Reliability Reliability Engineering

Pace Your Reliability Program

EP Editorial Staff | September 13, 2016

Patience is truly a virtue when it comes to fully realizing and sustaining desired improvements.

By David Rosenthal, P.E., CMRP, Reliability Strategy and Implementation Consultancy LLC

Plant personnel are often driven to improve productivity and reduce operating costs to maintain margins. Some managers turn to reliability-improvement programs to meet those goals. To be successful, though, such efforts must be well planned and paced to manage expectations and produce early quick wins. Before discussing what’s involved in this type of pacing, let’s consider why it’s necessary.

Reality rules

Impatience and a desire by management to see the results of improved reliability on their operations seem to go hand in hand. Pressures surface through the inevitable questions of, “When can I see results?” and, “What results can I see this year?” Too often, a consultant has to ratchet down expectations (while speaking from an exit door) and carefully lay out what can reasonably be anticipated in, say, two years. After all, during the first year, the site is just learning what to do and understanding the needed behaviors for being proactive.

Why the large gap between the reality of how long it takes to actually see change and early expectations of business results? There are three primary reasons:

— The effort to gain support, including approval from senior leaders and required funds, is so long and onerous that managers want to see results as soon as possible. Today’s quarter-to-quarter management of the balance sheet also pressures these initiatives. Sometimes promises not supported by industry experience are made. Careers can be based on the results, generating additional pressure. More likely, survival of the business hinges on the success of this and other efforts.

— Managers start too late to promote reliability-improvement programs that have already been complicated by business-survival issues, influx of aggressive competition, ignored on-going conditions, and lack of knowledge regarding the causes of low productivity and high operating costs. Those who advise management frequently aren’t experts in “truthfully” describing what a program entails. Reliability-improvement initiatives aren’t quick fixes. Moreover, many technical people can’t translate reliability opportunity into terms that are important to business. Consequently, managers develop justifications based on their own interpretations of the situations described to them.

— The major problem in such operations is not overseeing the technical challenge but, rather, the cultural aspect. Culture change is the true reason results take so long to become apparent. All levels of an organization must change to accept more proactive behaviors, i.e., detect failure early, act on early signs of failure, build in reliability through design, and grow the competency of staff and management in the principles of applied reliability.


This table lays out a reliability-improvement plan that should produce tangible results in two years. (Click to enlarge.)

Although there can be other reasons for a gap between expectations and reality, including process-reliability controls and human-resource issues (hiring), the three detailed here dominate the landscape.

Subsequently, after cold water is poured on expectations for a quick turnaround, managers will rephrase their questions along the lines of, What pace should I expect from my reliability-improvement initiative and how long until I see glimpses of a turnaround? And, What should I tell my senior leadership about what to expect? The answers focus on development of a quick-win strategy and longer-term strategies that build sustainability from changes in cultural, capital-design, and equipment-care approaches. But it all starts with a good plan.

0916pace1First: Strategic planning

Once all approvals are in place for a reliability-improvement initiative, and buy-in from all levels of senior leadership is covered, it’s time to finalize a strategic plan. The document addresses all of the components needed to direct the pace, i.e., vision, mission, strategies, tactics, goals, and responsibilities. It’s essential to build into this plan an approach based on successful industry experience, principles of machine failure, and effective asset-care strategies. Table I reflects a typical example.

0916pace2Second: Quick-win projects

The strategies listed under the category “Eliminate Failure” in the accompanying sample strategic plan (Table I) are quick-win approaches. Quick wins are vital for several reasons. First, they hold off the naysayers and support the early adopters, as well as show management what can be done in the short term. Second, evidence of improvements diffuses attempts by senior leaders to question the rationale for a project and, possibly, cancel it.

Quick wins are early efforts that result in accomplishments such as turning bad-acting equipment into good actors, i.e., low-hanging fruit that immediately affects productivity and costs. Conversely, setting up lubrication programs, designing work systems, and creating dashboards of metrics, among other things, can wait. While those types of endeavors are of great importance, they depend on analysis, technical knowledge, and behavioral change—and require a great deal of time, effort, and patience to roll out. Their results don’t show up quickly, which can frustrate implementers and management.

Other examples of quick-win projects include:

  • changing equipment operation (stop deadheading pumps, swapping spares)
  • remediating issues found during operator monitoring rounds
  • putting needed parts in stores and locations close to a unit
  • creating a “Do It Now” (DIN) crew to deal with reactive work
  • ensuring all maintenance work is prioritized
  • revising instructions to improve technician ability to stay within operating windows.

To help pace a reliability effort, quick wins should come out of the gate early. Keep in mind that these wins underpin future strategies and tactics in your plan. In addition to demonstrating that reliability improvement is possible, they can quell the impatience of a plant manager, senior leaders, and finance people. Just as important, they support early adopters who place their careers on the line through the initiative. Never underestimate the power of quick wins for your plan.

0916pace3Third: Longer-term strategies

At some point, most low-hanging fruit will have been picked. The program’s attention must then turn to building sustainability.

When people move from jobs, practices, and behaviors that support long-term reliability, improvement must be in place. To be sustainable, asset-care strategies, work systems, competencies, and other reliability-program elements must be established. Each element should have an associated strategy detailed in the strategic plan. Although these elements take longer to develop, they move the organization to be more proactive, eliminate defects, and detect early failures, all of which are needed to increase productivity and reduce operating costs.

Pacing on longer-term strategies is key since no one has the resources, i.e., time, people, and money, to do everything at once. Prioritization, based on industry experience and fundamental reliability principles, should dictate the order of implementation as detailed here:

Ensuring that all critical assets have the appropriate care should be high on the priority list. This can be accomplished as defects arise and through tools such as Pareto and root-cause analyses. There’s no sense in revising care for equipment that hasn’t shown a long history of failure. Evaluating work history and having a trigger system to identify what to work on is crucial.

Maintenance and reliability work processes must then be modified or built and “tied” together. This means that work-history analysis and planning and scheduling should be a focus. Those steps are how these two work processes come together. Remember that reliability designs asset care and is strategic in nature while maintenance is tactical and executes care. Work history provides information to the reliability process to revise care to prevent future failure. Planning and scheduling ensures that the care tasks designed by the reliability function actually are executed by maintenance.

Competencies must be evaluated for the existing workforce and new hires. Competency descriptions for maintenance, reliability, and operators, and any new job descriptions need to be created. New hires should be evaluated against these requirements. Staff training should be obtained through sources such as plant trainers, community colleges, third-party consultants, and vendors. A long-term goal for certification is also a way to create a “pull” for knowledge for the staff and provide incentives for career development.

Finally, programs for lubrication, predictive analysis, stocking critical parts, precision work, and stores management (to name a few) can be implemented over the long term. Appropriate sectors of each organization, i.e., operations, procurement, engineering, and maintenance, should take responsibility for selected elements. Lubrication should always top the list. Without good lubrication practices, the remaining reliability elements cannot be effective.

Note that these details represent just one way to pace a reliability program. Many variations exist, depending on the strengths and weaknesses of an organization. Whether your site relies on in-house staff or work with a consultant, never jump into a plan without some form of conditional assessment. Since resources are usually difficult to obtain, and impatience is always present, few operations can afford a start that doesn’t bring about quick wins and the desired culture change.

Answering the big question

Case studies have shown that changing key metrics for most reliability-improvement initiatives can take two to three years. Certain leading metrics, however, will show improvement sooner, while lagging metrics will require two years to show improvement. For instance, at a large site with several hundred pieces of rotating machinery, early leading indicators of the percentage of emergency work and preventive maintenance that’s completed will improve upon implementation of bad-actor control, precision work compliance, criticality analysis, improved operations, and having critical spare parts on hand. Lagging metrics such as uptime, meantime between failure, and cost/repair will improve over longer periods of time.

Saying that “patience is a virtue” has never been truer than when it comes to waiting for reliability-improvement initiatives to bear fruit. The gap between expectations and the reality of technical and cultural change must be managed at every level in the organization during such efforts. No matter what management believes, a 2- to 3-year timeframe is needed to show critical business results. Many organizations show a 5- to 10-year graph of improvement in lagging metrics, i.e., meantime between failure, operating cost, a reduction in operational costs, higher availability, and lower environmental, health, and safety impact. This should not discourage any site from embarking on a reliability-improvement initiative. Some still don’t understand that the culture of their organizations is what really needs changing. MT

A reliability consultant with more than 35 years of experience, David Rosenthal, P.E., CMRP, is the owner of Reliability Strategy and Implementation Consultancy LLC (Houston). Rosenthal spent the majority of his career serving in increasingly responsible maintenance and reliability roles with the Rohm and Haas Co. He currently serves on the Advisory Board to the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP). Rosenthal holds a B.S. and M.S. in chemical engineering from Drexel Univ. Philadelphia, and the Univ. of Texas, Austin, respectively. Contact him directly at:

learnmore2“Unleash Your Plant’s Hidden Potential”

“Drive Strategy with Performance Metrics”

“Make Operations Your Partner in Reliability”


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