Give your operations and maintenance folks the help they need to make the project truly successful.
I've often been asked, "how often should our project team meet once our project is under way?" My answer is based on your average spend over the life of the project and at peak times (especially in rebuilds).
I have written assessments on lots of projects. Every one of them follows the same pattern in the same order. Three questions: 1. What are the markets? 2. What are the raw materials? 3. What are the assets (including tangible assets and human assets) that you place between (1) and (2) to have a successful project? If you don't start here, your chances of success are very low.
Most of the people I talk to today have not prepared or managed capital budgets under the conditions we find ourselves in now. Well, I saw my first capital budget in an industrial setting in March of 1970. Perhaps I can help you a bit--we had similar issues back then as those we are facing today--the administration in the White House in those days thought they could control inflation with price controls which caused me to miss two planned 25 cent raises as a co-op student, from $2.75 per hour, to $3.00 per hour to $3.25/hour, over a period of 18 months. Glad I could do my part to help tame inflation; as a student operating on the pay as you go plan (no loans), one makes too much money anyway.
Have you ever had a conversation like this? "I was going to by a car from Brand X because it is cheaper and has more features than Brand Y." "Well, you obviously bought Brand Y. Why?" "Brand X didn't have any in stock and didn't know when they would get any." So, really, in the end, Brand X didn't mean anything because you could not get Brand X. Their price could have been twice the price or half the price of Brand Y, it just didn't make any difference. You may find yourself in this place with certain pieces of capital equipment now. You may have to become a "satisfier" instead of an "optimizer."
I don't think this is a one size fits all question as you look at your marketing going forward. Some customers will be interested in your energy usage, others will be interested in what your products can do to save them costs in their manufacturing and logistics schemes. Please note that in all scenarios in this column, I will be talking primarily about business-to-business sales, not business to consumers.
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal which was discussing the write down coming in some energy assets, such as coal reserves, as the economy switches to "greener" energy sources. Like it or not, agree with it or not, there seems to be a move afoot to completely change our acceptable energy sources. You can interpret this as follows: energy is going to get more expensive, a lot more expensive, in this new world.
What concerns me today is that we seem to be more interested in the form of energy rather than its efficiency or cost. Energy has taken on somewhat of an "identity politics" persona. In earlier days, it was security of supply and efficiency. Today it is products of combustion that seems to garner the attention.
If you have read this column for any length of time, you know that old Jim has told you countless times to carefully mothball energy assets that are out of favor, for sooner or later, they will come back into fashion again. This statement is a corollary to my principle, all energy decisions are political. This calendar year has seen a sudden swing to an overwhelming global opinion that climate change is "settled science" and we can't decarbonize fast enough. Couple this with ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) principles and boards of directors worldwide are moving at warp speed towards these extremely popular ideas.
The components and devices to do what I will describe here exists now. Someone just needs to assemble the bits and pieces.
If you think you can't innovate, the problem is purely mental. Creativity can be learned and you can use it in many ways to make your work environment more productive and safer.
Getting innovation right is crucial to optimizing profitability. Too soon, and the equipment may not be able to deliver as promised. Too late and your competition may have already eclipsed you.
There have been many attempts to institutionalize innovation. Sometimes the domiciles of higher education seem to think they have a lock on innovation capabilities. Likely, in some areas, they do. The innovation with near term payoff, however, often takes place at the millsite. It is an activity in which everyone can participate and can be made into a fun (and profitable) activity if structured correctly.
We are in the process of revitalizing and restarting the Light Green Machine Institute, a 501c3 educational institute we created back around 2008. The Light Green Machine Institute's mission statement is "Holistically reducing the environmental impact of pulp and paper processing."
The fourth step in quality is the training and morale of your personnel. All your employees need to be thoroughly trained for the job at hand and not only trained but taught to think so that they can take action when they see something occur that can affect quality.
