April Management Work Processes

Improve Reliability Through Policy, Principles & Practice

EP Editorial Staff | April 22, 2014

Reliability Policy Site


Proper understanding and use of these key reliability-program components can ensure success.

By David A. Rosenthal, PE, CMRP, Jacobs Engineering Group

Manufacturers deploy corporate reliability programs for many reasons. Not only do such programs encourage achievement of environmental, health and safety (EHS) targets, they drive gains in uptime and capacity. Importantly, they also enable the formation of a needed reliability culture that standardizes the response to maintenance and reliability issues.

Successful deployment of a reliability-improvement initiative depends on corporate and business-unit leadership, followed by the appropriate program design. This means including program elements that are right for the operation, supporting the culture needed to focus on defect elimination, learning to proactively determine equipment condition and having company-wide buy-in.

Success of a reliability initiative can also only be attained with strong support from senior leadership. This support must be more than “lip service,” and be evident in the candidates chosen to do the job, available funding, willingness to defend the program through its business units, and an ability to stick to the mission, even if initial results are disappointing. To help in these areas, a policy that defines what reliability means to the company should exist.

Determination of progress in this direction may hinge on the tracking of only a few high-level lagging metrics like Asset Utilization and Maintenance Cost/Replacement Asset Value (RAV). Reporting of these measures must be a part of the company culture, however, because they are a standard topic of discussion when senior or business management visits the site. To attain excellence at this level, networks of subject-matter experts are necessary. So while the values and policies of the reliability initiative are top-down driven, the technical support should be driven from the bottom-up.

Loose and tight
A reliability initiative need not have every phase outlined. This is where the concepts of a “loose” and “tight” construction enter. “Tight” refers to the non-negotiable values, policies and high-level principles of the reliability initiative. “Loose” refers to the way in which each site or department implements the principles, guided by the corporation. Senior leadership determines what is “tight” through high-level guidance and metrics. Leaders should connect these goals and objectives of the company with the company’s needed response to maintenance and reliability practices. The “tight” classification implies that deviation from this guidance would not be in the best interest of its businesses, leadership and practitioners.

The trick, of course, is constructing the guidance through values, policies and boundaries of how maintenance and reliability (M&R) practices are implemented. For instance, a company may choose to boost uptime from its current manufacturing network rather than incur the cost of expanding its footprint. The chosen uptime metrics and analysis procedures could be non-negotiable, or “tight.” But how a site meets the uptime challenge could be left to the plant, or “loose.” The power of this strategy is how it generates areas of M&R excellence. Practitioners can then develop the internal networks that are needed to share best practices and accelerate the timetable needed to meet their challenge.

One caveat to the “loose” and “tight” approach occurs for enterprise infrastructure and business systems. By the nature of their inter-connectedness, a “tight” strategy should be maintained for the chosen functionality. The best example is SAP’s CMMS system. Because it interfaces with other corporate systems, its usage is a “tight” candidate. Software that is “loose” could be tools that support M&R practices, such as root-cause analysis, failure mode and effects analysis, and others.

Reliablity policies
The top two levels of a corporate reliability program—values and policies—belong to a company’s senior management. Values define the corporation through its vision and mission. They encompass the company’s cultural and ethical focus, EHS responsibilities and how the company serves its customers. Policies are the corporation’s guidelines, which generally do not include room for deviation. Most companies have policies for EHS as well as travel, accounting, human resources and others. Most do not, however, include a Reliability Policy in their mix.

For any capital-intensive industry aimed at guiding the response to maintenance and reliability issues, a Reliability Policy should exist that connects expected behaviors with the business case for improving the reliability of the equipment assets and the manufacturing process. Adherence to the policy should carry the same weight as all other company policies.

The Reliability Policy should provide clear line-of-site objectives from company values through to maintenance delivery. It connects and gives purpose to the execution of the asset-care plans for its equipment. The Policy standardizes the response for maintenance and reliability practices through guidelines for maintenance and reliability principles, criteria and work practices (setting minimum expectations), along with focus areas for improvement (such as equipment uptime). It should describe a measurement system that enables users to determine if progress is being made toward the time horizon established for reliability improvement.

Here are two examples of how to word the beginning of a Reliability Policy:

— “Our manufacturing processes will operate without failure and will enable the extension of turnarounds to industry benchmarks.”

— “We will strive to achieve equipment process performance and reliability that drives quality and on-time delivery that meets our customers’ needs and delivers value to all our stakeholders. Reliability will enable us to manage the risks from environmental, safety and health incidents to our employees and the communities in which we operate.”

