June 2020

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Reliability: Don’t expect “yes” from someone authorized to say “no”

Our lead case revolves around a comprehensive text on oil mist. It was issued in 1998 with a dust cover showing three oil cans.

Bloch, Heinz P., Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

Our lead case revolves around a comprehensive text on oil mist. It was issued in 1998 with a dust cover showing three oil cans (FIG. 1). The book’s content had nothing to do with the implied oil application strategies, and its misleading cover may have contributed to sluggish sales.

FIG. 1. The flawed 1998 oil can cover.

Before a totally new book was published in early 2020, its coauthors discussed cover selection after first establishing that the editor-in-charge was authorized to say either “yes” or “no.” Having ascertained that the editor had full approval authority, immediate agreement was reached to select FIG. 2 as the new cover.

FIG. 2. The cover of the updated 2020 book.

More on the MQA story

Fittingly, the book includes a chapter on machinery quality assessment (MQA). Properly implemented, MQA is the single most important ingredient to obtaining reliable equipment. While performing MQA, important “yes vs. no” decisions on fluid machine improvements will be involved, as discussed in the following background story.

In the late 1960s, engineers working at the research branch of a multinational petrochemical company began putting considerable effort into MQA. The MQA activities required looking over the shoulders of sellers and/or manufacturers who reviewed, interpreted and implemented the owner-purchaser’s technical specifications. Of the 100 points or clauses that the manufacturers thought needed clarification or modification, around 97 were rectified quickly and without argument. However, issues likely arose on the remaining three, where an MQA engineer had recommended remedial steps. Although the proposed remedial steps were soundly engineered, they were not accepted by the vendor or manufacturer.

The MQA engineers soon realized that big-ticket requests were summarily rejected if the proposed remedy was submitted to vendor personnel authorized to say “no” to whatever came up, but had no authority to say “yes” when the cost of an action exceeded a certain dollar amount. In response, the MQA practitioners crafted memoranda of understanding between “us,” the buyers of fluid machinery, and “them,” the sellers and/or manufacturers of said machines. Appended to inquiry and manufacturing specifications, these memoranda required the vendor-manufacturer to designate a management sponsor, often a senior manager or vice president of engineering. A particular memorandum of understanding then gave the name and telephone number of this designated person to whom the owner’s MQA engineers had immediate access and who had full authority to either approve or disapprove. The owner’s MQA engineers rarely involved the manufacturer’s senior manager or vice president. However, if required, they made contact very early in the decision-making or appeals process. Regardless of ultimate disposition, the outcomes were usually accepted by both parties. Having access to a decision-maker helped greatly.

The future is now for MQA

In the late 1990s, an exemplary reliability professional in North Dakota used the MQA approach in the specification and procurement of two eight-stage, integrally geared CO2 compressors. Each of the two machines was driven by 20,000-hp electric motors and, as part of MQA, this competent professional reviewed every aspect of the design in these machines.

He found that the manufacturer had much experience with carbon ring seals. However, CO2 is a clean gas, and the future belongs to dry gas seals. After ascertaining that the compressor manufacturer could increase the spatial envelope surrounding its customary carbon ring seals, this reliability professional negotiated a mutually advantageous solution with the manufacturer’s engineers and managers. The manufacturer would provide space for future usage of dry gas seals and, after supplying these seals to others in the coming years, the reliability professional would be given evidence to that effect.

In 2010, the CO2-producing company, in partnership with a major manufacturer of dry gas seals and a group of engineers at the compressor manufacturer’s headquarters, initiated the design and development of dry gas seals for this application. These seals were designed, built and factory-tested; installation was planned for whenever the next opportunity would present itself. In fact, a third machine was commissioned. The incremental cost of planning for the future was absorbed by the compressor manufacturer, and the seal upgrade to dry gas seals was accomplished at a reasonable cost.

The car story: Seek out the one empowered to say “yes

Another example follows of why it is best to initiate communications with vendor-manufacturer personnel empowered to say both “yes” and “no.” It involved an automobile with a fun-to-drive, three-liter, in-line, six-cylinder, turbodiesel engine. While still under warranty and with around 48,000 mi on the odometer, it needed two new fuel injectors. The warranty covered the repair, and the car’s owner was given a loaner vehicle for two days.

At 52,500 mi, one of the same two injectors failed again. The car was now out-of-warranty, and its owner was asked to pay more than $2,000 to replace the injectors again. The one injector’s repeat failure was attributed to “random coincidence.” Random coincidence is hard to accept by those who correctly reason that all incidents have causes. After several good-faith efforts to enlist help from a local authorized dealership, the car’s owner decided to communicate with executives at the automaker’s headquarters. Six injectors were provided at no cost after an executive empowered to make “yes/no” decisions was brought in to make a common-sense ruling.

The book story emphasizes lessons learned

This brings us back to the book cover topic. When first seeing the original book’s cover in 1998, its authors feared the book would not sell very well, and that many would end up in the hands of nostalgic farmers or ranchers. Chances are, the cover (Fig. 1) brought back memories of how the buyers’ fathers had used identical oil cans to lubricate early threshing machines and cotton gins.

Fortunately, a more modern cover image was chosen for the new book. The fully decision-empowered editor-in-charge wasted no time supporting the co-authors’ pick of FIG. 2. HP

The Author

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