Induced Force & Freedom for Movement

While tackling vibration problems (most machinery problems are oscillatory in nature) it is important to grasp the idea — “What causes vibration?”

The answer in its simplest form consists of two parts, which are: –

  1. Induced Force
  2. Freedom for Movement

We can say, that when we put these two phenomena into a relationship or when we discover a pattern involving the two phenomena, we have effectively understood the essence of a vibration problem in order to solve it or improve the situation. Without the “induced force” a piece of machinery would not continue to vibrate. And without “freedom for movement” machines would not vibrate either. Both must be present for a machine to continue to vibrate.

However, I find that students of vibration analysis often face difficulty in understanding these two related phenomenon and have a hard time linking them into a coherent pattern exhibited by a vibration problem.

So, I would first try to explain the phenomenon of “induced force.”

There are many ways of classifying vibrations. Vibrations patterns are also described depending on how they are induced. This is an important way of classifying vibration since the cause of vibration can be easily understood from such classification.

For instance, a shop floor may vibrate when a machine is switched on. Or an adjacent machine or structure may vibrate when another machine on the same floor is running. This would be called machinery induced vibration.

Similarly, a bridge or a tower may be subjected to strong winds causing those to vibrate. In that case, it would be called wind induced vibration.

Or for example, a pipe carrying fluid in a power plant or a pump may be subjected to flow induced vibration. Common problems of pumps like cavitation, re-circulation, erosion and water hammer are all examples of flow induced vibration.

Likewise, unusual vibration of an anti-friction bearing may be induced by electromagnetic forces emanating from electrical cables. We would say that the bearing is subjected to electromagnetic induced vibration.

Similarly, vibration of machines, buildings, towers, bridges can be blast induced owing to sudden application of explosive forces, like the way it happens in mining industry.

In the case of earthquakes, bridges and towers are subjected to ground induced vibrations.

We may think of “induced force” as the necessary stimulus imposed on a structure that forces it to vibrate. Structure, from the vibration point of view, may be a piece of machine, building, tower, pipe, bearings, foundation — or simply anything that has stiffness and mass.

However, a structure would only vibrate or continue to vibrate if it has freedom to move. A machine can move in many directions provided it is allowed to do so. More the number of directions a machine is allowed to move more difficult it becomes to understand a problem. However, the question is “How do we know a machine’s Freedom to move?”

One easy way to find it out is by finding the number of natural frequencies exhibited by the machine. This may be effectively found out by conducting a “bump test” on the machine where the number of natural frequencies show up on the frequency spectrum. The number of natural frequencies is just equal to the number of directions a machine is free to move. For example, if a machine has five natural frequencies within the operating range that consists of the operating speed and its harmonics then the machine is free to move in five different directions.

So, when we know the nature of the induced force and the number of directions a machine is likely to move, we may then try to find the proper relationship between the two phenomena to complete our understanding of the essence of a vibration problem. Once such relationship is understood the solution(s) to a problem is self evident.





Learning Vibration Analysis

Every year we gather at NTPC, Noida, for our animated dialog on real life Vibration problems. This year there were 39 of us happily engaged for four fun filled days. It is a type of annual conference where engineers and practicing vibration specialists across the country come together to interact, exchange and learn from each other.

This year, the workshop was designed differently. We gently moved away from the traditional methods of vibration analysis and instead emphasized the application of complexity science in analyzing system problems through vibration patterns. I think this approach is the first of its kind in the world.

So, what was new?

First, only cases from the real world of engineering were discussed and explored. Twenty cases were discussed. Each case was unique. They were something like Zen koans waiting to be cracked for enlightenment.


There are two sides to reality. One is the phenomenal one — what we can sense. The other is the essential one — what we can’t “see” through our senses. The phenomenal side manifest as events that we experience while the essential side provides the cause that precipitates such events. Problems of vibration offer us the opportunity to explore both sides of reality. Through measurements, we can easily see the phenomenal one (the degrees of freedom, amounts of vibration and their frequencies) — that is all about sensing oscillatory movement and its nature. But to understand the cause of vibration we must be able to “see” the essential part of reality – what induces vibration?

The cases forced the participants (practicing specialists) to take multiple takes and interpretations of the cause of vibration before the reason finally clicked. Initially, each case left the participants perplexed.They sort of provided the proverbial “whack” on the head for realization to dawn.

