The Reliability Mindset
Updated: Sep 16
What is reliability? By definition it can best be explained as the ability of a person or a system to perform and maintain a function routinely and possibly in unexpected circumstances as well. There are many approaches to improving, and sustaining reliability, including the recognition of performing the right tasks, at the right time, as well as ensuring that a consistent approach in identifying these tasks is in place. The mindset should be that reliability begins in the design phase. To achieve this we need to have a foundation of reliable people, reliable equipment, and a reliable plan. Otherwise, it would be like building a house on a foundation of sand.
The expectation in becoming a world class reliability organization overnight is not possible. It needs to begin with a vision from the top, along with strategy and tactics that drive continuous improvement. In my extensive career in reliability I have seen improvement initiatives succeed and I have seen them fail; unfortunately, I have seen most of them fail. The root cause can be attributed to an absence of a reliability mindset and a commitment to properly plan and manage for reliability. It is important to ensure a balance is achieved between operating (reliability) costs and asset lifecycle. The “pay me now or pay me later” concept is extremely important because reliability improvement should be looked at as a bottom line; meaning the savings should be evident as well as the inefficiencies. An engine if properly operated and maintained as a result of a solid holistic reliability program will save money. This also sets an example of the importance of a reliability mindset and how this could be extended throughout the organization as it is applied to other assets and systems.
Most industries are production intensive and operate on narrow margins, choosing to forgo reliability and maintenance activities in pursuit of production throughput; this is counter intuitive. High production and getting good value on produced goods is ideal, however, if high production is affecting safety, environment and running the equipment outside its boundaries and causing outages and damage to valuable assets; the production at all costs initiative results in lost throughput and unforeseen expense.
Running an asset intensive business is like looking after your health. We can do things to be proactive like working out, taking vitamins, eating healthy and getting adequate sleep. If we do not do these things, we can get sick and breakdown. Wear n’ tear affects everything; simple principles of physics states everything wears to some degree. Sometimes we need to step up our regime to get us through tougher times or change our regime based on the conditions that we are susceptible to; this is just like running equipment. The biggest difference is the equipment is like children it cannot run properly without us ensuring we make the right decisions for it. So, like a child, the equipment will only run properly if we are paying attention to it. A simple analogy, but very fitting.
Reliability goes beyond robust maintenance programs. It is an organizational mindset that is applicable to elements of a business and if an organization is functioning as a reliable entity, then there is a much better chance for reliability initiatives to be successful. It does not need to be difficult to to be reliable. And a holistic approach, which includes production, accounting, sales, maintenance, procurement, and warehousing to name a few allows for the entire organization to adopt the principles around being reliable. Mapping out processes for the entire business can help an organization recognize the interdependencies between the functional units which are critical for achieving reliability. To close, we must consider the goals of reliability and how it is meant to serve the greater good.
Michael Gill, Partner, Helios Consulting.