Successful Industrial Plant and Equipment Defect Prevention and Failure Elimination Strategy is Proactive by Its Design

Here is some sound advice to help you get the best value from introducing plant and equipment defect elimination and failure prevention strategy into a company



Hello Mike,

I am in the process to put in place a defect elimination strategy to engage front line people in new plant.

Could you please send me some guides on how to start.



Dear Friend,

Though I have little information about your situation to go on, I will give you some ideas to start you off in the right direction.

The definition of ‘Defect’ that I will use is ‘non-conformance to requirements or function’. A defect is a deficiency. Defects can lay hidden from view and may not become apparent until they cause a failure.

‘Failure’ is defined as ‘the inability of a system or component to perform its required role’. A failure has occurred when a thing cannot be used for its intended purpose.

‘Defect Elimination’ is then the identification of a non-conformance and its removal. ‘Failure Prevention’ is the process of finding and stopping failure causes before the function is affected.

By implication the best results of undertaking defect elimination and failure prevention occur when they are performed as proactive activities. If you stop a problem from occurring you have saved all the costs and frustrations that would have resulted if the problem had gone through to completion.

A defect elimination strategy requires you to put in place means to identify defects before the equipment they are in is put into service. If a defect does get into service it will most likely cause a failure before you know of it. Defect elimination is all about quality control and this cannot be done once plant is operating. Quality control can only be done when plant is being built during fabrication or re-built during repair. Once the plant is operating you are looking at conducting failure prevention; it is too late for defect elimination. Though you can in future intentionally change the design and ensure the new design has no defects.

If you really want to do defect elimination you must start by auditing the original equipment manufacturer and check their quality control and assurance systems. The other timely point where you can do defect elimination is during the project installation stage. At that point you can check the quality of the workmanship and installation against predetermined standards. Such standards would include shaft alignment, rotating equipment balancing, soft-foot distortion, pipe deflections and stresses, bolt-down and bolt-up tightness, correct lubrication, amongst many others.

Failure prevention is undertaken when plant is operational. Your intention to use front-line people to monitor for impending failures is ideal. They are right there with the equipment and can spot trouble starting. The use of front line personnel to monitor equipment for signs of problems is known as ‘watch-keeping’. When the armies of old rested for the night they posted a sentry to be their watch-keeper for enemy soldiers. The same strategy applies when you appoint people to look for problems developing in equipment.

You will need to teach your front-line people what to look for, as it is unlikely they all have the relevant experience that it takes to really understand equipment failure well. This will involve writing documentation about the process and equipment-use impacts that they can read and fully understand. They need to know what is right so they can look for what is not right and identify a problem. They also will need watch-keeping inspection checklists to tell them where to look and what they are to look for. These they will check off after each listed item is inspected and sign their name to it.

You will also need to take them on a thorough training tour of the plant and show them how to use the checklists and how to monitor the equipment properly and competently. This training is to teach them how to use their five senses to examine their plant and spot when it is not running right. Their bodies are one of the best sensing devices ever created. It might be useful if they are also given simple monitoring tools to use. Such as an automotive stethoscope to listen for noises, a hand-held temperature probe or laser thermometer to measure temperature and a vibration pen to monitor vibration. These devices help them really take on ownership of their equipment’s performance.

In summary you will need to:

  1. Establish engineering and operating standards for each equipment item and its assemblies.
  2. Develop training documents that explain the standards and the consequences when they are not followed.
  3. Create watch keeping checklists from the standards with clear indication of what well-running equipment looks like and what it looks like when it is not to specification. Indicate the tell-tales that they can look for which highlight good and bad operation.
  4. Train your people so they understand what problems look like and can find them. Make it clear what they need to do if they spot a problem.
  5. Keep complete records of the results of inspections so you have a history of the equipment as it ages. A good idea, when the check data makes it possible to do, is to continually trend the check results so you have a graph of the watch keeping results. This lets you monitor both equipment and personnel performance.
  6. When there are failures, do a root cause analysis and cost the losses and organisation-wide knock-on consequences. This will give you believable proof of just how expensive failures are to the operation. It will also give you ammonition to justify making huge efforts to make defect elimination and failure prevention a key Corporate-wide goal.

Hope the above helps you in your future deliberations and discussions.


My best regards to you,

Mike Sondalini
Managing Director
Lifetime Reliability Solutions HQ


PS. If you require advice on industrial asset management, industrial equipment maintenance strategy or plant and equipment maintenance and reliability, please feel free to contact me by email at