Uptime: A Visit From St. Nicholas (2011 Capacity Assurance Version)

bob_williamson_thumb_thumbAs 2011 winds down, I can’t resist dusting off my December 2010 column and weaving in themes from this year’s “Uptimes.” While some readers commented that last year’s poem reminded them of their plants, I assure you that it was (as this 2011 update is) based on a mythical facility. Although many of the cited incidents may ring true around your operations, St. Nicholas notes in the end that there is hope for all.


The poem that begins “Twas the night before Christmas,” (presumably penned by Clement C. Moore) has been part of an enduring holiday tradition for many of us. Here, let’s again consider the repercussions if some of the problems we see in our plants and facilities were to befall “the most famous workshop of all” a week before Christmas…


’Twas the week before Christmas and all through the place,
Not a person was loafing, with one week to the race.
The packages were moving down the conveyors to load,
While the elves all had visions of hitting the road.

The machines were all humming, to the max they could go,
With all parts and all motors producing the flow
Of goodies and toys and clothing and games,
All running and churning the presents with names.

When all of a sudden, there came a huge clatter
Announcing that the schedule was ready to shatter.
First the labelers, then robots, then presses and all,
They clattered and sputtered and went into a stall.

The bearings and seals all suffered from heat
And the worst folks imagined was ’bout to be seen.
All loading was stopped, but the sleigh was not full.
All leaders and workers gave maintenance a call!

“Give maintenance a call!” was the cry from the shop.
“Give maintenance a call!” was spread from the top.
“Give maintenance a call!” was heard all around.
“Give maintenance a call!” Their feet hit the ground.

From their perches above, on roofs and on cranes
From their shops and their projects and underground trains,
Came mechanics and technicians with bright shiny tools

And electricians and fitters from all the best schools.

They pounced on the wrappers, the valves and the seals
With their tools and meters, they were startled to see
The machines were all shot. They were down for the count!
“Give maintenance a call!” was the solution to mount.

“Give maintenance a call!” was the fix all had seen.
But maintenance alone could not fix a machine.
The budget was planned for maintenance last year
With much less for bearings, for seals and gears.

The labelers and loaders and conveyors all ran
With little to none of a maintenance plan.
There was tightening and scrimping on every new part,
And cutbacks on time to check, lube and chart.

The numbers looked good. All the schedules were met.
The warehouse and shelves were being filled with no debt.
But all is not lost ’cause the sleigh has a load,
Albeit lots less than was planned for the road.

Some presents with names would surely be missed,
But bad news like this clearly wouldn’t persist.
Then back in the shop, the sleigh gave a groan.
Its load and its driver could now not be flown.

“Give maintenance a call! The sleigh fell apart.
The runners are rusted and loose from the cart!”
“Give maintenance a call!” was all that was heard.
“Give maintenance a call!” for what was deferred.

Soon after last year’s long late-night sortie,
The maintenance was cut to 10 dollars 40.
So, it sat there all year, while nothing was done,
Just rusting and failing. PM? There was none.

Now Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
And Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen
All heard the bad news from the shops over there.
Should jolly old St. Nick be told of the scare:

That the presents with names were about to be stopped?
And the children whose wishes were about to be chopped?
Oh, what would we do if our mission should fail
Or to deliver the gifts with the speed of a snail?

Then all of a sudden, St. Nicholas appears,
Aroused from his sleep by the shouts and the tears.
He looked at the labelers, the presses and all.
He looked at bearings and things that had stalled.

“Give maintenance a call!” was all that he heard.
“Give maintenance a call!” for what was deferred.
He pondered the destruction, the sorry state that he saw.
He wandered the mess: “This is the last straw!”

His fears had come true. It had come down to the worst.
All the presents with names could not be disbursed.
The merry old soul grew sad and then cried,
“’Tis the season to be jolly,” he sneered at his ride.

The sleigh, it just sat there, rusted, tilted and broke
Then suddenly St. Nicholas really awoke!
The cobwebs of sleep and nightmares he knew
Were all a bad dream, one not to come true.

He got up and he dressed in his brightest new clothes,
Then he wandered the shops and the plant to disclose:
His bad dreams were a warning that all had to hear.
“Give maintenance a call. We’ll tell them right here.” 

“We’ll give up our machines each month for a check
To be sure that our plans don’t turn into a wreck.”
He told workers and leaders, “Tis not a wild dream!
We win this or lose this as one great big team.”

“So, look at your habits, your checklists, your plans.
Find new ways to stop machine failures and scams.
Beware of all parts that come from low bids,
Part quality that’s suspect we all must forbid.”

“Our elves who maintain are greying with age.
Write their knowledge and skills on one great big page,
Then put training new elves near the top of our list,
So when they retire not a beat will be missed." 

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the shops
All lines should be humming. There should be no flops.
PMs, they seem pricey but failures are worse.
Breakdowns stop flow and their cost’s a big curse.

A lesson was learned, even though in a dream
That maintenance is shared, and that’s a new scheme.
You plan all the work and work all you plan,
For reliability’s our goal, and we know you all can.

Deploy all new tasks, new lists and techniques.
Give your attention to noises, to rattles and leaks.
Assuring capacity is the name of our game,
For assets, our people, our customers, our name.

May your holidays be blessed with good tidings and cheer… The next time you’ll see us, it’ll be a whole brand new year! MT