I have an issue with a materials handling system and now where do I go with it?

I have an issue with a materials handling system and now where do I go with it?

This experience and question is being considered all the time as any given materials handling plant is going through this frequently. It can be so painful because the plant management wants it fixed quickly and with as little as possible economic impact.  You and / or your internal resources are completely overwhelmed with the task of diagnosing the problem by yourself and you know that you need help.  You suspect that the original equipment manufacturer maybe offering the most expensive fix with the longest time frame attached to it.  Now what do you do?

At the root of the problem is surprisingly one key item:  You.  What I mean by that is that you let the situation get to you.  This is meant in terms of economic and time frame pressure exerted on you by either management and or the urgency of the project.  Now you make less strategic decisions due to not taking your time thinking through the problem at hand.  What happens is that you attempt fixing the issue yourself even though you do not know what you do not know.  In the end the problem can be made worse and now this can come back and reflect badly on your career.

Planning is everything here.  You do not plan, you plan to fail.  The following is a cheat sheet summary of what you can do to plan through your issue:

  1. Define the problem.  Seems a banality, but this is the top number one reason why no one will be ever be able to help you effectively.  What I mean is for you to define a problem statement and then what you believe the root cause is.
    1. The root cause emerges when you ask yourself and the plant personnel involved in the challenge fives times “why”.  For instance: Why do we experience a low conveying flow rate?  By the fifth why you will have really narrowed it down to the root cause.
    2. Develop a problem narrative in writing and sketch it out.  Sketches preferably should be to scale.  Photos do wonders!
    3. Stay to describing what the equipment status and condition is, rather than what should have been (some folks are afraid to admit that there are issues in the plant, this is no time to be timid!).
  2. This may surprise you, but I would speak with the original manufacturer first about your issue.  This may render totally positive responses and the fastest results to dealing with your issues.  At least you get to know the way how professionals would solve the issue and how.  You can still resort to the other methods of self-help, if the manufacturer blows you off or otherwise does not treat you like he should.
  3. Look at online resources like the Bulk Forum for help.  Here it will be helpful categorizing your issue correctly and with the detail knowledge from point 1 inserted in your request for help.
  4. Look around and ask friends and your connections in the industry.  If you are not connected, now would be a good time to get connected.  One excellent resource is LinkedIn.  It has excellent focus groups that deal with so many situations and if there is not one, start one.
  5. Finally, you can give the good old college try a chance.  Doing this yourself can be as scary as it can be rewarding when you solve the issue.  Point 1 really will come to your rescue as it helps eliminate as many as possible variables.  Make sure to not making changes too quickly and too many at a time such that you can study cause and effect of what you are doing.

Now that you have a pre-flight check list I will leave you to making a few important choices.  The first one is for you to choose actively whether or not you want to make a change.  Scan for the support of your management and their back up as well as their financial commitment.  Nothing is worse than having developed a detailed plan just to be told that neither money nor time will be made available to you.  Then choose to plan your remedy and the resources to do this with.  What problems will you start doing differently from now one?  Choose wisely.

Ralf Weiser


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