The third step in Quality is the quality of your raw materials. Some might have thought this is the second step. No, it's the third, for you don't know the quality of raw materials required until you know the quality you are promising your customers.
The second step in Quality is a solid standard of product performance. If you are in the tissue and towel business, these are likely internal standards. If you are in the containerboard or other paper products businesses, these are likely recognized industry standards. You don't know what quality is if you can't define it.
The first step in the path to producing a quality product is the housekeeping in your facility. I know I sound like a broken record, but in truth, housekeeping is the first step in many actions in your mill or converting facility. I have never seen quality products consistently produced in dirty or sloppy facilities. It is just not possible.
If you are the top person on your site, get out of your office and visit your people regularly. I recommend 6 a.m. rounds, with flashlight and small notepad in hand to take notes on what you find (or put them on your phone). Shake hands, get to know your people. If you are over a large facility, don't do it all in a day, but make sure you visit every department at least once per week.
Where human/machine interface is going in our paper mills is hard to guess, it seems to be just at the cusp of arriving as we implement Industry 4.0. On one hand, it will make us better papermakers, but on the other, like my automobile experiences, we will likely have many of the unconscious dependencies...
I was assistant project manager in the engineering department at a mill back in the early 1980's. I have referenced this experience a number of times in this column over the years. One of the upgrades we made at the time was to go from pneumatic controls to digital computer control. This means that the machine, which only a few days ago was operated from benchboard on the floor was now operated from a control room. Now a mere month later, the bench boards are gone. Keep in mind, the crews on this machine had been running it from benchboards for about 14 years...
This is my 52nd September in the workforce. I think management is tougher than ever. Think about it--when I started even OSHA did not exist. People were glad to have jobs and they put up with all sorts of things at work that simply aren't tolerated today, both from the standpoint of society's mores and from a labor regulatory perspective.
Silas, the CEO of REO, wasn't finished last week. He had another story he wanted to relate.
After a few lights of recreation, the Great Mother convened us once again. "Rats," she announced, "Let me introduce the Rat 'Em Out Detective Agency. You can just call them "REO" for short." Six wizened looking old rats came to the front of the room.
The Great Mother called the meeting to order after a short break. "Who has a case for us?" Dis came up the side aisle. There were a lot of rats at the meeting. They had been attracted by the thoughts of a trip to the Big Things capital city and to their building where the biggest rats of all congregated. The Great Mother seemed to be in a benevolent mood, "And what is your story, my child?" "In the mill where I work, there is this female Big Thing. I should say, 'there was.' She is in jail now."
The Rats arrived at the big building with the big half ball on top. What we didn't count on is how bad it stinks inside! Don't know how the Big Things stand it, but after a day or two, we pretty much got used to it. I guess because it has been here a long time and gotten saturated with the residuals of Big Thing's activities causes it to stink so. The Great Mother called us to order. "Thank you for coming. As usual, the Big Things have been working overtime again creating havoc and committing crimes throughout the land. What's on the docket today?"
By Jim Thompson interpreting for Fos the Rat: You Big Things may think we rats are in the dark about your activities. Of course, if you have been reading this column for any length of time, you know that is not true. I (Fos) have been reporting on your misdeeds and malfeasance since August of 2015. Yes, this makes the seventh year Mr. Jim has yielded his column to me for the month of August.
If you have read this series of July columns, you might be thinking I take a dim view of environmentalism principles. I don't--as long as they are measured in their application or make good economic sense. Don't trust the public to be informed. I'll use an example that is not necessarily environmental to prove my point and to show you some of the ways misinformation abounds...
You would be hard pressed to find a topic or concept more universally and shamelessly exploited as a marketing aid than environmentalism. Positive vibes from environmentalism are used by nearly every marketer on earth to show alignment of their products and services with clean air, clean water and less landfill waste. It is a safe bet--who doesn't want clean air, clean water and less landfill waste? Sadly, as an industry, we were a bit slow on the uptake.
