Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

Episode 21: Where Defect Elimination Starts and Ends with Tim Rice

Ryan Chan

This week on Masterminds in Maintenance, we dive deeper into the topic of defect elimination! Tim Rice shares with us the big impact defect elimination has on the maintenance and reliability industry, and his experience in this field. Listen today!

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00:05 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance, a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes their idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today I’m super excited, we’ve got Tim Rice here on the show. Tim has spent roughly about 15 years working in the reliability realm with a majority of that time in mining mineral processing industries. Tim, you’ve got a bachelors in mechanical engineering, graduate diploma in maintenance and management. You’ve got a passion… From my understanding, for the entire life cycle of asset management. I’m really looking forward to learning more about reliability, the mentality that you’ve crafted on how to deliver positive gains for any organization. I’m super excited Tim, welcome to the show. Let’s dive right in, how are you doing?

01:03 Tim Rice: I’m doing great Ryan. Thanks for having me on.

01:06 RC: Alright, yeah, we’ll just dive right in to the very first question. What I love to do and kick things off with is, I would just love to learn more about your background and if you could share a little bit about your story and how you got into this space, Tim, that would be great. [chuckle]

01:21 TR: For a lot of us it all started when we were kids, we used to love to pull things apart, put things back together and it kind of just initiated the fascination with mechanical systems, electrical systems, and that sort of stuff. It kind of led me into doing my mechanical engineering degree. And then put me on a path where I got to actually be very hands-on with the equipment that I found myself in front of everyday, and some of it was quite the equipment in the mining industry. And you get to meet a lot of great people along the way. I get to work in different parts of the world. As you might tell I’m not from the US originally, I’m from Australia originally. And in the last eight years, I’ve found myself over here in Salt Lake City.

02:08 RC: Alright. Well that’s awesome. Yeah, and you got your first start in to it. It sounds like as a very young child, tearing things apart. I’m super curious, what was one of your first experiences that you remember vividly, getting into this industry? And what made you love it? How about that. [chuckle]

02:28 TR: The fact the you know as a kid you had small toys, and as an adult now they are really just big toys. And you can still be a kid again, you can get really intimate with your equipment. I got started through engineering school, we did a couple of internships and that just fueled the want to be very hands-on with my engineering degree, rather than be stuck in an office and doing design work and not actually seeing the end product and the real thing. So that kinda just fueled the want to get into I guess maintenance and reliability.

03:07 RC: Yeah, I talk to a lot of folks and they say the idea of being able to roll up your sleeves, turn a wrench and actually see a physical thing, either get fixed or create something and see something turn is like a huge… One of these big instant gratification that you can’t really get sitting behind a desk. So I absolutely resonate with that too, Tim. I know that you’ve spent a large part of your time in career too, in this topic of defect elimination, could you talk a little bit more about what that means to you, what that means in actual practice as well, especially in the mining industry?

03:44 TR: Defect elimination to me, my definition of a defect, I take it from Winston Ledet who is kind of probably considered the Godfather of defect elimination. And a part of his definition he said “A defect is anything that erodes value”. And basically, in the industry that I’ve been in, the companies that I’ve worked with, you see a lot of value erosion, a lot of waste and a lot of opportunities where the company could be saving a lot of money or improving their processes to make a lot more money. So that’s kind of how I got started, just by really seeing it as a reliability engineer, you kind of got given the process of defect elimination to own. I guess one thing I kind of learnt along the way with defect elimination is people automatically associate a defect with a breakdown or equipment failure, where as if you go back to Winston Ledet’s definition, it’s anything that erodes value.

04:47 TR: So we’re not just looking at breakdowns we’re looking at anything that could impact the productivity, or profitability of a company, and that could be just through quality losses, and even nowadays where we’re looking at a lot of environmental issues. I guess you wanna call it, where governing bodies, wanna put a lot of sanctions and a lot of restrictions, tighten up the guidelines as far as emission or releases, and put in place some hefty fines if there are… If you do exceed those limits. So that kind of expanded my view on what defect elimination is, and where it could be applied. So rather than it just be something that the maintenance world looks at it should be something that the organization looks at and try and embrace as to ultimately eliminate that value erosion, and kind of gain that competitive edge over companies that they’re competing with.

05:42 RC: When I think of defective eliminate, it comes off as like, “Oh it’s not that important”. I’m curious if you got the same? But what I know, and what I’ve seen in practice is that defect elimination can have one of the biggest, biggest impacts on a maintenance reliability team. I’m curious if you’ve seen the same? If you’ve heard the same? Mostly curious like what kind of impact you guys have had when it comes down to defect elimination, being more proactive about that.

