Attention — the Essential Energy to Achieve & Improve Anything.

Information enters our consciousness either because we intend to focus attention on it or as a result of attentional habits based on biological or social instructions.

For example, driving down the extremely busy and often chaotic streets of Kolkata, we pass by hundreds of cars without actually being aware of them. Their shape, size and colours might register for a fraction of a second, and then they are immediately forgotten the next moment.

But our primary objective is to reach from one place to another without an accident or suffering a scratch. But how do we achieve that goal?

So while driving, we occasionally notice a particular vehicle, perhaps because it is moving unsteadily between lanes or because it is moving too slowly or because it looks strange in some way.

The image of the unusual vehicle enters our focus of consciousness and we become intensely aware of it unusual behaviour.

In our minds, such visual information about the car (the abnormal behaviour) gets related to information about other errant cars stored in our memory, which helps us determine into which category the present instance fits. Is this an inexperienced driver, a rash driver, a drunken driver, a momentarily distracted (talking on a mobile phone) but competent driver?

As soon as the event is matched to an already known class of events, it is identified. Now it has to be evaluated: Is this something to worry about? If the answer is yes, then we must immediately decide on an appropriate course of action: Should we speed up, overtake, slow down, change lanes, stop?

All these complex mental operations must be completed quickly and in real time. But it doesn’t happen automatically. There seems to be a distinct process that makes such reactions possible. This process is called attention. It is attention that selects the relevant bits of information from a potential of thousands of bits available.

It takes attention to retrieve the appropriate references from memory, to evaluate the real-life event and then choose the right thing to do.

Despite its great powers, attention can’t step beyond the limits as already described. It can’t notice or hold in focus more information that can be processed simultaneously. Retrieving information from memory and bringing it into the focus of awareness, comparing information, evaluating, deciding — all make demands on the mind’s limited processing capacity. For instance, the driver who notices an errant car will have to stop talking on his cell phone if he wants to avoid an accident, which is, in fact, his goal.

Some people learn to use this priceless resource very efficiently while others simply waste it. The mark of a person who is in control of his/her consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to stay away from distractions, to concentrate as long as it takes to achieve a goal and not longer. The person who can do this effortlessly usually enjoys the normal course of everyday life and can effectively meet the challenges of everyday life.

Improving reliability of industrial equipment needs such keen attentional energy which Reliability Centred Maintenance helps one to achieve. It, of course, depends on how well a Reliability Centred Maintenance System is designed, developed and implemented.

But what is essential is the development of memory bank, which can be only developed through comprehensively designed training and education system run over a long period of time.

Computerised Maintenance systems, Condition Based Maintenance technology, rigorously developed Maintenance Planning, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence can all help but without a broad-based deep memory bank of different types of failures, failure modes, interactions and mechanisms that create failures, methods to detect failures, interpretation and evaluation of relevant information and deciding the right course of action –improving reliability of industrial systems would remain as a desire only,

Attention is the key to achieving desired outcomes and improving any system. It can’t be ignored.

 

By Dibyendu De

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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.

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.