Criticality – Now and Forever? Guest Post: Cliff Williams

If you’ve done a criticality analysis, can you set it and forget it?

CliffWilliams_ForWebGuest Post by Cliff Williams, Corporate Maintenance Manager, ERCO Worldwide and Principal Advisor, Maintenance and Reliability for People and Processes, Inc.

I was sitting with a maintenance team and listening to all of their good work. I thought I’d peel back some layers of the onion.

“So you seem to have good maintenance strategies in place but you haven’t really talked about your criticality analysis – I assume you’ve done one?”

This question got me some funny looks from the group.

‘Of course we did, what do you think we used when we were developing those strategies – we just plucked them out of thin air?”

I had obviously insulted my hosts but I couldn’t resist poking a little more at the layers.

“When did you guys do this analysis?”

“Well, I think it was about five years ago we carried it out,” offered the maintenance manager.

“No I think it’s closer to 10 years,” said the planner this time. “I remember because I was part of the corporate team that developed it. Remember we did the smart thing and figured if we got all of the plants together we could actually decide on the criticality from the company-wide view – especially as we had so many plants running the same product.”

“I guess you’re right, because pretty much all of the plants have been closed for six years now and we’ve had the upgrade that long,” conceded the maintenance manager.

They obviously didn’t see anything wrong with this, so it was time to remove another layer.

“So you are using the criticality that you decided on 10 years ago?”

“It wasn’t just us! It was people from the other plants and we had input from the operations group, safety people and the environmental manager!”

“I’m sure you did a great job 10 years ago but my point is – it was 10 years ago! As you said many of the plants produced the same products. Did you take that into consideration in the exercise?” I asked.

“Of course. As we said it was deliberate and so even though we thought a particular piece was critical for us, it wasn’t really critical for the company and could easily be covered by one of the other plants. Especially as we weren’t sold out at the time.”

I couldn’t resist. “So those pieces of equipment – are they still the same ones you have now?”

“Some are, some aren’t – they’ve been upgraded and can handle more products now,” they told me.

Does any of this or all of this ring a bell with you? These guys had spent the last three years working really hard on getting their maintenance strategies right, they had taken failure modes and effects into consideration and thought that they were set to go. What they hadn’t realized was that they had based all of the decisions on corrupt information. When I asked whether some of the equipment that had been covered by other plants had been covered by additions to this plant, the answer was no. When I asked whether they would have given it different criticality 10 years ago if that were the case, they started to see my point.

When operations change, whether internally or externally, the criticality is likely to change also. When we talked about the equipment that had started to produce more product they quickly pointed out that its criticality may also have changed. And when I asked them to consider if they may now have equipment that, if it failed, would cause a bottleneck when before it didn’t matter, they started to be discouraged and when I asked if they were sold out now- the answer was yes- the heads started to drop as they realized that there were many more things that impacted equipment criticality.

I pointed out that they obviously had the ability to develop an excellent criticality analysis but they needed to understand that it wasn’t a ‘one-off’ exercise. It had to be a dynamic system and if there were any changes to the criteria they used to develop criticality – they had great definitions around this – then they had to review whether it needed to be changed. They picked their heads up and got quite enthused by the whole idea .

‘That’s it! Any time we have any of these projects set up, we’re going to insist that a review of the criticality is a deliverable. That way we can be sure of doing the right thing from the start instead of waiting until it fails before we look at our strategy!”

But that’s another blog…