Critical Situation Investigation
By Jeff Dearduff
You just experienced a breakdown on the high-speed bread line. The divider stopped running, and there was no solid indication of what happened. The system was down for an hour. Three technicians were on the scene. Mysteriously, the machine began to operate again. The three tech’s high-fived, and the bakers got back to work. End of story, right?
I suppose the crew could walk away satisfied because they need to be deployed to the next issue … or lunch break. As the Maintenance Manager and lead troubleshooter, it is your responsibility to investigate the situation and try to determine what happened so that in tomorrow’s production meeting you can sound somewhat intelligent about the cause and the fix, if there was one or either. In order to do that, you could implement CSI: Critical Situation Investigation.
“CSI” as we know it on television has brought the art of troubleshooting and problem solving to our living rooms, what seems like every night of the week. Yeah, some of their tactics and quick determinations can be far-fetched. Come on, they have to solve their cases inside the hour, and 20 minutes of that hour are truck and credit card commercials.
So maybe Grissom, Heratio and Lieutenant Dan really only have 40 minutes to get a lot of work done. With that said, let’s not judge them on their expediency, but, rather, learn from their tactics.
We are talking about systematic troubleshooting here. Fact is, every problem has a root cause. Many times that root cause is tough to figure out. Without using a system to eliminate all possibilities, you might only be guessing.
Hey, a lucky guess can sometimes work out for you. As world-famous racecar driver Richard Petty says, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.” The downside is that luck does run out, and if you have been in the bakery business for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about.
So let’s get back to what we need to cover here today.
One of the biggest problems we will face when trying to go back and investigate what “happened” in a breakdown is that the “scene” will have been disturbed. When something breaks down, we don’t get to deploy yellow tape to preserve the area. We are diving in and pushing, tugging, tapping and testing everything we can think of at the time. Sometimes this happens before the Maintenance Technician even arrives at the machine ... yeah, you know who I’m talking about! (A pair of blue ChannelLocks really clashes with white pants.) Many times, if there is more than one technician on the job, a machine can come back to life, and neither tech knows why. You will, however, have your storytellers who pop up real quick and feel that when they wiggled the white wire, all was well. We have to be better than that, or the same problem will come back and bite us in our ChannelLock pocket.
So what steps do we need to take to make sure that we go into a CSI event, cover all bases and find the root cause of the issue? I said it before, and I’ll say it again: systematic troubleshooting, our version of CSI … but first you’ve got to know the lingo! Here’s is how some elements of TV’s “CSI” might relate to the bakery:
On TV, it’s minute fibers, droplets, smears and tissue.
In the bakery, it could be carbon tracking, hydraulic leaks or dust on the photo eye.
On TV, it’s a fingerprint that’s not all there.
In the bakery, it could be loose wire connections or air leaks.
On TV, it’s gun shot residue.
In the bakery, it could be grindings and shavings residue from something wearing out.
On TV, it’s the aerated fluids around the crime scene.
In the bakery, it could be the flour that is stuck to the wall next to a leaking fitting.
On TV, it’s obviously the unfortunate one that the story is about.
In the bakery, it could be the machine or system that broke down.
On TV, it’s one of the three people they are leading you on with who might have done it.
In the bakery, it could be the guy wearing white pants with the ChannelLocks in his hand as the technician walks up!
So how do you implement the systematic troubleshooting process in the real world? It starts with having history with the system in question. If the “VIC” has been around for any length of time and you have a nice record-keeping program, you should be able to call up records from the database that reflect the types of breakdowns that have happened in the past. From those records, you can look for commonalities. It could lead you to an electrical problem or programming issue, or turn you toward an odd mechanical anomaly.
The next thing you can do is interview people who might have been in the general area when the machine stopped. A production worker sometimes can be one of the best witnesses. He might not always be real technical, but he stands with that machine every day and knows what it’s supposed to sound, feel and smell like.
The bottom line is that you have to use all of your senses and brain power to gather the evidence that leads to an answer or solution. So go out and SEE what you can come up with from past records and visuals at the scene. LISTEN to those who were closest to the problem when it happened in order to get an idea of where to investigate. FEEL your way around the machine or system to learn its intricacies. Use your nose when possible to SMELL odors that are abnormal to the process. Even your sense of TASTE with finished product might come in handy when trying to identify ingredient handling system issues.
Once all of your senses have run the course, it’s time to process the information. That’s where the brain power comes in. The ultimate result is to come to a true conclusion, identify the fix and share the knowledge so that others can attack the problem more quickly next time or prevent it altogether.