Similarities of Maintenance Planning and Zoo Keeping

By Al Emeneker of Life Cycle Engineering

When was the last time you visited a zoo and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the exhibits and ‘interfaced’ with the various fauna? For the visitor, a zoo is a place of quiet and reflection. For the flora and fauna, a zoo is home. For the zookeepers and all the others involved in the day-to-day operation, the zoo is a job! Granted, most of the zookeepers are there because it is a calling, an intense desire to ‘be there and do that.’ The zoo in my hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, is a wonderful place. It is well run, well managed, and well maintained by competent, enthusiastic people. They are people who basically live and breathe for the existence of the zoo and the wellbeing of the animals and plants.

Have you ever thought about how a zoo runs? Have you ever considered whether the entire zoo just exists, rather like the animals and plants that exist in the wild, or whether there may be a rhyme, rhythm and reason to the organization? What would happen if we were to put the lions in the polar bear exhibit? (Without the bears, of course.) Or what would happen if we placed the ostrich in the seal pool? Could those situations be the recipe for a small-scale disaster? Then there are the nutritional processes to consider. Are the chameleons going to grow healthy, wealthy and wise on a diet of nothing but tsetse flies? Are the elephants going to stay slim, trim and athletic on a constant diet of sugar cane? I just kinda doubt it!

As with a zoo, there is the consistency of the overall operation in maintenance that must be considered. We, as maintenance professionals, have a fairly constant set of parameters within which to exist. Due to the living organisms and constant change in the zoo environment, the zookeepers must be continuously evaluating the health, sanitation, nutritional needs, environment, and social structure of their living responsibilities. We, as maintenance professionals, don’t have to be concerned with keeping the last few individuals of an endangered species alive. Or do we? There are all sorts of carnivores out there just waiting for us to become weak enough for them to swallow us! If we are lucky, they will swallow us whole; if we should be so unlucky, we will be ripped asunder and many good people and their value will be lost. The overall operation of a facility has many similarities to the overall operation and upkeep of a zoo! The future depends on how well the health, well-being and environment of our ‘flora and fauna’ are managed.

How exciting would a visit to the zoo on a warm, spring afternoon with your family be if someone had not (for several days) followed the plan, schedule and procedure for feeding the lions? Don’t you think those tender morsels of fresh meat tagging along with you would look appealing to the hungry lions? Please consider that lions don’t have a highly developed thought process that allows them to discern the difference between your tasty morsels and the tasty morsels the zookeeper should have fed them. Your afternoon at the zoo would suddenly become exciting! Rather like the rolling mill when there is a bearing failure or the winder when a journal breaks at 9000 fps! Rather like a rupture disk doing just what it was supposed to do, just at an unplanned time! All the excitement occurs because we didn’t have, or didn’t pay attention to and follow, the processes and procedures necessary for Reliability Excellence.

Maintenance planning and scheduling, coupled with best practices and a concerted effort toward Reliability Excellence, can help ensure your day-to-day operation and production are like a pleasant springtime visit to your favorite zoo. Best practices for zoo keeping dictate that the animals are fed routinely, consistently and efficiently. Best practices for industrial processes dictate that equipment be maintained through routinely, consistently and efficiently applying preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance and corrective repair. We can appease the lions for a bit by tossing a side of beef over the fence, just as a good shot of grease will appease the growling of a bearing. But this will only work for a short time! The side of beef and the shot of grease can only be an interim, temporary solution to a problem. The bearing will need to be identified and tracked by some means, typically in the form of a work order. That work order will need to be planned, that is, looked at by knowledgeable people who develop a plan for the efficient, effective and quality repair of the failing equipment. It is much easier, more costefficient and less labor-intensive to capture knowledge and effect a repair on a planned and scheduled basis, rather than waiting on equipment to fail. Typically, if a critical piece of equipment fails, it is at the least opportune time and causes an amount of collateral damage that could easily have been avoided with the proper planning and scheduling of corrective repair work. Similarly, it is more effective to feed lions in a consistent, routine, and efficient manner than to have them roaming around looking for a meal. Anxiety tends to increase when one is facing a hungry lion or when there is a total loss of production in the middle of the night, or on a weekend when there was a big party and few are in any condition to respond to a call-in!

A planned and scheduled asset repair typically requires one third the labor cost and one third the asset downtime of an unplanned and unscheduled repair. The materials cost will be less, simply because of the reduction in collateral damage. Equipment should be taken off-line before it is allowed to self-destruct and waste more money, lose more production, affect quality and cause customer dissatisfaction. When repair is properly planned and scheduled and the appropriate communication, coordination and cooperation are employed, the equipment downtime, loss of production, and inefficient use of resources are minimized! Now let’s go back to the zoo! How do the animals get fed and cared for in a routine fashion? How do the flora get fertilized, watered, pruned, staked and beautified in a systematic and effective manner? There is an overall, ongoing plan for these processes. The folks in the background, the folks not as visible as the zookeepers interfacing with the animals, are the strength of the system. Now, compare that to a proactive operational environment. The reliability and maintenance engineers, the materials management folks, the purchasing folks, the crafts persons responsible for the care, feeding and well-being of the preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance programs, are the strength of the system. The planners utilize the tool of their job, the Computerized Maintenance Management System, (CMMS) to publish the schedule of when the specific animals are going to be fed, when the water system is actuated, when the pruning will take place, when the specific animal environ will be cleaned, when the diets will be reviewed for effectiveness, etc.

When there is a system in place that manages the care and feeding of the animals, and when that system is a proactive system in the maintenance environment, it allows for age considerations to be addressed. Do diets and care processes remain the same over time? The correct answer is, “Not likely.” As many of us ‘older’ maintenance professionals can attest, diet and health needs change drastically! The same applies to the equipment that makes product for our customers. We need to routinely evaluate the processes needed to maintain aging equipment in a state capable of sustaining the defined production needs. We must consider the need for changes in frequency of the PM/PdM procedures, changes in the PM/PdM procedures themselves, and changes in the materials required to maintain the equipment: changes, changes, changes! Someone has to remain abreast of, and communicate, the adjustments necessary to stay proactive and productive in the marketplace. Typically, this effort and responsibility falls to the reliability engineers and maintenance engineers. They are the first line offense in the effort to constantly maintain the production level. Just as the elephant requires a diet change and a unique exercise regimen as he ages, equipment requires adjustments to the processes and procedures of the past in order to maintain the production capability and efficiency of the future. Reliability and maintenance engineers utilize historical information from the CMMS and work orders to design and develop changes to the maintenance procedures for continued pursuit of Reliability Excellence.

Who would have thought a zoo could be an analogy to an effective, proactive production facility? The similarities are surprising and a bit lighthearted even though the environment is different, but the needs and requirements are still realistic. The next time you are in the plant, look for the hungry lions eyeing those tasty morsels and consider the chaos that would ensue should one of them break out! Remember the elephant with the sugar cane diet? What happens here? The gearbox develops sludge from application of improper lubricant, causing unnecessary wear and a lower MTBF, just where we don’t want to go!

One final caution, be careful around the monkey cages!

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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