May 22, 2008

Lean, Reliable and Lubed

Hello from Nashville! Today was the last day of Noria's Lean, Reliable and Lubed conference here in Tennessee. Nearly all of the 1,500 people who were here are on their way home now, but Mike and I are at the start of a road trip. So here's a quick report.

Brett O'Kelley of Noria was kind enough to arrange for me to attend as a member of the press (representing AME's Target magazine), and I met Paul Arnold, editor of Noria's impressive magazine, Reliable Plant, as well as several other knowledgeable (and young) people.

Noria is an interesting group. Starting out as consultants in the machinery lubrication business, they branched out into education, and extended their range of subject matter to maintenance - or ensuring equipment reliability - in general. In the last few years, they have taken the interesting step into lean manufacturing. Thus the conference brought together three different but related groups of folks. The exhibition reflected Noria's roots - suppliers of various and sundry oils and fluids, devices for filtering and treating them, and services for making it all work right. Execution of all aspects of the event was flawless, right down to Brett's presenting some of the conference center's door monitor ladies with the flower arrangements that had decorated the registration desk when all was being disassembled. Nice touch - respect for people.

I was happy to see some familiar names on the lean speakers roster: Ross Robson, Richard Schonberger, Michel Baudin being some of the better known. It was a special treat to see some newer names added to the agenda - Mike "Got Boondoggle" Wroblewski from Batesville Casket Company, and Mike Thelen from Hub City (you might have noticed Mike Thelin's posts on the NWLEAN forum). I've been impressed by the two Mikes for a long time, and it was cool to actually meet them in person. They both gave engaging presentations. Be sure to ask Mike Wroblewski to explain "Think Milk." Ross Robson was very generous with his time and thoughts in several conversation with the two Mikes and me.

On the reliability management track was an acquaintance from a number of years ago -- Terry Wireman, who has written numerous books on TPM, reliability and other facets of making equipment available when you want it, and working the way you want it to. Back in my SME days Terry worked with our video producers on some educational products and we distributed a couple of his books, so it was great to renew the acquaintance. And in the fluids management world, it was nice to be able to hang out with Paul Hampton and his associate, Jim (forgive me for forgetting your last name), from Industrial Fluid Systems in Warren, Michigan. Paul and I are both officers of SME Chapter One in Detroit.

My main reason for wanting to go to this event is that I don't hear a whole heck of a lot from people in the mainstream lean space about maintenance and reliability. It's one of the fundamentals that must be in place if flow and flexibility are to be achieved, but in most companies, maintenance people are taken for granted. Somebody wants to save some money and it looks like you could cut a few guys from the maintenance crew, stop training them, limit the tools and technologies they have access to. Or worse, get the technologies and get rid of the people. It was the kind of gathering where you could hear about a lot of stupid things some well-known companies are in the habit of doing. And some of the smart things the smart companies are doing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the straight-ahead lube and maintenance guys and gals haven't had the opportunities to learn what lean is and can do. At least here, they could walk three rooms down the aisle and sit down with the lean crowd and start separating fact from fiction. We need more ways to break down the functional silos on our manufacturing floor by sharing some education and ideas. Kudos to Noria for making it happen. Not without risk.

A couple of keynotes were very revealing. We've heard about how Bridgestone/Firestone and Boeing, among others, are doing with lean manufacturing. But the stories of how they are integrating all that with maintenance and reliability have been under the radar. I've got a nice collection of business cars and face-to-face encounters so I can try to bring those stories to the surface for the general lean community. When I brought up the idea to Target editors, Doc Hall responded that we hadn't done much on reliability lately, so I'm encouraged that AME is ready to make it visible again. Now all I've got to do is the research, interviews and writing. Eventually it all comes down to the work.


Mike Gardner said...

Thanks for the rundown, Karen. I wish I could have attended. I was a student at Noria's Oil Analysis I course (in Vegas, no less) a couple years ago and I thought they were a class act.

Your comments about equipment reliability and lean are spot on. I still encounter many, many people who will not grasp the opportunity that a well-trained workforce can bring to this fundamental aspect of lean manufacturing. Keep spreading the word.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment - and for reinforcing my thinking about what lean folks need to be thinking about.

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