Why Did Your Equipment Fail? Learn the Importance of Root Cause Analysis
When the time comes to repair a piece of machinery, you’ll need to ask yourself many important questions. Do I have the right tools to fix it? What parts do I need to perform the service? How long will the machine be inoperable? And, while these are all imperative to ask, the most important question is often the one that goes unasked: “What caused this problem?”
Manufacturers frequently overlook this question because repair and maintenance are industry cornerstones. Manufacturers expect them. And because they expect on-time maintenance and repair, techs and equipment managers can frequently misplace their focus: They might be looking at how to anticipate or react to a malfunction rather than addressing the catalysts that caused it. Planning for service is great; preventing the need for it is better.
Know the problem, solve the problem
Asking why a problem occurred can put you on the path to understanding how to prevent it from happening again. For example, instead of simply repairing a power supply after it burns out, you might explore why it burned out to begin with. Upon investigation, you may discover the exhaust fan is clogged with dust and the power supply’s inability to cool itself during periods of extended operation caused the burnout. You now know the root of the problem — not just the nature of it.
Troubleshooting repairs is standard: It’s how you know what needs fixing. Troubleshooting for cause is similar but requires an extra investigative step. Once you’ve discovered the problem, take a moment to ask the important questions about how it came about. These include looking at peripheral components, diagnosing the problem’s variables, and dissecting the nature of the problem through isolated component testing.
Being able to point to a catalyst then a problem means understanding the chain of events that lead to the machine repairs. Similarly, working backwards allows you to prevent the catalyst — rather than react to the problem. Using our power supply example from above, something as simple as blowing dust out of the supply regularly could be the key to preventing such failure.
Once you know the problem, identify the catalysts and begin to address them. The benefits of better equipment maintenance and oversight will begin to take shape. They can include reduced downtime, healthier machine performance, better equipment longevity, and reduced maintenance costs.
Getting comfortable with root cause analysis
The act of identifying these problem catalysts has a name: Root cause analysis. This is simply the concept behind understanding factors causing nonconformance, aka breakdowns. Root cause analysis involves working backward from symptoms to the problems that caused them and then from first- and second-level causes to the root cause of a problem.
Numerous approaches to root cause analysis exist, all sharing the goal of going beyond a surface understanding of machinery problems. The basics boil down to asking a few simple questions:
- What’s the nature of the problem?
- What factors caused the problem?
- Can regular maintenance prevent the problem?
More specifically, these represent the three core steps of root cause analysis: Define, analyze, and solve. In going through these steps, maintenance and repair professionals can get a comprehensive understanding of the work they’re doing. From there, they can make informed decisions about how to optimize their equipment maintenance and care programs to prevent future similar issues by addressing catalysts.
The only thing better than proactive maintenance is preventive action. And while manufacturers always expect repair and maintenance, decreasing their frequency can be a smart way to surmount the inevitable.