Rethinking Maintenance Strategy

As of now, maintenance strategy looks similar to strategy taken by the medical fraternity in themes, concepts and procedures.

If things go suddenly wrong we just fix the problem as quickly as possible. A person is healthy to the point when the person becomes unhealthy.

That might work fine for simple diseases like harmless flu, infections, wounds and fractures. And it is rather necessary to do so during such infrequent periods of crisis.

But that does not work for more serious diseases or chronic ones.

For such serious and chronic ones either we go for preventive measures like general cleanliness, hygiene, food and restoring normal living conditions or predictive measures through regular check ups that detects problems like high or low blood pressures, diabetes and cancer.

Once detected, we treat the symptoms post haste resorting to either prolonged doses of medication or surgery or both, like in the case of cancer. But unfortunately, the chance of survival or prolonging life of a patient is rather low.

However, it is time we rethink our strategy of maintaining health of a human being or any machine or system.

We may do so by orienting our strategy to understand the dynamics of a disease. By doing so, our approach changes radically. For example. let us take Type 2 diabetes, which is becoming a global epidemic. Acute or chronic stress initiates or triggers the disease (Initiator). Poor or inadequate nutrition or wrong choice of food accelerates the process  (Accelerator) whereas taking regular physical exercise retards or slows down the process (Retarder). Worthwhile to mention that the Initiator(s), Accelerator (s) and Retarder (s) get together to produce changes that trigger of unhealthy or undesirable behavior or failure patterns. Such interactions, which I call ‘imperfections‘ between initiator (s), accelerator (s) and retarder (s) change the gene expression which gives rise to a disease, which often has to be treated over the entire lifecycle of a patient or system with a low probability of success.

The present strategy to fight diabetes is to modulate insulin levels through oral medication or injections to keep blood sugar to an acceptable level. It often proves to be a frustrating process for patients to maintain their blood sugar levels in this manner. But more importantly, the present strategy is not geared to reverse Type 2 diabetes or eliminate the disease.

The difference between the two approaches lies in the fact — “respond to the symptom” (high blood sugar) vs “respond to the “imperfection” — the interaction between Initiators, Accelerators and Retarders”. The response to symptom is done through constant monitoring and action based on the condition of the system, without attempting to take care of the inherent imperfections. On the other hand, the response to imperfections involve appropriate and adequate actions around the I, A, R s and monitoring their presence and levels of severity.

So a successful strategy to reverse diabetes would be to eliminate or avoid the initiator (or keep it as low as possible); weaken or eliminate the Accelerator and strengthen or improve the Retarder. A custom made successful strategy might be formulated by careful observation and analysis of the dynamics of the patient.

As a passing note, by following this simple strategy of addressing the “system imperfections“, I could successfully reverse my Type 2 Diabetes, which even doctors considered impossible. Moreover, the consequences of diabetes were also reversed.

Fixing diseases as and when they surface or appear is similar to Breakdown Maintenance strategy, which most industries adopt. Clearly, other than cases where the consequences of a failure is really low, adoption of this strategy is not beneficial in terms of maintenance effort, safety, availability and costs.

As a parallel in engineering, tackling a diseases through preventive measures is like Preventive Maintenance and Total Productive Maintenance — a highly evolved form of Preventive Maintenance. Though such a strategy can prove to be very useful to maintain basic operating conditions, the limitation, as in the case of human beings, is that it does not usually ensure successful ‘mission reliability’  (high chance of survival or prolonging healthy life to the maximum) as demonstrated by Waddington Effect. (You may refer to my posts on Waddington Effect here 1 and here 2)

Similarly, predictive strategy along with its follow up actions in medical science, is similar to Predictive Maintenance, Condition Based Maintenance and Reliability Centered Maintenance in engineering discipline. Though we can successfully avoid or eliminate the consequences of failures; improvement in reliability (extending MTBF — Mean Time Between Failures) or performance is limited to the degree of existing “imperfections” in the system (gene expression of the system), which the above strategies hardly address.

For the purpose of illustration of IAR method, you may like to visit my post on — Application of IAR technique

To summarize, a successful maintenance strategy that aims at zero breakdown and zero safety and performance failures and useful extension of MTBF of any system may be as follows:

  1. Observe the dynamics of the machine or system. This might be done by observing  energy flows or materials movement and its dynamics or vibration patterns or analysis of failure patterns or conducting design audits, etc. Such methods can be employed individually or in combination, which depends on the context.
  2. Understand the failures or abnormal behavior  or performance patterns from equipment history or Review of existing equipment maintenance plan
  3. Identify the Initiators, Accelerators and Retarders (IARs)
  4. Formulate a customized comprehensive strategy  and detailed maintenance and improvement plan around the identified IARs keeping in mind the action principles of elimination, weakening and strengthening the IARs appropriately. This ensures Reliability of Equipment Usage over the lifecycle of an equipment at the lowest possible costs and efforts. The advantage lies in the fact that once done, REU gives ongoing benefits to a manufacturing plant over years.
  5. Keep upgrading the maintenance plan, sensors and analysis algorithms based on new evidences and information. This leads to custom built Artificial Intelligence for any system that proves invaluable in the long run.
  6. Improve the system in small steps that give measureable benefits.By Dibyendu De




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.

