Root Cause vs Forensics

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Everything has been a little busy over the past few months – hence, the MDMH has not been out in a while. Partly that is due to reliability-related projects and duties related to IEEE and SMRP. The past few months, however, have had the additional exciting aspect of taking 2XL Powerlifting the next step with several partners. We have finally opened the new home of Team Stone and personal strength training. But more on that later.

In addition to supporting companies through consultation related to electric machine repair and design/redesign, as well as wind turbine design/redesign/forensics and hybrid vehicle/machine design, we have focused significantly on Root-Cause-Failure-Analysis, which I have been referring to as ‘machine forensics.’ The primary reason for that has been that many companies mis-use the term ‘root cause’ referring only to the most obvious result of failure versus the cause.

In order to properly identify problems in machines and processes it becomes very important to leave behind ‘opinion,’ which is amateurish. Why? Well, the problem with opinion is that it is based upon thought processes which may be misleading due to past experience. This is one of the reasons that everything from criminal court proceedings to accident investigations rely upon ‘just the facts,’ and have least weight based upon opinion.

The consultant, judge, or investigator must be able to pick out fact from fiction based upon the physical evidence provided. In some cases, witness information or ‘expert’ opinion is used to help interpret the physical evidence.

In a number of cases, I have entered into forensic projects in which evidence has been manufactured or withheld in order to accomplish outcomes different than what would be supported by the facts. In many cases this is because others did not understand the information would be an important part of the investigation. In some of the cases, it becomes quickly obvious that the party supplying the information does not want the investigation to succeed to either withhold or deliberately supply false information.

An inexperienced investigator takes all information as honest, truthful or complete. Unfortunately, an experienced investigator must be very wary of the few cases where false or incomplete information is provided.

I have been involved in one court case where the level of dishonesty on the part of the defendant was extremely obvious even to the court. It was painfully obvious to the point where the bailiff pointed it out during a break.

It is important when performing forensic investigations on equipment that the purpose is NOT to identify an individual at fault. It is also equally important that organizations discuss and agree upon the results of an investigation.

During the build-out of the 2XL Powerlifting gym we had one incident that proved out this point and the results that can be obtained. We had a prospective team member help us work on the walls of the gym. The information was to use Kills (a primer) to take care of an area of wall where we knew the freezers from the neighboring deli were causing wetness while the deli owner and I were figuring out how to repair the walls. The space we were moving into had been empty for about a decade and the changes in humidity had an impact. The individual made a decision to remove a portion of the wall while we were moving equipment from another facility. The call came to us that the back of one of the freezers had encroached upon the space. Instructions were returned to inform the deli owner and to stop work around that area. Another call about ten minutes later had loud noise in the background which, it turned out, was the hissing of the release of 25 lbs of R22 refrigerant.

When we returned to the space there was ice around the back of the freezer and it appeared that some of it had melted. The land owner told us to stop all work during the investigation (the loss of a week of build-out) and the deli owner and I had agreed to determine how to handle the financial impact and responsibility once the ice had melted and the repair company was present. The result was the loss of two days of vacation, on my part, because I had to take the Monday off to take part in the investigation (ensure accurate data). Pictures of the event were presented to the land owner who then sent an email to the deli owner indicating that he was at fault because his freezer had encroached on our space. The information presented from the volunteer was that nothing was done in that area – which was refuted by the cameras we had installed.

On the Monday we were able to access the leak and the video and identified that after instructions were given to stop all work, the volunteer and a friend made the decision to go out and obtain a hammer and screwdriver to chip away the ice. The picture that follows is of the leak.

2014-08-24 18.09.27

When the freezer had encroached on our space, even though the instructions were to not do the work, the problem and repairs were the responsibility of the deli owner. The action taken by the volunteer made the problem ours, which settled the matter. If we had not set the agreement before the investigation and also relied upon only the physical evidence, the result would have been a bad neighbor relationship and, most likely, lost time in small claims court.

The positive solution and communications, as well as cooler heads, resulted in a strong relationship, great communications, and a few other perks for both companies.

How do you handle problems in your business and personal situations?


Howard W Penrose, Ph.D., CMRP

Physical Asset Management Information

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The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) is a participating member of the Global Forums for Maintenance and Asset Management (GFMAM) representing the United States. As part of the forums, we actively participated in the development of ISO 55000, the ISO standard for asset management. SMRP remains the primary INDEPENDENT professional not-for-profit organization within the USA for information related to Physical Asset Management, although we have made a conscious decision to maintain the known brand SMRP.

For more information on SMRP go to and for independent information and education on physical asset management, join us in Orlando the week of October 19, 2014, for the SMRP annual conference in which one full track is dedicated to Physical Asset Management and ISO 55000.

