Throughout industry, operators are given the task of inspecting equipment they are operating. Typically they have not received training or have been provided the tools to accomplish these tasks effectively. So are your operator rounds adding value to your organization?

Spending years in the field and working with numerous companies, we at Reliability Solutions find that in most cases operators do not understand the operating context of their equipment. They do not understand exactly what the equipment is supposed to do.

Your operator rounds should not just be routine inspections – they should be seen as tools that add value to the organization as a whole. 

The Types of Operators in Manufacturing 

Within the world of industrial manufacturing and similar industrial fields, understanding what type of operators you’ve got out on the floor or field is tantamount to knowing how to manage them from the top down – and to ensuring the right teams are on the right task. 

There are three different types of operators we see in the field: The Rental Car Operator, the Owner Operator, and the Owner Operator Maintainer. The levels of operator care these three groups offer are vastly different. Assessing and categorizing a team will help ensure that operator rounds are giving as much to the organization as necessary.

Rental Car Operator 

This type of operator is doing what they need to do their job – and that’s it. They’re not bad employees, but they’re not dedicated to seeking to maximize the performance of the machines, tools, and equipment that they’re working with. They want to get to the end of their shift so they can clock out, go home, and get paid. 

This type of operator serves its purpose, but they’re not ideal choices for operator rounds that will add value to the organization. 

Owner Operator 

Things get a bit more in depth with the owner operator. This type of operator recognizes instances in which a change or problem presents itself and does the basics to  see to it. They keep the equipment running, and they treat it with the right amount of operator care. 

While these operators are efficient and helpful, and better suited to operator rounds than the rental car, they’re not the optimal choice for this type of maintenance inspection. 

Owner Operator Maintainer 

When it comes to operator rounds, the type of employee you want at the helm is an owner operator maintainer. Always seeking maximum performance, they’re fluent in the ‘language’ of what they’re doing. They’re masters of communication, especially when it comes to telling the maintenance teams what’s going on. They know their equipment, and they know how to maximize its usefulness through precision maintenance.

Improving Plant Reliability Through Operator Rounds 

Maintenance personnel are assigned to work on the tasks that require their particular skill sets – that’s why they were hired as specialists.  If operators are making rounds anyway, why are multiple groups checking the same equipment? While multiple checks are important, keeping a centralized operational maintenance team on hand that has the tools and skills necessary to perform that task is the first step toward reliable manufacturing and precision maintenance. 

Operator Rounds in Action 

For example, if you are running a pump and the design output of that pump is 400 gpm at 60 psi – do your operators understand how to determine, if in fact, the performance of that pump meets their needs and if not, how to determine if there is a problem? Typically, if the pump is running smoothly, not leaking or making any noise, the check sheet gets a check and no issues are noted. Since there wasn’t a problem discovered, how does that lack of flow or pressure affect the quality of your final product?

Another example during one of our site visits while working with a group of operators; we were inspecting four similar conveyor drives. All the conveyors were loaded about the same. Of the four motors inspected one of the motors stator was 50 deg. F higher than the other three – a worrying find.

We discovered that the cooling vents or fan shroud was severely clogged, thus reducing the fan’s ability to cool the motor. Understanding that for this particular motor, every 18 deg. F above 140 deg. F reduces the motor life by 50%. Finding this issue, and making corrections, ultimately increased the life of this motor – and increased the company’s bottom line. 

The operators who had been making the rounds passed this motor every day for weeks prior to this inspection. They didn’t know what to look for or have the tools to inspect with, leading to this being an example of another operator round “check the box” exercise. That’s why it’s so important that the correct type of operator making the rounds. 

Making Operator Rounds Effective 

In order for operator rounds to be effective, operators must understand the equipment operating context, the difference between a functional failure and a breakdown, how the equipment fails. It’s also crucial to understand the difference between a random and time based failure, and they must have the tools and craft skills to inspect their equipment correctly.

One area that we find detrimental to your planning and scheduling efforts is the quality of the work request written when a problem is found. Typically we see things like, the motor is hot, or the pump is vibrating, or the pump or gearbox is making a noise. 

Another favorite is “repair or replace”. With this type of information the planner now needs to go to the site of the equipment and try to determine what the problem is and in most cases will need to find the person that wrote the work request to determine exactly what he or she meant. So how much wasted time did this exercise just create? Does this sound familiar?

Optimizing Your Operator Rounds 

How much would it be worth to your organization if an operator could find a problem early in the failure development period, so you have time to plan and schedule and the operator is capable of generating a work request similar to this? 

Pump # XYZ was vibrating 0.42 in./sec in the horizontal plane of the #3 bearings. The temp is 198 deg. F and has increased 15 deg. F in the last three weeks. With this information you can now determine exactly where the problem is and due to the increased temperature rise, understand that a sense of urgency is required. This adds tremendous value when you are trying to prioritize your work.

Reliable Rounds With Reliability Solutions 

Reliability Solutions is the world leader in maintenance and operator training and helps clients create a sustainable, productive and continuously improving environment. They work hands-on in the field with their clients and provide training to optimize product quality and quantity, improve asset availability, reduce overall maintenance costs, conserve energy consumption, and improve safety performance.

Contact Reliability Solutions for more information on how they can help create a sustainable, continuously improving environment at your