Part II: Are You Best-Of-Class? Consider Specific Auditing Steps

EP Editorial Staff | March 1, 2009

best-of-classMoving toward improved maintenance effectiveness and equipment reliability is what benchmarking is all about.

Part I of this two-part series presented an overview of benchmarking and auditing, and how consistently high-performing operations base their management decisions on real data. They always focus on economics, optimize revenue and expense, and take responsible risks. This concluding installment discusses just how to go about obtaining your benchmarking data.

Plant reliability assessments and comparisons are periodically conducted by a team of competent reliability professionals. In general, they would be individuals that have been groomed and nurtured over a period of 10 or more years. They have read widely, actively participated in national and international conferences and honed their skills through ample access to different industries. They would be familiar with best practices and appreciate the fact that the continual acquisition of marketable analytical and practical skills is necessary for professional growth. As of 2008, there is no longer a surplus of these types of individuals in the marketplace—and smart employers clearly understand their value.

These knowledgeable professionals then carry out an audit by teaming up with others and conducting interviews with managers, supervisors, operators, shop technicians, purchasing personnel, engineers and other job functions. An audit team might be made up of two to six specialists. Any two of these join up to conduct short interviews (they typically take 30 minutes) with an operator, a mechanic, a process supervisor, an electrician, a process engineer, a reliability manager and several other job functions represented in the plant. The audit team uncovers the depth of knowledge that exists at location “A” and compares it to a standing achieved at “B.” The team uncovers strengths and vulnerabilities, achievements and weaknesses.

Before a report is issued, the team’s findings are discussed with the management staff and, sometimes, the employees at the audited facility. The findings of an audit team are listed in a matrix similar to that presented on the following pages. (Note: the matrix in this article represents an incomplete listing of factors to be weighed in ranking a reliability organization. Outlining a skeleton of issues to be addressed, it is meant to serve as guidance for your reliability professionals. Many additional questions are possible and the answers will reveal the extent to which a plant approaches Best-of-Class status from a reliability professional’s perspective.)


While it may be claimed that the ultimate fi ndings and rankings are unscientific or subjective, we would do well to accept the findings if they are influenced by the decade-long experience of practicing professionals. The access these professionals have had to plants both worldwide and at many different industries can be of immense value to you. Our advice is to learn from this access and to closely examine some of the items an experienced professional will look for. Here is a sampling of 27 points—your organization can add to them as it sees fit.

Rankings are either numerical (10 = Organization applying best available practices, 1 = Org. applying least desirable/unacceptable practices) or letter-based (A = excellent, F = failing)

01 Reliability group acts as a SERVICE (on-demand)
organization rather than a fully pro-active SUPPORT organization
If a reliability group is convened or activated only when it (“occasionally”) seems expedient, your plant may rank at or close to zero. Reliability professionals in Best-of-Class companies have a closely defined role to fulfill. Their ultimate purpose is to understand and firmly advise if upgrading and future failure avoidance are feasible and cost-justified. If they deliver these data consistently and accurately, they will have put your plant on a Best-of-Class footing and should rank as a 10. 0-10
02 Recognition and
implementation of component/equipment SURVEILLABILITY and SUPPORTABILITY in specification, bid evaluation and procurement practices
Plant management and staff must recognize that without close daily cooperation among operators, maintenance technicians and reliability engineers, the plant will fall short of its potential. These job functions must work together to achieve safety, extended uptime and plant profitability and pursue well-defined and formalized steps that facilitate operator surveillance of machinery.

Among these formalized steps or elements must be equipment specification details that benefit all parties. Life-cycle cost concerns are addressed in specification supplements and the bid conditioning that follows.

During bid conditioning, the auditors assign monetary value to superior components, easier maintainability, accessibility, reduced failure risk (higher safety factor), superior materials, etc. The rankings will reflect the depth and diligence of these pursuits.

