I follow a great Youtube channel by Veritasium. I enjoyed one of his recent videos about the scientific method, shown below. Then, later, I came across this post from sportsscientists.com using the video to explain how the scientific method is applicable to sports coaching. This got me thinking about the scientific method, and how it should also be applied to maintenance procedures too.
The video shows that humans look for evidence that confirms their own pet theory. It goes on to explain that a pet theory can only be improved if it is tested, and it can only be tested by finding results that show the theory is wrong in some way.
How can you apply the scientific method to your maintenance practice
Preventative maintenance is one maintenance area where the scientific method can be best applied. With preventative maintenance you have already assumed a theory about how to keep a machine healthy and running well. How do you know that your preventative maintenance tactics are the most appropriate in your situation? How do you know that they cannot be improved? This is where the scientific method described by Veritasium can be applied.
Do you do complete pump overhauls every 12 months because, well, because you have always done it that way? Do you have other maintenance practices that fall into a categories named something like “Because we have always done it that way”, or “Because the manufacturer said it was best”. It is likely that these are ideal candidates to be scrutinised by the scientific method. Instead of just accepting the results, perhaps there are better results that can be obtained.
If your current scheduled maintenance is doing a good job, perhaps it could be improved. You can save time and money if the uptime performance of a machine is maintained even when the time between scheduled maintenances is extended. Why not give it a go on one of your less critical assets that is performing well. You may be happily surprised. If you are, you have disproved your maintenance theory with an even better result. If you experiment is a success you may end up freeing up some time for other important work.
Maybe the very way you do maintenance could be improved by the scientific method. Condition based maintenance can improve maintenance outcomes because maintenance only occurs when the machine needs it. And, as a bonus, the objective machine health data that is collected during the condition monitoring process will allow you to perform even more rigorous studies into your maintenance practice.
The difficulty with the scientific method
The problem with the scientific method is that you need a test to give a negative result before your maintenance hypothesis can be refined. Normally in the maintenance world a negative result is a machine failure. This could have huge ramifications for production in your facility or customer happiness. One way to avoid these ramifications is to perform tests on equipment that are not critical to your operation. These tests could even be done on machines which are set running on a work bench, purely to find out how long they will last before failure. If the test shows the machine lasted twice as long as you thought it might, you can probably afford to increase the time between scheduled maintenance.
Remember also, that your current maintenance practice is probably already giving you some negative results. This means that your current maintenance theory for that machine is not quite right. The data in your CMMS should help you find these negative results and the conditions under which they occurred. You should use these negative results as a starting point to try a different maintenance practice. Maybe you need to increase the frequency of your maintenance, maybe you need to change the way you do maintenance, or maybe you need to source parts from a different supplier to improve the performance. Thinking of the right questions, so that your next test is not just a repeat of your last test (and therefore bound for failure), is a really important part of the scientific method.
Be in control of your experiments
If you are thinking about applying the scientific method to one aspect of your maintenance operation, then you must be in control of your experiments. Before you start you should know your hypothesis, the maintenance factor you are changing and the result you are measuring. You should also have a experimental note book in which you detail all aspects of each experiment you are running. Without doing all of these important pre-experiment items, you are likely to be wasting your time, and in the end, not following the scientific method at all.
Ultimately, the scientific method will improve your maintenance outcomes. It will take some work to see the pay-off, but the results will be worth it.