The wife of a good friend was a housewife until he lost his job. She joined Toyota as a secretary and rose steadily in the Quality Department. One day I asked her how Toyota achieved their legendary quality.

“Easy,” she replied, “we just measure, ask, and keep on improving.”

Sir Winston Churchill was more eloquent, but not necessarily more accurate, when he wrote:

Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and the glory of the climb.

Uptime: Strategies for Excellence in Maintenance Management by John D. Campbell and James V. Reyes-Picknell tells how to do for mine and other industrial equipment what Toyota does as so eloquently extolled by Churchill.

Here is how they describe the “Five Whys:”

Simple and effective, this is similar to the learning process of inquisitive children and is widely used in the analysis phase of the Six-Sigma “Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control” approach for existing systems. It is also a popular feature of the Toyota Production System of lean manufacturing and has been used extensively on its own. The Five Whys technique does not require the use of analytical tools like data segmentation, hypothesis testing, regression, or other statistical tools. Simply asking, “why?” five times penetrates the layers of symptoms that often obscure the root cause of a problem. It is like peeling an onion, but there are usually fewer layers.

The whole book is as easy to read and as informative as this one small extract. But the message is deep and profound: fail to efficiently and cost-effectively maintain your equipment, and you go bust or go to jail.

Of course it is not as simple as asking five whys. It involves the total gamut of too few people, inadequate budgets, poorly designed equipment, silly management systems, excessive regulation, lawyers, and market swings and gyrations. Yet I submit that by the time you have read this easy to read book, you will be ready and able to take them all on and conquer them by setting in place a logical equipment maintenance management system that is just right for your industry.

By way of full disclosure, I confess that James Reyes-Picknell gave me a copy for my possession and reading after I met him over beer and salmon and challenged him to tell me what he does. He was in the InfoMine office giving an EduMine course. And that may be an even easier way to become a topic expert: attend the next course rather than read the book. But the next course is not yet planned and when planned will be a year hence. So better buy and read the book.

He noted to me that this is the second edition. He updated it after the death of the author of the first edition, John Campbell. I could not tell which was old and which was new text. But no matter, for it was all readable. And keep in mind I am no expert in the subject. In fact I was not even aware I was interested in the topic until I read the book one Friday afternoon in the soft sun of early fall.

It recalled to me those many hours of the early 1980s being trained in Total Quality Management, of days in the 1990s doing Continuous Improvement and Incident Analysis, and the 2000s doing Root Cause Analysis. And just recently using Decision Trees loaded onto powerful computers. All these techniques are so obvious that we just do not use them by instinct. But they all work. They help and force us to think rationally and clearly. And they make it possible to do what is necessary to earn more money, save lives, protect the environment, and generally obey the law with no effort. Do it; I recommend it. And if mine equipment is your role and responsibility, you can do no better than start with this book.