06:17 TR: The proactive thing is funny because a lot of companies, I’ve found, leave it until they need to do defect elimination before they actually put the program in place. It’d be great to start to build up your defect elimination program or processes before you have a mountain of defects to wade through. But, unfortunately, we’re not at that stage yet where they wanna put that priority on doing something that they don’t necessarily need to do right now. The biggest bang for the buck that I’ve seen with defect elimination is sometimes not even necessarily using data to identify the defects. It’s just asking a mechanic or an operator or somebody that’s on the shop floor that’s face-to-face with the defects every day what the biggest problem is. And eight, nine times out of ten, they’ll bring up the issue that’s the biggest problem for the company right now. But once you’ve made that engagement with the guys on the shop floor that the defect impacts every day, I think you can have the biggest impact, I guess, on them as far as defect elimination goes, and fixing the problems that impact them and, I guess, directly impact the company as well.

07:30 RC: For me, as someone who’s coming into the industry, realizing, “Hey, our department doesn’t have a defect elimination program and I wanna start one,” any advice for me as someone who’s looking to start a defect elimination program at my plant? One thing that I heard from you just now was, “Talk to the guys on the shop floor.” It doesn’t have to be rooted in tons and tons of research and data. It could be qualitative. Any other tips, advice for me?

08:01 TR: I think the entire company has to be committed to it. I think I may have mentioned it before, it’s not just the responsibility of the reliability guy or the maintenance guys. Everybody’s gotta be involved in it because I think you get the biggest impact when it’s cross-functional within the organization. A couple of things before you actually jump into the process of identifying the defects and fixing them, you gotta make sure that you have the right people and the right roles assigned to the defect elimination program. So, making sure you’ve got sponsors and people to lead the defect elimination projects. A lot of the times, they’re going to need some guided training or information to get them up to speed as far as what they need to do. But then everybody that is in the organization that’s hopefully going to be involved with DE, will need some type of awareness that what defect elimination is and what it isn’t, what we’re trying to achieve out of it.

08:57 TR: Engagement and communication plans are very important for defect elimination because, again, you just don’t wanna be siloed into this one group doing it. If you wanna make it organization-wide, you need to make sure that you’ve communicated and engaged with the necessary people to help solve defects. ‘Cause, again, it’s not just gonna be the maintenance guys solving issues, you’ll definitely need help from the operations guys, process guys, vendors and OEMS that make some of the equipment that might be failing, that might have the defect. There are a couple of, I think, things on the ground level that need to be identified and sorted out first before you jump into the process. Once you’ve got a bit of guidance in that and you’ve got people excited, people involved, then definitely jump in, get people talking about what defects we wanna solve first, how we wanna do it, who wants to be involved, and that sort of stuff.

09:53 RC: Communication is key outside of just creating the plan, getting buy-in from the entire organization top down. Along this topic around defect elimination, I’m curious, where do you most commonly see defects commonly introduced? Is it typically at the beginning? Is it at the middle of the asset life cycle? Is at the end as it’s failing? Where have you typically seen defects get introduced?

10:23 TR: A lot can be introduced during the design phase. We don’t take enough time during the design phase to identify defects or potential defects or things that may cause defects in the future. There’s a slide that goes around the conferences and I’ve seen in a few of the conferences and I think one of the gurus Ramesh Gulati has shown this slide quite a few times. I don’t know who the exact reference is for it, but they say that for a defect that’s identified during the design phase, if it costs a dollar to remove it, it might cost 10 times that during the asset build sub-assembly phase. If you leave it until the final build phase, it might cost 100 times that to remove that defect. But if you wait until the operation and the maintenance phase, it’s gonna cost 1000 to 10,000 times the cost to remove it.

11:20 TR: So, I think if we try and set up ways to identify and remove defects during the design phase, I think will go a long way. It won’t go all the way, because obviously by the time your equipment’s gonna… It’ll wear. There will be wear and tear, people will get complacent. We may not do the correct maintenance on it. There might be some neglect. We might change what we expect out of that piece of equipment over time. We might wanna double the output of it, which is gonna put a lot of stress on it. So a lot of the times, defects are going to naturally creep into our operations. So, there probably isn’t one particular phase that you need to concentrate DE on more, but I think, over the life cycle, you need to just have that awareness or understanding that we should be thinking about what defects are being introduced.

12:08 RC: Do you have a good methodology for detecting defects in doing, let’s call it, a root cause analysis on why this happened and getting down to that design level defect?

12:10 TR: In my opinion, you definitely need to have some rigor around the analysis stage of it, where you do that root cause analysis. You always run a fine line if you wanna throw out solutions to problems without fully understanding what the issue is in the first place. I always recommend, at the minimum, asking the five whys to understanding your root cause. I won’t get into it too much, but I’ve gotten really interested in the human factors side of things. And Air Canada put out these 12… They call it the “Dirty Dozen” human factors where they say that, I think, 60% of maintenance issues are caused by at least of one of these 12 human factors. So it’s kind of interesting that it seems like everything ultimately comes back to the human aspect of things. Understanding what phase it came into might be a different thing. But definitely understanding the root cause is a must, otherwise, you’re just throwing darts at the solution.

13:39 RC: Yeah, no. I definitely hear you on the human aspect almost being the root cause of a lot of problems. I’m curious, has that been true working as a reliability engineer in the mining industry? When you think anecdotally, would you say that’s roughly about true that most of defects come from human mistakes?

