If it’s not broke, don’t fix it – right?
By Greg Sumners
Many times, I meet process manufacturers who are satisfied with the status quo of their plant’s calibration system and have the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality. To this, I say, have you ever thought of fixing it before it breaks? Then, I see the wheels starting to turn. Until a new regulation is created or a corporate governance mandate swoops in, what is the motivation to change processes or tools? It is just easier, less risky, and less expensive to stick with what you’ve got and know. Or is it?
When smartphones first appeared on the market, early adopters embraced the concept and started using them as tools to conduct business. Now, not too many years later, many large, successful companies equip their employees with smartphones to communicate. The situation within the process manufacturing environment is similar. Eventually, every plant will rely on an integrated calibration system as a tool to communicate, document, and store calibration data to run their plants in the most efficient manner—it is just a matter of time.
It is a fact that transforming a plant’s calibration system from single-function calibrators with a paper-based documentation system, or even manual entry, to a fully automated system, comprised of multifunction, documenting calibrators and calibration management software, improves safety and quality and lowers costs. Today’s calibration management software integrates into computerized maintenance management systems and even enterprise resource planning systems. Management has real-time insight into a plant’s health. So, what is stopping everyone in the process industry from going fully automated? Well, taking responsibility for a system project approach such as this can be time and resource consuming, with a high risk of failure, if the project is not properly planned, managed, and supported.
The key word to focus on is project. By definition, a project is an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim. When a plant’s calibration system is upgraded, it should be considered a project. Just like any other plant system, it should be strategically planned and executed to ensure it creates system collaborations and synergies within a plant, not system separations and alienations.
Where and how should you start? Taking a project approach to implementing a calibration process change can be a daunting task, but it does not have to be. Reasonably and logically, there are many factors to consider, including the immediate business needs and how to increase efficiency, lower costs, improve safety, and develop long-term sustainability. These are all important points to evaluate, but there are also other even more significant, somewhat intangible elements that influence success in real practice—like the company culture, processes, and everyday ease of use. If you develop a solution that fits into the company’s culture to meet needs, all the “logical” factors should ultimately be addressed.
Without going into all the exact details of what a project approach should entail, it is most important to define your goals and purpose. A solution provider or vendor that offers proven expertise and experience to help you accomplish your goals is usually more valuable and cost-effective than attempts to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of the solution provider’s knowledge and work closely together, as a team, throughout the process to develop clear objectives and accomplish them.
So, what is the risk of not fixing your calibration system before it breaks? It is all about proactive maintenance instead of reactive maintenance. Lower your risks by closing the gap on room for errors and failures that can cause plant shutdowns, lost production time, poor product quality that could injure consumers, or a hazardous environment that could harm plant staff. All of these could affect the organization’s employees, customers, time, and money—four of any organization’s most precious commodities. Fix it before it breaks.