A baffling problem

Last week I was invited to engage with a baffling problem. It left engineers and managers of the power plant baffled for the last four months.

Instead of writing the technical details of the problem, which might not be of much interest to non-technical people I would instead write about my approach to solving baffling problems along with the principles involved. This is because we often wrongly interpret problems as technical, non technical, financial, social, etc. Essentially all problems are problems of the human mind. Invariably they always originate and live in the human mind. However, problems, as a rule, are always solved or resolved through enlightened (understanding, wisdom) consciousness.

The process, which I intend to highlight below, may be used to successfully solve both personal and professional problems or quickly adapt when a baffling problem (or a black swan) strikes.

The seven steps of the integrated process are as follows:

1. Look at the event as perceived in the present and the events that went before it.

a) See all, sit still, breathe deep, care for the ill.
b) When drinking water think of its source.

2. Examine the responses of human beings to a problem. Spot the responses that emanated from stored memories (usually collective).

a) Buddha is a toilet stick.
b) The gateway is found only after a long search and the long search is a spiral going inward.

3. Check implementation of the responses for assumptions, acceptance of imperfections, ignorance of facts and avoidance of details.

a) See the whole universe in a glass of wine.
b) Can you see the cloud in the book?

4. Scan the various perspectives people have about a problem, i.e. how individuals feel about the problem. Identify the blind spots.

a) No question; no answer
b) Cut the grass; pull the roots. 
c) Pine cones look at different directions but do they?

5. Listen intently to what they say and what they don’t say about the issue.

a) Noise of the unsayable, unspeakable and unsaid is music.
b) Go up the mountain to meet the sage, know that it is you, come down to mix with the lakes and rivers.
c) A ruler and a worthy person who don’t connect, a musician and a listener who don’t find each other, or two potential friends who never meet; all lose.

6. Gain deep insight about the problem.

a) Don’t catch the snake by its tail.                          
b) Birds are not afraid of directions.
c) Question, test and use every sense you have and believe that dawn would come.
d) Imaginary lines between stars guide us to new harbors.

7. Form understanding of the problem. Formulate viable solutions for minimal intervention. Exchange the understanding in the simplest possible terms as logically as possible to change collective consciousness. Leave it there.                                         

a) No question; no answer.
b) Spirit is wrapped in reason and reason is wrapped in spirit.
c) One raindrop creates thousand ripples.
d) Don’t wish for spring; spring gives life to wish.

Chances are that baffling problems would no longer appear baffling and would soon be solved/resolved by people.

Resilience through self renewal!

India is a case study of resilience through motion and adhering to one’s calling in life. The idea of ‘motion’ or nomadic life runs deep in our Indian culture. Our rivers flowing endlessly across the vast landscape, giving life to the parched lands, are personified as metaphors of creativity and serve as timeless symbols of state transformations. The timeless whirl of bhikshus and monks wandering for alms in exchange of advice and wisdom for better living, jhum cultivation obeying the rhythms of nature, continuous growth of clusters and settlements in steady flux of self organizing movements, people in search of work, sadhus (seers) and pilgrims, mobile fairs and haat bazzars (markets), itinerant pilgrims, performers, pastoralists, bards and tellers of myths all embody the notion of ‘motion’; all performing simultaneously on the thin veneer of our ancient but extremely flexible and adaptable ‘culture’.

No wonder India is home to the world’s largest nomadic population always on ‘motion’. Nowhere else is there such a variety of people herded and ceaselessly moving in a self organizing way giving rise to complex patterns nor can the diversity of peripatetic professions be matched.

Yet in our post modern times the sedimentary have increasingly come to represent the ‘civilized’. The mainstream (the sedentary) stands oblivious to the pull of the wanderers and the scribes and the worlds of the nomads have been circumcised’ to the odd curious enthusiasts. Little wonder, nomads are considered ‘strangers’ where ‘strangers’ in principle are ‘undesirable’ people.

And how does this ‘undesirable’ attitude surface? ‘Indifference’ is the shield used by ‘foreigners’ (the non nomads) when they meet nomads. Insensitive and aloof the foreigner seems deep down beyond the reaches of attacks and rejection that he/she nevertheless experiences with the vulnerability of a living and tortuous ‘medusa’.

