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When Planning & Scheduling May Not Be the Problem


I often ask my kids, "What did you learn at school today?" and they universally reply, "Nothing." My son is about to graduate high school; according to him, he has learned "nothing" in the last 12 years.

Looking back at my time as a maintenance superintendent, we repeatedly went through cycles of Planning & Scheduling training. I used to ask the planners what they learned in planning training and their reply was always the same: "Nothing." When I would inquire deeper, I'd often hear that the instructor passed out a check sheet of information every work order should contain; they'd spend several days discussing it, but that was pretty much all.

As for the scheduling training, the instructor would go over some scheme about the frequency of weekly and outage scheduling/backlog review—you know the drill. "Every Thursday we have a Planning & Scheduling meeting where we review work orders (W.O.) that are:

• 4 weeks out and are planned to 50 percent,
• 3 weeks out and are planned to 65 percent,
• 2 weeks out and are planned to 90 percent."

In addition to W.O. readiness requirements, the instructor would make two more pronouncements:

1. There will be a cut-off or "drop dead" date where no more W.O. can be added before an outage. Theoretically, this sounds great, but if a piece of equipment shows no signs of needing an overhaul until the day before the outage, are we going to work on it anyway? Sure we are. The cut-off date is an appropriate Planning & Scheduling tool, but it is most often misunderstood and misused.

2. The second instructor pronouncement revolves around a list of folks who are required to attend all weekly and outage Planning & Scheduling meetings. Again, this is the correct thing to do, but within a few weeks the required attendees… are no longer required.

If this doesn't sound like your organization, congratulations! You are probably doing things right. However, if this does sound familiar, I have some suggestions that will help. As you can probably guess, there is no easy fix—this is both a culture change AND a knowledge change problem.

Impediments to Planning & Scheduling
Here's the real issue: everyone knows that Planning & Scheduling is good, so why don't we do it? From my experience, certain major impediments are in place. These include:

A. Goals are in conflict between maintenance and operations. For instance, "we planned and scheduled the work to begin a week from tomorrow, but production has not met its daily target average and if we take the outage we risk not meeting the monthly reporting target."

B. We value reactive maintenance over proactive maintenance. Let's face it, firefighting is more fun and certainly more gratifying. I know of a mill that created a class of W.O. called "If Down." These were 100 percent opportunistic maintenance W.O.s listing everything maintenance could work on if something else broke. At best, these W.O.s are proactively reactive.

C. Backlogs grow instead of shrinking. Every week we review the backlog and find work orders that no one knows why they are there. Even worse? The person listed as creating the W.O. claims to know nothing about it, but no one has the courage to "kill it."

D. No one understands the difference between a W.O. "want" and a W.O. "need." maintenance is forced to execute on a W.O. just because someone said so, though everyone else knows there is only negative value if the W.O. is executed.

E. A "want" W.O. is converted to a "safety" W.O. just to get it done. Enough said.

F. Maintenance downtime is used to balance production losses or market downtime. Here is an example. Production must be cut because the downstream customer is full, but our KPIs are based on theoretical run rates. So, we take the opportunity to "fix" equipment so we can blame the reduced run rates on maintenance. (Mills usually get into this state by running to "tank levels" and not to a "steady state.")

G. Our KPIs spend too much time focused on the past. An accomplished reliability engineer I know quotes the 1976 movie Gumball Rally, a racing movie in which one character, an Italian race car driver, forcefully removes his car's rearview mirror and states, "The first rule is, whats-a behind me is not important." There's nothing like a month-end review in the middle of next month to talk about where you are going to be 15 days ago.

These are just a few impediments; I'm sure you can come up with many more. The take-away is that all of these impediments result from the same underlying cause: a lack of knowledge related to the fundamentals of maintenance and reliability.

