In this podcast, he shares some of the drivers, challenges, and methods of sustaining reliability improvements for better business performance.
Jim: Hi, this is Jim Cahill and welcome to another edition of FIRSTHAND Operational Certainty in a Pod. Today I’m joined by Dave Buttner who’s a Business Development Director for Emerson’s Operational Certainty Consulting practice. And Dave has a project management professional and certified maintenance and reliability professional certifications. So Dave, what are common concerns you hear that drive manufacturers to pursue help with reliability improvement initiatives?
Dave: Jim, typically, in the economic state that we’re in right now, where, you know, we’ve seen a pretty extensive growth for many months, if not many quarters, a lot of our customers are kind of tapped out in terms of their capacity. So, they’re pretty much…they can pretty much sell anything they can make and so that it creates a situation where it’s pretty simple for them to see that if they can make more with the same capacity, a level of capital equipment, then they can make more money. I mean, I don’t think that’s rocket science there. That is something that really helps drive a great deal of demand for Emerson’s products and services. And also, we think, you know, it helps drive demand towards our services because we can help our clients make good decisions about criticality, where they should be deploying their technology investments or condition monitoring and their production optimization technology investments.
So, really, the hot economy I think helps drive it and it doesn’t always have to be in other different cycles, obviously to the economy. And sometimes in a slower economy, you know, a lot of manufacturers are trying to produce on fewer shifts. So, they’re trying to kind of control their variable costs, which means that reliability is, once again, very important because instead of running 7 by 24, every day of the week, every hour of the day, they may be running maybe just 2 shifts a day, 5 days a week. And that means that they need to get a certain production level of it. So, reliability is always important, I think that the taste for reliability products and services, you know, does have an epic flow to it.
Jim: Yeah, that’s interesting that in the economic conditions we’re in now there’s lots of levers that people can pull to improve performance and just given the current state, reliability sounds like it’s one of those biggest levers.
Dave: Once again, related to the tight economy, I think we all know that the labor market is, fortunately, you know, I think for all of us very, very hot. But that also means that a lot of companies aren’t staff to get better, they can’t go out and hire the staff to go from a certain production level to a better performance result. And so, they’re more willing to look at outsiders to help them get there. And I think that’s also been something that we’ve been seeing, driving a lot of our business. We’re the helping hands that…they have that capability internally, but those people are tired of running the business.
Jim: Well, that makes a lot of sense. So, how does reliability enhancement help businesses reach their business objectives?
Dave: The math is pretty simple. If you have a fixed capital investment and you can produce more oil, tablets, whatever it is you make, with the same capital investment, it’s gonna increase your return on assets and that helps drive shareholder value for our customers. So, the math is pretty simple and it makes it kind of an easy sale at the conceptual level, but what I think a lot of times our customers don’t always appreciate is the complexity that it takes to simply get another 1% or 2% of equipment availability, you know, out of their plants. That’s…logically, it’s easy. Tactically, it’s…can be challenging. And that’s one of the things that we help our clients sort out is what should be the sequence of events that help drive them towards a higher level of performance.
Jim: There’s a lot of things that it sounds like it’s an easy thing, but when you really try to get in and do it, then that’s where the challenge opens up. So, if a manufacturer or a producer decides to move forward and work with the Emerson reliability consulting team, what are common preparation steps they would take to prepare for the engagement?
Dave: Generally speaking, they have to have good performance measurements. So, if they’re hiring us to help them improve their line efficiencies, if it’s consumer-packaged goods, operation, or just their overall throughput, if we’re talking about a larger, you know, perhaps an oil refinery or petrochem facility, they need another…their measurables, they need to know how they perform now. Ideally, they have some sense of what the root cause issues are in terms of what’s affecting their performance, their reliability performance. So, if they don’t have…chances are they’re not gonna be talking to us unless they have those measures. But if they’re gonna engage us, they need to have more detailed measurements in place so that we can establish a baseline and agree upon what the targets are. Because it’s not just about deploying the tools and the technology.
It’s about driving towards a better performance level, which means that we have to have a baseline measurement and we have to have a committed to target improvement. And then it’s our job to help the customer get there. It’s not our job to get there, they’re hiring us to help them. So, besides measurement, there’s also—they have to figure out what they’re willing to commit in terms of the resources internally to help drive the results. Because once again, they’re not hiring us to run their plant better, we’re there to help them, provide them with the tools and the techniques to do it.
Jim: You really need the measurements to start with baseline to know and then that’s all part of the business case where you’re at, where you’re trying to get to. How does engagement typically kickoff?
Dave: It’s very common for us to open up with establishing what we might call strategies, or customer might call policies. We sometimes will call them project rules, that is… Okay, so we’re going to improve the maintenance strategies or the predictive and the preventive maintenance procedures that a client deploys to maintain their equipment. We have to agree with them, like, in what should be their standards for what makes a good preventive maintenance procedure. What does a good job plan look like? So, it’s really establishing standards at the outset so that we all agree, and we help kind of facilitate that. We don’t come in and we tell them what to do, we help facilitate them towards kind of a best practices-oriented outcome. So, that establishes the foundation for what it is we’re gonna do next. And beyond standard project management, procedures and tools that we might put in place for a project, that’s really kind of at the heart of how we kick off a project with a client.
