Monday, January 9, 2012


Sustainable industrial enterprises maximise competitive advantage through pollution prevention, the efficient use of resources, the provision of a safe working environment, the sale of sustainable products that are safe to use, excellence in operations and of course socially responsible practices. If we take the time to think about it, we quickly realise that very few, if any, of an organisation’s management disciplines do not have a bearing on these outcomes.
From Human Resources to Finance, Risk Management to Engineering, Logistics to Procurement, all functions affect an organisation’s sustainability performance. Fundamentally, this is why an organisation that wishes to become sustainable has to embark on an organisation-wide change initiative. Risk assessment and mitigation is, I believe, at the heart of such change.  
I find that in many organisations, the maintenance function is seldom on board with issues of sustainability, aside from prolonging asset life and maintaining production levels. The issue comes down to how maintenance programmes are developed, and the irony of this situation is that the frameworks used for maintenance programme development are eminently well suited to the identification and prevention of machine-related sustainability risks.
Maintenance programme development is about identifying potential failures and then devising appropriate preventive maintenance tasks to prevent those failures from occurring in the first place. Alternatively, certain failures may be allowed to happen on the understanding that their consequences are too small to warrant preventive action and that once they occur, they will be detected rapidly and corrected. Thus the preventive maintenance effort specified is a function of the consequences and probability of failure. Of course, where safety risks are concerned, these are given due priority, even if their probability is low. Safety is traditionally given due consideration in most maintenance programmes, not least because of the legal implications of safety incidents. Maintenance tasks can involve the monitoring of condition (and here a wide and growing portfolio of technologies and work practices are available to maintenance practitioners), basic operator tasks such as cleaning, lubrication and tightening, and specialist maintenance tasks involving reconditioning or replacement of components.
What is a failure? This is an absolutely vital definition which sets the tone for the entire maintenance programme development process. A failure occurs when an item loses its ability to function as designed. One of the first steps in failure identification is to define the function of every component being analysed accurately and comprehensively. Hence the function of a gasket may not only be to contain product inside a pipeline (economic), but also to prevent water pollution arising from spills (environmental and safety of local communities), as well as to keep employees safe in the case of high-temperature product (safety). The failure mode may be identical for each of these issues, but clearly the consequences are very different.
Failure identification and the quantification of the consequences of failure are typically achieved by assessing machines at the component/sub-component level, brainstorming potential failures for each component and assessing the consequences of failure on a ranking scale. It is crucial that while this exercise begins at the micro level, individual failure consequences are considered at the system level, looking first at the machine, then its role in the production line, within the entire organisation and ultimately the wider environment. It is at this crucial step in preventive maintenance programme development that issues of sustainability are best integrated into the maintenance effort.
The best vehicle for achieving this is in my experience the Failure Modes, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) framework, but in itself it will not deliver a comprehensive, sustainability-focused risk analysis. It is vital that the team that participates in the analysis is comprised of individuals with the competencies necessary to identify sustainability risks. This means that maintenance programme development cannot be the sole preserve of maintenance engineers, technicians and artisans, and must involve operational specialists. It is also important that the FMECA is facilitated by a knowledgeable process expert who can ask the correct questions of the subject matter experts and elicit a comprehensive risk assessment.
While most maintenance programmes are designed to prolong asset life and maximise machine uptime, the sustainability-focused maintenance programme must not only consider failures that could result in consequential damage and employee safety risks, and which could reduce throughput, but also those which could result in product safety risks (including food safety), product quality problems (which could lead to rework or material losses or affect business through reduced sales), pollution of air land and water, reductions in energy efficiency, losses of materials and  wastage of water among others. It is not unusual for the failure of a single component to impact on a number of these issues, and it is easy to appreciate the depth of knowledge needed to link individual failures to these impacts. Once individual failures have been analysed, decision trees such as MSG3 can be applied to develop appropriate tasks. In this regard, the work of Nowlan and Heap (Reliability Centred Maintenance), developed over three decades ago to deal with preventive maintenance in the airline industry, remains relevant to this day.
A point I want to leave you with is that the failure of a component depends on two fundamental things – the stress placed on that component and the component’s resistance to failure. The latter is a function of design and statistical variations between individual components. The former is a function of how the machine concerned is operated, and will include operator work practices, the effectiveness of maintenance processes (here I refer specifically to consequential damage) and even factors such as the nature of the raw materials being processed. Maintenance in itself cannot guarantee robust environmental performance, and for this other side of the equation, it is vital that quality management systems are developed with the same rigour as preventive maintenance programmes.
I will illustrate some of these concepts with a maintenance case study in a future post, so stay tuned.