Chronic Issues – Plotting Trends

Problems always leave traces.

I’ve discussed chronic issues multiple times in previous blog posts. As a refresher, chronic issues are large problems that manifest from numerous small and easily missed issues. There are two basic steps to identifying your chronic problems. You need to find these smaller issues and look for trends between them. Allow me to elaborate on both these steps.

Finding the Dots

As said in a previous post, a lot of little issues are symptoms of a larger problem, the unknown chronic disease. You’ll need a fine, widely cast net to catch these smaller issues. If you miss them, or deem them too inconsequential to deal with, they will continue to build until you have a real mess. It’s like allowing hairs to wash down the drain in the shower, and then when it gets blocked, having to fish out the gunky wad months later. But what exactly do you look for? Well, do you ever find yourself encountering several small issues that constantly interrupt your progress? They’re like bricks slowly building to create a barrier between you and your goal. It’s frustrating, I know, but on a sunnier note, you’ve found your dots.

Connecting the Dots

Now we get to the fun part; plotting trends. As part of your loss elimination process, routinely check for chronic issues across the site. You can do this monthly, quarterly, or annually, so the trends have time to develop. (Side note, if someone comes to you outside the meeting room to discuss a potential chronic problem, pay attention. These issues aren’t always easy to find, so listen to them and analyse information when it’s freely served to you.) I recommend grouping common types of failure together (Eg. Electrical, mechanical) across sights. Then it’s easier to spot which ones have the greatest negative impact. My favourite way to do this is creating 3D plots of all the groups together. I can add to it as I gain more data, thus highlighting any rising trends. If something is getting worse, like rapidly increasing cost, you know where to act. When spotting chronic issues, plotting trends is essential. Since most issues are small, they fly undetected by Pareto. Therefore you must brush through the whole plant with a fine-toothed comb. Do not allow the little things to grow big. Do not allow the wall to build. Once you’ve found your chronic issue, you’ll know what you need to fix. Hooray!

 While some problems make themselves known like a slap to the face, chronic issues are more “passive aggressive”. Hints suggest something wrong, but an obvious answer refuses to present itself, and it can be agonising. Knowing how to identify these problems is key since, as we all know, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists.

Want more information on dealing with chronic issues or other hurdles you face as a reliability engineer? Peter Horsburgh’s Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course could be for you. If you are interested, register at Eventbrite here.

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