Never heard of the Sunrise Movement? You should check them out--www.sunrisemovement.org. On 28 June 2021, they blocked all entrances to the White House to get attention. Some were promptly arrested. One might characterize the Sunrise Movement as Greenpeace on steroids. Youth oriented, the Sunrise Movement has a multifaceted activism focusing on the environment and the Green New Deal. On their website, they list twelve principles. You will have to deal with them.
In the innocent days of the 1970's, the US Environmental Protection Agency was formed. It came into being on 9 July 1970. Other countries had formed similar bodies in the same era. Sweden's was founded in 1967, for instance. Others were formed as late as the 1990's. Back in those days, air and water pollution were spewing forth with little control and little was being done about it. The correct approach was science coupled with appropriate regulations. This has happened worldwide now, by one of two methods.
In this final set of scenarios, I was in the role of Services Manager (responsible for maintenance, engineering, and the technical and power departments) at a mill in Ohio. We were having trouble with contaminants in our recycled fiber supply. The state-of-the-art solution at the time was to replace screen baskets with holes with ones with very small slots. Of course, like all such situations, this solution had spread around the industry as fast as it would on Facebook today (but this was pre-internet). We had screen baskets of the requisite specifications on order, but delivery was months away.
On Thursday, June 17, 2021, I had the great pleasure visiting our client, Industrial Air, Inc., of Greensboro, North Carolina. This visit was a year in the making, given the travel restrictions of the lost year of Covid 19.
We were in the middle of engineering and planning a rebuild. Our instrument engineer comes strolling into my office one morning. He's concerned about the delivery of the new distributed control system. On the paper machine, we were going from bench boards on the operating floor (with pneumatic controls) to a digital system in a new control room. Huge change. Our instrument engineer, I'll call him Jeff, was getting conflicting stories from the supplier concerning delivery. I told him to make a couple of more calls, and if he was not happy with the answers he was getting, we would jump on a plane. We jumped on a plane.
As I mentioned last week, we are in a new era of shortages, delays and high costs. Back when many of you engineers and purchasing agents in the mills in the United States were still watching Sesame Street, some of us were going to extraordinary lengths to get the goods our mills needed to stay on schedule and operating. You may need to start thinking this way, too--but be sure to read the safety cautions at the end of this column.
This is the month I talk about procurement. If you buyers or purchasing agents have been moping around for years, thinking you are not getting any recognition, those days are over. Suddenly, you are the center of attention. Pricing and schedule are paramount these days.
As I wrap up the energy columns for this month, I wanted to leave you with a few words of caution.
We have traditionally calculated the investment in energy projects based on savings against alternatives, fuel supply availability or regulatory requirements. What if we drag the marketing folks into the equation and ask them how much more product they could sell or what kind of a competitive advantage they could realize if they could say your facilities and products are more favorable on the carbon question than other manufacturers? Is there a piece of the economic question that could be answered with this discussion?
For decades I have been saying the pulp and paper industry is one of the most exciting sectors in the manufacturing world. It is full of surprises, never ceases to be entertaining and is continually offering new ways to succeed. Now an outfit called Allrise Capital has once again reinforced my beliefs in this thinking.
Regardless of your personal beliefs or the science you (do) (do not) believe, carbon neutrality is in your energy future. There are many high-profile companies and CEOs involved in the "CEO Carbon Neutral Challenge" including our own advertising partner, SAP. The Carbon Neutral Challenge has a list of six guiding principles.
Here in the United States, with a change in administrations, there is often a change in energy policy. It seems no different this time. If you will recall, many times I have said all energy policy is political. This has not changed. My confidential touchstone on energy activity tells me energy research requests are up, too.
Occasionally you will run into a safety situation that is not covered by your training. What to do? My approach to such situations is multi-pronged. Urgency, risk, obvious and unknown are adjectives I would use to describe my approach in these matters, coupled with a heightened awareness of my surroundings.
