Voices: OEM Insight

Painless Project Rollouts for Machine Builders and Installers

The Main Defense Against a Disastrous Installation is Testing Before Machinery is Released for Shipment. But an Army of People Will Be Yelling for Short Cuts

By Kim Ground

As a builder of packaging machinery and sophisticated, wet-process equipment for the electroplating and semiconductor industries, I've seen quite a few good installations where everyone was smiling. I also witnessed some installations that were about as much fun as the dentist who doesn't believe in anesthetics. What makes the difference?

The equipment and systems that I've worked on represent a major capital expenditure for the owner, and usually include new and improved technology for the operators and maintenance people. Once the equipment is installed, and the day comes to turn on the power for the first time, everyone in the plant from the owner to the floor sweeper will want to see the new gadget work. The manufacturer's start-up team will be under close scrutiny during this time.

On that first day, if you can turn on the machine or start up the process, and everyone can see the equipment doing something without any major disasters, they will go away with smiles and think nice things about their new equipment. The equipment might not be operating to perfection and, in fact, there could be major flaws in the process at this stage. But as long as the machine does "something" without tripping breakers, flooding the place or letting out magic smoke, then the start-up team will be left alone to finish fine-tuning the installation.

However, let things go horribly wrong on that first start, and you're on the downhill slope to a disastrous installation. The owner begins to think he should pay closer attention. After a few days, if things are not fixed quickly, the maintenance people start to think, "The folks that built it can't get this thing to work properly. How am I supposed to ever be able to maintain it?" And the operators start to look for excuses to stay with their old jobs instead of moving to the new equipment.

From there on out, every minor problem causes people to look for flaws in the machine instead of trying to learn to deal with the sort of minor problems that operators and maintenance people have to deal with in any equipment. Preventive maintenance will be lax or nonexistent because people have not taken ownership of the equipment and are afraid to touch it for fear of causing more problems. Phone calls will come into the office that start out, "'Your' machine is malfunctioning and costing us a thousand dollars a minute…" It will be a long uphill battle trying to satisfy this customer.

Also Read: Machine Builders Show Little Change in Product Buying Habits

Your main defense against a disastrous installation is testing and testing again before you release the machinery for shipment. But you'll find an army of people yelling for short cuts in this process.

The purchaser will try to cut the build time to the bone because he wanted the equipment in the plant and running on the day he finally decided to place the order. Some purchasers will delay a decision to buy, and then offer to buy only if you stick to the originally proposed delivery schedule.

The designers and builders in your shop will view that two-week "final test" time—the next to last thing on the schedule—as a safety margin to make up for their own delays earlier in the project.
The sales people and owner will want to adhere to the schedule that was set when the order was placed, regardless of any delays that might have occurred along the way. Fiscal issues on one side or the other will demand that the machine be shipped in this accounting period.

It will seem ever so tempting to finish construction and test the last-minute changes when the machine is assembled in the field. This is guaranteed to lead to disaster. These last-minute changes are most often the areas where trouble will occur in the start-up and are the things that should be tested the most—not the least.

The bean counters will start to think it takes too much time, trouble and expense to hook up utilities for complete testing or to rent that 50-Hz generator to make sure there won't be any problems when the equipment gets to the customer, and all of the motors run at 5/6 of the speed they did in your shop.

Time and again, for any installation that's not right next door, and especially installations in other countries, it is going to cost you 10 times as much to fix problems or make changes at installation time instead of when the equipment was in your factory.

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