03 Assignment of operators
to surveillance tasks,
i.e. optimization of
reliability group personnel for analysis of deviation from norm, pursuit of improvement measures rather than routine data collection
If your plant ties up a competent vibration analyst in doing routine
data collection tasks you are not optimizing a valuable resource.
Use the operator to detect deviations from norm; use the analyst to determine root causes of deviations; use the reliability professional to outline steps to never have a deviation again.
04 Input in project development and execution sequence; advisory and justification input During the audit process, establish and rank the degree to which operators and other process-mechanical-technical work functions (PMT) have a voice in shaping a project. If you obtain buy-in, you will have cooperative staff far into the future. You would deserve a high ranking. 0-10
05 Definition and compilation of maintenance and reliability-related documentation, including installation guidelines, repair procedures, troubleshooting checklist, etc. Consistency and continuity of optimized plant uptime depend on following written guidelines, work processes and procedures.
Root cause failure analysis is not possible from a basis of ignorance.
A plant that does not have this material cannot achieve Best-of-Class status.
06 Consistency and continuity of optimized plant uptime depend on following written guidelines, work processes and procedures.
Root cause failure analysis is not possible from a basis of ignorance.
A plant that does not have this material cannot achieve Best-of-Class status.
To rank a 10, an organization will always (!) dissect a maintenance event and ask and answer the question: “What can be done so that this type of maintenance will need to be performed either less often, or perhaps never again?” 0-10
07 Performing true and effective root cause failure analysis (RCFA) wherever appropriate and following up in most effective fashion A top organization will have in place solid rules defining when RCFA is to be performed, who will be involved (multi-functional participants are needed for effective RCFA) and how to quantify the value of RCFAs. Bottom-ranked organizations have no clue and deserve a zero. Top-tier organizations understand that a million dollar problem may require more than a 10-cent token effort to solve. 0-10
08 Resourcefulness in capturing vendor/manufacturer’s prior or available work product. Example: Mechanical seal application statistics, utilization of the most appropriate seal flush strategies, etc. Data are indispensably important. Top-ranked organizations have found ways to effectively capture pre-existing data—their own as well as that collected by others. They do not re-invent the wheel and, among other approaches, retrieve data by cultivating vendor contacts. They use access to vendor statistics when making decisions on lubricants, bearing types, mechanical seal configurations, etc. If it can be avoided, a top-ranked organization will not become someone’s testing laboratory. 0-10
09 Utilization of appropriately detailed, rapidly retrievable failure histories from accessible computers No data, no progress. If they have no record of past equipment performance, an organization’s future equipment performance may be far from optimum. Even if they do have records, they may be ranked low (example: “replaced bearing”) or high (example: “had to replace bearing because it ran dry, owing to lack of balance line between oil reservoir and bearing housing”). 0-10
10 Networking, access to mentors, effective and continuous training and expansion of knowledge base; detailed training plans Top companies encourage their key employees to communicate with peers across plant fences. This communication is part of the written training plan for professionals. Its conscientious execution takes many forms and is best compared to the shared learning processes one expects to sees in the medical profession. Effective networking requires communications skills and the occasional publication of worthwhile case studies or related experiences. 0-10
11 Understanding of reliability impact of special tooling, e.g. torque wrenches, coupling hub pullers, bearing heaters, etc. A spot check of tools used by shop and field mechanics will prove quite revealing. Do they have these tools and do they use them? Example: Does everybody working on belted equipment have sheave gages? Belt tension gages? Have they ever replaced sheaves after ascertaining the grooves had worn flanks? Do they know what we’re discussing here? Are these tools being used? Hear out the interviewees and, from their responses, determine where the facility should be ranked. 0-10
12 Taking lead role in identification and verification of critical spare parts, incl.
decision-making process for OEM vs. non-OEM spare parts procurement
Best-of-Class performers have marked up their spare parts catalog to identify components that must be purchased in accordance with a specification and must be inspected before being accepted by the store’s staff. 0-10
13 Development and utilization of component specification, e.g. rolling element bearing code letters identifying acceptable internal clearances, cage materials, etc. This ties in with the need to understand what it is a facility is specifying or buying. The existence of these specifications and the knowledge of their content by reliability and maintenance professionals needs to be ascertained during the interview process and a score (ranking) assigned. 0-10
14 Utilization of cost-effective condition monitoring methods, incl. direct temperature, thermography, vibration, velocity, spike energy, lube oil analysis, ferrography, particle count, etc. Monitoring has its place and applications must be screened for relevance. Proper use of preventive vs. predictive maintenance approaches must be established. Excessive use of one to the exclusion of the other affects the rating scale. 0-10
15 Optimization of synthetic lubricant usage, cost justification for on-stream or batch purification of lubricants The distinction between cylinder lubricants and frame lubricants for reciprocating compressors is explored. The interviewer probes into oil contamination and prevention matters (specification, verification upon delivery of lubricants, use of bearing protection means, etc.). 0-10
16 Grease lubrications methods, including compatibility and frequency, sealed vs. re-lubricated bearings, avoidance of single-point device Does the organization use limiting DN values to distinguish between regreasable and non-regreasable bearings? Do they know about the behavior of greases when prolonged pressure is applied? 0-10
17 Recognition of sound foundation, baseplate, grouting and leveling criteria. Disallowing (!) installation of mounted pump and driver sets Are equipment baseplates properly grouted or has grout deterioration been allowed to progress? What is the organization planning to do about it? To what extent are epoxy-filled baseplates being specified? Actually used? 0-10
18 Applying two-hand rule to piping installations, piping “away” from equipment casings, two PTFE plates at sliding supports Pushing with two hands should budge the piping at the fluid machine’s nozzle, but is this rule-of-thumb known? Is it being applied? To what extent does pipe stress exist or is being tolerated? Are its undesirable effects fully recognized? 0-10

Finally, after auditing a plant and during the subsequent group meeting with the interviewees, consider assigning a “weight scale” to each item. The weight might range from 5 (very important) and 4 (important) to 3 (moderately important) and 2 (somewhat of interest) to 1 (nice, but unimportant). For each of the 27 or more items, the ranking number should then be multiplied times the weight number. High-priority issues will become more visible and comparisons among different plants are made in this manner. The facility is now able to take concrete steps to move toward greater maintenance effectiveness and higher equipment reliability. That, of course, is the ultimate goal of benchmarking. LMT

Heinz Bloch is the author of 17 comprehensive textbooks and over 340 other publications on machinery reliability and lubrication. He can be contacted

  1. Bloch, Heinz P., Machinery Reliability Improvement, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston, TX. Originally published in 1982. The revised 2nd & 3rd Editions (ISBN 0-88415-663-3) appeared in 1992 and 1998.
  2. Bloch, Heinz P. and Fred Geitner, Machinery Uptime Improvement, (2006) Elsevier-Butterworth-Heinemann, Stoneham, MA (ISBN 0-7506-7725-2)




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