Last week, we talked about excitement creating dangerous safety conditions. This week let's talk about the opposite--routine creating dangerous safety conditions. Because we work around large machinery, clamp trucks and so forth, which, for the most part behave as they should, we become complacent that about these items. Paper machines can kill--and they have. Clamp trucks can kill--and they have. Dynamic accidents (things flying apart, things falling) are dangerous.
One of the most dangerous times, at work, home or wherever is when we get excited. When excited, we often don't think about safety. How many times have you come into the mill excited (perhaps by the traffic you had just driven in)? How many times have you left the mill excited, with plans to go on vacation or do something else exciting when you got off shift that day? How do we fix this?
The pressure to meet production goals is directly in conflict with safety procedures unless you work hard and creatively to take the conflict out of this scenario, for there is a conflict here, no matter what anyone says. In reality, doing tasks the safest way is often the most efficient way.
I hate boneyards. These piles of junk provide a false sense of security, causing clueless managers to think there is something there that can get them out of a maintenance jam. I haven't kept track, but my perception is that boneyards in my past caused far more problems than they cured.
From July 1925 to December 1970, Popular Science Monthly, a familiar magazine here in the US, ran a feature called Gus Wilson's Model Garage. The typical story was an automobile owner who came to the garage with a vexing car problem. Gus, through his experience, wit and intuition, could figure out the problem and put the driver back on the road, problem solved. In our pulp and paper mills today, perhaps we need more Gus's.
Risking raising the hackles of the IT department, this writer thinks it is time to fold IT into maintenance, for that is what it often is. IT should be held accountable for downtime, just like regular maintenance. Downtime should be broken into scheduled and unscheduled, just like regular maintenance and KPI's should be kept on it. Recently, one major company in our industry experienced a ransomware attack. Within two months, the CEO suddenly retired. Coincidence perhaps, but who on the outside knows?
With experience, one can walk on to an operating floor and determine which faction, operations or maintenance, had the larger influence in a paper mill's design. It is really quite easy. The first giveaway is the width of the operating, or tending, aisle versus the drive aisle.
Is there anything left to be said about maintenance that I have not already said in the last twenty years of writing this column? Yes, there is always something to be said about maintenance. We have more tools, monitoring devices, tracking systems, more than we have ever had before, yet we still have unscheduled maintenance above the levels that should be acceptable in most mills. What should be our standard for maintenance? May I suggest the airline industry?
By accepting graffiti laden railcars on your site, you are approving of a certain level of mediocrity and malaise associated with your business. Further, you are contributing to a plague on society, every time those railcars pass through any town in the country, not just when they are near or on your property. Cleaning up the railcars will be a huge boost to the overall morale of society.
The containerboard industry sorely needs its own "conex" for rolls wider than 110 inches. This needs to be a system that allows rolls to be placed horizontally, or perhaps, at an angle to reduce the height normally achieved by vertical rolls.
Vertical transportation systems, that is, those which stack goods vertically, tend to occupy disproportionately more space than one would first think due to the need to have aisles to retrieve those goods in storage. From a floorspace allocation perspective, only half of the floor is devoted to storage, the other half is devoted to space for retrieval equipment to operate. One system I have seen that overcomes this problem is a vertical storage finished roll warehouse.
In transportation month last year, we talked about electric trucks. We are still talking about electric trucks today and for years to come.
Engineers and scientists have a propensity to save their data. Saved information can come back and bite your company and you. Many a career has been ruined by a fastidious hoarder. Even worse, most think, "it can't happen to me."
Project management is about leadership, not democracy. The objective is to complete the project at the least expenditure of time and money. Treat others with respect, yes, but have clearly defined roles for each person and hold them accountable for their piece, replace them if they cannot successfully accomplish their role. These days, we often spend too much time with our eyes off the prize.