Why is this so? Cracking one problem does not ensure that the next problem can be solved by following the same method. If one tries to use the same method that helped one to solve a problem one has to use thoughts and concepts culled through previous experiences. By trying to apply a standard method and tactic one can’t see the essential part of the reality, which often proves to be a frustrating experience. Any effort to solve a vibration problem with a standard approach ties up a practitioner in knots. Not surprisingly, even vibration specialists find vibration problems paradoxical. They are paradoxical in the sense that seemingly logical, rational and conceptual thinking held in the minds of a practitioner are challenged when dealing with vibration problems.

Therefore, for each case, the essential part — the induced cause(s) — had to be built separately — bit by bit — connecting one bit to the other till the essential nature of the problem was self evident.

At the end of the four days the participants were left smiling, relieved to know that they need not remember any standard method or approach or a formula to tackle vibration problems — more so, for the most complex ones. They only need to see through a problem with patience or perseverance to develop deep intuitive capability, which would then help them see through the essential nature of any real life vibration problem quickly and accurately.

On the whole it was great fun and we all basked in the enjoyment.


Note: In conducting this course, I was helped by Mr. Anil Sahu, my co-facilitator. He had a bunch of paradoxical cases to share.

Doing Nothing yet Everything is Done

From 21st June to 23rd June I conducted a live workshop on Streamlined Reliability Centered Maintenance (SRCM) at the Power Management Institute (PMI) of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

But what the heck is SRCM?

It is a structured process of risk based decision making against black swans.

In brief, it is about:

  1. How to detect an incipient black swan in time?
  2. How to improve the stability of a system?
  3. How to improve the longevity of a system?
  4. How to mitigate consequences of failures?

When we are able to do all that to a system we may call it “smart maintenance.” After all as human beings we create, maintain and destroy systems. Given a system, smart maintenance is about doing all the three – create, maintain and destroy. Surely, it is one of the most complex project management we can engage with.

However, the smart maintenance can really happen when one simply does nothing yet everything is done.

The Case of Burning BagHouse Filters

Recently I was invited to investigate a case of frequent burning of baghouse filter bags.

There were five such baghouses connected to five furnaces of a steel plant.

The client reasoned that the material of the bags was not suitable for the temperature of the gas it handled. However, with change of material the frequency of bag burning did not change. So it needed a different approach to home onto the reasons for the failures.

Hence, this is how I went about solving the case:

First I did a Weibull analysis of the failures. Engineers use Weibull distribution to quickly find out the failure pattern of a system. Once such a pattern is obtained an engineer can then go deeper in studying the probability distribution function (pdf). Such a pdf provides an engineer with many important clues. The most important clue it provides is the reason for such repeated failures, which are broadly classified as follows:

  1. Design related causes
  2. Operation and Maintenance related causes
  3. Age related causes.

In this case it turned out to be a combination of Design and Age related causes.

It was a vital clue that then guided me to look deeper to isolate the design and age related factors affecting the system.

I then did a modified FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) for the two causes.

The FMEA revealed many inherent imperfections that were related to either design or aging.

Broadly, the causes were:

  1. Inability of the FD cooler (Forced Draft cooler) to take out excess heat up to the design limit before allowing the hot gas to enter the bag house.
  2. Inappropriate sequence of cleaning of the bag filters. It was out of sync with the operational sequence thus allowing relatively hot dust to build up on the surface of the bags.

Next, the maintenance plan was reviewed. The method used was Review of Equipment Maintenance (REM). The goal of such a review is to find maintenance tasks that are either missing or redundant for which new tasks are either added/deleted or modified. With such modification of the maintenance plan the aim is to achieve a balance between tasks that help find out incipient signals of deterioration and tasks that would help maintain longevity and stability of the system for a desired period of time.

Finally the investigation was wrapped up by formulating the Task Implementation Plan (TIP). It comprised of 13 broad tasks that were then broken up into more than 100 sub-tasks with scheduled dates for completion and accountability.


