KCF Technologies Blog

How teamwork can help us all win in business

By Aaron Spak

It’s springtime, which means Little League season is underway around the country. In these games, youngsters are learning the power of teamwork. It’s consistently reinforced from the pregame warmup to the high-fives at the end of the game. They play their hearts out, but when they get stuck, they know where to look for help – because the coach will be there. At least among the Dads that I coach with, fundamentals and teamwork are the things we stress the most. At 7 and 8 years old, that’s what these kids need.

I had the pleasure of attending the annual awards ceremony for the Manufacturer’s Association of Southcentral PA, where one of KCF’s clients, Glatfelter Paper, was given the 2016 Manufacturing Innovator of the Year award. They received this award because of how effectively they have adopted new technologies to transition to a predictive maintenance strategy. Their success with SmartDiagnostics® has led them to instrument ALL critical machines in their facility.

What was most interesting was listening to their acceptance speech. To Glatfelter, at least as important as the technology is the teamwork associated with making it work successfully. They acknowledged that it was people that made it successful, and that partnering with others is critical to getting the results they wanted. That sums up the secret to success of any new technology or process implementation: you need to build a team around it, define success, measure your progress, and focus on long term improvement. That much everyone knows – the new piece is that teamwork often requires looking outside your company to partners who are dedicated to helping you reach your goals.

KCF’s most successful client relationships are based on mutual dedication to common goals: improving the efficiency of maintenance processes, avoiding waste, and solving the most challenging problems that affect the reliable operation of complex machinery. We’re proud to help Glatfelter achieve recognition for manufacturing innovation, and to be recognized as their partner in improving their maintenance program.

When you are evaluating partners for new technology or different processes, make sure you evaluate their track record of working with their clients through the whole journey. Just as in Little League, it’s teamwork that helps us win in business. Play ball!

How do you bridge the gap between adoption and acceptance?

By Ben Lawrence

You think it’s taking a long time for your team to embrace your latest Industrial IoT plan or Predictive Maintenance (PdM) strategy?  At least you’re not Nils Bohlin.

Nils knew in the 1950s that his simple invention would save tens of thousands of lives every year and cost next to nothing to produce.  And by the 1960s, Bohlin’s invention became a mandatory component of every automobile manufactured for the U.S. market.  His invention?  The seat belt.

Bohlin’s invention should have been an overnight success, right?  Just like you with your IoT and PdM plans, Bohlin checked every box:

  • He designed a tool that was inexpensive and simple to use.
  • The boss (in his case, the U.S. Government) made it mandatory.
  • The marketing department (in his case, the U.S. Department of Transportation) spent millions imploring people to use it.
  • His invention brought more success stories every day of lives being saved.

Hooray!  Seat belts, like your IoT and PdM strategies, make perfect logical sense.  Obviously everyone instantly embraced Bohlin’s invention – as they will your IoT and PdM strategies – and enthusiastically changed their old habits, didn’t they?

Well…  not exactly.

More than twenty years after Bohlin’s seat belts had gone mainstream, usage by the mid-1980s was still a measly 21%. By the mid-1990s, usage was up to 60% – but still, that’s a ridiculous amount of noncompliance with the simplest thing any of us can do to survive a car accident.

Why the gap?

It took decades for drivers and their passengers to get over this mental hurdle…
Old School driver mentality: “If you’re a passenger in my car and you put on your seat belt, you’re telling me you don’t trust my driving skills.  You insult me.”
Old School passenger mentality:  “I don’t want to insult the driver by putting on a seat belt.”

And here, my friends, is the hurdle to your shining new IoT and PdM: No matter how logical your plan or how much proof you have about its effectiveness, few of your colleagues are going to be as excited as you until they understand that you’re not implementing this because they’re incompetent, but rather you’re implementing this to enhance the great work they already do and to keep them safe.

How can you avoid poor Nils Bohlin’s decades-long gap between implementation and acceptance?  One way is to celebrate your maintenance team’s downtime avoidances as much as you celebrate their reactive saves.  Another might be to reward your team based on how much downtime they erase from the historical averages.

In my opinion, companies place too much emphasis on the logical argument for implementing IoT and PdM (cost savings, ROI, downtime, more data, increased production) and not enough emphasis on formulating the best incentives and recognition for their front-line employees to quickly, enthusiastically use it.

What are your thoughts on implementing these strategies?  How is your company avoiding the Nils Bohlin “adoption lag” when rolling out new technologies or maintenance practices?

Northeast paper plant gains competitive advantage with predictive maintenance

By Ben Lawrence

Ensuring smooth functionality of a winder machine is a herculean task. First, it’s huge. It’s impossible to get a sense of the scale of one of these machines without standing next to it. Second, it’s multi-faceted, made up of various components performing different tasks that must work together in concert. Third, it’s complex, constantly running under different conditions, loads, paper types and combinations of other factors.

The critical points within a winder machine that must operate at optimum performance are numerous. To monitor the health of each point has been difficult and hazardous; to get a picture of the machine’s overall health, under different operating conditions, has been impossible.

