2014 Reliability Reliability Engineering

Uptime: Mainstream 2014 — Shared Visions for Reliability

Bob Williamson | August 1, 2014


The first-ever Mainstream North America conference was held in Austin, TX, in June. It was organized by the Eventful Group, well known for Mainstream conferences in Australia and New Zealand. They’ll present a Mainstream conference in South Africa later this year.

The theme at the North American venue was “Asset Management.” Attracting nearly 300 speakers and delegates from mostly “asset intensive” businesses, the event focused on leadership, personnel and work cultures through four conference tracks: Organizational Leadership & People; Asset Reliability; Operations & Supply Chain; and Shutdowns & Turnaround Management.

As the Asset Reliability track leader, I picked up a great deal of compelling insight from the many presentations by respected practitioners in the world of plant operations, maintenance, reliability and more. Here, I share some of what I learned in Austin, along with my personal reflections.

The terminology we use

Maintenance-speak is rife with terms intended to communicate concepts quickly among various maintenance and reliability (M&R) practitioners and communities. We’ve also noticed that terminology we use in the M&R arena is rapidly invading the “Asset Management” field of practice. As with most businesses and industries, these terms can be confusing and misinterpreted by outsiders, those on the fringes and even by co-workers.

The basic terms “repair, maintenance, reliability and asset management” are among those used regularly in the expanding body of knowledge covered in this column over the years. The term “reliability” is often used to describe an activity or an equipment condition, and the term “quality” is used to describe an object or performance, as in “that was a quality piece of work.” Without a qualifier, however, neither reliability nor quality is something that can be touched. Technically, that statement of “quality” begs the question: “Was the quality good or bad?” Likewise, the term “reliability” has to be further defined on a similar scale from good or acceptable to bad or unacceptable.

Here are a few terms we discussed and clarified in the closing panel discussion at the Mainstream conference:

• Repair: Fixing things that have failed
• Maintenance: Preserving a desired condition
• Reliability: A functional performance result or goal
• Asset Management: A systematic business risk-management process for the life-cycle of something of value

While all of these terms relate to each other in the world of M&R, they have entirely different meanings. To use them interchangeably, as is frequently the case, leads to confusion.

‘Maintenance’ and ‘reliability’

I’ve discussed this issue previously, but it bears repeating: When it comes to actions in the workplace, M&R professionals must find ways to de-couple the words “maintenance” and “reliability.” Sure, we perform maintenance; we do maintenance tasks; and there are actions, procedures, plans and schedules that define maintenance work. But, “maintenance” and “reliability” are two different concepts. While maintenance is an action, reliability is a process result or a goal. We don’t really DO reliability, do we?

Several presenters pointed to the many different departments involved in their asset-reliability processes. As Joe Park, the Global Reliability Leader at Novelis, emphasized repeatedly, “Reliability is NOT just maintenance.” (That assertion will be the focus of an upcoming article by Park in MT.) Yet the longer we continue to weave the two terms together in our discussions, projects and in our plans, the more others in our businesses will believe that “maintenance is in charge of reliability.” From inside the world of maintenance, we know that most of the causes of un-reliability are outside the direct control of those who maintain the assets.

Talking about asset reliability

The speakers in the “Asset Reliability” track highlighted various recurring terms, concepts and concerns in describing what works in their companies regarding maintenance, reliability and asset management. Their presentations provided the following powerful takeaways for the rest of us about the way things happen—or should happen—on the road to improving the performance of physical assets (i.e., machines, equipment, facilities):

• “Reliability is not just Maintenance.” (Thanks, Novelis)
• Leadership and teamwork
• People, the human resources for reliability
• Business strategy
• Focus/alignment
• Operator involvement
• “Playing nicely together” (Thanks, Agrium)
• Culture change
• Investing in reliability is not a cost.
• Data, information, action, feedback
• Best practices
• Training and mentors
• Succession planning
• Rewards and recognition
• Human variability: skills, knowledge, actions
• Building stakeholder relationships
• Integrated, interdependent, holistic actions
• Four generations in the workplace
• Millennials are running away from maintenance.

