Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Maintenance In The Weeds (part 2)

"I'm management, and I'm here to help. Is it fixed yet?"

Let's add a small complication to the earlier story. Assume none of those situations happened. Instead, assume the loose bracket has caused the tool arm to get "slightly" bent. Now the machine doesn't work quite right, and the operator realizes something is wrong. Late on Friday afternoon, our technician notices the loose bracket, tightens it, and releases the machine to its operator. However, on Monday the machine still doesn't work properly. After one shift of difficult operation, it is shut down again. More than one shift of capacity has been lost, but the official downtime clock begins ticking now.

[ Caution to reader: If you are prone to debilitating fits of anxiety, stop reading here and please stay away from maintenance operations. ]

Sequence of events:
- A few technicians try a few familiar fixes without improving the symptom. Downtime clock: 1 day.
- The senior tech provides new options and technicians try a few more potential fixes without improving the symptom. Downtime clock: 2 days.
- Manager reminds everybody of the critical need for capacity, assigns senior tech as problem owner, and assures Production Scheduler that problem will be fixed soon (poor gamble, but the words are calming). Senior tech applies every known trick without improving the symptom. Downtime clock: 4 days.
- Every two hours, manager reminds team of the critical need for capacity. Senior tech's ideas are exhausted, asks for help. Manager assures everybody that machine will be fixed soon, prepares for meeting with Boss. Downtime clock: 5 days.
- Equipment Supplier Company (ESC) is asked to advise. They join conference calls and provide lists of checks & adjustments. Symptom is unresolved. Downtime clock: 9 days.
- VP politely inquires about the capacity problem. Boss reminds manager of the critical need for capacity. Manager begins to doubt career choice again. Boss asks whether everybody in Support Department was working on this problem all weekend and if not why not. After some words are exchanged, Manager explains that ESC cannot arrive before tomorrow. Boss asks if ESC should have been called earlier. Downtime clock: 10 days.
- ESC field service representative arrives and carefully makes routine checks & adjustments (repeating actions on the lists). Downtime clock: 12 days.
- While working Saturday, ESC representative notices that measurements of tool arm alignment were unusual. After a brief discussion, the tool arm is replaced. The machine is repaired and ready for Monday. Downtime clock: 13 days.
- The formal report from ESC representative says. "I don't know how you did it, but the tool arm was bent. I've never seen that before. None of our other customers have ever mentioned any problems with it. Glad I could help!"

This totally hypothetical story featured no winners. A Greek Tragedy, but without heroes or bonuses. Several good people tried & failed, including the ESC expert (fixed a problem, but didn’t resolve the hidden root cause).

An ugly, sticky mess like this is always within reach. For prevention, the best strategy is always the same: continuously improve your probability of success.

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