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Predictive Maintenance Tip: For Predictive Maintenance to Succeed Practitioners Must Know what Fails

Alan Friedman is Senior Technical Advisor for Azima DLI, a worldwide company self-described as "the leader and premier provider of predictive maintenance analytical services and products that align with customers' high standards for reliability, availability, and uptime."  Friedman recently began what he envisions as a series of articles presented by reliabilityweb.com on the subject "Why do Predictive Maintenance Programs Fail?"

"In the coming months," Friedman begins, "I will be writing a number of articles addressing the subject of why PdM programs succeed or fail from managerial, technical, and financial perspectives.  The purpose of the series is to identify failed strategies and show how they can be avoided."

Acknowledging the constraints we all face in a tough US economy, the author challenges us "to think about how we conduct maintenance and determine how to do it more efficiently and intelligently in the future...."  It's well worthwhile to read Friedman's essay in full, but an overview of his answers offer some insights as well.  Reasons for failure are many, and include:

Lack of Vision: In Friedman's view, PdM "should change the culture, philosophy, and work flow of the maintenance department.  It is not just the addition of a new technology or tool, but a different approach of strategy towards maintaining one's assets...."  Using new tools without buying into the underlying strategy and remembering to "benchmark the gains"--a key task in PdM--all too often leads to failure.

Using a Tool Without Understanding Why: Understanding how to use technology, such as a vibration data collector, without recognizing its predictive power and purpose is a serious impediment to developing PdM as a practical maintenance strategy.  As the author puts it, "the use of the technology as an end in itself without an overall vision of why the technology is being employed" does little or nothing to unlock the potential of PdM.

Failure to Justify the Program: could also be called "failure to do the paperwork."  Even if maintenance successfully adopts the PdM culture and workflow, regularly documenting its success (in savings, uptime, and longer minimum time between failures) is absolutely crucial to obtaining ongoing support from management.  "In other cases," Friedman recalls, "the person managing the PdM program left and no one picked up the ball."

Lack of Consistency: "There are many causes for this,ranging from a failure to commit adequate personnel, lack of proper training, loss of skilled personnel, change in program direction/technology, failure to adequately define the program at the start, and, finally, the lack of a consistent model to monitor the efficacy of the program over time."  What they all have in common is that they undermine sustained commitment to the PdM idea, making success of this highly rewarding maintenance strategy unlikely.

Failures in Training and Partnering: Indifferent training--not Friedman's comitted "combination of complimentary technology and managerial expertise," but merely the usual rote tool-and-manual employee hand-outs--also can fail to instill the strategic focus and entrepreneurial attitude without which PdM cannot succeed.  Even the finest technical instruction is not adequate: "It is important to take these courses, pass the exams, and become certified, but this training alone will not necessarily translate to running a successful PdM program."  Knowing how to gather, sort, and assess the data is all for naught unless trained maintenance professionals also know what to do with it.

Lack of Procedures & Methodology: "...A successful monitoring program...depends on consistency and repeatable performance."  As Friedman observes, "...one needs to test the assets in a repeatable fashion, month after month and year after year for many years.  When this is understood, one will see that a successful program depends much more on consistency and program management...then it does on technical prowess."

Lack of Experience & Commitment: When one doesn't have experience, it's hard to have commitment, and both of these can be hard to come by in a world where everybody has heard of PdM, but few have extensively used it.  "Even if one has the best intentions and the highest level of commitment," cautions Friedman, "it may take a long time to train an employee or group of employees to the point where they can implement a good maintenance program....Like many things in today's world, PdM is becoming a highly specialized area of expertise where...it takes a great deal of dedication and time, which unfortunately, may not be compatible with the other 100 duties you are expected to care of as part of your other work."

Make now mistake; there are authentic hurdles to overcome if predictive maintenance is to succeed.  However, as Friedman himself concludes, "...understanding why things fail is the key to understanding how to get them to work!"

Photo illustration by Pablo X [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, and Christopher Shannon/KCF Technologies.

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