Much of the mismanagement of capital projects could be eliminated, from my experience, if companies adopted the discipline of quasi-public funding project monitoring. These are projects which are not financed through balance sheets but by issuance of tax-exempt or taxable project specific debt. In the last thirty years, I have had experience as the Technical Advisor on 22 such projects (in pulp, paper, energy, steel, medium density fiberboard and cement) with an installed capital base of billions. I have seen a few things.
After nearly fifty-one years in the business, my anecdotal guess is that about half of capital projects are successful, meaning: on time, on budget and fulfilling the original scope. The rest suffer from a myriad of deficiencies.
To wrap up this month on energy columns, I thought I would go to the brightest group I know in the energy business--the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov) in Golden, Colorado. NREL had an end of year seminar on the future of energy generation in the United States, 2020 - 2050.
As we continue to talk about energy this month, we would be remiss if we do not bring up hydrogen as a potential fuel. Of course, hydrogen is the "perfect" fuel for combustion, for the "exhaust" is water (H2 + O => H2O). The problem in the past has been that it has not be plentiful or economical.
In a decade, I've moved from being a skeptic to saying some alternative energy sources just may be possible for our industry right around the corner.
Several times in this column over the years, I have told you to not demolish energy assets (that are in good shape) just because you stopped using them. Properly secure and preserve them and wait for policies to change. With an impending change in federal administrations here in the United States, expect an energy priority change within a year. This may come about by regulation changes or economics (the ranking of various fuel costs changing). These changes may be so severe they push some mills out of business.
This is supposed to be innovation and strategy month but up to this point, I have focused on innovation. Strategy is important, too, but strategy must be focused on solid science, statistics and mathematics. I have seen many strategic initiatives fail over the years. That does not mean we should stop doing them, it means we should make sure our foundation was solid.
We usually think of innovation as being creative and coming up with some gee whiz new idea. If you have been in business for more than a week, it is easier than that. Just use a critical eye to eliminate the unnecessary. The unnecessary comes in many forms.
There are many failures in innovation. One chronic failure to keep in mind is to be aware of your surroundings. You may think you have a fantastic idea. But if it is not obvious that it solves a problem or it is a solution more complicated than the original problem, it likely will fail.
Innovation is a process of the desperate and the opportunistic. There are countless examples through history where, with backs against the walls, innovators have broken through. The Internet, a solution in search of a problem, was probably the biggest innovation of all time, at least in communications. The paper grades that died, had they caught on early enough, may have survived in a better fashion than they did. However, it was not in the mindset of the people and entities involved to (a) perceive they were in trouble or (b) do something about it. So, within our industry, where will innovation come in the near future?
Finishing up... There are two extraordinary transient conditions at the present time. One is well under way, and the other is just around the corner.
Picking up from last week... With the push from landfill costs in Europe and the United States, plus the other drivers I have mentioned previously, manufacturers and scientists began to work in earnest on the performance requirements for recycled containerboard products.
This is a story of quality improvement, one that many today may not know.
I strongly suspect this observation has always gone along with becoming a septuagenarian, but I am not sure, having not been one before. Yet when I was younger, it seemed as though older employees around me were always griping about the younger generations (lazy, did not know what they were doing, caused a lot of rework and so forth). Well, this septuagenarian has some of the same feelings. I note at the same time that customer and competitive driven demands of our products dictate higher and higher quality levels. I heard it explained this way once...
I belong to a couple of old car groups on Facebook. Every week or so, some folks get into mild arguments concerning the quality of automobiles. The argument always goes the same--the cars of the '50's and '60's were much better than the cars of today. Are you kidding me? The cars of today are fantastic and, for all their gee-whiz features, cheap. A $3,500 car in 1965 would cost nearly $29,000 today. For that kind of money today you can get a car with better safety protection, air conditioning, lane control assist and so forth. I know, because I bought one for that kind of money last year. Same with paper. The paper, any grade, of 50 years ago was nothing compared to the paper of today. On a constant cost basis, today's paper is very, very inexpensive...
A bit of technology five years in the making. It is about time.