Observing Complexity

To me, observing real life systems is something like this:

A real life System comprises of a meaningful set of objects, diverse in form, state and function but inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks enclosed by variable space, operating far from its equilibrium conditions not only exchanging energy and matter with its environment but also generating internal entropy to undergo discrete transformation triggered by the Arrow of Time forcing it to behave in a dissipative but self organizing manner to either self destruct itself in a wide variety of ways or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘bifurcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behaviour of the system in the long term or trace the previous states of the system with any high degree of accuracy other than express it in terms of probabilities since only the present state of the system might be observable to a certain extent and only a probabilistic understanding may be formulated as to how it has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, thus triggering creative human responses to manage, maintain and enhance the system conditions, function and purpose and create superior systems of the future for the benefit of the society at large.

Such a representation of an observation looks quite involved. Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler way. Most real life systems behave in a complex manner creating multitude of problems of performance and failures. But how do we get rid of complexity and uncertainty as exhibited by systems? We may do so by deeply observing the complex behaviour of the system to improve our perception to gain insights about the essence of the system; find out the underlying ‘imperfection’ that causes the apparent complexity and uncertainty and then find ways to improve the existing system or create new system and maintain them in the simplest possible manner. We do this by applying the principles of chaos, reliability and design. Surprisingly, the same process might be used to troubleshoot and solve problems we face on a daily basis. If done, we are no longer dominated or dictated by the ‘special whims’ of the system.

The crux of the matter is how we observe reality and understand it so as to make meaningful choices as responses to life and living.

Why Not? An Engineer’s View of Recession.

Every company I visit, the picture is the same. No sales. No customers. Cutting costs and production to survive. People are not willing to buy products and services at the prices they are offered. GDP keeps fluctuating. Government keeps reassuring with false promises. Stock markets dip. Wars and conflicts escalate. Jobs are lost. Companies go bankrupt. With reduced expectation of sales, no new products and services are in the offing. Prime Minister urges for innovation, which is not happening. Overall, it is a gloomy atmosphere in India.

But the consumers stay nimble as always. They are busy re-framing their problems according to their budgets and now coming up with new solutions and new expectations. It doesn’t mean that the consumers are only busy figuring out cheaper ways of doing the same thing. They have different things to do and want to do it differently. The consumers still want to go on holidays, eat out, entertain guests, buy curtains and shoes, beautify home, build new ones, sleep better, stay healthy and bear children — but differently.

This then opens up a whole new world of possibilities for manufacturers, service providers and financial institutions — if only they care to see the consumer a little more closely. This is simply because the existing needs of the society have not vanished – nor would they. These still need to be fulfilled. So, when the economy is down people simply look to different product categories to solve their persistent problems and needs. They do make trade-offs that reflect their conscious and unconscious decisions. The question is: Will a modern woman stop wearing her lipstick? Will Indian families stop saving money? Will they stop buying gold? Will they stop watching the TV? Not likely.

So, here is a world of opportunity. While companies are only focused on cutting back production and costs, the consumers are busy with their own imagination and initiatives to keep them one step ahead of the companies. This makes it all the more important for companies to use their imagination and technology to step in and catch up with the imagination of the consumers. Though this recession will be much different from the last the consumers will come up on top.

And why is it so? Because consumers are now familiar with both the high end and the low end brands. They have a choice of Bata, Kadim, Shreeleathers, Reebok and Nike. They would not feel a bit shy or embarrassed to go for budget shopping and go to anyone who greets them with a choice within their budgets. They are now masters of favorably mixing or toggling between high end and low end brands for their various needs. So companies that rely on lethargy and not love for the consumers might become a thing of the past – a dinosaur.

Economics tell us that “labor follows money.” The same is true of consumers. They would follow budget prices without any hesitation.

So, keeping up with the consumers is not about predicting the next big need or the next big move or great market research. It would mean a deeper understanding of their present needs and how to respond as creatively as possible. This is because consumers are only re-framing their problems – not forgetting them for good. So, companies who understand how people with tight budgets re-frame their problems may not only find new opportunities but also figure out ways to earn respectable profits. Thinking and feeling about people’s needs can uncover ways to get into markets that once seemed inaccessible or even unimaginable. For example, the Re 1/- shampoo sachet — shampoo companies are now ever so busy selling them all over India. And as I know they are expanding the business even in these trying times. They are adding more sachet machines (I am proud that I designed those budget machines) to their facilities. And they are still hungry for more.

Other examples spring to mind. For example, why take the trouble of making grade 53 cement only to sell it at a premium? People can very well do without this. Even the toughest roads are built on grade 42. So, why not make grade 30, for instance, for making dwelling houses. It makes housing affordable.

Why the steel companies don’t think of manufacturing rods of lesser diameters than they presently produce. The builders then get it cheaper and the houses that are built with such rods would become stronger and more robust in both tension and compression. And the consumer would also be happy to buy such houses and not default on house loans to heat up the economy.

Similarly, why not sell cheaper power during night time so that people may run their washing machines to wash their clothes in the late evenings and use air conditioners to get a good night’s sleep only to be more productive the next day. It would also encourage consumers to use more natural light during the day and the the power that is saved by ordinary consumers might be gainfully used by industries to produce goods and services for the market and the power companies profit more from it. This might as well save us the trouble of building extra power plants for the time being, when money is short supply.

Why do we waste material to build something solid when a hollow section would clearly be better (example, rubber liners used in mining industries). And why use costly steel or aluminium as reinforcement for rubber products when humble jute fibres do the trick better (one of my ideas tried out with great success by a rubber company).

Why make the walls of the gear box casing thick and heavy and waste money — clearly it could be made thinner. The customer pays less and the efficiency of the gear box increases greatly (another idea of mine which proved profitable for the company).

Why place sleepers under railway tracks symmetrically? It increases wear and tear of railway tracks, points and crossings and the maintenance cost goes up, which forces consumers to pay more or Government absorbs the cost. So, why not place the sleepers axi-symmetrically? It makes everyone happier. Lesser costs. Lesser risk of accidents.

Why wrap steam pipelines with equal insulation thickness when variable insulation thickness makes the job more efficient and cost effective. It reduces loss and prevents failures.

Why can’t the nozzles of toothpaste tubes be smaller. Less waste. It prevents health problems. Saves the environment. Makes it affordable for most.

In every case, the consumer pays less but companies benefit and survive better. It is clearly a great opportune moment in history for a win-win situation — saving and sustaining the environment, helping consumers to tide over the crisis and surviving better in trying times without destroying the morale of the people by sacking them or closing down industries.

Hence, this recession may just be the right environment for experimenting with small changes that target big needs. Innovation is all about making small changes to make big and lasting social impacts.

Why not open up to immense possibilities around us?

Expert Knowledge is Passé; Long Live Masters!

Engaging with flow, created by any phenomenon, is an essential step that we take to create something new, which invariably amounts to an interpretation of our environment or surrounding triggered by noticing something from the higher levels of the mind that is less dependent on sensory inputs.

Why is this necessary?

Since our mind is a system consisting of complex networks it has memory like all other networks. Memory would then compel the network (our mind) to behave in very predictable patterns i.e. it would continue to behave the way it does unless the energy of the system is changed by design. It would mean that our response to any situation would stay the same unless we add new energy to our existing network urging it be respond or behave differently.

That is the basic idea of engaging with the flow — to add new energy to our neural network to come up with a different response to a situation we are facing in the moment.

But that is tricky business. Much more tricky than we might care to imagine. It is because we must notice in quick succession (almost as quick as clearly noticing a ten digit telephone number) for our neurons to get energized enough to rise above their critical threshold limit to create harmonious oscillations, helping us to create new knowledge and response. Fortunately, our neurons, under this situation of noticing different aspects of a phenomenon in quick succession, produce different frequencies from moment to moment, which helps to create new responses. However, to produce useful and new harmonious frequencies our mind also needs to be supported by a healthy relaxation oscillations. Relaxation oscillations help us absorb new learning. Relaxation oscillation in the brain is something like this — neurons slowly absorb energy and then quickly release the energy. This new release of energy helps neurons to jump over their critical threshold limit to create harmonious oscillations.

Let us understand this process by some live examples.

For example, Sachin Tendulkar is considered the ‘god’ of cricket. For him, captains and bowlers of rival teams have a hard time setting a field to hold him down. He always tends to find the gaps too easily against any type of bowling. It is easy to imagine that he is quickly noticing so many aspects of the phenomenon — the bowler, his run up and stance, his delivery, speed of the ball, trajectory of the ball, movement of fielders, etc in quick succession (really quick since the ball is traveling at a speed of nearly 100 km/hour). Within that time he decides where and how to place the ball to get runs, which is invariably between the gaps in the fielding.

Or take Ravi Shankar, the great musician, who plays so intuitively. To me intuition is nothing but the same process as described above, where new harmonic oscillations are produced with the help of relaxation oscillations.