Such a ‘medusa’ painfully brings on an ‘identity’ of ‘being’ something distinct from others with a fixed character of its own. What it fails to realize or let go is that our identity is changed in a nomadic style by the journey we undertake in life where both our ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ towards ‘reality’ is recomposed, rediscovered, redesigned and evolved. What we fail to realize or give up or let go is that in this transformation every step forward is a step backwards too. Without this necessary stepping back I can’t go forward. The migrant (nomad) is here and there too at the same time. The exile from the ‘nomad’ life can be deadening with the lack of ‘stretching’ and ‘folding’, which every movement entails. Such ‘stretching’ and ‘folding’ is nomadic symbolizing ‘movement’ that is potentially creative through unleashing ‘chaos’. It can also be an affliction but can also be a transfiguration. Whatever it might be it is a vital resource to create the necessary movement from ‘being’ to ‘becoming’.

If that is so what happens to my identity of ‘being’. My ‘being’ existence is actually non-existent. Is my identity not with ‘being’ but ‘becoming’? Do I live always on the edge of a frontier – a place for separation, transition and new articulation of a state that I haven’t seen or enjoyed before? In ‘becoming’ am I relieved of the odd task of constantly creating a boundary and jealously guarding it against attacks or rejection by constantly stepping back to cross or transgress it?

I realize that I am stranger to my ‘becoming’ state. What would happen is not known to me. What I would do as a response is also not known to me. In the state of becoming I change myself physically, mentally and spiritually and nothing is known to me in advance or ever would.

That to me is the cyclical principle of resilience gained through the constant act of self renewal through ‘becoming’ leading to self transformation.

What helps me do that? Obviously the mind which itself is ‘nomadic’. I can use it the way I would like to evolve, change, be creative and change the course of my destiny and self transform myself. I know the ‘why’ and ‘whom does it serve’ but I still remain a stranger to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ in any given moment in my movement.

That allows me to develop the ability to concentrate or be focused & also keep up a defused state of attentive awareness of the contextual surroundings at the same time (integration of the left & right brains). It is the fine art of being focused on the part and the whole at the same time enabling me to flow with the dance of Shiva. That truly makes my mind & spirit nomadic, enabling flashes of fresh and original insights to act upon.

This video link below shows how we integrate our right and left brains in real situations and how such integration leads to ‘becoming’ rather than ‘being’. Though I would always stay a stranger to that ‘becoming’ I refuse to remain a stranger to my present moment that informs my ‘becoming’.

One thing I am sure of — Nomadic life – physically, mentally and spiritually – is usually the most gainful and risk free mode of resilient survival as it allows freedom from the limitations of confined space and time – the final form of slavery & exploitation, created by seemingly rational concepts, ideas and notions.

Living the life of a nomad is fun too since I would always stay a stranger to myself. It is a practice I love. Rightfully it is the only way one hugs resilience since it helps me to create what I want to. The practice is through travel to unfamiliar lands with new eyes and minds, engaging in spontaneous dialogs, self-study, storytelling, expressing differently through various forms of arts, interactions, improving interdependence and meditative reflection where both the right and the left brains are not only integrated but allowed to come into play simultaneously as a contextual response to real situations.

A few days from now, India celebrates Deepwali — the festival of ‘lights’. It reminds me of a celebration of a nomadic journey, thousands of years back, taken down the southern path of India (one of the two main trade routes) by Rama the hero of the epic story of Ramayana. It represents lighting the inner lamp to ‘becoming’ and to be a lamp onto others. It also reminds us to wish everyone Health, Happiness and Wealth so that the best things in life come back to us manifolds by creating sustainability and resilience at the same time.

On this auspicious occasion I dedicate this post to the Health, Happiness and Wealth of all who care to read this post or don’t care to glimpse through it.

But the question is “would you like to join me in the fun of moving and enjoying Shiva’s dance by being a stranger to yourself in the nomadic way?”

Would eagerly wait for you!





Perception, Sense-making, Enlightened Action

Right Perception and RIght Sense making are the fundamental outcomes of our cognitive ability that enable effective leaders take enlightened action. 

Possibly, most problems that we create through our actions are a result of wrong perception and wrong sense-making.

To me, Perceiving, Sense-making and Enlightened Action in life is something like this:

“Any real life System about which we care to perceive, make sense and take enlightened action, comprises of a meaningful set of ever changing and self transforming objects, diverse in form, complexity, state and function, interacting in periodic and aperiodic manner with each other and inter-related through multiple network of interdependencies through mutual feedbacks and signals thereby generating variable amplitudes of energy exchanged/transferred within variable/flexible space(s), mostly 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 moving towards void or create new possibilities in performance and/or behaviour from the void of creative potential owing to presence of ‘attractors’ and ‘appearance of bi-furcations’; thereby making it impossible to predict the future behavior 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 or possibilities 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 a system has arrived at its present state and what would keep it going, change or destroyed thus triggering creative human responses through right insights (not grossly based on emotions or thinking or memory) to manage, maintain and enhance system conditions, functions and purposes with minimal intervention to create superior systems of the future through enhancement of self organized interactions within and without the system interfaced with other connected, unconnected and overlapping systems operating within larger envelopes of human activity.”