An age-old problem in the recycled fiber business has been the lack of transparency in the pricing of recycled fiber. At least in the grade OCC (Old Corrugated Containers) there may be a glimmer of hope.
Friend of mine recently told me a story. It went like this. Decades ago, when he was first hired by a major company in this industry, his boss sat him down and said, "We have your salary wrong." This was a startling revelation. The boss went on, "When we hire young folks like you, we slot you into the system based on lots of studies and identifying attributes. But it is all just a guess. For sure, what you are worth is not reflected in your salary right now, for we are just not that smart. In a few months, we'll have a better idea of what you are worth. We may be overpaying you or underpaying you now, but the truth will come out in time..."
As we continue to talk about management issues this month, I want to bring up something that has been bothering me for a long time. It is simply this...in the human resources area I think well developed countries may be losing a competitive edge when it comes to thinking about the newer generations of employees, hourly and salaried, entering our mills these days. My thoughts are these...
Especially when I was a younger manager, I would lose sight of the objectives at hand. After all, forces are tugging you in a million different directions at once, it is easily to become distracted. Print this column and carry it around in your pocket if you need to for a while.
We will cover three topics this week.
I returned to the convention and another case was just wrapping up. Missed it. Sorry. The Great Mother said, "Any more cases?" The clerk responded, "Gup is here and has something to say about project management." "Come on up, Gup!"
Well, while the convention continues, I wanted to take some time to tell you a story I witnessed firsthand. This happened many lights, ago, so many I can't count them. What Mr. Jim doesn't know is that I have been following him around for a very long time, since he was a young man. One time, on a certain project, it was his job to escort Big Things called "contractors" across the sea to check out some equipment that was to be installed at his papermill. When I heard about this, I was certain I did not want to miss it. So, I slid in his briefcase, went home with him, and then along on the trip.
Our convention had finally settled down and we were getting a number of interesting stories. The Great Mother, after a break, ask if anyone had a story to relate, perhaps not from the pulp and paper industry, but that would be a lesson learned. Old Soc raised his tail...
Well, we finally got relocated to the new location. Much safer here than it was in that crazy city. The Great Mother called us to order. "Okay, rats, what do we have on the docket for today?"
Since last year, the Great Mother has passed on to Rat Heaven and we have a new cadre in charge. The word came out early in the year that we will be convening in a big city on a big lake in the middle of the country. There is a lot of pulp and paper business there and so many rats live fairly close at hand.
Environmental policies and other regulations are the cost of doing business in the modern civilized world. If you are going to operate a business in today's world, you must do it legally, it is part of the job. I have seen a number of excuses made over the years that do nothing to endear customers to businesses when such matters are used as excuses.
I don't think there has ever been a time in my fifty years in industry that I have seen more potential hazards distracting us from our primary purpose in business which is, of course (all together), "spinning the invoice printer." We have been forced to step beyond the traditional corporate responsibilities (environment, regulations, equal opportunity employment and so forth).
I have met no one who doesn't want clean soil, water and air for themselves, their families and succeeding generations. How could anyone be against such attributes? Yet there are portions of the environmental movement that hinge on the invisible. The whole discussion on the proper balance of carbon dioxide that is appropriate in the atmosphere, for instance, is a discussion best left to learned scientists and mathematicians. Carbon dioxide, in its gaseous form is invisible. Just like Covid-19. The effects of Covid-19 are visible and timely while Covid-19 is just as invisible as Carbon Dioxide.
As we find ourselves mid-year 2020, our standard editorial topics for the month, Environmental/Regulations seem almost naïve. I have not heard anyone talk about the environment for months. There is plenty of talk about regulations, but they are not the kinds of regulations we normally talk about. The world of 2020 is something we have not seen before, and, on top of that, it is not a local thing--it is worldwide.
The purchasing department should not only set the example for dealing with suppliers, the purchasing department should be the department that sets the policy for the entire mill. And, then, they should be the one that polices it, too. What is the right limit to be allowed for favors brought in by suppliers?
