Monthly Archives: August 2011

the $5 Screwdriver

During an unplanned outage every minute that you can save brings the plant online faster. I know that sounds obvious. Once when I was running a plant we were waiting on a job to finish to start the unit up. I went up to look at the job and much to my dismay there was a mechanic inside the boiler, sitting in there doing nothing. Naturally, everyone understands how important it is to get the unit up and online, making money. I was very confused why the mechanic was just sitting there. Being the inquiring person that I am, I yelled into the boiler “Are you ok?” The response was “Yes, I am ok.” Ok, the guys ok and yet still no action. I became more confused. After what seemed to be an eternity (most likely 5 – 10 seconds) I shouted “What are you waiting for?” The reply came back “John went to get me a screwdriver.” So there I am, tens of thousands of dollars an hour being wasted for lack of a $5 screwdriver. Needless to say I was non-plused. For the safety of everyone involved, I opted to leave the side of the boiler in the hands of the maintenance foreman whom assured me they would have the screwdriver there pronto.

While sitting in my office, as the boiler was coming up, I ruminated about what had went wrong. My team was Cracker Jack. That is not said lightly. How could they let a $5 screwdriver hold up the outage? I decided I would hold a meeting and ask the men to critique their performance on the outage.

At the meeting, the maintenance department had no constructive improvements on their performance during the outage. I was beside myself. Finally I let out what I’m sure was a loud burst titled “What about the $&!* SCREWDRIVER?!” The response I got back made me stop in my tracks. The reason why we had to wait on the screwdriver was because the “one” they had laid out for the job fell in the boiler. I then responded “We always drop stuff in the boiler, why didn’t you lay out two, three, a dozen?” The answer was that they didn’t want to cost the plant more money in materials. That’s when I realized they had no idea how much things cost and how much revenue we were missing for every hour the boiler was down.

Moral of the Story

Outages are different. Day to day operations of a plant is of one mind set. Outages are simply of a different mindset. If you try to do an outage in an operational mind set, it will take longer and cost more.

Rule of Thumb

Establish what a boiler down day is worth in your plant and then post it all over the plant. This was you went get caught saving pennies while burning tens of thousands of dollars.

Lesson’s in Field Leadership

As a Power Plant Turnaround Specialist, I would Go Where it was Broke and Fix It.This could mean a piece of equipment, a project, a process, a department or an entire facility.

One of the facilities that I helped turn around had notoriously bad outages. They traditionally over ran schedules and budgets by 20% to 30%. My first outage at this new facility was going extremely well. I had the right contractors, the right plan and we were saving time and money off the budgeted amounts of each of these items.

However, at the end of this outage, I could not get the team to adequately close out the boiler. We wasted approximately 3 extra shifts in an effort to get it done.

I was determined not to let this happen on future outages, so I deliberated and planned fervently when the Hydro Time and Date should be (on the next outage)- Friday at 7:00pm. At the outage morning meeting on wednesday, I put the Hydro Time and Date on the Board, and an interesting thing happened. People started to look at their jobs based on the Hydro Time I had posted. Mystically, we hit the Hydro Time within an hour or two.

For Subsequent outages, I spent less and less time deliberating about a Hydro Time and Date to a point when I just used to “Make it Up.” After 2 years and 10 outages we never missed a Hydro Time or Date by more than 6 hours.

Moral of the Story The best way to complete a project in a timely manner is to set and enforce a specific and reasonable time frame for each phase of the project. For example, when people were left to finish a project without a specific deadline, they would tend to move at a slower, less productive pace. Once a deadline was imposed, people better prioritized the steps necessary to complete their individual tasks on time, making it easier to achieve phase completion by that deadline. This, in turn, speeds up the overall project completion time.

Rules of Thumb Every day, Communicate, Communicate, communicate put the dates and time of milestones up everywhere and make sure everyone involved with the process knows them one and all. Begin the shift with what should be accomplished by the end of the shift. Describe in detail for the guys what the day’s goals deliverables should be. Every job has a schedule and a plan either shift by shift, day by day or week by week of what tasks need to get done.

Leadership: “The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Key to a Great Outage

The key to a great outage is communication without saying anything, The analogy the fits best is watching a PIT stop at NASCAR Most PIT stops are under 8 seconds (note this is what I got from the internet I’m not an NASCAR expert) in that 8 seconds there are approx 8 people working on the one car, Jacking it, fueling it changing the tires etc.etc.. That a lot of work to perform in 8 seconds. The point is if you watch the PIT stop no one is talking to each other however their efforts are well coordinated and it obvious that they are communicating in some fashion otherwise how could they perform so well? The best outages are like a PIT stop lots going on and not a lot of discussion. To achieve this there is a great amount of work that gets done before the PIT stop. Choosing the right contractor particularly the Scaffolding contractor who’s work effects the entire schedule and being absolutely clear with them about expectations is a must for a great outage

Maintenance Insight…

When I was a maintenance manager, I noticed that we had many work orders in our bottom ash pertaining to the hydraulic system. The original design for the hydraulic skids called for a gasket around the sump of the skids.

Every time operations would wash down the area, we had hydraulic problems.further research showed that the pumps were German made, so all of the fittings were metric. The rarity of these pumps coupled with significant lead time on all parts meant that we had to stock the necessary replacement parts. This meant a significant financial investment.

You may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg….

We came up with a radical approach: to rip all the existing units out and replace them with sealed hydraulic reservoirs and American made pumps! The price of this was $66,000. Everyone thought that was too huge an investment just to fix a couple of work orders. Upon further investigation, we discovered that we were spending approximately $120K just in parts a year on the current pump.

We executed the project.

A happy accident occurred because we were no longer complacently accepting a few work orders on the hydraulics a week. Our operators had more time to do things right. We freed up one I&C tech a day per week because there were no more issues. The maintenance mechanics were also no longer needed there for a day or two per week.

Moral of the Story

Even though none of the hydraulic work orders were a big deal, the total was substantial. If you take a holistic view of your maintenance requirements, you may find a one-time capital investment will alleviate both unnecessary spending and wasted manpower.

Rule of Thumb

When you have chronic work orders, even if they are small, take another look. There might be something big. You may be seeing only the tip of the iceberg…