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Tue, Nov 29, 2022 10:08
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Management Side

Failure Prevention Associates--A whole lot of shaking going on!

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Karl Hoffower, Founder and Executive Director, Failure Prevention Associates, LLC (FPA) ( Failure Prevention is located in Houston, Texas. FPA is comprised of experienced staff certified in Vibration Analysis, Thermography, Ultrasound Inspection, Electric Motor Testing, Field Balancing, Laser Alignment and Reliability Centered Maintenance practices. If it vibrates, FPA can analyze the situation. If it is not supposed to vibrate, FPA can facilitate the solution.

Paperitalo: Karl, how long has FPA been in business?

FPA: FPA has been in business since 2007.

Paperitalo: As I understand it, you started with a focus on vibration analysis and branched out from there.

FPA: Yes, we began as a vibration analyzer sales company, then added on other predictive analytic products, mainly known as PdM or Predictive Maintenance. But we soon learned most of our client base needed training on the use of the technology and to interpret that data on what the analyzers were showing. In 2012 FPA won a bid to staff vibration analysts full time in a few petrochemical plants in Pasadena, TX.

We now provide full PdM and Reliability improvement products, training, services and staffing.

Paperitalo: Beside vibration analysis, what else is in your toolkit?

FPA: We offer a number of different predictive tools. But the most exciting offering we have is our SystemCare™ skill assessment and gap closure training.

Industry is experiencing the Silver Tsunami. The Silver Tsunami describes how grey hair retirements are washing away skills, knowledge and know-how. It is a well-known title to the dire situation we are facing in the skilled crafts labor market as these experienced people retire.

Paperitalo: I assume your skillset has grown with customer demand. What are the typical problems your customers bring to you?

FPA: The Silver Tsunami is a real threat to most industrial businesses. We hear and see that First-Time fix rates are dropping and getting worse. Operations is also losing knowledgeable staff, so processes are being run without the benefit of highly qualified staff which worsens the damage assets accumulate with improper start-ups and shutdowns. While the need and understanding of the value for predictive condition monitoring is at an all-time high, it will not generate value if the repairs are not made with care and precision. Additionally, when production staff demand more of the equipment than it was designed to deliver then lifecycles are shortened, which increases the need for maintenance. Thus starts a vicious decline in production rates, profits and staff morale.

Paperitalo: Does FPA have alliances with other specialists?

FPA: Yes, we cannot be all things for all of the possible failures out there. We have made many alliances and partnerships.

With the aid of one of our alliances, for instance, you can send us a video made on your cellular phone and we can shortly have that video turned into a vibration analysis of the movement of the asset, piping, foundation, and so forth. This is truly cutting-edge software. What used to cost $30k-$100k and take weeks to complete can now be done in a few hours, resulting in a quick resolution of the source of the problem.

Paperitalo: What would you say is the most interesting project you have completed?

FPA: There was the time we discovered vacuum leaks on black liquor evaporators under insulation, all while the system was still running. It was a technique that created quite a stir in the world of steam vacuum evaporator processes.

The "experts" on ultrasound at the time said that no one could use an ultrasonic air leak detector to find vacuum leaks under insulation. With the technology others were talking about, they were correct.

Fortunately for the client and FPA, no one told us it was impossible. So, hearing about how the process worked and what assets are needed to turn the black liquor into something the recovery boiler could use, we came up with the theory of mapping the decibel levels at various points around and along the stacks.

Others were stuck on the thought that vacuum leaks are found using an airborne sensor.

Very hard to be successful with that approach when these evaporators are covered with 4"- 6" of insulation and lagging.

Based on our investigation, we located the leak in 1 hour 45 minutes. It was so fast no one believed us. We were asked if we were 100% certain that site was the true location of the leak.

To which my reply was, "No, not at all. This is a novel approach on a failure mode we didn't even know existed a week ago".

We were ordered to continue searching until we were 100% certain the leak was at the original site we pinpointed. FPA studied the data and said, yes, we were certain the leak was at our original location. The customer was surprised, but the leak indeed was where we said it was.

Paperitalo: What is the size of the typical field team sent out on your projects? What gear do they need to bring?

FPA: Most of our predictive condition monitoring is completed by one (1) staff member. They usually deploy with several different analyzers. A portable vibration analyzer, an ultrasonic listening and recording device, a thermal imager and small hand tools for tightening small things that vibrate loose. If we are doing any field balancing of a fan or laser shaft alignment, our team will also deploy with power tools, wrenches, dial-indicators, and other Millwright tools.

For the Skill assessments and gap closure training, they arrive with tablets to collect info and take notes.

Paperitalo. A good segway, yes, you also provide training. Can you discuss the nature of the training you can provide?

FPA: We have developed training courses on predictive technologies: vibration analysis, thermal imaging, ultrasonic leak detection and assisted grease lubrication.

Our four module Reliability Focused training empowers staff to create their own reliability culture with strong processes to make a successful, sustainable system. We call it System Prescription or SystemRxM™.

We help take groups out of the victim mode where the machines break down unpredictably. We move them to taking ownership of their sites, their work products and the systems they are using for day-to-day efforts. The next step is to create drivers for change from within the company. Then there is the Master Level. This Level is where all departments are working together, and profits are improving as well. At this point, a strong defect elimination program is producing results and causing a healing of trust issues.

So many projects or initiatives fail to deliver what was promised. There is a survey of 700 maintenance organizations on their success with Reliability. Most had failed to make the progress and gains promised. Such experiences have been a source of distrust between Operations and Maintenance.

We know how to fix this.

Paperitalo: Today we have been talking to Dr. Karl Hoffower of Failure Prevention Associates. Karl, thanks for your time. How do interested parties reach you?

FPA: is the fastest. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn or go to and click on the contact us button.


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