Control Procedures with Configuration Management

EP Editorial Staff | July 2, 1997

Using maintenance procedures helps attain consistent results and establishes standards. Configuration management principles for controlling procedures help an organization become a world-class team.

A reliability-centered maintenance program is in place, condition monitoring is a fact, and total productive maintenance (TPM) teams are functioning well. Plant reliability is up, production is at peak levels, and corrective maintenance has been successfully minimized. Is it time to sit back and say all maintenance problems have been eliminated?

What about the people, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) representatives, who visit the plant and ask questions? How does ISO 9000 affect a maintenance program? The maintenance department is successful so far because it is staffed with good, experienced people. However, they do not seem to stay with the company as long as they used to. Those people and that experience may be harder to keep around in the future. So now what?

The impact of ISO 9000, OSHA, and the EPA is felt throughout industry. Procedures that should be performed must be documented so that the required reporting of what actually is done demonstrates that the desired result can be obtained. Procedures, whether written, oral, or traditional, usually spell out what tasks should be done. A task that is actually performed is recorded in quality control records, internal audits, process monitoring data, operator logs, and maintenance and repair records. The process of controlling documentation of what procedures should be and what is done is configuration management.

Why Use Procedures

  • Achieve standardized, consistent, correct performance every time
  • Instruct apprentices and new personnel
  • Control conditions during maintenance
  • Return equipment and systems to a known status upon the completion of maintenance
  • Provide a baseline for improvements
  • Capture experience and pass it along
  • Preserve lessons learned and best methods as part of a continuous improvement process

The best industrial activities in this country have a good basis of maintenance procedures. Procedures help attain consistent results and establish standards. As industry relies more on cross-training and teams to accomplish routine preventive maintenance, standardization and consistency become more important. How procedures are used should vary with the intent. Safety, routine operations and maintenance, and special procedures for critical or complex repairs may be handled in different ways.

Sometimes resistance arises with’ the mention of procedures, leading to the technician’s question, Don’t they think I know what I’m doing? Asking these same technicians to document procedures recognizes their knowledge of the subject and enlists their support at the same time. It also makes them realize that not everyone performs in exactly the same way, which leads to which way is best and why. A standard procedure, openly developed with differing opinions considered, builds grass roots support. Procedures created through this method capture detailed personal knowledge not only of how to do the task well, but also of the problems and missteps that occurred in the past.

Proper procedures become reference material to settle a difference of opinion between veteran workers or to guide a new employee in the proper way to accomplish an assigned task. If procedures are used in an intelligent and consistent manner, they become everyone’s ally (see section, Why Use Procedures?). To maintain credibility, the procedures must be right; when they are found to be in error, they must be promptly and formally corrected.

Procedures are related to the level of training in a maintenance organization. The fundamental, but unwritten, part of procedures is the basic knowledge required to execute a procedure. The higher the level of knowledge of the craft the worker has, the less detail is required within the procedure. The skill of the craft is the starting point from which procedures grow. However, requisite skills should be defined and not left to chance; the minimum skill level required should be stated. A training program must provide this skill to the newcomer. Experienced newcomers should be able to demonstrate the minimum level of knowledge and skills through testing, through professional certification, or by interview, as appropriate.

There may be logical levels of skill above the minimum that are appropriate for a specific organization. Advanced skill levels become important as cross-training and team building progress. On-the-plant-floor operations and maintenance overlap and operators can handle routine maintenance tasks, but there is a point where they rely on others for maintenance support and special skills. Many companies provide advanced training that qualifies individuals for special tasks and responsibilities. This training and certification-based testing or a practical demonstration qualifies an individual in the appropriate skill. Frequently, formal qualification for advanced levels goes hand in hand with additional incentives and rewards.

Configuration management
Controlling and changing procedures leads to configuration management. The goal is to maintain proper control, but it does not allow the administrative burden to become excessive. Configuration management identifies existing plant design characteristics and controls changes to ensure that structures, systems, equipment, and components meet design requirements; it ensures that the plant’s physical and functional characteristics are reflected accurately in selected plant documents (for example, design, procurement, operating, testing, maintenance, and training).

Configuration management becomes increasingly important as maintenance workers become more involved with integrating predictive maintenance and as the line of demarcation between maintenance and production becomes less distinct. A configuration management program

  • Provides a structure for managing change to prevent discontinuities, loopholes, omissions, and oversights
  • Provides a record of what has or has not been done with regard to the plant and its process, capacity, and equipment
  • Ensures that a technical review is accomplished before changes are made in order to remain in compliance with outside requirements and internal needs
  • Disseminates information regarding changes and requires that support be updated. Support includes drawings, repair parts and consumable stores, training (both operational and maintenance), operating and maintenance procedures, test procedures, and repair procedures.

Configuration management is widely used in the nuclear power industry. It is driven by regulatory agency concerns; public safety depends on each nuclear power plant’s ability to maintain the design safety margins throughout the life of the plant. The purpose of the program is to ensure that all changes made to plant systems, operating procedures, and maintenance will not inadvertently reduce the safety margin provided by the initial design.

