Many years ago, I was introduced to the concept of Tighten, Lubricate and Clean or TLC as a young Engineer, and it felt like an epiphany. Chris Cooper, the only JIPM-trained TPM practitioner in Australia at the time was leading the implementation of TPM at BHP Steel in Port Kembla. He showed us the results of some benchmarking undertaken with Nippon Steel Corporation’s steel mills in Japan. In the 1970’s, the NSC plants conducted a systematic review of all of their Root Cause Analyses for equipment failures. What they found was that 80 % of all of failures were due to one or a combination of these three things:
- Tighten: nuts, bolts etc. not being tight;
- Lubricate: lubricants being inadequate or contaminated; and
- Clean: a lack of cleanliness of or around plant and equipment.
What an insight I thought! This was not a lesson learnt, but a plethora of lessons, crystallised into a brilliant, trilateral gem.
The Japanese plants took this learning very seriously, embedding some very specific maintenance practices and a new culture of asset care that would prevented 80 % of all future failures; a worthy investment in organisational change, indeed! What TLC does, in effect, is to make tangible the most fundamental of maintenance maxims: “keeping things together that should be together and keeping things apart that should be apart.” I’d like to acknowledge Rod Bennett, formerly of BHP Steel Westernport as the author of this (that’s who I heard it from first). I’m sure it was not easy to implement TLC, because it was about putting into place a great many small, yet important disciplines – and being relentless about it! Fast forward 30 plus years and what do we see in Australian heavy asset maintenance? Hmmmm. Let me reflect on both the journey and the destination.
When I left BHP Steel and helped launch the Global Maintenance Network, TLC was one of the key concepts I wanted to share with all of BHP’s maintenance organisations. It was one of those gems that I thought could readily transfer from Steel to Minerals. However, what I saw happening was not what I had hoped. Firstly, like a typical teenager, no site wanted to be told what to do. “TLC sounds too simple. TLC might work for the Japanese, but we just can’t keep the assets clean. We need the Operators to help with asset care, but they just want to drive it like they stole it.” Secondly, few of the maintenance organisations conducted sufficient RCA’s well enough and for long enough to learn specific lessons, let alone identify the TLC pattern. I found it incredulous that the power of TLC could not be readily harnessed. Even today, there are still many heavy equipment maintenance businesses that haven’t put TLC into practice.
When we reduce the TLC concepts to their fundamental components, what we note is the importance of managing boundaries and maintaining an optimal operating environment. Keeping nuts and bolts tight stops foreign bodies from traversing critical boundaries. Ensuring contamination stays outside the asset boundary allows lubrication to do its job – keeping metal surfaces apart, yet close. Finally, keeping assets clean reduces heat and allows for the quick discovery of leaks. As Rod Bennett once said “machines don’t die; they’re murdered” and what scrubbing did to surgery, TLC did to the life of machines.
Why is it so difficult to learn from our own past or better yet, from others? Why do we need to learn everything for ourselves, and often decades too late? There’s no doubt that managing boundaries, maintaining an optimal environment and keeping bad actors outside the camp is a maintenance issue. But looking after equipment is but one form of maintenance. If we do a half-baked job with TLC in industry, it matters to some degree. Equipment will fail early and we’ll need to replace it, costing time and money. However, what is the impact of poor maintenance of an organisation’s culture or society’s values? This is immeasurably greater.
So far, this has been a business-focused blog and so, I shouldn’t cop any flak over the content. However, I am about to cross over into politics and ideology and I know that I’m running the risk of attracting detractors. So be it. We need to discuss this.
Almost monthly for the past few years, at least, the news has become fixated on the outcomes of the latest act of terror. Journalists are shocked, politicians display moral outrage and media platitudes abound, as though they could make a difference! The latest London terror act, barely a week after the Manchester bombing, reminded me so much of my TLC memories that I thought I needed to write this article now.
Perhaps, instead of being so shocked, as though this simply cannot happen (but does with monotonous regularity), why not do something about it? If we cannot bring ourselves to learn from others, then why not at least do the following:
- List all of the acts of terror;
- Conduct a root cause analysis of why they occurred;
- Look for a pattern among all of the terror acts; and
- Implement the findings. Immediately!
Some say that we should just “hug it out” with the terrorists, but I disagree. What I think they need is a good dose of “Tough TLC.” What does that mean? Well, we need to manage boundaries, maintain an optimal environment (make sure our values are not compromised) and keep the bad actors outside the camp. Unfortunately, some countries have not practiced TLC in the past and now they have too many “foreign bodies” within their midst, causing a life-threatening infection. So, in addition to TLC, they will require a combination of surgery and anti-biotics to eliminate the threat. Unless Tough TLC is immediately enacted, untold hundreds, if not thousands of civilians will die and billions will be spent unnecessarily, treating symptoms.
To be clear, I do not condone ethnic cleansing, in fact, I believe that a nation’s or an organisation’s values can only be strengthened in the marketplace of ideas where every ideology can be examined and every strategy discussed openly. I believe it is possible at the same time to love your neighbour, whether they are Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or Christian and to fight a war that protects your right to embrace your own values (so long as they don’t include killing your neighbour who doesn’t believe the same way as you). I believe that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure and so, I believe that it’s about time for some Tough TLC. What say you?