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  • Writer's pictureMichael Gill

Managing Reliability is Like Watching the Races

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

When we think of a well-oiled machine that uses the concepts of reliability; we could think of NASCAR. You see, all the basic concepts on how a well-running reliability process should run are right before our eyes while we watch a weekend NASCAR race. People often ask how does one find watching cars go around in an oval for three hours entertaining? Well if we look at all the things that are going on, it might pique your interest more. There is a lot of science involved and reliability is a key element. Think of the driver as being the operator (which he/she is), the crew chief is the reliability expert, the crew is the maintenance group and the track represents the by a large part the operating context. Each week the track is different and typically involves different car packages. One week there might be an emphasis on downforce and the next it might be on breaking. So whether it is a fast-paced 200 miles per hour superspeedway or a road course requiring lots of breaking the entire team needs to be prepared and they need to be able to adapt and respond to operational needs.

NASCAR judges ensure that all the rules for a specific track are followed. This includes inspection of the car to ensure there are no additional adjustments or changes made prior to the car being allowed to race. All cars must match the requirements for each track. The judges ensure the equipment is within the operating parameters determined by each track. Different track means different parameters. The team now establishes all the things that need to be set in place prior to the race. Certain tire pressures, track bar setting, and even airflow into the front of the car. A track, very much like our plant equipment can change in conditions. When a track is hot the cars can get loose and they are harder to control. As a track cools based on the time of day, the cars can start to tighten up and track speeds will increase. If we compare our plant equipment to a Cup Car in NASCAR you can see the parallels based on how our plant equipment can also experience changes. These could be demand based changes or extreme weather swings depending on the area the plant is situated. But both require some response from the operator and potentially maintenance.

We should be able to adapt and adapt quickly based on what we know about our equipment. An operating context defines the swings that our equipment goes through. NASCAR pit crew engineers are completely prepared for a changing car, a changing track and weather. The only element that is left up to the driver alone is the skill of driving. When all is balanced, the probability of winning the race is much higher. If we put this into perspective now. Operations have the skill to run the equipment, report oddities or changes as they occur. The communication lets the maintenance and reliability teams know what needs to be done to quickly adapt to get the equipment adjusted or returned to its function; like getting the car back on the track to win the race.

Every NASCAR race demonstrates all the key elements in a well-oiled reliability machine. From understanding all the rules of the track, the everchanging weather, and the constant track condition changes (both operating conditions). Understanding all these enables quick, calculated responses. Reliability in our plants should be no different. There can only be one winner, but each team strives for a perfect day and each team has qualified to be there because of this attention to detail.

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