One term suspiciously absent from this list was “technology” for asset reliability. Although some of the presentations pointed to examples of technology, the critical success factors (if I can call them that) tended to focus on people, organizations and business processes.

The soft stuff counts

Discussions surrounding “Asset Management” and Asset Reliability” are finally getting to the crux of the reliability-improvement challenge: the soft stuff. Not long ago, maintenance and reliability conference sessions were filled with “technology and tools” to use in improving the way maintenance is performed and reliability goals are achieved.

It now appears that the keystone—the solution to eliminating equipment-, machinery- and facilities-related problems—centers around “people,” including how we develop and deploy their skill sets, how we focus them on the right things and how we deal with human variation and errors. To be clear, reliability is more about people than machines and technologies. It is, in fact, a team sport.

Technology alone will not necessarily lead to improved performance and reliability. It takes people to properly select, deploy and use technologies and tools. Likewise, Asset Management Standards—whether local or global in scope—will not lead to asset performance and reliability improvement without proper engagement of the right people with the right skills and knowledge at every step of the journey.

More operators than maintainers

We’ve known for decades that there are generally more operators than maintainers in most physical-asset-intensive businesses. Equipment operators not only outnumber maintenance people, they are typically much closer to the equipment for longer periods of time than are the maintainers.

Miguel Valdez, Corporate Asset Management Lead for MillerCoors, shared what his company does worldwide to capitalize on the availability and positioning of operators. As he put it, “Engaging operators in an ‘Autonomous Maintenance’ approach (from the Total Productive Maintenance process) is a relatively simple concept, but extremely difficult to do. It is a culture change.”

Valdez noted that with Autonomous Maintenance procedures targeting known problem areas in MillerCoors’ bottle- and can-packaging lines, 5 to 10% machine efficiency (ME) was gained. But when Autonomous Maintenance is coupled with Asset Care performed weekly by maintenance technicians, the results have been an unprecedented ME of 95% and higher. “This partnership,” he said, “represents a huge step in the right direction.” According to Valdez, the company’s plants in Europe and Latin America out-performed those in other countries. Resistance to change (culture change) was clearly holding others back.

Traditional divisions of labor, where operators operate machines and maintainers maintain machines, can reflect a seemingly insurmountable barrier. The challenge in culture change is to LEAD it from the perspective of a solid business case for changing the way things get done. And, from a business perspective in an era of growing maintenance skills shortages, there is a powerful motivation to leverage the experiences of MillerCoors.

Secrets of success

We all look for “secrets of success” to make work easier. John Crowe, former CEO of Buckeye Technologies, offered some big ones in his Mainstream presentation. “The secrets of success in reliability are not new,” he said. “It’s a simple matter of commitment and constancy of purpose. See what’s essential and ignore the rest.”

What a powerful insight from the top of an organization—one that has experienced continuing and sustainable benefits of reliability improvements. Crowe recognized that “good maintenance costs money and downtime, but poor maintenance costs more of both money and downtime.”

Crowe also acknowledged that the journey to reliability improvement will rarely be the same for every organization. Still, the role of leadership is of key importance. As M&R professionals, it is our job to provide meaningful business-case data, proof and evidence of the value of reliability best practices to top levels of leadership. In discussing culture change, he emphasized these six points:

  1. You need a champion, a role model.
  2. Do the right things, and people will follow.
  3. Be willing to change.
  4. Seeking perfection is a must.
  5. The journey never ends.
  6. Learning never ends.

Leading the importance of asset-reliability improvement from the top of the organization is easy when the CEO is connected to the reality of what goes on in the plant. Through data-based decision-making, CEO Crowe came to realize that the “products of good maintenance are machine uptime, production at rate and at quality and safety.”

Mainstream 2015

There were so many excellent sessions and speakers with countless opportunities for professional networking at Mainstream 2014. I’ve just scratched the surface here. In its first time at bat in the North American market, Mainstream hit a home run this year. It’s next event here, Mainstream 2015, is already positioned to be another winner.





Bob Williamson

Bob Williamson

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