Or say Michel Angelo who saw entrapped figures trapped in uncut stones waiting to be freed by his hands.

There is one thing that is common to all of them which sets them apart from the rest. They all intuitively find the gaps or the existing imperfections in the present moment with their uninhabited awareness to reach their goal. This is because all human minds by default are goal oriented since human consciousness is more temporal than spatial. They improvise their games based on those gaps or existing imperfections in the most intuitive way — no copy book styles for them. They have learned the rules of their games so well that they now break them with impunity by mastering the way to trigger relaxation oscillations at will. This process of engagement is played over and over in whatever game masters choose to play. Games differ but the process of engagement does not.

This is what innovation, improvisation, improvement, creating new knowledge is all about.

The Japanese have a name for it. They call it Wabi -Sabi, which means understand the imperfection in a given situation and improve upon it to make it stronger and more reliable.

The Chinese have a name for it. They call it Shan Zhai, which originally means balancing numerous resistances, see what is possible to be done cheap and effectively, start small and then grow in strength.

The Indians have a name for it. They call it Juggad, which means understand what is to be done, start with whatever is available at hand, go with the flow and build up over time.

How would this be useful in present times?

Today, expert knowledge (essentially a knowledge bank) is sold in the market as a commodity that is continually being sold at lesser and lesser price wiping out premiums that they once commanded. It is so since expert knowledge is increasingly being converted to cheap ordinary stuff through algorithms. In some fields of human activity the value of expert knowledge is almost zero — given freely over the internet. Then how are we to survive in the present situation. It definitely calls for a new skill – the skill of mastery, where new knowledge can be created moment to moment. This amounts to present moment responses to a changing situation. People who can really do that are priceless and can still command a premium in today’s market place.

Such skill of mastery basically calls us to be in touch with one’s essential nature. Gregory Bateson reminds us of this fact when he said, “When man lost touch with nature, he lost touch with himself.” Simply stated, “losing touch with himself” is disengagement – a phenomenon that is so common in our professional world.

This is the only way to create a good sustainable future for all since, “The future is never empty, never a blank space to be filled with the output of human activity. It is already colonized by what the past and present have sent to it.” (Fry 1999)

How do we develop that is the question? Understanding that involves deep learning. And deep learning is done by power of engaging with the flow of the moment.

Effect of Triplen Harmonics on Electrical Systems

Operation and Maintenance have become complex in modern plants. Energy being one of the most important components of the cost structure, effort is on to save energy as much as possible. As a result three important changes happened over the years.

First, loads have become non-linear in nature based on lean manufacturing principle of producing as much as needed as and when needed to match customer needs and expectations without incurring wastage.

Second, changes and modifications in the electrical drive systems have become a significant improvement activity. Thyristor and SCR drives of yesteryear are now being replaced by precise IGBT (Insulated Gate Bi-polar Transistor) devices. Almost all drives are now fitted or retrofitted with variable frequency drives suitable for different motor frame sizes.

Third, most plants are generating and consuming their own electricity though captive power installed in their facilities.

Though this has given us a lot of advantage it has also brought in some hidden problems. One of the disturbing problems is the growing presence of electrical harmonics that affect equipment performance and disturb smooth operation of a plant.

Whether the presence of harmonics can disturb the operation of a factory or not would depend on the ‘stiffness’ of the power distribution system and the susceptibility of the connected equipment and components like motors, bearings, solenoids, cables, couplings etc.

Harmonics are a big polluter. Such pollution is often carried back into the electric distribution system and may affect neighboring facilities. Such pollution also causes a rise in the consumption of electrical energy – the very thing we are trying to save.

The point is how to detect the presence of harmonics in the system? Vibration spectrums often fail to detect or show up the presence of such harmonics. As a result Current Spectrum Monitoring’ is being used as a preferred technique to detect the presence of harmonics. But this technique does a good job for higher rated motors – generally for motors over 900 KW.

So what do we do for other motors lesser than 900 KW?

There seems to be an easy way out. Harmonics create excessive neutral current. This results in overheated neutrals that might be easily detected by use of Infra-red thermal imaging technique applied to MCC (Motor Control Center) and PCC (Power Control Center).

But there is something very strange about these electrical harmonics.