Such a representation of an Perception, Sense-making and Enlightened Action looks quite involved.

Perhaps it might be stated in a much simpler ways but I would not attempt to do so since it would make it more complex that it should be.

Perhaps more can be said about resilience, agility, etc but I would not do so since those are really superfluous.

Perhaps more can be said about Black Swans and not so ‘black swans’ and predictions but I would care less to say so since saying more would be ‘redundant’.

The whole gamut of Perception, Sense-making and Enlightened Action takes place within five envelopes of human cognition, which are as follows:

1. Physical envelope

2. Energy envelope

3. Mental envelope

4. Wisdom envelope

5. Enlightened Action envelope


However, the crux of the matter is

1) how we ‘see’ reality (Darshan/Notice)?

2) how do we understand what the system is telling us (Sadhana/Engage)?

3) how do we create and choose our responses (Bhavana/Mull)?

4) how do we develop the necessary intention to implement our choices to life and living (Shankalpa/Exchange)?



1. Darshan, Sadhana, Bhavana and Shankalpa are Sanskrit words

2. The above post is an excerpt from or notes of a forth coming book “Leadership – The Nemetics Way!”

Predicting Black Swans – Part II

In the earlier post we dealt with the concept of predicting a ‘black swan‘.

In this post, I intend to explore the concept a bit more: what exactly we monitor to notice a ‘black swan’ in time?

In doing so we would be forced to consider the natural response of a system.

The starting point of our exploration would be to understand how any system, as a whole, whether natural or engineered, would disturbed by a ‘black swan’.  A system is disturbed in three possible ways, which are as follows:

a) A system loses energy till it reaches a tipping point

b) A system gains more and more energy till it crosses the point of system resilience

c) A part of a system emits more energy than it is normally supposed to, that is going beyond the linear response of the part. 

So the natural way to watch a system to expect a ‘black swan’ in time, is to keep a tab on the ‘energy’ of a system in the following ways:

a) Monitor the entropy of a system. As a system functions the entropy of a system gradually rises till it hits a threshold limit indicating the appearance of a ‘black swan’ or an outlier. 

b) Monitor the energy gain of a system till it crosses the ‘resilience’ point to give birth to a ‘black swan’, outlier or a ‘wicked problem’. 

c) Monitor critical parts of a system for excess emission of energy till it goes beyond the linear response of a part. 

It is useful to remember that energy is transferred in ‘quanta‘ or in packets of energy. Therefore, it is natural to expect jumps of energy levels as we record by capturing the different manifestation of energy levels on monitoring trend charts. So when a ‘jump’ is big enough to cross a threshold limit or resilience point or linear response level indicated by its presence outside the Gaussian distribution range  we can be quite sure that a ‘black swan’ or an outlier or a ‘wicked problem’ would soon arrive on the scene. We call such an indicator as a signal.

Therefore, the central idea is to capture such signals in time, just before a ‘black swan’ makes it way to appear on the scene to dominate and change the system.

However, the question is how early can we detect that signal to effectively deal with the inherent ‘black swan’ in a system, which is yet to appear on the scene?

That would be explored in the next post.

Listening and Innovation

When I was learning the tricks of my trade from my teacher, I used to listen.

Since I hardly ever questioned him or expressed any doubt about what he said he asked me one day, “Do you understand what I say?”

“Yes”, I said “since I intently listen to what you say.”

“And how is that?” he asked.

“When I am listening to you there are no longer two persons like you and I. There are no longer the speaker and the listener. I just become one with you. That is the only way I understand what you say. The whole responsibility is mine”

Even today, I remember not only what my teacher spoke but also remember the manner in which he spoke, wrote, explained, gestured — every small detail.

Soon some of my friends remarked that when I delivered a talk or a lecture or engaged in a conversation, I spoke and behaved exactly the way my teacher did.

Needless to say, that this skill of listening soon helped me surge ahead with rapid speed in what became my profession and my hobby.  Soon I innovated many special techniques and methods of innovation that can be easily applied to complex situations.

Listening is an indispensable skill in innovation.

It is so very important when innovation is a response to an existing complexity.

The goal of listening is to merge with what is being ‘listened’ to and be one with it.

Then only true understanding emerges.

All good innovations take birth from such true understanding.