Sustaining Operator-Driven Reliability

Tammy Shipps | April 21, 2014


Research shows that ODR success can be elusive. Here’s how to make it work.

By Jane Alexander, Deputy Editor

It seemed like a good idea. Everybody appeared to buy in. Big investments in time, resources and technologies were made; considerable thought, communication and hard work were applied. Finally, everything came together: Your site implemented Operator-Driven Reliability (ODR). Congratulations! But how is it working for you now?

ODR (the formalized involvement of operators in a facility’s asset-reliability efforts) isn’t new. Typical operator activities can range from collecting electronic data on vibration, temperature and the like, and noting abnormal equipment conditions; to performing routine replacements of gauges and other devices and helping technicians verify shutdown procedures; to assisting with equipment testing. Operators do NOT conduct data analysis within the scope of ODR. While this brief description of what ODR is and isn’t might seem straightforward, some plants have found the process to be more challenging than they expected.

According to experts, one of the biggest challenges organizations face is how to sustain an ODR program. Research conducted by bearing-maker SKF—an ODR pioneer, having helped implement and sustain it in hundreds of operations around the world—has uncovered several reasons why (see Chart). They include: inadequate preparation prior to implementation; a change in or lack of management; changing corporate initiatives; technology barriers; even sabotage. But these roadblocks can be overcome.


“Sustaining ODR doesn’t have to be a struggle,” says Dave Staples, SKF Global Services Manager for Traditional Energy. As with any other important enterprise initiative, a key to achieving success in ODR is to approach it as a process, not as a project. “Projects have ends,” explains Staples. “Processes live, grow and improve.”

In Staples’ experience, rigorous, informed upfront planning is necessary for ODR success. His recommendations include:

Clearly define and communicate goals and objectives. Because operational needs and goals differ, it’s important to align ODR with corporate business goals. Also, ODR goals and objectives must incorporate current reliability strategies, practices and philosophies.

Ensure cross-discipline support. Staples reminds plants that to have an impact on asset and process reliability and performance, an ODR program needs support not just from Maintenance and Operations, but from the Engineering and Reliability organizations as well.

Obtain commitment from the plant floor to the executive suite. Management provides credibility for ODR and ensures funding and resource allocation. It also confirms ODR as a company priority. “It’s critical to identify ODR supporters and potential non-supporters early on,” says Staples, “and know where to look for improvement opportunities.” Because ODR is a process that operators will own, they should be involved in and committed to it from the start, even if they’re unionized. Identify a sponsor or champion from within the operations team whom all operators respect.

Plan for resistance to change and how to deal with it. Pushback on ODR can come from many sources, requiring several different management responses. According to Staples, responses can include reward and recognition for workers who are doing the right things; following compliance measurements and using the findings to drive corrections; supporting operator findings by correcting abnormal conditions quickly; and engraining the ODR process and findings into daily operations by hosting weekly status and planning meetings.

Embed decision support. Embedding knowledge allows operators to make better decisions without requiring basic guidance from the plant’s skilled workforce. For example, Staples says that with an automated fault-diagnosis process and the use of decision trees and Boolean logic, operators can be directed to collect additional information leading to the root cause of a problem.

Develop and track appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs). Organizations often overlook important metrics associated with ODR, either by putting them off until after implementation or not tracking them at all. Without KPI’s, says Staples, “The ability to justify, learn, improve and optimize is lost.” He recommends that KPIs be established as early as possible in the implementation process to allow benchmarking of current status and measuring of improvements. “Make them readily available to those responsible for ODR at the site,” he says, “so they can track the results of their efforts or the need for corrective actions.” Because KPIs will drive the direction of ODR efforts, it’s imperative to review them regularly and confirm that they continue to help achieve the company’s strategic goals.

Have a program life-cycle cost plan. Mobile technology changes quickly. Plan to replace hardware at the end of each cycle. Staples says that although there will be incremental changes to technology throughout every life cycle, they’ll generally be software-related. Annual maintenance agreements guarantee sites that they will always have the latest version of software and access to new features during a life cycle.

Staples also encourages sites to:

  • Automate ODR with technology, but keep technology transparent.
  • Provide effective levels of operator feedback (see Sidebar).
  • Standardize all best practices and share them.
  • Plan for ODR expansion and how to pay for it.
  • Maintain a detailed, living training plan.

One of Staples’ most valuable pieces of advice regarding ODR is to manage people’s expectations about it from the outset. Keep in mind that ODR is not intended to be a complete maintenance solution. While operators “inspect,” for example, they cannot be expected to “analyze.”

As Staples wrote previously in this publication (Feb. 2007), “ODR is best considered a complementary practice, and is almost always part of a strategically applied maintenance plan to achieve asset reliability and availability aligned with a company’s business objectives.”

This approach has weathered well over the years, and it will work for your ODR program, too. MT&AP

The Two Levels of Operator Feedback

The type of feedback an operator receives and how it is delivered will impact his/her response. There are two levels of operator feedback, each designed to elicit a specific response:

The first level explains the need for an inspection process relative to possible present conditions, causes, related problems and consequences. The second level uses documentation, graphics and photos to drive immediate action. These elements should be available via on-board memory or through the Wi-Fi capabilities of mobile devices.

Be creative in your approach to feedback. The goal is to simplify operator input and minimize the typing of inspection results.

ODR Supports Business Excellence

Operator-Driven Reliability complements Business-Excellence (BE) programs in several key ways:

Empowerment is reinforced because operators have ownership for their equipment’s reliability. With this responsibility comes the ability for operators to initiate decisions for actions based on abnormal conditions they uncover.

Standardized work is managed through technology. The idea of BE programs is for all operators in a facility to work according to defined principles. Operator ODR rounds are detailed in the inspection technologies they use (i.e., what machines to inspect and how; what abnormal conditions look like; and what to do next). And as operator information progresses from paper to digital form, it is shared faster, allowing for quicker corrective actions. Whether a site is implementing a new program or assessing a current one, the ODR process forces an environment of continuous improvement, driving inefficiencies and waste out of the system and putting the focus on high-value activities, a BE fundamental.

Teamwork is promoted by both BE and ODR. When ODR is appropriately planned, implemented and managed, equipment reliability becomes an enterprise-wide endeavor. Working as a team, people throughout the organization—regardless of department, title or specific responsibilities—can truly impact reliability improvements.


Reward, Incentivize, Recognize

Rewards and Incentives are integral parts of most culture-changing programs, including ODR, because they reinforce acceptable behavior.

Examples include cash, trips and gift certificates; Operator of the Week/Month programs; and tie-ins to existing company initiatives, such as profit-sharing. Once a desired behavior becomes a required behavior, use of rewards and incentives can be minimized or eliminated.

Recognition Programs are the basis for quantifying return on investment. They document the value proposition that ODR delivers to the business.

In contrast to rewards and incentives, recognition programs must remain in place. Keeping them fresh means keeping them visible—on posters, in newsletters, through tradtional news outlets and via social media—and posting KPIs.

Operator-Certification Programs can also be used to transition away from rewards to recognition. Additional certifications can validate operator rank or wages.

Certification programs can be qualitative or quantitative forms of recognition. Quantitative programs, though, must have real dollars tied to them and should be
tracked closely.



Tammy Shipps

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