Enter preventive maintenance. Change out components, replace parts, run your machine to failure. The reality is that preventive practices will catch and avoid a failure only 20% of the time. That’s right—80% of the time, preventive maintenance is a waste of resources. Worse, each preventive operation comes at the risk of safety to your crew or accidental damage to your equipment.

Now there’s a new way, as a small paper plant in the Northeast learned after reaching its breaking point. Literally.

Facing recurring failures on its winder, the plant called on KCF Technologies engineers to add our SmartDiagnostics® sensors to critical points on the machine. Onsite set ensured that every sensor was properly placed and figured to alarm threshold, and ongoing monitoring by KCF’s team yielded quick troubleshooting. Our engineers’ analysis of the data captured by the sensors revealed not only which component in the machine was failing, but also WHY it was failing. The component was undersized and unable to handle the pressure being applied by the machine.

Enter predictive maintenance. Tools like SmartDiagnostics® sensors are changing the game by letting you catch failures under changing and unique operating conditions and isolate individual component failures more quickly.

Even more impactful, predictive monitoring allows our engineers to study the entire machine or system, NOT just the health of an individual component at a specific point. The resulting analysis indicates WHY a failure is recurring, in the case of our plant in Pennsylvania, or how to predict and avoid failures in the future.   

With downtime costs at as much as $40,000 per hour for a winder machine—plus the cost for temporary fixes and lost customers—predictive maintenance has been a game-changer for this small Northeast paper plant. After more than a century, the plant is regaining a competitive advantage by getting predictive.  What they lack in size and power they make up for with the intelligence and agility offered by SmartDiagnostics® predictive tools.

The Opposite Approach

By Jeremy Frank

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” – George Costanza – Seinfeld Episode #86 – The Opposite

I was interviewed recently by Frost & Sullivan as part of a market research article on condition monitoring in oil & gas applications.  The article was posted last week, and begins as you might imagine… “We've all heard the horror stories: oil prices declining by 70%, capital expenditure (CAPEX) declining by 25-50%, rig count declining by 80%. Globally, the oil and gas industry is reeling, with oil prices breaching the $30 per barrel mark.”

The article goes on to provide an insightful and informative perspective on the fast-changing and currently dire state of the oil & gas market in general, and Condition Monitoring specifically.

It’s a worthwhile read (you can check it out here), and really got me thinking. Not about the global oil & gas market… about one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes of all time: The Opposite.  It’s the one where George, after a lifetime of continuous failure and disappointment, decides to start doing the exact opposite of what his instinct tells him.  Instantly, everything starts going right for him, and all that he wants falls right into his lap.

There are some real parallels between the comedy genius of Seinfeld and the ongoing comedy of choices that we make in our daily lives. It’s wired into our DNA, right? It’s the lasting effect of our reptilian brain that gives us our fight-or-flight response. Often in the face of a crisis, we run, or more bury our heads in the sand (or a pillow) until the trouble has passed.  Or, we make irrational choices based on fear. We adopt a mob mentality, following the crowd.  Think of the folks who lost confidence in the stock market in 2008, only to stuff their money under the mattress and watch the market more than double over the next few years.  Oops.

My point isn’t to comment on the projections in oil & gas prices, or anything markets trends in general.  That’s not what I do with my time.  It’s a take on the companies (our customers and their competitors) who are operating in the current environment of fear and uncertainty.  I’m seeing two types of behaviors:

1) companies who are waiting it out, hoping it won’t get any worse, cutting costs on ridiculous things like coffee, meals and benefits, or more serious things like training and safety.

2) companies who are taking a good, hard look at the challenges and opportunities presented by the market, and making strategic investments to run more intelligently, more efficiently and more safely.

I feel fortunate that the companies we work with fall squarely in the second camp. Just like George Costanza, they are resisting the temptation of fear-based actions and doing the exact opposite of their competitors.  Having seen this episode, I’m pretty sure how it will turn out!

“No, because…” or “Yes, if…”

By Aaron Spak

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to and working with many different companies to figure out how use mechanical systems more efficiently and have them perform more reliably. When it comes to making improvements, the reactions to change – to doing something differently or to trying something new – almost always take the form of one of those two reactions: “Yes, if,” or “No, because.”

Let’s look at them more closely.

The “No, because” camp quickly analyzes the proposed change to the status quo and seizes on any possible reason things might be difficult or go awry. They are good at protecting themselves and their company from that risk, and are incentivized to do so. They will say things like, “No, that approach won’t work because the software doesn’t have feature X,” or “No, that won’t work because we need 6 months of warning and not 3 months before a failure.”

The “Yes, if” camp is much more positive. They are focused on the business result while still acknowledging the risk that comes from any departure from the norm. “Yes, this could work, if we made sure that the right security protocol is in place.” Or, “Yes, we could use this to improve bottom line results, if we can get production onboard with the idea.”

