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Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Is Needed For Aging Plants

Levi Zeigler April 03, 2018 0 comments

The Industrial Revolution:

Industrial Revolution: Wikipedia states that “The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840.”

Today we continue to have new manufacturing process which require new methods for maintaining the equipment. In many cases competition for the same or similar products is very great and profit margins are critical.

Profits are made by maintaining productivity at the highest level as possible. Every percentage point of lost production time comes off the bottom line from a profit point of view. One percent (1%) loss of production time equals:

  1. 1-eight-hour shift 50 weeks a year equals 20 hours of downtime
    1. Multiply 20 hours X personnel involved X cost per hour
  2. 2-eight-hour shift 50 weeks a year equals 40 hours of downtime
    1. Multiply 40 hours X personnel involved X cost per hour
  3. 3-eight-hour shift 50 weeks a year equals 60 hours of downtime
  4. Multiply 60 hours X personnel involved X cost per hour

Today many businesses have aging plants and all associated infrastructure components. In many cases this adds additional money to the maintenance budget that newer plants do not require. However, even new plants with new equipment have production failures.

Benjamin Franklin was a very vocal man during the start of the Industrial Revolution as well as the American Revolution. He was also good at giving very conservative advice. Here are four of my favorite ones.

  1. Time is money
  2. A penny saved is two pence clear
  3. Lost time is never found again
  4. Wise men don't need advice. Fools won't take it.

From a financial and production standpoint each of these statements are still valid today.

Every plant in the world has downtime. The basic two methods for downtime repair are the reactive method and the pro-active method. The first step in both of these methods is to get the production back on-line as quickly as possible. However, in the reactive method that is the only step. The pro-active method requires additional steps to prevent the same or similar downtime from reoccurring which usually is defined as root cause analysis (RCA). Not every plant in the world uses RCA to locate the root cause(s) of the downtime. 

Definition of reactive: Done in response to a problem or situation, reacting to problems when they occur instead of doing something to prevent them

Reactive Example: A circuit breaker constantly is randomly tripping, you know that simply resetting it has not stopped it from tripping. However, no one knows why it keeps tripping so it is reset and everyone waits for it to trip again.

  1. When the root cause of the random breaker tripping is not located and corrected the breaker continues to be reset over and over again.
    1. When the breaker is reset we know that it does not have a phase to ground fault
    2. It is obvious that something else is causing the breaker to trip
  2. Partial or total production stops during the time it takes for resetting the breaker
    1. Repetitive production stops cause profit losses
  3. Finding the root cause of this circuit breaker random tripping will save production time once it is located and corrected

Definition of proactive: Creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened.

Proactive Example: A motor fails technician or electrician finds the bad motor, naturally it is repaired or replaced as quickly as possible and then the technician or electrician:

  1. Logs the date and time of the failure
  2. Logs the environmental conditions (Storm, Start of Production, Stopping of Production, Change of Shifts, etc.)
  3. Find out how old the motor was
  4. Find out if the motor failed before
  5. Takes voltage readings (less than 5% drop)
  6. Find out the circuit breaker size for the motor. The National Electrical Code (NEC) Sec. 430.6(A)(1) stipulates that the currents indicated in the current tables at the end of Art. 430 must be used to determine the ratings instead of the actual nameplate current rating
  7. Take current readings for the new motor during load conditions and compare them to the National Electrical Code (NEC) requirement
  8. Take temperature reading of the motor and surrounding area with a thermal imaging camera
  9. Observer conditions where motor is located (wet, moist, dusty, mounting condition, etc.)
  10. Take whatever steps are necessary depending on the results for the above steps.

The proactive method is more commonly known as Root Cause Analysis (RCA). RCA is a systematic process to identify the actual root cause(s) for problems or events to component failure(s). and an approach for responding to them. RCA is an effective management practice to find the original problem and prevent similar problem from reoccurring in the future.

Naturally RCA problem-solving requires more time to gather and log data but is gives a very solid history for the problem and verifies that all conditions to give the device its full live-cycle are in place. 

The Root cause of most problems can be broken into three groups.

  1. Physical – When it is electrical you can usually see, touch or smell where the failure is.
  2. Systematic – When it is electrical may be more difficult to locate. These may have several different steps to locate what the issue really is. Testing and data collection may be required by qualified person.
  3. Human – When it is electrical it may be due to in judgment and behavior of humans. It could also be lack of procedures, communication, training, documentation, etc.

Here are some benefits that can be gained from performing the RCA method:

  1. The equipment effectiveness overall will be improved. The equipment will be available for production more often. A hard copy equipment history log is created for each piece of equipment that is available to all personnel for the life of the equipment. Downtime and cost of downtime is tracked for better financial clarity.
  2. Cost reduction, less operational, maintenance, and administrative resources are required to keep the equipment operating
  3. Train and education, those involved in an RCA will gain experience with a greater understanding of how the equipment operates and what can affect its performance. This knowledge is documented and can be passed on to the appropriate individuals. The lessons learned can be shared with other sites that have the same or similar equipment. The workforce will become familiar with the RCA process and more adept at performing future RCA
  4. Safety and the environment, some failures can affect the environmental and safety performance of the equipment. Reducing or eliminating those failures can prevent injury or damage to the environment.
  5. Mental Health, chronic problem machines can cause fatigue & frustration for those operating and maintaining them. Equipment problems corrected via an RC can improve the morale of the workforce and validate the RCA process

If just starting the RCA process in a plant it will take time, planning and leadership to get it implemented and everyone on board with the method. Questions will be asked about the production process and what anyone noticed before, during or after time of the failure. Everyone in the plant must take ownership of their position and responsibilities.

RCA will increase the productivity of the plant and increase profits. However, it will not happen overnight.



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