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.

 

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.

Developing Non-linear Thinking Skills

We know while comprehending complexity, linear logic fails. That appears to the most important reason as to why most people find it difficult to understand complex situations or grapple with complex problems.

With simple linear logic, principles come first and deductions follow. Hence the process may be described as:

Observe -> Model the observations based on relevant domain theory -> apply Principles/mathematics -> Deduction

Fair to say that this standard approach, based on linear logic, is used in science and engineering to solve linear problems. Since this is an efficient way of thinking it dominates our educational, professional and social lives.

But when it comes to solving non-linear complex problems (unfortunately most life problems are non-linear) application of linear logic fails. Instead what is needed is the development of non-linear thinking skills.

In fact, non-linear thinking style is a necessary skill with the larger theoretical framework of digital literacy through multiple format known as transliteracy through transmedia learning environment.

Nonlinear thinking styles are defined as using intuition, insight, creativity and emotions when comprehending and communicating information (Vance, Groves, Paik and Kindler, 2007)

But how to develop non-linear thinking skills?

I would give below a 3 step approach, one of the many approaches I developed for the specific purpose of developing non-linear thinking skills of my adult professional students. This specific technique is christened as the Fugue technique.

1. Think in terms of fugue. In a fugue, all the notes cannot be constrained into a single melodic scale. Compressing everything into one single melodic scale is analogous to modelling a phenomenon or behaviour based on a high level of abstraction, which is the dominant characteristic of linear thinking style. Make this clear to the participating group. It would relieve them of the unnecessary stress of finding the “one right answer” or “one right approach” to a complex problem.

2. Bring people together to tackle a complex problem. Make sure that the participants are familiar with the problem. This means that complex problems are to be selected from the familiar working environment of the participants or problems the participants have grappled with but failed to find a solution.

Putting a number of people together gives us a big advantage. Different people see the same problem in different ways. It would depend on their specific strengths and mental makeup, tendency and practice. Some find some parts of the problem easy to see and understand, which others might find too difficult to even notice. Each member of the group is then encouraged to focus on some parts of the problem that comes easily to them so as to come up with their own unique perspectives and understanding.

Before allowing people to jump in, preferably use different media to present a problem — narrative, story telling, printed material, videos, pictures, data, internet references etc.

3. Invite the group to plunge directly into the midst of things and follow the temporal order created by the thoughts of the different group members. Build upon each others thoughts. Never mind if we get different strings of thoughts to build different lines of thinking, which is the most desired output. Encourage all forms of communication — dialogs, debates, discussions, collaboration, negotiation, etc. Be patient with the flow of time. Activities might show sudden bursts of energy at various points of time. Allow people to express their thoughts through different media – verbal, slide shows, discussions, drawings, doodles, story telling, narratives/presentations, logical interpretation through principles, etc. It is expected that each member communicates in his/her preferred style of communication.

Link the different strings of thoughts or different perspectives to make a collective but coherent understanding of a complex problem without attempting to put them into “one melodic scale.” It means that it is not necessary to align the different perspectives into one linear path. Multiple paths are encouraged. Expecting multiple solutions would be the norm. The output measured against time is exponential when compared to linear approach. It helps in increasing both depth and width of learning. In Nemetic terms the resultant ecology is known as nemePlx or nPx

When a group performs this exercise on many live problems over a span of few days (a four-day long session appears to be just enough), it propels the students to develop their non-linear thinking skills. It also develops their transliteracy skills (a non-linear thinking skill) immersed in transmedia learning environment.

Note:

1. This Fugue technique has been extensively used for Power Plant professionals solving their complex problems.

2. The author is of the opinion that non-linear thinking skills cannot be taught in any explicit manner.

References:

!. Digital Literacy: A Demand for Nonlinear Thinking Styles Mark Osterman, Thomas G. Reio, Jr., and M. O. Thirunarayanan Florida International University, USA http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1321&context=sferc

2. Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn Davidson, C., (2011). New York, NY: Penguin

Strange habits of Gunter Grass

Gunter Grass, novelist, artist, Nobel laureate and all-round agitator, died on April 13th, aged 87.

