As a mechanical engineer who has authored over 730 technical papers and conference publications and 21 books, Heinz Bloch has a wealth of expert advice to share with the maintenance and reliability leaders of the oil and gas industry.
A big piece of that advice, Bloch said, can be shared with company executives who may too often ignore frontline workers who caution against equipment failure based on patterns they observe.
“Workers themselves often describe a corporate culture that knows warning signs but does not listen to warnings of an impending calamity,” Bloch said, delivering the keynote address at the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals’ (SMRP’s) 13th Annual Maintenance & Reliability Symposium held recently in Galveston, Texas. “As long as [the equipment] still works, they’re happy and they run the equipment, but that’s just not correct.”
The industry routinely cuts corners, Bloch added.
“They push ahead despite concerns being voiced by senior reliability professionals — concerns about safety,” he said. “If you disregard safety, don’t be surprised when, one of these days, the disasters that we have seen right here in this general area of the country are going to materialize. They are going to happen.”
Some “captains of industry,” Bloch continued, reflecting the confident and often complacent attitudes of the general population.
“I say to change [the attitude] and add value. It’s up to individuals to do that: Be informed, and don’t allow others to be indifferent,” he said. “Value learning and do your part to pass that on.”
Bloch shared that he has not always been successful in persuading upper management of impending equipment failure during his mechanical engineering career in the energy industry, despite his best efforts.
“But I went to my supervisor, and I sometimes went to the boss over the immediate supervisor and said, ‘I haven’t been able to prevail. I have a concern about the such-and-such coupling in the so-and-so machine, and there’s a high probability that it will not last very long,'” he said. “‘Others have said that we’ll go until it really comes apart, so I just wanted to inform you of it, and I’m going to leave an inter-office memo in the files so that we know what’s going to happen.'”
That approach, Bloch said, usually got his supervisors’ attention.
Reliability professionals have an obligation to make company supervisors and leaders aware of safety hazards and any impedance to productivity, he continued.
“It’s not the CEO who knows we shouldn’t put a 2-inch bearing on a shaft by using hammer blows. He won’t know what you’re talking about. He has worries about other things,” Bloch said. “But it’s your job to tell someone not to use hammers to put a bearing on a shaft. That’s what they hire you and me for.”
The reliability payoff
Bloch pointed out several reasons why becoming reliability-focused is essential.
“It improves safety, enhances the corporate image, and results in equipment uptime extension and higher profitability,” he said.
Consequently, worker morale is improved, which helps keep personnel turnover low.
Bloch encouraged conference attendees to rely on mechanics and machinists to point out potential equipment failures before they occur.
“You have mechanics and machinists who, for 38 years, have been doing nothing but being parts-changers,” he said. “But why not teach them why the bearing failed? These people are smart enough, if only you make the effort to show them,” Bloch said. “Then they can tell you why the bearing failed and when it shows signs of overheating.
“Set up a proper training program, and groom your people. It’s all in the books, and it doesn’t matter whose book you are using. There are many books that SMRP has that will give you proper guidance.”