The ‘triplen’ harmonics i.e. the 3rd, 9th and the 15th harmonics of the line frequency cause more damage to the system and heat up the neutral. Why is that?

This is because these harmonics are actually ‘additive’ (vector addition) in nature in the neutral of a 3 phase ‘wye’ circuit. This is easy to understand. In a 3 phase ‘wye’ circuit the phases are separated from one another by 120 degrees. Now if we multiply 120 by 3 or 9 or 15 we get an integer multiple of 360 degrees, which is one complete cycle. This puts the harmonics from each of the 3 phase conductors in phase with each other in the neutral. Hence the neutral heats up.

Note this would not happen with other harmonics like 2nd, 4th, etc since that would not involve all conductors of the 3 phase to be in phase with each other in the neutral. This I call the prime number effect of number 3 and combination of 3 with other primes like 3, 5, 7 etc.

Triplen harmonics also overheat transformers (especially delta – wye types), affect solenoids (used in hydraulic circuits), lightening ballasts, non-linear loads like computers and indirectly initiates premature failure of anti-friction bearings. In short it creates a random failure pattern across a manufacturing unit, which most often becomes quite puzzling.

Not only the triplen harmonics affect plant reliability but also increases the losses of electrical power since the losses in electrical power are proportional to the square of the harmonic value.

Hence it is important to detect the presence of triplen harmonics for safe and reliable operation of the plant. Fortunately, infra-red thermal imaging comes to our rescue to detect this hidden enemy of plant reliability, availability and performance.

When would an Elephant Waltz?

Once upon a time, a large industrial group wanted to set up a large, modern and efficient cement plant as a greenfield project. It was an ambitious plan that would help the company capture a big untapped market. Hence, they wanted to bring up the plant as fast as possible.

So, first things first. They got the land and the limestone mine of relatively good quality. And they also got a CEO who they thought would deliver the project on time. Since it was a greenfield project they thought that a very disciplined person would fit the bill nicely. Therefore a senior retired army Colonel was selected for the purpose.

As soon as he was appointed, he set about the task with all seriousness of an army officer. He understood about projects and engagements. He has done that all his life in the army. He understood command and control very well. That was his forte. But though he was an engineer by training he had absolutely no idea what a cement plant was made of.

Hence to deliver a quality project in time, he hit upon a splendid plan backed up by an ‘infallible’ logic. The logic was that he would get the best machines or sub-systems of the plant from the best suppliers of the world and then he would just put them together so that the plant performs as designed, right from the first day. But how would he understand what was the “best” pieces of equipment and subsystems for the plant? He decided to survey the existing plants, go through their records of performance and reliability, collect facts to find out what part or sub-system of the system worked best for Plant X and then what worked best for Plant Y and so on. Reliability would be his benchmark and vision.

So he decided that he would buy the kiln from supplier A and the cooler from supplier B and the hammer crusher from supplier C and the conveying system from supplier D and the cement mill from supplier E and so on.. When he placed his ideas before the board they found his idea to be wonderful. They were convinced that it would take the least time for procurement and for setting up the plant since they would avoid lengthy negotiations and hassles if they decided what to buy and from whom to buy these from. After all it would not pose any problem. They were buying the best things from the best possible suppliers around the globe.

Colonel went about his task with gusto, precision, efficiency and with great care carrying just the right attitude of going to war. None needed to teach him what “war footing” really meant.

Soon, the best pieces of equipment and sub systems were purchased and erected. Time flew past quickly. In no time the modern cement plant was set up. His bosses were extremely happy with the good job done and awarded the Colonel a good bonus and a promotion for completing the project much before time and within budget. Everyone was happy and the plant began operating much before the planned starting date. It was key to capturing the untapped market before others got in.

But very soon a problem emerged. The plant was unable to produce the designed capacity at all. They kept trying harder and harder but the plant refused to change its behaviour. They coaxed people to work smarter and come up with good ideas. Nothing happened. They called in experts. The experts took their fees but the system refused to listen to them. They started training people to no good effect. Then they brought more of the best people to leadership positions. But they also could not make the desired change. People were sacked. New blood was inducted. The system did not budge an inch.

In addition to this another problem surfaced. The plant suffered innumerable breakdowns. One after the other. People were busy fixing things up as soon as things failed. And they kept doing this for years.