While writing, he had some strange habits such as:

1. It was important for him to say the words aloud while he wrote.

2. The writing of his long dense books was slow, punctuated by coffee and by drawing and sculpting in which he was not only gifted but also trained.

3. Many of his drawings appeared in the books and on their jackets often replacing texts when words failed him.

4. He spoke his mind as he wrote, chewing over the sentences with the same reflective relish he might devote to potato pancakes, roast goose or liver sausage.

My questions are:

1. Why did he do so?

2. Did such habits help him to do better at what he did?

3. What insights we may gain from the habits of Gunter Grass?

Reference:

The Economist, April 18th – 24th 2015, Obituary Gunter Grass — The beat of the drum, page 78.

The Role of Intuition in High Performance

Garry Kasparov was the world’s top chess player for twenty years. Later he became a mentor to young players.

He has this to say about computer assisted learning:

“Everybody has access to the same computers. So I think the brute force of calculation isn’t enough – human intuition is an integral part of successful decision making too. Young players need to hear the greats of the past explain the nature of the game, the rationale of the openings, the ideas behind the moves. They can’t learn by just looking at the screen.”  [Ref: Life’s Work | Harvard Business Review South Asia | April 2015 | page 104]

I completely agree with him. While coaching or mentoring engineers and engineering managers I have seen serious mistakes being made while taking decisions based on established rules. The chance of making such mistakes increases while tackling complex situations and problems.

This is because solving complex problems and taking the right decisions in complex situations needs both reason and intuition. These combine to form right contextual knowledge of a complex situation. Worthwhile to remember that reason forms rules based on existing knowledge, which are, so to say, “Google able”. Whereas, intuition creates new knowledge by making unusual connections, which is commonly known as “out of the box thinking” or “creative thinking.”

Computer aided learning might help develop reason. But how do we develop intuition?

Kasparov offers advice on how to develop intuition.

What might be the other ways, if any?

3 Best Gifts

Three best gifts a human being may give to another are:

1. Gift of material resources (physical – the R wave)

Without basic material resources to support life no human being can ever hope do something worthwhile to develop himself/herself. No music would be created. No poems would be written. No paintings would be made. No inventions would come about. No talent would blossom. It is about providing long term sustenance since honing of any talent needs years of persistent practice in good health.

2. Gift of Knowledge (mental – G wave)

Gifting knowledge to someone helps a person to navigate through complexity of life so as not to get swamped by it. It is an invaluable gift. Without basic knowledge and skill to navigate in complexity, even the best amongst us, would soon lose their way, get distracted, depressed and be left in a state of utter despair. It provides the wherewithal to stay the tough course of life by understanding oneself and others. In other words, it provides the wisdom to live life without much of mental sufferings and afflictions.

3. Gift of Assurance (emotional – B wave)

With this gift one gets the much needed confidence to do better in what one does well. This gift helps one to develop a sense of belonging, a state of peace, happiness and equanimity enabling one to reach one’s highest potential. In that way, the world automatically become a better place to live. Mere presence, an approving nod, a kind word, a smile, sharing love, showing respect, sharing the good word are some of the subtle but powerful forms of this gift. It unleashes the most powerful transforming force in an individual and society at large.

How Individual Consciousness Affects Leadership Decisions

Years back when I visited Singapore for the first time I was quite taken aback by the affluence of this South East Asian city state. It didn’t look like Indian cities — Mumbai or Kolkata.

It was spotlessly clean. It was economically well off, orderly and easy to go around though stradled with harsh punitive rules. But what stuck me most was the clear absence of slums or ghettos — so prevalent across the world — especially in rich cities. Instead there was public housing where the poor were housed. No one lived in slums.

The architect of modern Singapore – Mr. Lee instantly became one of my several role models.

But the question is — why did he not allow slums to organically develop, as they do and instead spent money on creating public housing to avoid people living in slums?

