If you are a regular participant on Noria's message board, and there are nearly 3,000 of you who are, then perhaps you've come across Bruce381. After all, he has posted more than 50 messages, making him a platinum member. Or maybe you've run into Micbial, or USNavyMike? Since 1999, people from all across the globe have posted questions and answers at forums.noria.com/eve. With nearly 7,500 posts, Noria's message board is a valuable resource.

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Moving On Up
Internet forums, around since about 1995, evolved from the dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS) used in the 1980s and '90s. Essentially, an Internet forum is a resource on the Internet where online discussions take place and are stored for viewing and reply. Whether it is a specific or general topic, Internet forums are populated by user-generated material.

Noria's Web forum is obviously based on machinery lubrication, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. This forum represents a community of users who can post a question, an experience, information or comments on all things lubricated.

If Noria users have a question, it is posted and perhaps a dozen replies soon follow. The community of users is so broad and experienced that the results from a question are often of such high quality that the problem is immediately solved. Not only does it provide an answer for the member who initially asked the question, it provides knowledge and information to those who browse each thread, searching for nuggets of information. In my opinion, this is great!

Online forums not only serve as a knowledge depot, many of us also use online search engines to find the information we need.

The Infamous Search Engine
Perhaps the most popular search engine on the Web today is Google. Google boasts that its search engine holds about half of the industry market share and searches more than eight billion Web pages with every query. Therefore, users will likely find what they are looking for. According to comScore Networks, Americans conducted 6.4 billion queries on the Internet in June of 2006, 2.9 billion of them on Google alone. With this kind of power and resource, we've come to expect that unlimited information or forums on any given topic will be posted on the Net.

So, has "search" changed the maintenance industry and improved reliability?

Consider the following scenario, which is typical to most industries. A mechanic in the U.S. is performing a planned maintenance activity on a piece of equipment manufactured in the European Union. As the mechanic follows the checklist of inspections, he notices increased heat and noise coming from a housing designed for a threaded jack shaft and nut that raises and lowers a gate to allow product to flow into the equipment for processing. The jack shaft has been factory-filled with grease and is considered sealed-for-life, requiring no maintenance for at least five years. After opening the housing for the jack shaft, the mechanic determines the old and hardened grease has been providing insufficient lubrication, causing noise and heat around the shaft. The mechanic then needs to determine the OEM recommendations for the type of replacement grease to use in the jack shaft housing, and he quickly proceeds to restrict any further downtime. The mechanic may pull the engineering manual for this equipment only to find no lubrication recommendations are available for this component.

Now, the next steps may seem obvious to most of us. However, consider that this scenario took place in 1993. What would the mechanic do then?

The Stone Ages
In 1993, the Internet had not yet become mainstream and was used mainly by academics and technologists to store papers and documents on publicly accessible machines. Not only was access to the Internet limited to the academic world, there were only 130 sites available to browse.

The mechanic would likely try to contact the overseas manufacturer using the telephone number listed in the equipment's limited documentation and ask them for the lubrication recommendations. Time zones and language barriers factored in this scenario, preventing the mechanic from obtaining the information in a timely fashion. Frustrated by the situation and the pressure to return the equipment to service, the mechanic relies on experience and fills the jack shaft housing with a grease he has on hand. Unknowingly, the mechanic adds grease to the jack shaft housing that does not offer the protection this application requires. In a matter of days, the jack shaft suffers the previous symptoms, and the maintenance situation reoccurs.

Now consider the same scenario occurring some 14 years later. What might the mechanic do differently today?

Taking Advantage of Technology
The mechanic would likely approach the situation in a similar fashion and attempt to contact the OEM. Instead of initially making a phone call, however, the mechanic uses the Internet to find the OEMs Web site and any online documents specific to his problem. If this approach is not successful, the mechanic may opt to use the message board on his company's internal intranet that links other plants and divisions to share information. Alternatively, if the mechanic has had no success, he could go to Noria's Internet forum and post a message with details about his lubrication problem where lubrication and maintenance professionals can offer their expertise. And of course, if all else fails, there are eight billion other Web pages that will probably contain helpful information. At least that's what we expect.

The information on the Internet, by all standards, is limitless. The Web has grown from a mere 130 sites in 1993 to more than eight billion sites less than 15 years later. Information can be accessed in a fraction of a second. Try searching on Google.com for oil analysis. You'll get a result in about thirteen-hundredths of a second offering 101 million results, the first organic result being the page for the magazine www.practicingoilanalysis.com/.

Therefore, my answer to the question, "Has search, or for that matter the Internet, changed the maintenance industry and improved reliability?" is a definite yes. The Internet has enabled the common person to delve into the largest collection of information in the history of the world with a few key strokes and clicks. We literally hold more information at our fingertips than we could ever use.

Maintenance and reliability is constructed upon several building bricks, including science, statistics, intuition, education, experience and heuristics. Fifteen years ago, if you announced you were looking for 101 million references to oil analysis, you would have been met with a blank look at best. But today, looking for critical information and references is part of everyday life.

References

1. Battelle, John. "The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture." 2005

2. comScore Networks. "Google's U.S. Search Market Share Continues to Climb in June; Yahoo! Also Posts Gains." (7/18/2006 press release)

3. www.wikipedia.org