Companies that focus on the outcome of improvement initiatives and the business results that come from doing things more efficiently will find success faster than those who focus on a preconceived technical solution. There is rarely ever just one right answer and there is real advantage that comes from letting different, creative, and challenging solutions come through. You’ll still identify and manage the risk but you’re now open to innovation. Try the “Yes, if” approach for a while (if you don’t do it already) and let me know how it goes! You’ll open the door to many more possible solutions, reach the finish line faster, and have more fun doing it.

Three questions to help you avoid squandering your technology investment

By Ben Lawrence

KCF offers a cutting edge technology that predicts the future. Seriously.

An industrial plant can peer into our “crystal ball” technology and know days, even weeks, in advance where the next machine failure or safety incident is going to occur. Game-changer, right? You’d think.

Believe it or not, some companies have purchased and installed our innovative predictive technology only to ignore it.

What would make a company squander an investment like this? Especially one with so much potential to impact performance, productivity, profitability, and safety?

Let’s face it: knowing what the future holds sounds exciting but in reality, it’s scary. What happens when the crystal ball tells you things you don’t want to hear, like your maintenance routine—the one you’ve followed for the last thirty years—is flawed?  How about when the crystal ball starts stealing your thunder, avoiding machine failures that you’re being paid to bravely extinguish?

When new technology challenges your comfortable habits or threatens your income or performance recognition, you might be tempted to pretend it doesn’t exist. Sometimes, that’s exactly what happens.

Here’s how to make sure it doesn’t happen to you:

The next time you fall in love with a new technology—and we want you to fall in love with ours—before you invest in deploying it across your organization, go through this simple checklist.

  • Is my team willing to change old habits?
  • Do we have the resources to also invest in training our front line employees on how to use it and why it’s so critical?
  • Does our management team have a plan to recognize and reward, or redeploy, employees whose jobs could change as a result?

Best-in-class organizations in chemical, oil & gas, paper, food & beverage, automotive, and other industries are doing it right.  I have the insight to help you do it, too.

The future looks bright. Are you ready to peer into the crystal ball?

The ABC’s of the Near-Future Industrial World

By Jeremy Frank

You already have a calendar that reminds you when to change the bearings in your plant’s equipment? Nice work, you’ve checked the box on preventive maintenance. You already take occasional vibration readings on your machinery? That’s great – you’ve progressed to the predictive maintenance world!
But let’s face it, unless your plant is already bursting with wireless sensors and featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics, chances are there’s a serious gap between where your plant is today and where it soon must be.
Just as the Internet of Things (IoT) now dictates how many steps you’ll take today (the Fitbit you got for Christmas), the IoT is now dictating when your machines need maintenance. Let me tell you, the days of wired sensor systems that cost more than a Porsche are quickly coming to an end. Even time-based calendars that tell you when to change bearings are going the way of the dinosaur. And that IT Manager who’s blocking your access to the Internet and cloud-based tools? Sorry to break it to them, but Mr. Anti-Cloud is the most doomed dinosaur of all.
The future is:
        A) wireless,
        B) cloud-based and
        C) predictive

It’s inevitable that the industrial world will soon be crawling with “smart” machines. Granted, these “smart” machines will be like your iPhone: hundreds of features available but only a handful that most of us will ever use. But again, the features you WILL use include A, B and C.
“Ha!” you respond. “Maybe a few companies will jump on this technology bandwagon but my company’s been using the same equipment and the same maintenance methods for decades. No way our leadership will drop money on this stuff. Ain’t nothing gonna change around here!”
You may be right, but someone else in your industry is going to sneak up and surprise you. For example, I know one David company in the Goliath oil and gas industry who’s quickly embraced A, B and C and they are absolutely killing the Big Three. This innovative company is now saving more money on maintenance than their competition believes is possible. While the big boys are desperately fighting to keep 30 percent of their teams employed, this company is at 100 percent capacity and growing faster than anyone.
Another relatively small company in the paper industry just crushed the Big Boy competition on quality and turnaround time.
In today’s world, smart trumps big; agile trumps deep pockets.
The ABC’s: wireless, cloud-based and predictive.
How does your team score in these three areas? And more importantly, where can you begin this journey without breaking the bank?
We’d love to hear your feedback, or give us a call any time to explore a few simple ways to get started.

One successful strategy to implement the Internet-of-Things in your factory

By Jeremy Frank        
Start small and one machine at a time

When I asked about his motivation for a vibration monitoring program, a director of maintenance and reliability within the automotive industry summed it up nicely: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

What he means is that PdM managers are sometimes asked to do the impossible. Prevent failures, decrease downtime and keep our factories safe as if we were psychics. But we’re engineers, not psychics, and we need data and scientific methods to be successful.

How the Climate Pledge Makes PdM Priority No. 1 for Every Factory in the Country

By Jeremy Frank                                                                                       

This month the White House announced a total of 154 companies have joined the American Business Act on Climate Pledge ranging from Alcoa to Volvo.

With this announcement, the companies pledge to do something about climate change and contribute to a low-carbon, sustainable future. This is a big deal for the manufacturing world. These companies operate in all 50 states, employ nearly 11 million people, represent more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue, and have a combined market capitalization of over $7 trillion.

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