When it comes to ensuring productivity and profitability, well-trained reliability professionals are industry’s ‘magic bullet.’
By Heinz P. Bloch, P.E
Professed commitment to reliability is not unlike professed commitment to safety. Just as a grocery store wouldn’t admit to employing unsafe food-handling practices, no industrial operation would confess to having little interest in asset reliability. What sets Best Practices Plants (BPPs) apart from others is their ability to effectively identify and follow the best routes to reliability coupled with a willingness to build and sustain strong reliability-focused organizations over time. Ensuring a smooth handoff from knowledgeable and skilled employees to future generations of workers is crucial for these plants. To accomplish it, they support training roadmaps and career-path-development plans for all personnel. This two-part article focuses specifically on the development of reliability professionals.
Intelligent organizational setups
While organizational alignments are less important than the technical expertise, resourcefulness, motivation, drive and job satisfaction of individual employees, there are obvious advantages to the type of intelligent (or sound) organizational setups found in Best-of-Class (BOC) operations—and the grooming, nurturing and training that their reliability personnel receive. No review of these proven strategies and tactics, though, can start without an important clarification of terms.
If a site doesn’t fully buy into the true definitions of “Maintenance” and “Reliability” (see this month’s “Uptime” column), the two functions can become a messy mix. Moreover, training can become little more than an afterthought in operations that don’t make a clear distinction between what their maintenance and reliability teams are supposed to do:
- Maintenance thinks “today” (short-term). Its function is to keep equipment in operable condition (i.e., restore to as-designed or as-bought condition).
- Reliability thinks “tomorrow” (long-term). Its function is to evaluate upgrade opportunities (i.e., perform life-cycle cost studies and develop implementation strategies whenever component upgrading makes economic sense).
For reliability personnel to function effectively, they must be shielded from the day-to-day preventive and routine repair and restoration activities. BPPs and BOCs often issue guidelines or pre-define a metric that triggers the involvement of reliability personnel instead of leaving things to the maintenance team. Examples might include equipment that fails for a third time in a 12-month period; equipment distress that caused (or could have caused) injury to personnel; or failures that caused an aggregate loss in excess of $20,000.
At entities too small to support a separate Reliability department or division, one or more designated reliability professionals will be assigned to the Maintenance Department on a one- to two-year rotational basis. However, in line with the definitions above, the work scope and tasks of the reliability personnel are kept markedly separate from those of the site’s maintenance personnel.
Operator involvement in reliability efforts (i.e. Operator-Driven Reliability, or ODR) is also is an important factor in many plants. Typical activities in this realm include electronic data collection and spotting deviations from the norm in equipment, as well as assisting crafts personnel in various other tasks.
Productive reliability teams
It has been said that an under-appreciated workforce is an unmotivated, unhappy and inefficient workforce. Such workers will rarely, if ever, perform well in areas of safety and reliability. How, then, will a company’s highly interdependent safety, reliability and profitability goals be achieved?
In the early 1950s, world-renowned efficiency expert W. Edwards Deming provided the answer. His 14 “Points of Quality” fully met the objectives of both employers and employees—and remain as relevant as ever. Deming aimed his 14 points at the manufacturing sector. They’re rewritten for process-plant environments in the accompanying sidebar.
In early 2000, the Canadian consulting company Systems Approach Strategies (“SAS,” systemsapproach.com) developed a training course that brought Deming’s method into sharper focus. SAS concluded that companies could be energized with empathy and, using the acronym CARE, conveyed an important observation that organizations excel when management gives consistent evidence of:
- Clear direction and support
- Adequate and appropriate training
- Recognition and reward
That last bullet point—empathy—is the most important and the most neglected. Yet it represents the foundation of the CARE concept. Without empathy, that is the ability to put one’s self in the shoes of the individuals one manages, a manager will never know, understand or bring them to their full potential as employees and people.