Granted, it is a long time since I was internal to a mill as an employee and just maybe this probably has been fixed by now, but I doubt it. I am talking about expediting services. By the way, Amazon provides expediting updates for free on the tiniest of orders--it is part of their overall service. So, do not tell me, purchasing department, you cannot do this.
Once in a while, a purchasing department decides to get clever and extend payment terms. You can pull this stunt about once with each supplier. For when they figure it out, your prices are going up. Your suppliers and their competitors do not have to collude to raise your prices, they all instinctively know that if you are doing this to everyone, all your suppliers are going to pay you back in kind.
Last week we talked about the role of purchasing. I never once brought up negotiating a good price. I am not going to bring up negotiating a good price this week, either. This week, we will talk about educating the purchasing department. And we are not going to talk about contract writing as we talk about education.
Purchasing experiences in my career are legion and become cuter and cuter as time goes by. I have the whole month of June (5 columns) to explain this statement, so I'll not bother doing so now, but faithful readers will see it unfold as we go along. What is the first and most important job of purchasing?
Energy is saved by the milliliter, not the liter or dekaliter. In order to do this, you must have everyone looking for the opportunities.
This month, I have been telling you, when it comes to energy trends, what you do not control you cannot predict. Thus, I have been admonishing you to know what you control, control it, and then miserly buy what other energy you may need. I thought I would give you a couple of examples, one new, one old, demonstrating energy matters you cannot predict.
In a world where every storage tank, every ocean-going tanker, every cavern or old mine that can be modified for oil storage is full to overflowing, what can we say about energy trends? Add to this the popular public anathema to fossil fuels, and one can find themselves in a tight box with no way virtually no way out. In these times, energy trends become what you can control. What you can control means what you own. It was pretty clear in my Mennonite example last week how they control their energy costs. You, mill manager, have to do the same thing.
In July of 2018, I received a letter from a gentleman who lives in a Mennonite community in southern Ohio. He had been reading my opinion column in a small southern Ohio town's newspaper for several years. He, and the leaders of the community, liked my viewpoints. They invited me to visit them. We corresponded a bit and I arranged to come see his family and the community in October of that year. I got off the bus (the method of travel he recommended) at another small southern Ohio town and he was there to meet me with a buggy. It took us a couple of hours to make the ten-mile trip from the bus stop to his farm. Our method of propulsion for this buggy journey was, I kid you not, "Rocket"--a small middle-aged black gelding, about thirteen hands high.
Safety failures seem to fall into two categories.
In the current pandemic, we are seeing grocery stores accelerate their adoption of robots to restock store shelves. Once done, this will never go back to the old ways. The world of maintenance in our pulp and paper mills (and downstream plants) can work the same way.
If there is one thing the current COVID-19 crisis should teach us, if taken as an allegorical experience, is that dangers affecting safety are not always out in the open. I've told this story many times before, but perhaps you have not heard it...
No, I am not going to give you another COVID-19 advisory. You have no doubt already read countless admonishments on that subject. You do need to take them seriously, of course. But at this point, for the literate and sighted part of the population, I say let Darwinism take its course--you have been warned. For the infirm, the weak, the young and the very old -be generous and help them out. What is appropriate, though, in this first week of Safety Month, is to warn you about distractions. I can't think of another time in my nearly seventy years of life that I have ever seen the entire world focused on one subject as it is now. And, admit, it is a distraction. Distractions take our attention off safe practices.
Week of 30 March 2020: Brave new world: How do you do maintenance with a 6 foot separation between employees?
The first thing that popped into my mind was to dress all your maintenance people in pre-Civil War hoop skirted ball gowns. Although it will maintain the distance, I can think of many other reasons this won't work. For the future, this just emphasizes more predictive maintenance and solid maintenance monitoring. If you know the condition of your equipment and the failure curve it is on, you can plan on how to prepare it in a timely fashion.
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