Cowboy humorist and author Will Rogers knew what he was talking about when he said, “We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” But what happens when no one knows who the heroes really are?
It’s still a common scenario for the on-call mechanic to get a call in the early hours of a given Sunday morning to hurry in to the plant to fix a critical machine that has failed. The mechanic rushes into the plant to find the plant manager, reliability engineer, production supervisor and others anxiously awaiting his arrival. Like a scene from a movie, the crowd standing around the failed machine moves aside as the mechanic approaches the machine.
As time passes into what seems like an eternity, the machine miraculously fires up and ends the grueling unscheduled downtime. What happens next is contrary to intuition. Instead of blaming the mechanic for the lost productivity and poor reliability maintenance, he is credited with rescuing the machine.
The mechanic is rewarded with overtime pay, handshakes, pats on the back, and perhaps a day off for such skillful display of his effort. Everyone in the plant is impressed with the safeguards in place to reduce the impact of this kind of failure. In-house stores had plenty of spares in inventory, all the right people had been contacted, and the rescue mission was executed flawlessly. All in a day’s work … or is it?
Was it not the responsibility of the mechanic to maintain equipment reliability to prevent this kind of unpredicted failure?
Consider this scenario at a facility that had implemented a precision lubrication program in conjunction with other PdM technologies. Would it have happened at all? Odds are, this kind of catastrophic failure would not have occurred in the first place.
Having an effective reliability and condition monitoring program supported by oil analysis, vibration analysis and thermography would have nearly eliminated the risk or root cause of the machine failure and the emergency repair by the on-call mechanic.
Skilled lubrication technicians and PdM analysts have many responsibilities. Ultimately, the PdM analysts are responsible for assuring plant reliability. They are the primary resources for maintenance and reliability issues. The PdM analyst is also responsible for performing oil analysis testing and evaluating the data from these analyses.
The lube techs also have an important role in the bigger picture of machine reliability. They are a great source of machine information regarding lubrication, contamination control, storage and handling.
When skilled lube techs and PdM analysts perform their jobs accurately and with great care, the plant mechanic is not likely to receive a distress call in the early morning hours. So who is the real hero? Is it possible that we should shower accolades on some employees when nothing noteworthy has occurred? Most certainly so!
The Hollywood version of emergency maintenance seems a little more glamorous. The emotion, stress and relief are far more exciting than the status quo. But the real heroes are the ones who can keep the equipment running reliably without failure. The only problem is that no one talks about what doesn’t happen.
We’ve all heard the saying, “what gets measured, gets done,” and it’s true. It’s also true that what gets measured gets talked about. Sooner or later, someone will notice that unscheduled downtime has decreased and reliability is at an all-time high. Performance metrics in lubrication reliability are important for many reasons, such as the following:
Metrics allow us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of processes.
Metrics help us benchmark against other leaders in the industry.
Metrics allow us to maintain a course for success.
Oh yes, lubrication performance metrics also allow us to identify the true heroes in a plant. So the next time a skilled lube tech or PdM analyst is around, give him or her a well-deserved pat on the back.
“Goodbye Oiler, Hello Skilled Lube Tech and Lube Analyst.” Practicing Oil Analysis, January-February 2002.