12 years passed. The fate of the plant was sealed. Or so it seemed. People were blamed and they were demoralized. The President of the plant was sacked. New leaders took over. A time came when people stopped talking about this plant about which they were so proud of even a few years back. People fought. Blamed each other. Worked hard. And prayed often. But got sacked.

What was happening? What went wrong?

For example, they had the best kiln. Now this best kiln retained more heat than other kilns and therefore was energy efficient and reliable. It meant that the kiln lost less energy and most of it was used to form the clinker. That was good news. Then what was the bad news…?

The clinker that came out of the kiln went over a ‘cooler’ whose function was to cool the clinker. Now this cooler was not designed to match the performance of this kiln or in other words the cooler was not designed to handle the temperature of the clinker that came out this kiln. So by the time the clinker passed over the cooler it did not cool sufficiently enough. After the clinker passed the cooler it entered the hammer crusher. With more than the expected temperature of the ‘cooled’ clinker the hammer crushers performed badly. This was because the hammers wore out in no time owing to the ‘hot’ clinker. They were not designed to handle these ‘hot’ clinkers. The clinkers were still hot enough after being broken into smaller pieces. Now the broken clinker travelled over a rubber belt conveyor (RBC) to the silo for temporary storage. The RBC wasn’t designed to handle the extra temperature and the rougher edges of the clinkers (produced by the bad performance of the crusher). So they often went down necessitating frequent maintenance and replacement and stoppage of the entire system.

Since the production pressures were up the clinker did not stay in the silo for a long time (that also caused defects in the silo) the clinker was taken out in relatively hot condition to be fed to the cement mill. And surely there too, it produced frequent problems. The ripples of the systemic problem was felt up to the bag house (pollution control mechanism). In fact it was everywhere and the plant looked so dirty and dusty that people often did not like to work in such places.

So, in short, every part of the system got affected and strange system behaviours abounded in plenty (emergence). Such emergence inhibited production and the plant could never run as desired. Everyone was busy looking at the parts of the system and trying to improve the parts and make them very efficient. And as expected it never worked. The Elephant refused to dance.

Till a time came when a very talented engineer was placed as the head of the plant. He kept looking at the system for days and started to understand the ‘strong’ relationships between the different parts that caused the problems. He then systemically tackled the issue with lot of patience and right motivation. He started changing, modifying and replacing the parts of the system as needed with the eye to match them well and put them on sync. His focus was not on purchasing the best things or the best parts. He simply went on matching one part to the other so that they can “dance in harmony.”

And the plant started performing extremely well. It started winning prizes for best productivity, least energy consumption, best quality, etc. People were again proud and happy to work. The corporate management was so pleased with the sudden change in performance that they decided to expand the capacity of the plant by putting up a new system along with a new limestone mine.

From then onwards there was no looking back for this plant. Oops! The “Elephant.”

The Elephant continues to waltz merrily.

Natural Frequency – Whole is not equal to its Parts

The concept that a system behaves differently than its parts is a concept which many often find it difficult to understand. By our education and training we are naturally prone to look at parts rather than the system . The idea is that the property of a system is distinctly different to the individual properties of its parts.

Let us illustrate this concept that a system would always behave differently than its parts through a simple example. We would take a physical parameter and then see how this physical parameter, which is a distinct property of a part, would change as soon as two parts are made to work together. For our purpose we would take ‘natural frequency’ as a physical parameter and see how it changes. And we would take the turbine-generator combination — a prime example  to illustrate this phenomenon of system behaviour.

The first natural frequency of the turbine, which is a property of the turbine, when taken alone is 2433 cycles per minute (cpm). Similarly the first natural frequency of the generator, when taken alone is 2124 cycles per minute (cpm).

What happens when we connect the turbine and the generator together through a coupling and make them work together? The natural frequencies of both the turbine and that of the generator would change altogether! Remember that natural frequency is a distinct property of a part.

The combined natural frequency changes in the following manner:

The first natural frequency of the turbine becomes 2028 cpm (drops by 17%) while that of the generator becomes 1806 cpm (drops by 15%). So the first natural frequency of the parts have changed as soon as the parts were put together.

Hence, it is always true that the WHOLE is never equal to its PARTS. Therefore, while designing, maintaining or operating or examining a problem, fault or a failure we would always gain a better understanding by observing a system as a whole and not its parts.