The four CARE items represent fundamental principles of management. While empathy forms the foundation, it alone will not deliver full results for any given organization. The drive toward assured success starts with clear direction and support. Clear direction must be expressed in writing. In the case of a plant’s reliability professionals, this direction should come in the form of a role statement. How well employees fulfill their roles must then be discussed during periodic performance appraisals, the outcomes of which are contributing factors in salary- and promotion-related decisions.
Developed by employer or employee, a role statement usually includes 10 or more points. Both employer and employee must agree to it. While a role statement may be negotiated when first developed, it becomes a binding contract after both parties agree to it.
The 10 items listed in the sidebar “Role Statements Provide Clear Direction” reflect a typical statement for an equipment-reliability engineer. Representative of the written “clear direction” that’s taught in the CARE program, it can be expanded or modified to meet specific needs. Note that the “support” element in the first of the four CARE points is reemphasized in items 9 and 10. The following real-world account exemplifies that type of support:
An astute plant manager in a highly successful company organized a mid-level management “steering committee” that met weekly and listened to different lower-level employees make 10-minute presentations on how they performed their work. Examples of invited presenters included, among others, a vibration technician who explained how early detection of flaws saved the company time and money, and an instrument technician who demonstrated the key ingredients of an on-line instrument-testing program.
Each reliability issue or program at this plant also had a mid-level management sponsor or “champion” who ensured that improvement efforts stayed on track. These individuals also ensured barriers to success were removed.
Training plans at this plant were to be initiated by individual employees, which required them to give considerable thought to long-term professional growth. The initial training proposal by an employee would be reviewed, supplemented, modified, often amplified, but always receive serious consideration and constructive encouragement from management.
Too few of today’s facilities, though, do anything similar to this “caring” plant, which is unfortunate. With the ever-growing skills crisis industry faces, there is much to do and little time to do it.
The magic bullet
Let’s face it: We’re losing the ability to apply basic mathematics and physics to equipment issues in our workplace situations. For example, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each year due to incorrect lubrication techniques alone. Today’s engineering schools don’t deal with this issue in a pragmatic sense. Thus, the connection between Bernoulli’s law taught in high-school physics classes and the proper operation of constant-level lubricators is lost on a new generation of computer-literate engineers.
Managers around the world continue to chase “magic bullets.” Some think salvation must be found in “high tech.” Others are enamored by metrics and play strange games with failure statistics that let them shine in industry comparisons. Many seem to ignore the non-glamorous basics and are no longer interested in time-consuming details. What’s worse, experienced senior workers have often been encouraged to retire early, which they have done, in droves.
Meanwhile, little thought is given in many plants to the consequences of their disappearing knowledge and experience bases. Although assumptions are made that contractors can be hired do the thinking for in-house personnel, few decision-makers understand the risks associated with the strategy. In some operations, unfortunately, it’s now up to reliability personnel to determine the root causes of repeat equipment failures. Lionized for quickly stitching “stuff” together, many are also finding themselves berated for going through the tedious steps that can help prevent failures from occurring in the first place.
It’s time to adjust our collective thinking and help renew and/or strengthen our organizations’ commitment to reliability. A well-designed training map (see sidebar) can start us on the road to where we need to be. This one is based on a training roadmap published for a machinery-technical employee at major petrochemical operation—clearly a Best-of-Class company.
To recap, employees in BOC companies map their own short- and long-range training plans. Time and money are budgeted to implement each personalized plan that, like a role-statement document, is signed off on by the respective employee and his/her manager. That’s because, to be effective, a training plan must have the status of a contract: It can only be altered by mutual consent or in case of dire emergency.
But mapping out training is just one step in an overall growth process. The “Training Roadmap” shown here and other elements in the development of productive reliability professionals—including a detailed “Career Development Training Plan”—will be covered in the conclusion of this article in July. MT
For a complete list of references and books to help you on your journey to success, click here.
