Seeing the Invisible

[This post celebrates the product launch for a great new book Seeing The Invisible, authored by GBMP’s friend and collaborator, John Kravontka, and published by GBMP.]

seeinginvisibleSummer time is synonymous for me with a trip to the amusement park.  I took my twins to Wonderland Park when they were just four years old, a déjà vu experience that transported me be back fifty years.  As my kids climbed onto the fire engine ride, I realized that this was the very same ride that I had loved when I was four years old.  Amidst the other high speed, high tech amusements, the fire engines existed in sharp relief, harkening to a simpler time period when children’s imagination required fewer bells and whistles.  Not being an especially nostalgic person, I was nonetheless impressed by the staying power of this simple amusement.  A line of enthusiastic children still waited in queue for this ride; same as when I was a kid.

Last summer, I noticed someone working on the fire engines just before the park opened for business, and felt compelled to let him know, “This ride is older than me.  I used to ride these engines when I was a kid. How do you keep them in such good shape?”

The maintenance tech smiled and replied, “We take care to lubricate the moving parts and we pretty much know what wears and when service will be needed.  These old engines don’t do much, but they’ve carried delighted kids for millions of miles. I would expect that your grandchildren will also be riding these engines at some point.  We’ve learned a lot about them over the years and we keep them in better than new condition.”

More recently, I had a similar exchange at a local factory with a machine shop manager.  Pointing to an ancient grinding machine, the manager echoed the thoughts from the amusement park:  “This old grinder doesn’t do much – no bells or whistles like many of our newer machines – but what it does do it does very consistently.”   “How do you keep it in such good shape?” I asked.  His reply: “We know this machine very well, where and when it will need service.  We treat it well and it returns the favor.”

Thoughtful preventative maintenance, be it at an amusement park, a factory, a laboratory or an operating room, creates a stable environment that favors safety, productivity and continuous improvement.  Yet, regular PM continues to be more of an exceptional condition rather than the norm.  There are so many simple opportunities to maintain equipment that just hide in plain sight, invisible to operators and maintenance techs.  The costs too are hidden in longer run times, injuries, defects, customer service and employee frustration.

Is your de facto standard  “run to failure”?   Do you see the simple opportunities to maintain your equipment in better than new condition or are they invisible to you?  Please share a story — and check out Seeing the Invisible, on sale beginning Monday July 29, 2013 at


BTW:  Don’t forget…August 13 is my second webinar, “Tea Time with the Toast Dude”, 3:00 – 3:45 pm (Eastern), the topic: Management Kaizen…one of my favorites. And of course, the 9th Annual Northeast Shingo Conference is fast approaching – September 24-25 in Hyannis MA. The line up looks great and the benchmarking and networking is always terrific. I can’t wait and hope to see you there!

2 thoughts on “Seeing the Invisible

  1. Gary H. Lucas

    I was promoted to plant manager at a small packaging machine company, when the company was very close to closing up. I fixed an air leak I had been listening to for nearly a year. Our electric bill went from $600 a month to $300, money to make payroll! The small air compressor needed a handful of inexpensive parts, and we reduced the electric bill even further.

    We had no work, so I took everyone in the shop and put them on maintenance. I said that when we get work we need to be efficient. In cleaning and greasing the vertical bandsaw we found out that opening the back door released the belt, you didn’t have to pry it off with a screwdriver! New blade guides meant it cut straight, and we didn’t need to do as much machining. In cleaning the Horizontal bandsaw we found out that the squeak was because a bearing was missing from the factory! They sent us a whole new gearbox for nothing. We fixed the belt sander, which lead to getting a polishing belt, greatly reducing the time to clean parts for anodizing. We inspected the shop air conditioner, and found out it hadn’t been used in 5 years because of a $30 part. With the temperature above 90 shop efficiency was at an all time high. We moved the air fittings and fasteners right next to the assembly area, cutting the trip for parts to 1/4 the distance. We put clear plastic skits on the fronts of open benches in the machining area to keep chips out, greatly reducing cleaning time.

    A few weeks later we were pushing a large crate onto a truck when the shop foreman said “You know this is the first” I asked the first what? He said it was the first time in 15 years the company delivered a machine on time!

  2. John Kravontka

    I do not see too many rides, that get this kind of attention! Normally they do not look well, some covers are missing, and it makes you begin to think “how are these rides actually cared for”? Every amusement ride should be taken care of this way…


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