Was it because he wanted to create a cleaner and better image for Singapore to attract foreign investments, given that an estimated 40% of world maritime trade now passes through Singapore?

Or was it that he had an unwavering empathy for the poor and wanted to give them a better deal in life as he did for ministers and civil servants of the state by ensuring that they earn high salaries?

Delving deeper I saw that these weren’t the reasons for Mr. Lee to go for mass public housing.

With a big ethnic Chinese majority but sizeable Malay and Indian minorities, Singapore suffered race riots in the 1960s. This deeply influenced young Mr. Lee’s consciousness, which he never quite forgot till he passed away at the ripe old age of 91. So after a painful divorce from Malaysia in 1965 he went for public housing and enforced quotas in allotment of public housing to force integration of the three major ethnic communities. All this was done to avoid the painful repetition of ugly detrimental race riot.

And his mindful action did pay off the intended benefit. Political stability and social order that followed, attracted huge foreign investment in a climate that proved “ease of doing business” that ensured Singapore to grow into one of the richest countries of the world.

Notes:

In Nemetic terms this is the play of the RGB waves, where —

R wave (event) — ethnic riots

G wave (behavior) — segregation of the ethnic communities from the major Chinese ethnic community and tension between those

B wave (consciousness/intention) — change of consciousness and intention of Mr. Lee

This gave rise to a new set of RGB waves, through the action of Mr. Lee, which may be described as —

R wave (event) — investment in public housing and allotment through quotas.

G wave (behavior) — Political stabiity and social order

B wave (consciousness/intention) — one of the world’s richest country.

Reference:

The Economist, March 28th – April 3rd 2015, The Wise Man of the East, page 16.

Synopsis of a Paper to address Complexity

I have been invited by the Institution of Engineers, India, as a keynote speaker, for a seminar to be held in April 2015.

The synopsis of the paper follows.

Title of the paper:

Vibration Analysis as a tool to Simultaneously Improve Industrial Performance, Productivity and Profitability

Synopsis:

In industries, throughout the world, for the last fifty years or so, vibration analysis and monitoring  have been extensively used for Condition Based Maintenance (CBM). Proper application of CBM can  result in 50% reduction in downtime and 25% reduction in maintenance costs from a plant’s previous level of performance. It has now reached the desired level of technical and professional maturity to be well poised to evolve to the next stage of its evolution, i.e. IOT (Internet of Things).

However, in the meanwhile, “complexity” has also evolved to pose as a major challenge to industrial performance, productivity and profitability. Both industrial equipment and systems have grown in complexity, which is often manifested as multiple interrelated problems of machine failures, quality, performance and wastage that are difficult to address by traditional tools and techniques that are presently being used in industries.

This paper aims to highlight, through two case studies, the use of vibration analysis as one of the powerful tools to address such multiple problems in a simultaneous fashion, which solves multiple problems in one go rather than address each problem individually over a long period of time as done in the present. Present approaches to address prevalent “complexity” often turn out to be unsuccessful and frustrating for both engineers and managers. Application of vibration analysis along with appropriate understanding of design principles would help industries achieve dramatic improvement of performance, productivity and profitability with minimum interventions, time and resources as demonstrated by the cases. What is more — once such minimal changes are implemented industries continue to gain ongoing benefits for years to come. 

The Secret of Everything.

image
The heart of all issues

This I think is the secret of solving or resolving any issue or creating anything worthwhile in the world, however difficult or hard that might appear to be.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a problem or issue of physics or a problem of engineering or a management problem or a personal problem.

So, taking time and patience to learn and master “connectedness” is worth spending a lifetime upon.

One can’t force it to happen. But when it happens consider it as a extremely rate and valuable gift, worth more than its weight in gold.

When one plays with this gift with perseverance it turns into the rarest of rare talent available to the world.

Possibly, we will never have a “Theory of Everything” but we certainly have a “Secret of Everything.”

So why wait to master that secret?