Planning & Scheduling is often lumped into the category of "Blocking & Tackling"—i.e., the fundamentals that must be in place before anything is accomplished. But maybe Planning & Scheduling is not a fundamental. Maybe we need to understand the actual fundamentals before we can Plan & Schedule correctly. Some of these actual fundamentals of maintenance and reliability are:

1. 80% (±) of all equipment failures occur randomly.
2. Most equipment failures follow a degradation curve.
3. The human senses are capable of detecting 80 percent (±) of failed states—we don't necessarily need technology.
4. The people who work closest to failing equipment are the subject matter experts (SME).
5. Data are not required to begin reliability work, only the SME's knowledge.
6. It is vital to consider how a failure affects safety, environment, quality, and/or production. Under no circumstance should the consequence of failure or criticality be allowed to determine frequency of inspection.
7. As risk is inherent in everything we do, we must define what level of risk is tolerable.
8. Assets can only perform as well as they are designed, installed, operated, and maintained. We must understand what our equipment "can" do vs. what we "want" it to do.
9. Failure modes (root causes of failure) occur in three ways: suddenly, over a period of time, or hidden.

Applying the Fundamentals
With an understanding of these fundamental principles we can see how they relate to the impediments of Planning & Scheduling.

A. Goals are in conflict between maintenance and operations. See Principle 8. All equipment is put into service to do something specific; it can only deliver so much. Often, we want more from our equipment than it can do.

B. We value reactive maintenance over proactive maintenance. The principle that we violate here is not confined to maintenance & reliability. This principle is a universal human response—we repeat what brings us reward. So, what are you rewarding in your facility: the hero that saves the day and gets you out of the ditch, or the person on a proactive inspection who finds a missing cotter pin that, if not found and replaced, could throw you into that ditch?

C. Backlogs grow instead of shrinking. See Principle 6. If the W.O. does not address a potential failure that effects safety, environment, quality, or productivity/profitability, then the W.O. is probably not worth doing. Also understand how Principles 1 & 2, if not understood, could result in ballooning backlogs.

D. No one understands the difference between a W.O. "want" and a W.O. "need." Principle 7 can guide us here. If the W.O. "want" is driven by the desire to reduce risk, we must understand that zero risk is unattainable. We can reduce risk to a tolerable level; we just need the courage to define what level of risk is tolerable.

E. A "want" W.O. is converted to a "safety" W.O. just to get it done. See Principle 6. Beware of people who label a W.O. "safety" just to accomplish their goals. In Principle 4, we see who the real equipment experts are. Consult the SME if conflicts arise when deciding if something is or is not a safety concern.

F. Maintenance downtime is used to balance production losses or market downtime. This is completely reward-based, just like B; but instead of praise and exaltation, this reward is almost always financial, in the form of the yearly bonus. This reward will destroy any hopes of a cohesive, collegial environment between operations and maintenance.

G. Our KPIs spend too much time focused on the past. It is rare that we embrace Principle 4 and ask the SME which KPIs will work best for them. Instead, we force-feed existing or new corporate KPIs onto them. Focus on KPIs that tell us where we are going, not where we have been.

Understanding these nine principles, along with the concept of cultural rewards, are the foundation of Maintenance & Reliability. These are the true fundamentals—the "Blocking & Tackling"—that we are often missing. These nine principles are not taught or well understood in most mills and the elements of culture are even less understood.

If we continually cycle through the same Planning & Scheduling training without sustaining the benefits, there must be something wrong. At the mills I have visited, when Planning & Scheduling was an issue, the seven impediments were almost always present. The reason? The mill did not understand the nine fundamental principles of maintenance and reliability and did not understand cultural rewards. If you set your mill toward a better understanding of these principles and concepts, things will improve.

Thank you for reading this article. I also want to thank Dave Massey and Lane Mason for lending their expertise and experience to this discussion. For more information on the fundamentals of maintenance and reliability and culture change management, visit the TAPPI bookstore and pick up a copy of The Reliability Leadership Connection.

Jay Shellogg has spent the last 16 years of his career working at a large pulp and paper mill as a senior environmental engineer and maintenance/reliability superintendent. Contact him at jayshellogg@strategicmaint.com.


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