How Networking Can Help Solve Your Maintenance Problems

Jeremy Wright
Tags: maintenance and reliability

In my primary role with Noria, I travel around the globe designing lubrication programs and conducting failure investigations for some of the world’s largest companies. On average, I’m in a new facility every other week. One recurring theme has been popping up a lot lately at these plants. I didn’t begin to notice it until I started getting more corporate accounts. The first occurrence was so obvious it nearly slapped me in the face.

I had been contracted to perform a failure investigation for a company that sounded eerily similar to the one I had just visited. In fact, I thought someone had messed up my schedule because the project was identical to the previous one with the only difference being the plant location. It was the same company, division, equipment and product being manufactured.

55% of lubrication professionals say their organization does not stress the importance of networking among other plants, divisions and industries, based on a recent poll at MachineryLubrication.com

When I arrived at the second facility and began collecting data, the circumstances between the two failures were identical. During the exit meeting for the project’s data-collection phase, I asked if anyone had ever heard of a similar problem. Not a single person spoke up. I proceeded to tell them about another Noria customer who had the same failure symptoms on the same type of equipment. They listened very intently at that point as I described the entire process and our findings from the first failure. They all agreed that this indeed sounded like the problem they were having. When I informed them that this previous failure had occurred at their sister plant, they were shocked.

Even though this was the same company, product line, machine and problem, these workers were completely oblivious to what was happening. Their line of communication had been severed. Their senior management had pitted them against one another, so the likelihood of them sharing information for better reliability and increased uptime/production was slim.

I’ve seen this several times over the last few months, and it extends much further than just to sister plants. If it’s happening at your organization, you need to know that you are not alone. There are people dealing with the same maintenance concerns that you are. They may have been able to easily solve that problem that has confounded you for months. However, the issue is not about finding solutions but rather finding the same solution to the same problems over and over again, because all the tools at our disposal are not being leveraged.

Enter the age of networking. Recently, I was having trouble with the assembly of a clutch and brake linkage for a 1968 Camaro I am restoring. I wasn’t sure where, how or in what orientation the plastic bushings were to be mounted on the shaft. Within seconds (with the help of my friend Google), I was able to find a forum that deals solely with first-generation Camaros. There was a specific topic on the proper assembly of the pedals complete with pictures, and a member of the forum had taken the time to write step-by-step instructions on proper installation. The contributors to this forum don’t get paid for their contributions. They do it because they want to help the group as a whole.

Why hasn’t this become more common for plant maintenance? Why don’t we employ more of the tools available to us? Even some of the most fundamental forms of communication like picking up the phone and having a conversation with a sister plant are not being utilized. We live in the age of information, and yet some companies are choosing not to use it and are actually blocking certain lines of communication.

Of course, not all companies operate in this manner. I have had the pleasure of dealing with a few that are open and trying to foster a knowledge-sharing environment. They attend conferences as a group and not only network among themselves (if from different plants) but also intermingle with people from other industries. You would be surprised at what the steel industry has in common with the cement industry in terms of machinery lubrication.

It doesn’t end with just face-to-face or over-the-phone meetings. The Internet and social media are quickly becoming go-to places for solutions. Shouldn’t there be a massive online gathering of maintenance professionals to discuss the pertinent issues? This likely doesn’t yet exist because many in the maintenance field are late adopters when it comes to technology solutions. The only way for this type of arrangement to work is for the majority to start contributing. We can’t let all these workers retire with the knowledge they have accumulated without getting them to share some of it.

I would love to do my part and offer my services to anyone who wants to be heard. If you have information that would benefit the maintenance, reliability and lubrication community, please pass it along. I’m willing to use the resources at my disposal to help grow the information database and encourage knowledge sharing. All I need is the information.

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