“If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”Dalai Lama
I like that quote from the Dalai Lama. It really speaks to me.
Because, in my job, it’s often the little things, I mean really little, that make the biggest impact. Over the years I’ve discovered that ‘sweating the small stuff’ isn’t a character flaw.
Far from it.
In fact, it’s only through attention to detail, especially in regards to seemingly insignificant parts of a process, that true success is found.
Let’s examine attention to detail in the context of high purity gaskets. Do you know what a gasket is? There’s no problem if you don’t. ‘Gasket’ is one of those words that most people have stored in the back of their head, with the vague idea of its technical meaning. Yet, because the topic rarely comes up in conversation, most of us never get the chance to discover if our definition is actually correct.
So, what are gaskets?
In my work (that of high purity process components) they are, more often than not, little ‘O’s. Usually made of a rubber-like polymer, these circles form seals between two ‘mating’ surfaces or flanges within a process or transfer line. Visually, they’re quite underwhelming bits of kit. It would take a really niche connoisseur to even consider a hobby of collecting gaskets. And, before you ask, I don’t.
The thing is, these unglamourous polymer circles form a very important function. Without them high purity process assemblies just wouldn’t work. Simple as that. Gaskets are integral to creating high purity flow paths. It’s difficult to overstate the degree to which process manufacturing industries rely upon gaskets.
And yet, gaskets fail. They fail a lot more frequently than they should.
Why do gaskets fail?
Why? In the main part, it’s down to user error. Gaskets are consistently used in the wrong context. Not only that, the ‘right’ gaskets are often installed poorly, which means they can’t do their job properly. This persistent failure to see the importance of using the correct gasket, properly installed, frequently leads to unnecessary downtime.
You don’t need to be a genius to understand that downtime is costly. Failing gaskets are a major, and often totally unnecessary, expense across both the biotech and pharmaceutical manufacturing sectors.
It’s time to ask ourselves: “What is a gasket really worth?”
What is a gasket really worth?
Here at Pure Transfer, it’s our mission to raise awareness of the issues that arise when gaskets, admittedly a low value component, aren’t treated with respect. Let me walk you through a hypothetical situation, based around the type of issue that (unfortunately) frequently occurs.
- A gasket fails in a high purity manufacturing environment, leading to the production assembly shutting down for an unspecified period. The implications of this stoppage are far reaching.
- An investigation into the failure is triggered.
- Supplier(s) are contacted to discuss the situation surrounding the gasket failure.
- Questions are raised by both the affected high purity manufacturer and those who supply them.
- It soon becomes clear that pinpointing the origin of the fault is difficult. The manufacturers routinely buy generic gaskets from a wide range of suppliers. With so many suppliers involved, it’s impossible to define where the failed gasket came from.
- Both sides seek answers:
- The high purity manufacturer wants to know why the gasket failed and who is going to compensate them for their loss. This could potentially mean £100,000s.
- The suppliers want to know the context in which the gasket was used. How long had it been used in that way? When was the gasket installed? Who installed it? How can the manufacturer prove the gasket in question was purchased from the supplier?
- The customer seeks damages for lost earnings as a result of the failed gasket. However it’s not certain who supplied or created the gasket that’s at fault.
- Furthermore, the investigation shows the gasket was being used for a duty it wasn’t designed to fulfill.
- The whole sorry episode ends in an expensive mess, with no clear route for the manufacturer to follow in order to recoup any money.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Let’s think back to the Dalai Lama and the seemingly insignificant mosquito that caused so much irritation. The only effective way to deal with a mosquito is to look beyond its seemingly insignificant size and take it seriously. A wise person obtains mosquito nets, insect repellent and ear plugs in order to neutralize the insect’s impact.
Similarly, at Pure Transfer, we strongly believe that the only way to stop a seemingly insignificant £1 gasket costing a company more than £1,000,000 is to take it seriously, through high standards of education and traceability.
What do I mean?
Time and again, problems occur because of a lack of understanding. Education is vital to stop gaskets from being used in an inappropriate context. A gasket should be fitted into a production assembly by someone who is specially trained to do so. This person should understand the importance of the material the gasket is made of, relative to its situation. They should be aware of the temperatures a gasket will experience and the pressures it must function under. In addition, the gasket should only be fitted by someone who understands the intricacies of forming a seal that is unlikely to fail. This type of training costs money, but who could argue against such expenditure when it’s compared to the vast losses potentially incurred due to a failing or misused gasket?
At Pure Transfer, we regularly find ourselves brought in to resolve an issue within a process, only to discover there is no paper trail to show the age, model and provenance of the gaskets involved. In short, we’re left with no clue as to where these gaskets came from, why they are used, who fitted them and when. How anyone is expected to effectively assign culpability for a part’s failure in an environment where there is no oversight of the individual elements at play, I’ve no idea. For this reason, we continue to preach that traceability is essential and spending a little extra on the types of gaskets that can be easily traced back to their origin, is always money well spent. We encourage our customers to purchase laser-engraved gaskets. Why? These gaskets clearly display their manufacturing origin – as such total traceability is guaranteed. That said, even a laser-engraved gasket can be incorrectly installed or used in an inappropriate context – another reason why training around the proper application of gaskets is vital.
Final thoughts on the worth of a gasket
So, what is a gasket worth? The failure of a £1 gasket can lead to lost earnings of 6 figures or more. Yet, despite this, getting people to understand the importance of taking something so small and (seemingly) insignificant seriously is always an uphill battle.
Here at Pure Transfer, our philosophy is gaskets should be treated with respect, because failing to do so could end up costing a fortune. Our mantra makes a lot of sense, although I doubt it’ll end up next to the Dalai Lama’s musings in a collection of ‘wise words’ any time soon.