Column Lean Manufacturing Maintenance Management Reliability

Can You Be Lean Without Reliability?

Maintenance Technology | August 10, 2017

In actuality, reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean.


By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability & Maintainability Center

The goal of most facilities is to increase production and reduce costs. Implementing a Lean process enables an ongoing focus on continuous improvement by constantly reducing waste from, among other things, overproduction, material movement, excess inventory, and rework. In short, it’s a systematic method for removing non value-added practices.

My Lean implementation experiences involve more than 30 elements, including 5S, mistake proofing, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), just-in-time (JIT), and kaizen. When I roll out a reliability and maintainability (R&M) process, it’s done with 14 elements, including work management, equipment and process design, TPM, standardized processes, and root-cause analysis (RCA).

The most successful Lean and reliability processes start with organizational culture (first improving employee engagement, developing a culture of discipline, and forming an operations and maintenance partnership). Lean and reliability reduce defects. Lean builds quality in station and reliability reduces designed-in R&M issues as organizations move from reactive to more-proactive maintenance. Lean uses a kanban (pull-system) to build product on-demand, and reliability promotes condition-based maintenance to respond to demand, i.e., measured target values.

Many additional things need to happen to make Lean and reliability successful, but they should all be driven by small-team continuous-improvement efforts. Lean and reliability basically share a number of similar core processes. A few key ones include:

• focus on the operator/autonomous maintenance
standardized work/processes
waste reduction
continuous improvement
data-based decision-making.

In actuality, reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean.

In actuality, reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean.

Reliability also supports Lean through lifecycle asset management that increases Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and reduces cost. After all, unstable machine conditions make a pull-system difficult or impossible.

The toughest part of implementing Lean and reliability is culture-related, i.e., when transfer to daily practice needs to occur. Implementation might work for a short time, but can it sustain? Unstable (low-reliability) processes can’t be sustained. Kaizen is much easier and positive when sites have a history of team problem solving.

My research has shown that top-quartile companies in reliability, i.e., lowest reactive maintenance:

• were 27% better in OSHA Recordable Incident Rates than the average of the remaining facilities.

• averaged 7% higher OEE than Middle (2nd and 3rd quartile) performers and 11% higher OEE than those in the bottom quartile.

• averaged nine suggestions per employee versus one for the lower 75% of companies.

• were 28% better in maintenance cost (expressed as a percentage of sales) than the middle 50% and 69% better than the bottom quartile.

A study of more than 400 facilities showed that more than 70% of Lean implementations failed, i.e., attained less than half of the expected business results. Reasons for these failures often involve not being culturally ready, lack of workforce discipline in standardized work, and employees not engaged in continuous-improvement efforts.

My facility assessments indicate a high correlation between improved organizational culture and increased plant reliability-process maturity. While it’s critical to have the right processes in place, improving culture helps operations quickly achieve top-quartile performance.

Reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean. It can also provide detailed technical direction on process variability and capability. Using Weibull analysis, you can better plan for maintenance and calculate such things as how much variability is acceptable and if the operation is running at the highest possible throughput.

To answer the question in the title, the foundational elements of Lean and reliability are so intertwined that you can’t accomplish Lean without reliable people, processes, and production machinery and equipment. MT

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at





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