Although most industries do not operate in an environment as public safety conscious as the nuclear industry, the amount of outside agency regulation and oversight is increasing. The organization that can look ahead and prepare to answer the hard regulatory questions will be ahead of its competitors. At this time, the rigorous program required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would not be cost effective for most other industries. However, many configuration management principles can be useful to any well-run business subject to outside regulation, oversight, or audit. The challenge is to adopt the principles and put them into operation cost effectively.

How is configuration managed? First, there must be an understanding of the design basis for the plant, its process, and equipment. Simply put, what is the plant designed to do and how is it supposed to be done based on the original plant design? The design basis must be defined because it is ground zero, the point of departure for all subsequent plant, process, and equipment changes. In the time the plant has been operating, many things may have affected the design basis.

Improper maintenance or operation may hinder the plant from doing what it was intended to do because of inappropriate repair parts or because operating procedures unknowingly reduce the capability of the plant. It may not be possible to completely reconstruct the design basis; in such cases, it is best to accurately determine the present configuration and capability and make this baseline the design basis.

Over the years, the design basis may have been deliberately changed; for example, the plant may now do something new, different, or better than it did originally. Modifications have been appropriate, but the modifications change the baseline. The design basis should have been changed to reflect the modifications.

Documents that state the design characteristics of the plant (or process or equipment) or that help maintain the design basis (procedures, test, drawings, parts lists, etc.) are an integral part of configuration management. These documents should be identified and handled in a special manner. They should be subject to special review when changes or modifications are proposed. The identification and control of design basis documents are keys to the long-term management of change. These documents must describe the plant as it actually exists. Changes should be subject to a technical review and trigger updating to support any changes.

Configuration management is implemented by

  • Identifying documents that define the design basis for the plant, its processes, and equipment
  • Establishing procedures for making changes in the design basis documents, including a technical review to determine whether the desired changes are technically sound and whether they will produce the desired effect
  • Assigning responsibility for implementing the change
  • Establishing procedures for updating the design basis documents, parts support, training requirements, maintenance and operating procedures, and dissemination of information regarding the change to everyone concerned
  • Monitoring the change or modification to ensure that it does what it was intended to do and that the support is updated.

The benefits to an organization with an orderly method of planning, executing, and tracking changes and modifications are significant. Major maintenance jobs can be accomplished promptly and correctly the first time because planning is based on good information, lessons learned from previous work of a similar nature have been incorporated, an accurate procedure is available, and the proper parts and drawings are ready. Changes and modifications accomplish what they are intended to accomplish because a technical review established a design that is based on valid, as-is conditions. The process continues after the change because procedures, drawings, parts, and training are updated to reflect the change. Benefits include the following:

  • Routine maintenance becomes seemingly self-executing
  • Regulators are satisfied
  • Production increases
  • Quality improves
  • Reliability moves up a notch
  • Worker pride and knowledge are increased
  • Lost and wasted motion is minimized
  • Costs are cut and the bottom line improves.

Program success
The successful implementation of all these topics will not be easy. What can be done to ensure the configuration management program will succeed?

First, institutionalize the process. Avoid the flavor of the month approach. Persistently and doggedly insist that the process be used. Do not settle for lip service. Starting any program is difficult, particularly if years of neglect must be overcome. Quietly educate so everyone understands what the program is expected to accomplish and what the benefits will be.

Second, devote the resources necessary to do the program right. However, do not let the program become a bandwagon for hangers-on. Keep the program as uniform and as simple as possible. Get the program running well in several small areas before expanding. Aim for the long haul; measure successes individually.

Third, learn from experience and follow up. Keep the program on track. Conduct internal audits and reviews to determine how the program is progressing and what the difficulties are. MT

Keith Young, a member of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals, is a senior associate for Maintenance Quality Systems, LLC, 1127-F Benfield Blvd., Millersville, MD 21108-2540; (410) 729-1290.

Self Examination Quiz

If an organization can answer “No” to all of these questions, it probably has a world-class maintenance organization.

  1. Have you found a repair part drawn from stores that is not the right part because the equipment needing repair has been modified?
  2. Have you found that stores does not have repair parts to support equipment because stores does not know the equipment has been modified?
  3. Do you find that various maintenance teams (or operations and maintenance teams) accomplish the same task with varying degrees of success?
  4. Are you unsure of the design production capacity of a piece of equipment? Are you unable to trace modifications that have changed that capacity and by how much?
  5. Have you ever attempted to use a drawing only to find that it was hopelessly out of date with respect to changes made in the equipment?
  6. Are you uncertain about the level of craft skill and knowledge held by the junior electrician or mechanic in your organization?
  7. As you approach the next repair job on a major piece of equipment, do you wonder whether tasks that were performed incorrectly and cost time and money last time have been corrected?
  8. Are you unable to demonstrate to an ISO 9000 auditor that you have done what ISO 9000 procedures require over the past 6 months?
  9. If the corporate legal department, in support of ongoing litigation, asked you to document the maintenance a particular piece of equipment had received throughout its lifetime, would you be unable to do it? If only the past 6 months was of concern, would you still be unable to document the equipment’s maintenance?
  10. Have you ever had a repair job fail upon post-repair testing because of improper reassembly, overlooked foreign objects left inside, or workmanship?




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