Heinz Bloch currently resides in Westminster, CO. His professional career includes long-term assignments as Exxon Chemical’s Regional Machinery Specialist for the United States. Bloch holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Mechanical Engineering and has authored over 600 publications, among them 18 comprehensive books. He is an ASME Life Fellow. This article is based on his workshop and follow-up discussion group session at the 2014 AFPM Reliability & Maintenance Conference in San Antonio, TX. A full list of references associated with those presentations and this two-part article are available online at MaintenanceTechnology.com/Bloch. For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deming’s 14 ‘Points of Quality’ in Process-Industry Terms
- View every maintenance event as an opportunity to upgrade. Investigate its feasibility beforehand; be proactive.
- Ask some serious questions when there are costly repeat failures. There needs to be a measure of accountability. Recognize that people benefit from coaching, not intimidation.
- Ask the responsible worker to certify that his or her work product meets the quality and accuracy standards stipulated in your work procedures and checklists. That presupposes that procedures and checklists exist.
- Understand and redefine the function of your purchasing department. Support this department with component specifications for critical parts, then insist on specification compliance. “Substitutes” or non-compliant offers require review and approval by the specifying reliability professional.
- Define and then insist on daily interaction between process (operations), mechanical (maintenance) and reliability (technical and project) workforces.
- Teach and apply root-cause-failure analysis from the lowest to the highest organizational levels.
- Define, practice, teach, and encourage employee resourcefulness. Maximize input from knowledgeable vendors and be prepared to pay vendors with application engineering service for their effort and assistance. Don’t “re-invent the wheel.”
- Show personal ethics and evenhandedness that are valued and respected by your workforce.
- Never tolerate the type of competition among staff groups that causes them to withhold critical information from each other or from affiliates.
- Eliminate “flavor of the month” routines and meaningless slogans.
- Reward productivity and relevant contributions; let it be known that time spent at the office is in itself not a meaningful indicator of employee effectiveness.
- Encourage pride in workmanship, timeliness, dependability and providing good service. Employer and employee honor their mutual commitments.
- Map out a program of personal and company-sponsored mandatory training.
- Exercise leadership and provide direction and feedback.
Role Statements Provide Clear Direction
Reliability professionals should receive clear direction in the form of written role statements. This 10-item list would be typical for an equipment-reliability engineer. It can be expanded or modified as needed.
- 1. Assistance Role
- Establish equipment failure records and provide stewardship of accurate data logging by others. Compare our operation with BOC performers.
- Review preventive-maintenance procedures compiled by maintenance personnel.
- Review maintenance intervals. Understand when, where and why our operation deviates from Best Practices.
- 2. Evaluate new materials and recommend changes, as warranted by life-cycle-cost (LCC) studies.
- 3. Investigate special or recurring equipment problems. Example:
- Take ownership of failures occurring a third time in any 12-month period.
- Coach others in root-cause-failure analysis.
- Define upgrade and failure-avoidance options.
- 4. Serve as contact person for OEMs.
- Understand how existing equipment differs from newer models.
- Be able and prepared to explain if upgrading existing equipment to state-of-art status is feasible and/or cost-justified.
- 5. Serve as contact person for other plant groups.
- Communicate with counterparts in Operations and Maintenance.
- Participate in (management’s) Service Factor Committee meetings.
- 6. Develop and keep priority lists current.
- Understand basic economics of downtime. Request extension of outage duration where end results would yield rapid payback.
- Activate resources in case of unexpected outage opportunities.
- 7. Identify critical spare parts.
- Arrange for incoming inspection of critical spares prior to their storage.
- Arrange for inspection of large parts at vendor/manufacturer’s facilities prior to authorizing shipment to plant site.
- Define conditions allowing procurement from non-OEMs.
- 8. Review maintenance costs and service factors.
- Compare against Best-in-Class performance.
- Recommend organizational adjustments.
- Compare cost of replacing vs. repairing; recommend best value.
- 9. Periodically communicate important findings to local and affiliate management.
- Fulfill a networking and information-sharing function.
- Arrange for key contributors to make brief oral presentations to mid-level managers (share the credit, give visibility to others).
- 10. Develop training plans for self and other Reliability Team contributors.