14:03 TR: Sometimes when we talk about human factors, and humans being the cause of the mistakes, we automatically seem to jump at, “We’re being our own worst enemy. We’re causing the defects on purpose.” But we’re indirectly causing them through a lack of training, understanding, or didn’t know this, or didn’t do this properly. It’s not their fault, but it kind of is their fault.

14:31 RC: [chuckle] It almost seems like defect elimination has to go from the shop floor and a breakdown, all the way up to the engineer at the design phase, right? It’s not just maintenance reliability. It’s also the engineer that designed the system. Are you seeing that happen very often?

14:54 TR: No, not really, not as much as I’d like to. And even when I was practicing defect elimination and I was owning the process, you could get good buy-in from the maintenance guys. You’d get okay buy-in from the operations guys. But then when you tried to get other areas of the organization involved, they couldn’t quite connect with it yet. So that’s always been a challenge. Like I said, everybody needs to be involved in the process, not just the maintenance guys and the operations: Procurement, even HR, to make sure that we employ the right people.

15:31 RC: It’s so fascinating because when we talk about defect elimination, doing the five whys, and all of us understanding that it almost comes back to some sort of human mistake, I can almost understand why people don’t wanna be a part of the process because it always comes down to… Maybe I should say it may come down to pointing fingers at, “Hey, this person made this silly mistake here during the design phase. This person here made a silly mistake during the installation or the procurement phase.” I think we all have the best, best intentions to prevent these from happening again in the future. Tim, I’m curious, how do you create a culture within the team, within the company, that you can have these adult conversations where people aren’t focused on just pointing fingers, but really trying to move forward and get better collectively?

16:33 TR: A lot of people do… When they think of root cause analysis or they haven’t been involved in a root cause analysis session, they do feel like sometimes it can be a blame game, especially when you get down to these human factors. But I guess those are two ways to look as a facilitator or doing the root cause analysis. You should be trained in not making it a blame game and identifying the right verbiage to use rather than say, “You did this,” or, “You did that.” But then at the end of the day, if we did make a mistake as adults, we should probably own that mistake and say, “You know what? Made that mistake. Didn’t willingly make that mistake. But through complacency or something that I didn’t factor into the equation caused that to happen.” Yeah. It can be a tough one to work around. And I think you probably only start to build that coach culture, or people start to only relax once you’ve had a few wins. So in the first few sessions of eliminating defects, they might be very standoffish, but once they see the results, “Oh, wow, we fixed these five defects in the plant in the last six months. Maybe defect elimination is okay, and maybe doing the root cause and identifying the root cause is the right thing to do.”

17:55 RC: I’m curious, Tim, what’s something you wish more people knew about with regards to defect elimination? Your time, your experiences in this space, in this field?

18:07 TR: It’s not one department’s responsibility, that everybody needs to own it, and have their input into it. And that’s been probably the biggest road block I’ve seen is that, like reliability, the worst thing we probably ever did was having somebody called a Reliability Engineer because it automatically made them responsible for reliability apparently. So yeah, I think trying to break down the silos, and get the organization involved, and make it more of a collaborative program.

18:42 RC: How did you get into this space? Where did you start learning all of the experience that you’ve had with regards to maintenance reliability, defect elimination? And any resources that you would guide our listeners towards if they wanna learn more about this space and this field?

18:58 TR: I fell into maintenance and reliability through the initial internships that I had. First job I got was doing condition monitoring, clicking vibration, all those predictive maintenance technologies. And then I was lucky enough, there was a mining boom in Australia, so they were looking for reliability engineers, and I put my hand up and fell into it. And fortunately, some of the people around me were very good influences and had a lot of knowledge around maintenance reliability, and defect elimination. And nowadays, I look to more the online resources. I think LinkedIn has a lot of great information, there are a lot of great discussions and people who you can connect with and have conversations with. Then you’ve got places like, the SMRP. You’ve got… It’s called CBM CONNECT with Mobius and Noria. They’ve got a wealth of information, like videos, articles. You’d spend more than an entire lifetime going through all of that stuff.

20:10 RC: Tons of information out there. It sounds like you’ve learned from all of the above, and also getting your hands dirty and practicing what you’ve learned. That’s such an amazing story, Tim. I’m curious, can you share with all of our listeners all the different ways they can connect with you, follow you along your journey?

20:32 TR: The main one right now is LinkedIn. Everybody, feel free to shoot me a request. Hopefully, in the next three to four months, working on a few things with regards to a website, defect elimination resources, and then working on a book as well with Hopefully, that stuff will come into fruition sometime quarter two this year. So watch the LinkedIn space for now and see what happens.

21:09 RC: Well, I’m looking forward to reading your book as well, and following you on your journey. Thank you so much, Tim, for joining us. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds in Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m pretty active. You can also reach out to me directly at [email protected] Until next time, thanks so much again, Tim.

21:32 TR: Thanks, Ryan.

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