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What comes first?

I often am asked this question: What do we improve first? Do we start with Root Cause Problem Elimination (RCPE) or do we start with Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling (PMPS)?

I use the term RCPE because it is a waste of good initiatives and time to only find the root cause of a problem, but not fix it. I prefer to use the word problem in the term. A more common way to describe this process is "Root Cause Failure Analysis" (RCFA), but I feel that using the word "failure" often leads to a focus on equipment and maintenance. The word "problem" includes all losses, including operations, quality, speed, and high costs. Eliminating problems is a responsibility shared by operations, maintenance, and engineering departments. PMPS might be two or three different reliability and maintenance processes, but since one cannot be effective without the other, I prefer to bundle these processes into one package.

Proponents of RCFA often argue that it will solve most problems and thus should always come first. I am an advocate for both RCPE and PMPS, so I see myself as objective when answering this question.

My viewpoint is that one activity does not exclude the other, but you must do your PMPS well. If not, RCPE work will typically show that the root cause of many problems is the lack of Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling. You can always do RCPE on selected repetitive, costly problems. However, if you want to become as good as you can be in this area, you must first properly train your frontline leadership, operators, and maintainers, and then give them time to solve problems as part of their daily work.

Up to 30% of all maintenance hours should be devoted to RCPE. This is possible if basic operations and maintenance processes--including PMPS--are well executed. Gradually moving more effort hours to RCPE is the next step in high performance manufacturing organizations. Clearly communicating this as a strategy will remove the perceived negative consequences this can have for a maintenance crew. You will change from a "doing" organization to a "thinking and doing" organization.

In summary, start with improving PMPS and gradually move more efforts into RCPE at the same time as you do RCPE on major problems. To decide which problems will be the subject of RCPE, you must set up some triggers. In a paper mill maintenance organization, the following triggers are often used:

* High risk for personal injury and/or environmental damage.

* Production loss in time, quality, or speed equivalent to more than 3 hours production loss in prime tons.

* Cost in excess of US$ 25,000.

When any of these triggers occur, the mill assigns the problem to an "owner," with the first RCPE report due within 96 hours.

I recently had a follow up meeting with three different paper mills that had followed this advice. Two of the mills mentioned that, to be able to solve any problems at all, they had to raise the trigger from a level of 3 hours of equivalent production loss in prime tons to the equivalent of 8 hours prime tons production loss.

Start on a realistic trigger level and then lower this level gradually as you become better in executing your Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling.

The 19th Annual Pulp & Paper Reliability and Maintenance Conference for operations and maintenance will be held in Atlanta October 10-13, 2005. We have started to develop the program and invite speakers to this event. If you are interested in making a presentation or exhibiting, please contact Attn. Christer Idhammar.



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:

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Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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