Larry Bachus (a.k.a. "Pump Guy")
Larry Bachus
(a.k.a. “The Pump Guy”)

A new and interesting pattern is developing in my work assignments in the last six months. My last few pump consulting projects have been with reliability engineers in different plants. And this letter to the Pump Guy illustrates the changing pattern.


I am the new reliability engineer for a chemical company in the south. My mission is to improve pump reliability at our site. I could use some refresher training on pump basics. However, I have some other concerns.

The company instituted “reliability” as a department some 13 years ago at this facility. I am the fourth named reliability engineer at this plant. I am due to go to vibration analysis training in the coming weeks. We have four FFT spectrum analyzers that haven’t been used for months.

My predecessor, the ex-reliability engineer, rotated into maintenance scheduling. He wishes me luck and says the department is ripe for improvement. I met with some process engineers who said our MTBF statistics are inflated with stand-by pumps.

How can I bring significant change to the Reliability Department? Do you have any ideas?

Steve K.
Reliability & Equipment Engineer

I can’t speak for your company because I don’t know your company, and I have never visited your plant. I can say there is a definite reliability movement in the industry, and many reliability departments are showing impressive gains in uptime of rotating equipment.

At the same time, I have visited recently with some reliability engineers who admit their program is faltering. Your message indicates all is not well at your facility.

No program can advance if upper management doesn’t believe in the program and its merits. So you must determine if management is working for, or against you.

It happens that some reliability programs falter even when management wants the program to succeed. The reliability engineer’s strategy is flawed. I verified this recently. You can’t start a reliability program by sending out a bulk email to all company employees with the new Corporate Reliability Mission Statement and then disappear to a vibration analysis school.

The reliability engineer must train the shop mechanics and the equipment operators so they will know how to contribute to reliability. An emailed reliability mission statement will be received with the same enthusiasm as all the previous “Programs of the Month” memos.

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Walk down the hallway in your building and talk with the safety engineer. Ask him about the corporate Safety Program.

I have a good friend, Rickie, who instituted the Corporate Safety Program at a global paper company. This is what Rickie told me about starting a safety program: Everyone practices and contributes to safety, not just the safety engineer or the safety team. Everyone wears hard hats, safety glasses, ear protection, and safety boots in the process area, including the apprentices, part-timers, contractors, and secretaries.

Everyone goes to safety training, not just the safety officers. Everyone learns why safety is important. Everyone learns to recognize unsafe conditions and situations. As a result, accidents and ‘lost-time injuries’ are reduced to almost zero. Today, most industrial sites are “safe.”

I asked Rickie, “How does the safety engineer institute ‘safety’ as a corporate policy?”

Rickie said, “It is an uphill journey. The corporate bigwigs will throw a little goodwill money at the project to see what happens. It’s like watering a plant that you know might die.”

The safety engineer uses that goodwill money and studies the reports of plant-wide incidents, accidents, and injuries. The engineer identifies the most unsafe place in the plant. He doesn’t tackle the whole plant at once.

You invest your efforts where you can show the highest gains in a short time.

Maybe the central maintenance shop is the most unsafe place, or maybe the loading bay has too many accidents with the forklift trucks, or maybe the package line workers get their hands and fingers mauled in the bottling machine.

If the offender is the forklift truck accidents in the loading bay, this can be corrected with driver training, mirrors, cameras, reverse warning signals, and rotating yellow beacons on all fork-trucks so everyone can see and hear the forklifts as they approach. The accidents and injuries disappear. Show the accountants what you did with their money.

If the offender is cuts from glass, the remedy is leather or Kevlar gloves for all workers who handle glass, and proximity sensors to sound warnings, and even stop the production line if a hand gets too close. The cuts and amputated fingers disappear. Document the reduction in cuts and stitches.

Maybe the remedy is painted yellow lines on the floor in the shop to establish walking lanes for passers-by. The head-bumps and trip accidents disappear.

The bean counters don’t get excited when the accidents disappear, but they get really excited when the lawsuits, the insurance rates, and worker’s compensation claims disappear. Now the accountants understand the economy in having all workers wearing hard hats, safety glasses, and ear protectors.

Faltering Reliability Programs

Many companies employ or name a reliability engineer. Sometimes the company names a reliability team. The engineer (or team leader) is charged with improving reliability.

It is an uphill journey (Yes, these are Rickie’s words). The corporate bigwigs throw a little goodwill money at the project to see what happens. The company purchases some vibration analyzers with training for the reliability team, and a few accelerometers for trending.

Now the reliability engineer and his team tracks and trends thousands of fans, pumps, gear boxes, compressors, and electric motors. They get bogged down in trending, tracking, computing, and padding MTBF statistics. They fail to make the vibrations disappear. This has to be frustrating.

So eventually the reliability team dissipates, the members rotate into other engineering and technical disciplines, and the vibration analyzers gather dust under a table in the vibration office.

In the next board (bored) meeting, a VP says, “I hear the reliability program is going gang busters at our competitor’s plant in Poughkeepsie. Let’s hire a new reliability engineer.”

As we say in Nashville, “Same song, next verse!” The exercise begins again.

Steve, you said your reliability program began 13 years ago. Some reliability and vibration programs are approaching 20 years in existence. Most are doing well. But a few programs are stuck on first base. So, at what point do the faltering programs go off-track and lose focus?

I think the faltering reliability programs go off track when the reliability engineer attempts to tackle all of the rotating equipment in a refinery, paper mill, or power plant.

The safety engineer attacks a specific unsafe area—or specific unsafe condition—with the limited funds to show maximum improvements with minimal effort and time.

The safety engineer trains everyone in safety. The reliability engineer trains himself and maybe a few key people.

The Pump Guy


Larry Bachus, founder of pump services firm Bachus Company Inc., is a regular contributor to Flow Control magazine. He is a pump consultant, lecturer, and inventor based in Nashville, Tenn. Mr. Bachus is a retired member of ASME and lectures in both English and Spanish. He can be reached at