What is the Canary Telling You?
Safety is the canary in the productivity coal mine. We have all heard the term “The canary in the coal mine,” an allusion to caged canaries that mining workers would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leaked into the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately. In our discussion today, the canary is the customer’s safety issue, the coal mine is the customer application, and the miners are the customer’s team.
Safety and productivity are intertwined. The Mallory industrial “TCO” team looks at safety issues as a warning of possible lost quality, lost productivity, and/or total cost of ownership increases. We believe in two steadfast rules. The first rule is that the solution to the safety issue must improve production quality, productivity, and/or TCO. The second rule is that the solution is always found within the customer’s team.
The first step is when we find a dead canary we work with the miners to understand more about the canary. As a team we try to understand who/what the canary was, what the canary’s job was, what it needed to do its job, how it was doing its job, how long it took it to do its job, why it had to do that job, and finally how that canary can affect coal production.
The second step is to define the miners’ goals and expectations of the canary.
The third step is the “what if” stage and is the starting point of the solution. We start with a crazy what if, an old miner says maybe, and we are off in the right direction.
Here are a few examples of recent safety/productivity wins; details have been changed to protect customers’ privacy.
Example 1 The coal mine: A steel foundry mold poring line. The canary: Leg burns caused by aluminized leggings that would not protect the back side of the operator’s leg.
- Step 1: We identified that the operator was using his leg to steady the lighter molds (molds are rolled from point to point on rail tracks) during the pour process our team’s attention transitioned to the production issue of pour consistency and quality.
- Step 2: The goal was then to stabilize the molds without using the operator’s leg and build a more consistent process.
- Step 3: What if we used something other than the operator’s leg to stabilize the lighter mold? The miners quickly came up with inexpensive ways to stabilize the lighter molds that eliminated the need to use the operator’s leg and improve the consistency of the process.
Example 2 The coal mine: A primary metal manufacturer vertical furnace cleaning application. The canary: Safety issue of operators accessing the vertical furnace to clean it and unproductive use of operator time.
- Step 1: We clearly identifying the needs and expectation of the application and limitations of the process.
- Step 2: The goal was to limit or remove operator from going up into furnace.
- Step 3: What if we look at the vertical furnace as a large air duct and use existing air duct cleaning technology to clean the vertical furnace? The miners quickly came up with inexpensive ways to use existing moving parts of the furnace to mount the inexpensive air duct equipment need to automate the process and remove the need of the operator during the cleaning process altogether.
Safety solutions are also productivity solutions. Remember to pay close attention to that canary – it is trying to tell you something.
By Tony Machado