When Are OEM Recommendations Not Enough?
This is a commonly posed question in industry and is sometimes inversely worded as, “Are OEM recommendations enough?” It quite simply boils down to an evaluation of two underlying issues. Firstly, what do you get from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) recommendations? Secondly, what does one consider to be enough or meeting the need? The knee-jerk response by many might be to challenge the validity of OEM recommendations for any and everything, but that leaves us to wonder how effective the alternatives might be and under what circumstances it makes sense to employ them.
What do OEM recommendations provide?
In this article, I will limit the discussion to complex machinery or physical assets used in the heavy manufacturing or process environment. With that in mind, your favorite toaster in your kitchen would not qualify. It is fairly commonplace to receive assets with an accompanying set of operating and maintenance manuals. The operating manual generally covers guidelines around the design-intended operating parameters (do’s) and the limits or restrictions to operation (don’ts). The maintenance manual, on the other hand, often provides the user with the schedules for necessary maintenance, critical spare parts usage and basic maintenance work instructions.
How are OEM recommendations determined?
The details of the do’s and don’ts provided by the OEM vary quite widely but it is not too difficult to imagine how they were developed. First of all, OEMs consider the engineering characteristics which will dictate what the asset is physically capable of. The next step involves the analysis of previous history from in-house and field tests by customers. Even with brand new designs, OEMs are able to draw upon a plethora of data that is often available for similar systems or components as reference and any good OEM will continue to improve their recommendations as new data is made available. In other situations, based on the nature of the system, OEMs go further to employ very strict methodologies such as Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) for the determination of recommendations. Depending on the mix of strategies employed by the OEM, the user and maintainer may have a valid concern about their credibility. It is quite often the case too, that it is next to impossible to get a true understanding of what their approach might have been.
Another prevailing concern is whether the OEM’s recommendations are more self serving than being of any real benefit to its customers. Let us consider the case of the age-old recommended oil change intervals for automobiles of every 3,000 miles. It is the contention of most automotive experts that the oil change interval on most vehicles can be extended safely up to 10,000 miles when using synthetic oil and as much as 6,000 miles with regular mineral-based oil. Now, who benefits from too frequent oil changes? The dealers performing the maintenance? The quick lube shops? The oil companies? While the example might be simplistic, similar concerns are shared by many asset owners in industry regarding the frequency of maintenance being recommended. This, of course, benefits the markets for spare parts and for specialized maintenance services, but is this what is needed?
What do your assets need?
The publicly available specification, PAS 55-1:2008 from the British Standards Institute (BSI) offers some guidance where this is concerned. The standard recommends that every organization needs a systematic and coordinated set of activities and practices which sustainably manages its assets’ performance, risks and expenditures over their life cycles for the purpose of achieving the organizational strategic plan. This suggests that the first consideration is to determine what the strategic objectives for the business are and then determine how each asset supports them. Obviously, the degree to which the objectives depend on a given asset will determine how valuable its asset management strategy will be to the organization. The process by which this is determined is known as criticality analysis.
The asset’s criticality ranking should be one of the primary considerations used to determine how its control strategy is developed. Of all the approaches that are commonly used today, such as Reliability Centered Maintenance, Total Productive Maintenance and all the standard risk management plan development techniques, the blind acceptance and use of OEM recommendations has to be one of the least effective. All of the previously mentioned techniques require due diligence to be done by reviewing OEM recommendations, but total reliance on them is only reserved for the least critical of assets.
So, this brings us full circle to the initial question that was posed. When are OEM recommendations not enough? OEM recommendations are not enough for assets that fall in the medium to high criticality range. An old saying of biblical origin states that, “to whom much is given, much is expected”. In direct reference to assets, the author would modify these sage words of advice to say that, “to the asset from which much is expected, much should be given”. Quite frankly, the guidance that most OEM recommendations provide can rarely be considered as “much”.
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