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Root Cause Problem Elimination for the frontline.

What's in a name? For one, getting a name right can help to accurately define an issue or a process. In our example, Root Cause Problem Elimination (RCPE) is more commonly known in the industry as Root Cause Analysis (RCA). We prefer the former term. We know of numerous analyses where the root cause has been identified but not eliminated, so RCPE offers a better process. Analysis costs can be expensive, so this process is a good investment only if the identified root cause is eliminated.


I believe that 80% of all reliability problems can and should be solved by the frontline organization. The frontline organization includes supervisors/team leaders, operators, maintenance crafts people, maintenance coordinators, and planners representing both operations and maintenance. In a world class maintenance organization, up to 30% of all hours could be used to do RCPE.

One of the best maintenance organizations I have worked with used 20% of all maintenance hours on RCPE--including a process to shorten duration of critical jobs. Today, this Canadian tissue manufacturer has 30% fewer components in its process lines than when it was built 38 years ago. Its reliability performance is 96%, based on quality performance and 8760 available hours a year. The mill's focus is to eliminate everything that can go wrong. If this organization had instead used a special group of design engineers to do the RCPE, I would not have been surprised to see more complicated components in the process line. This would produce more things that can go wrong and lower reliability.

Before your mill implements a RCPE process, make sure that your planning and scheduling performance has reached 70% or better. If your mill's performance is lower than that, most of the analyses will simply point out that the root causes of most problems are lack of preventive maintenance and poor planning and scheduling.

When your mill significantly improves planning and scheduling performance, the results will include increased maintenance productivity and lower demand for maintenance hours. This may be seen as a threat to jobs and a silent resistance will likely impede results. At this point, you must involve the frontline organization as much as possible in RCPE to drive out the fear of job elimination.

If you can demonstrate that the newly available maintenance hours will be used to do more RCPE, the resulting process will improve reliability and efficiency. Cost reductions will follow reliability improvements due to fewer safety incidents, reduced material and spare parts consumption, lower demand for contractors doing routine maintenance, and attrition through retirement.

If you are able to demonstrate over a two-year period that you are committed to this cultural change, your organization will accept it and grow to like it. Your accomplishments will generate breakthrough results. You will change your organization from a "doing" to a "doing, thinking, and continuously learning" organization.

As you improve maintenance productivity, document all meaningful problems. The digital camera is a good tool for documenting observations and the best people to document maintenance problems are the crafts people; they are often the first to visit "the crime scene."

When you collect well-documented problems, you can build a backlog of problems to be solved. Keep this backlog visible to crafts people. As you free up crafts people's time, assign them to problem solving. Teach them a simple "Why? Why?" analysis to help them structure the analysis. Later, they can learn more advanced RCPE techniques. Solved problems must be documented--preferably with pictures. These documents are great learning tools and motivate the people who solved the problem.


Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:




Mark your calendars for the 20th Annual Pulp and Paper Reliability and Maintenance Conference and Exhibit, October 2-6, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. This is the only event in the world entirely devoted to Reliability and Maintenance for the Pulp and Paper Industry.

John Crowe, CEO and president of Buckeye Technologies, will deliver the keynote address, followed by Daryl Nichols, vice president of Alberta Pacific and Thomas Stiger, president of Solvay Paperboard. Over 20 other speakers from pulp and paper mills--including the best presenters from past conferences--will present case studies. Please visit for more information.
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Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:May 1, 2006
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