high level roadmap, and the assurance that you are working with a standard.  Following that standard properly will result in a reliable operation.

ISO 55000 series asset management standards are good for business.


Is Certification Necessary?

Certification is an indication more of commitment than skill.  However, it is this commitment that makes the certification valuable.  To pass any certification exam, a mix of practical and book knowledge is required.  Because exams are written, the book knowledge is more heavily gauged.  In earning and keeping the certification, one works constantly on the practical knowledge and its application.  That work makes the long ago earned, but still valid, certification more valuable the newly minted one.  A certificate on the other hand, is earned one time.  The skill may be built upon, but there is no tracking of continuing education or use.

CPMM 022

I believe that certifications are important because of the commitment that one makes when obtaining and keeping that certification.  Even when I search for a provider to care for my pet, I am more inclined to interview someone who has joined a professional organization, and gained certification.  It’s not that I think scooping litter requires a skilled and tested individual.  But if I am going to trust the health and well being of one of my family members to a relative stranger, I want to know that they are as committed to my little guy’s health and well being as I am.

2017-07-06 16.50.03

Certifications are have value for all types of employees.

Current employees

When current employees earn and maintain certification.  It indicates their commitment to the craft and their willingness to engage in continuous education.  Companies should encourage certification and get involved with the certifying organization to ensure that the content matches industry needs.  Certifications need to evolve with the craft and continuing education units (CEUs) or professional development units (PDUs) are part of this evolution.

Hiring new employees / Creating a resume

Certifications and certificates on a resume can help it rise to the top.  The interview process will probe the depth of candidates’ knowledge and skill.

When building a resume always include your certifications.  Choose which certificates to include based on the ones that you are proficient in, and that you want to continue to practice.  I have earned numerous safety certificates over the years, but I do not include those on a biography or resume because that is not where I want to focus my career.  I have earned certificates in Theory of Constraints and Lean and I do include those, because they are relevant to my work.  I have kept current on the application of those in industry, but they are not certifications, because I do not renew them through the use of CEU or PDU tracking.

Hiring a consultant

Certifications for consultants are imperative.  To hold out as a expert or leader in a field, one must be conversant in both book and application knowledge.  The certification is an indicator of this.  Interviews and discussions with the consultant will help match the right skill set with your needs.

Multiple certifications and certificates

Multiple certifications demonstrate intense commitment.  Multiple certs in the same field demonstrate a deep knowledge and an interest in being on the leading edge of the subject.

Multiple certs in diverse subjects show an aptitude for big picture thinking, as well as practical application of those subjects.  They also show an evolutions of career interests and skill sets.

To determine the right certification, invest time in researching the options.

  • The certification should be accepted by others in the industry as valuable
  • Certifications offered by professional organizations (.org) are often preferred
  • Make sure there is a renewal period and understand the CEU/PDU requirements
  • The certification should be directly applicable to the work that you currently perform (do not get a certification for your “next” career, your lack of practical application will hinder your credibility)
  • Earning the certification (the study materials) should interest and excite you
  • The certification should provide more contact with others in your field

So, a certification is not necessary, but highly desirable.  If you love your career, embrace it by joining (professional organizations), contributing (to the body of knowledge), and certifying in it.