In an age when eight of 10 Americans use social media for personal and business purposes, how can you determine fact from fiction? Unqualified individuals and companies can create a website that portrays themselves as world-class experts. Many maintenance organizations have hired these "experts" during a tight turnaround and discovered too late that the contractors were better at web design than the service for which they were hired.
Most companies employ contractors for one of two reasons: they do not have the time to perform the service, or they do not have the expertise. How can you protect yourself from contractors who inflate the facts with their version of the truth? It begins with research beyond just the internet.
First, bring in the contractor’s representative and question statements that reference the company’s differences. If they claim to have world-class equipment, ask what makes the equipment world class. What is the difference from other vendors? How did the contractor make that judgement?
Unless it is an emergency, there should be lots of planning with scheduled maintenance. Major turnarounds may be in planning for 12 or more months. This gives you ample time to review the company in person. If possible, it is always best to see the contractor’s facility. How contractors execute safety, cleanliness and training at their facilities will be a direct reflection of how they will act at yours.
If the company is world class, you will not be its first client. Reach out to others and don't just ask if they would use the contractor again. Get details. What went right with the project? What did the contractor’s equipment look like? Did the equipment come in clean and in working order? How did the labor/technicians act during their service? Were they knowledgeable? What would you do differently?
Request case studies and references on past performance. What is the contractor’s success rate? This is more than just completing the service but includes how often they met the quoted timeframe. How often does the contractor achieve the manufacturer’s cleanliness criteria? Anyone involved in oil flushing understands what can happen when the service runs past the deadline. You spend weeks on maintenance or a month on construction just to have an oil flush become the controlling factor.
When in doubt, concentrate on expertise. If you and your team are not experts on the service taking place, bring in a third party to perform the audits and oversee the contractor. Having a neutral third party facilitate execution of the services will keep everyone honest. As an oil flushing expert, I was never bothered by clients (or consultants) with flushing knowledge. It made my life easier to have a resource who spoke the language. As a contractor, I knew I had to be on top of my game because I was being monitored, but I also knew I wouldn't have to deal with unrealistic expectations.
For instance, when flushing a client’s carbon steel steam turbine from the 1950s, I learned that the client had previously performed an oil flush on a small stainless gas turbine. The client’s expectations were that the carbon steel return header of the old steam turbine would meet the same cleanliness level of the gas turbine’s bearing supply lines. This would never be the case nor required by a manufacturer. It wasn't until the client brought in a local lubrication engineer whose expertise supported mine that the client was satisfied.
Remember to do your research on the service you are purchasing and surround yourself with experience. No turnaround (scheduled maintenance) will go 100 percent to plan. Unforeseen things will occur. Having experienced subject-matter experts involved early will enable you to overcome any challenges that come your way.