For information on the complete Asset Management landscape, SMRP took a lead role in developing the ‘Asset Management Landscape,’ a document to help guide stakeholders (most likely YOU) in understanding what this whole topic is about.

You can download it for free from the GFMAM website at:

Tech Tip: DC Motor Connection and a Lesson

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I received a weekend call related to a DC motor in which the technician was trying to reverse direction. It was a compound motor, meaning that it had a shunt winding for constant speed control, labeled F1 and F2 (dual voltage may have F1, F2, F3 and F4), a series field labeled S1 and S2, and the armature circuit labeled A1 and A2.

If you have a reduced field due to a loss of field voltage, or low field voltage, the magnetic fields associated with the field reduce and the motor will act more like a series motor and attempt to ‘run away,’ or operate at a higher speed than it is supposed to. A series field wraps around a shunt field and requires that the shunt field has the same polarity as the series field, in most conditions. Note: there are some special types of motors and applications where this does not apply.

I asked the technical to switch the armature leads, which were interpreted as swapping the S and A leads as one of the S and A leads were hard-connected. The result was a reduction of the shunt field magnetic strength as the series field strength ‘bucked’ it. In one direction the motor operated correctly, in the other it had speed control and current control problems. Everyone was a bit confused.

After a little bit I asked if the shunt leads were left with the original connections and the armature leads only changed. Once this was corrected, the problem was resolved.

There was a second lesson built into this – I did not see the answer right away. Most of my recent work has been focused on AC systems including wind generators and hybrid machine programs which has resulted in taking a bit longer to remember simple things in other areas. It served as a reminder to get myself back up to speed in relation to DC machines. If you don’t use it, you will lose it!

Teamwork and Leadership (The House a Team Built)

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10488056_783295048774_8497763850398992103_nFor a while now I have been involved in multiple volunteer organization, company and helping out other organizations in strategic planning and leadership exercises. This has proven to be very educational, much like what you find with Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) – it appears everyone has a religion that must be forced on any organization regardless of actual needs. Ugh.

I have seen the volunteer organizations move forward relatively successfully (it’s all a learning experience, when done right) and I have seen others stumbling along in a catastrophically chaotic manner. In the best case projects, the teams work with the strengths of the team, in the worst projects the focus is on ‘changing’ the individual as well as working against the grain and focusing on areas that are successful and avoiding problem areas. The lessons learned have been that you have to work with the team you have and their strengths and weaknesses and keep open lines of communication. Secrets, perpetual non-value-added meetings, and palace intrigue are ineffective.

When we built out the 2XL Powerlifting LLC facility and set up the business, the ownership and select volunteers got together and planned out the objectives of each stage of the project and business. We determined each of the partners’ strengths – I was selected as the business manager, Eric Stone leading the competition and personal training aspect, and Joe Atef to attract the ‘big lifters’ and to be an ambassador. Both one of the other volunteers and I were cited as having the most construction experience (I focused on electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, he focused on the structure). We decided to forego a contractor (the pricing was astronomical) and ask for volunteers. We did not require a contractor and we were not performing work that required a permit in Lombard.

Each of the leaders were required to be present during their particular area of expertise (with one exception – see the forensics part in the ‘from the motordoc’) and direct the volunteers, of which we had about 20 over the course of the project. When there were specific projects, such as electrical repairs, I would focus on those while having a volunteer on-site doing cleaning (never do dangerous work on your own). Before starting each phase of the project, the leadership would discuss the objectives and then we would discuss with the volunteer teams.

The gym was built by powerlifters for powerlifters (and strength athletes, and personal sports and strength training) with input taken in from all of the volunteers. However, the leadership (owners) decided which ideas would be used. During the development of the gym there were times when leadership had to step in and ‘take charge’ of situations, especially when ‘management by committee’ would slow things down. Basically, when things would stall due to ‘meetings’ or ‘discussions’ that were not productive, we would step in and make a decision and keep things moving.

Before we started the project we were told that it would take several months for a contractor to do the work and that the project may not be finished at all with volunteers. However, by following the approach of ‘playing our team,’ and applying lessons of leadership method-by-need, we were able to not only complete the build out in less than four weeks (even losing a week in the process), but we exceeded expectations and navigated through a lot of red tape – all of the volunteers and leadership had other jobs and responsibilities, as well.

In the end we rewarded the volunteers with special t-shirts (‘construction crew’) and one free month for every 16 hours invested in the build-out, as well as keeping them well fed, watered and in a comfortable environment during the work (had the air conditioning fixed ASAP).

People have asked me in the past how I accomplish all of the things that I do. This is the secret.

For more information on the build-out and pictures: and:

And the YouTube video covering the adventure: