Run to Failure and Secondary Damage

Many facilities have a practice of running their equipment (or certain elements of their equipment) to failure. Run to failure means just what it says, doing nothing proactive or preventative to keep the machine operating and stopping only when the equipment breaks down. In most instances run to failure is not ideal as its costs are relatively high because of unplanned downtime, damaged machinery, safety issues, and overtime expenditure among other costs. Run to failure can be a very small part in a modern maintenance program, and there are some instances where it does make sense. An example is a plant, which employs a great number of similar machines that are not expensive to replace or to repair. When one breaks down, others are scheduled to take up the slack and production is not affected very much. The important point to remember here is that if something is run to failure, this tactic should have been planned and not just a defaulted action because of lack of planning, organization, a proper PM program or other reasons that can plague plant maintenance efforts.

An important item to consider when deciding on utilizing the run to failure tactic is the possibility of secondary damage (or effects) occurring as a result of the original failure. By definition, secondary damage is “additional damage caused by the initial or primary damage or failure”. In many instances the secondary damage can be much worse and have greater consequences than the original failure. As I have done in the past, I’ll use a car as an example for performing maintenance and I’ll give you a personal example of something that happened to me (although I am ashamed as someone in my field should have known better). A vehicle I was driving was recommended to have the timing belt and the balance belt changed out at 100,000 km. I had the timing belt inspected, and was told the timing belt looked good and would not need changing at that time. Not long after that the balance belt snapped. This belt costs only $15, and the engine would have run, although slightly rougher, without it. The problem was, when the balance belt broke, it tangled up with the timing belt and damaged it, and also took out a lower engine sensor. This in turn caused the entire computer system to be damaged and need replacing. The total cost including towing etc was over $3,000, a great amount of damage (and inconvenience) from a $15 part not being changed.

Keep the possibility of secondary damage and its effects in mind both up and downstream of the equipment that you may be considering running to failure. Utilize Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) as a tool when deciding on a run to fail scenario to help root out what the effect might be on other related equipment or processes.

About Daniel Rau

Dan is the principal at "Maintenance Optimization Consulting" (M.O.C), focusing on small to medium sized business that want to economically improve their maintenance function (and save money, improve quality, decrease downtime, etc) by implementing world class maintenance best practices in their facilities. Dan is a certified Maintenance Management Professional (MMP) through the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC) and utilizes a "Pareto" approach to identify realistic, cost effective areas for improvement, specializing in tactics that are effective down to the plant floor such as PM Optimization, Basic Care, TPM, Work Order Management Systems and more.

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