Jim: Yeah, and that sounds like important, especially if they have cross-functional team working at that to gain alignment there on the front end as those standards are everyone agreeing to them.
Dave: Yeah, I mean, the flip side of that is if you don’t do establish the standards, what are the project rules, then you encounter what we refer to as regret work, then we’ve started down a path. And then somebody decides, some stakeholder that maybe wasn’t identified early on by the client says, “No, that’s not the way we wanna do it.” So, it’s all about establishing a foundation.
Jim: Yeah, makes perfect sense. So, Dave, what are typical timelines in executing these projects?
Dave: Yeah, kind of a hot area for us is what we call bad actor processing unit, PM [preventative maintenance] and PdM [predictive maintenance] optimization. That is whatever they’re going to do proactively on a certain processing unit that doesn’t run very well. We can help them improve that and also provides an opportunity to deploy some sensing technologies that they may make it then a better result from the proactive maintenance standpoint. We can design that outcome that is, “You’re currently doing your maintenance this way. And then we’ve got a new approach that we’ve all agreed upon and all the details and it’s all loaded onto your system and all scheduled.” And typically, in three to four months, depending upon the size of the processing unit, the number of actual assets involved in it. But what we really find is, is that you wanna spend at least another few months at the back end of that project, where we help them from a kind of a coaching standpoint, to help drive towards a better result.
Because one of the things we’ve learned is you can put tools and technology in place, you can put Emerson’s great vibration monitoring tools in place. But if people don’t use the tools and act timely to repair something that is getting ready to break, then you don’t get the result that you’re striving for. So, just building the better platform can be done rather quickly but building the change in helping to start drive some cultural change can take, you know, weeks, if not months afterwards.
Jim: Yeah, that I can see, you know, it’s…you’re asking them not just employing technology but to use it and change the work practices and everything and that takes, I think, some reinforcement over time. So, having that part and thinking about that as part of the project to get it to stick, because you’re right, the last thing you wanna do is come in, put all this stuff, have nobody use it and then really not impact change that way.
Dave: Yeah, one of my funnier quips that I tried to use to make a more serious point with clients goes like this, “If a vibration alarm goes off in the control room, and no one pays attention to it, it didn’t make a sound.”
Jim: I like that, I like that a lot. So, given that, what type of training and ongoing support is typically provided?
Dave: Being part of Emerson, you know, one of the…I think one of the real differentiators we have, particularly in our North American business, is we have a great Impact Partner or Local Business Partner, as we used to call them. Our Impact Partner network and those Impact Partners provide a lot of great engineering skills and services at the local level to our customers. And so, they’re around to help them if they didn’t historically deploy much vibration, or much fluid analysis, or whatever it is that we’re helping them improve in terms of their maintenance practices. The Impact Partner has resources that can help provide some continuous technical and tactical training to our customers. In terms of what, you know, our consulting group may provide an ongoing services, I’d like to keep it really simple and it can be as simple as on a bi-weekly basis. We get together and we look at what our performance metrics had been for the last two-week period as it relates to our baseline goal, as it relates to our targeted goal.
So, to give you a specific example, let’s just say that a customer is currently running a certain cat cracker unit at a refinery at 85% availability, they wanna target 92% in the near term, they probably have a higher goal than that. We’re gonna establish some kind of a timeline with them for driving towards that improvement. So, we wanna take measurements on a systematic basis, you know, over a period of weeks and months to help drive towards that. And so, if we did at alarms, they have to…it helps the client make sure that they’re telling the people in the control room to pay attention to them.
Jim: I like what you said there about that blend of some of that reliability expertise that the consulting team brings, plus the expertise of the Impact Partner or people local to the area to be able to work with them and on an ongoing basis after that to really sustain the, you know, the value that gets created from doing that. What are some of the results your team has seen in executing these projects?
Dave: Well, it’s just we do operate in a wide range of industries, at least in our particular group. Emerson has a lot of industry verticals that are focused on refining, food and beverage, power gen, a lot of significant industry verticals. We’re a little bit more industry agnostic, I guess, I would use the term. So, it’s a wide range of responses I could give you here. I think we did talk a little bit about in refining, you know, the driving towards a 5% to 7% availability improvement, but like in consumer-packaged goods where a lot of times you’ve got…a lot of your production is driven down to a specific line level, you know, where we run a certain product on a certain line.
We typically wanna target at least an initial improvement goal of 3% to 5% line efficiency. And one of the things I’ve learned, because I have personally dealt a lot in that realm, is that each 1% is normally worth around $15,000 a year. So, we’re not talking a lot of money, but when you’re talking about a lot of these plants have 10 lines and they can derive 3% to 5% in the near-term improvement, it does add up and it normally generates a significant return on investment for the client.
Jim: And it’s reoccurring savings if they can maintain the improvements that they’ve seen over time, so, compounds year after year, those savings. Okay, so let’s wind this down, I got one final question for you, Dave. And that’s, where would you recommend people go to learn more about Emerson’s approach to reliability enhancement?
Dave: Well, you can always just send a web search Emerson Automation Solutions, a lot of our products and services and you’ll also find our web pages around operational certainty consulting. You can talk to our Impact Partner channel network, you know, within the North American space. You can also just send me an email at email@example.com.
Jim: Well Dave, thank you so much for joining us today.
Dave: I appreciate your time, Jim. Appreciate the audience’s time.
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