Why are Reliability Policies a rarity in manufacturing? The answer lies in a lack of understanding among senior management. Members of this group often achieve promotion without exposure to the benefits of improved equipment and process reliability. The ability to translate the impact of this information to the company’s bottom line requires someone who understands manufacturing, reliability best practices and whose business acumen is respected in the board room—a rare combination.

Principles and best practices
The two levels below Policy are “Principles and Criteria,” followed by “Best Practices.” Principles are the highest level of guidance that can be offered regarding the minimum set of practices a site should be implementing. This can include basics such as defect-elimination, criticality, attached bill of materials for critical assets, specific use of certain CMMS functionality, and lubrication and greasing practices, to name a few. It’s important, however, to stop guidance at this level. Being overly prescriptive can be detrimental to sites developing “pockets of excellence” in their implementation. They need to figure out how to meet the guiding principles.

Best Practices are the “property” of the manufacturing sites and their various networks. They can be organized along the same lines as the Principles by company focus areas, work processes or by accepted industry standards (such as SMRP’s Five Pillars: Business and Management, Manufacturing Process Reliability, Equipment Reliability, Organization & Leadership, and Work Management). They can detail how a practice will be executed, such as in the following example for critical equipment lists:

1. All equipment within the production facility, including rotating and fixed equipment, structures, systems and other components (electrical, mechanical, instrumentation), has been evaluated and processed through the critical equipment evaluation.

2. The critical equipment list is available and used in establishing priorities for preventive maintenance activities, condition monitoring activities and spare-parts inventory decisions.

3. The critical equipment list is used to prioritize maintenance tasks.

4. Failure of a piece of critical equipment triggers a detailed assessment of the failure, such as an RCA or RCM.

The advantage to identifying Best Practices is that with consistency comes the ability to develop reliability skill levels, ease the transfer of personnel from one site to another, perform comparisons of performance across sites and accelerate the results needed to meet the business challenge stated through the Reliability Policy. This ultimately achieves higher uptime, higher productivity, lower operating costs and a more predictable supply-chain performance.

Implementation starts with the Board of Directors. Generally, a sponsor in the manufacturing organization understands and is willing to develop the business case and present it to the business leadership. This senior sponsor understands the impact a standardized response to maintenance and reliability can have on the company’s performance. Generally, he or she gets tasked with connecting the business performance imperatives to the outcomes of a Reliability initiative. In addition, the sponsor identifies candidates to lead the initiative and those in individual business units to carry out its implementation.

Those who lead these types of initiatives should be expected to perform the following:

  •  Maintenance, Reliability and Site Manager duties, preferably with multi-site experience
  •  Develop strategies to accelerate and improve current maintenance and reliability performance
  •  Deploy the appropriate metrics to measure performance
  •  Optimize CMMS utilization
  •  Drive the execution of asset-care strategies
  •  Integrate reliability into capital projects with engineering
  •  Define and roll out plan for asset-reliability issues
  •  Recruit, hire and supervise reliability resources
  •  Support plant-reliability improvement efforts globally
  •  Improve the company’s competency in reliability for engineers, craft and operators
  •  Drive risk out of fixed equipment with risk-based methods

Once the leadership structure and responsibilities are established at senior levels in the company and in the business units, subject-matter experts should be identified for the various aspects of maintenance and reliability practices. This should include those with expertise in maintenance execution, planning and scheduling, reliability engineering, defect elimination and materials management (stores). Next, a small team including the executive sponsor should “craft” the Reliability Policy and the Principles and Best Practices to be followed. A review period for all stakeholders should be conducted and allowed to run its course to achieve understanding and buy-in.

Most important to the success of this effort is having the right metrics. The fewer metrics developed the better. Dashboards should be set up along with recording systems for a few lagging metrics. Lagging metrics are better recorded and reported at the business-leadership and corporate level to measure progress, while leading metrics are best for the smaller enterprises to decide and report at the manufacturing-site level. Reporting of lagging metrics should be less frequent (quarterly) than leading metrics (weekly) at the sites.

Time-based expectations can easily derail a reliability-improvement initiative. To avoid derailment, set a two- to three-year horizon to “move the needle” on expected outcomes. MT&AP

David Rosenthal, P.E., leads Reliability Delivery and Asset Management for Jacobs Asset Management Services group in Houston, TX. Currently serving on SMRP’s Board of Advisors, and a former President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Dave has been involved in Reliability and Maintenance for more than 30 years.


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