Column Maintenance Reliability

How Did Deming View Reliability?

Klaus M. Blache | March 26, 2019

One bit of advice from W. Edwards Deming is that no amount of investment will, by itself, ensure quality.

Q: How much is reliability tied to Deming’s 14 Points?

A: There isn’t space to review all of the 14 points, but the six I’ve selected, adapted from W. Edward Deming’s book Out of Crisis, (1986, MIT Press), directly address reliability issues in today’s manufacturing operations. Statements in italics, following each point, are mine.

1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, to stay in business, and to provide jobs.A long-term driving vision is needed to avoid confusion and continually improve

2. Adopt the new philosophy. This requires a cultural change to one of daily improvement.

3. Cease dependence on mass inspection to achieve quality. Build quality into the product in the first place. Lean manufacturing requires high reliability.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag alone. Instead minimize total cost. This includes the life-cycle purchasing of machinery and equipment.

9. Break down barriers between individuals, groups, and departments. Facilitate and encourage operations and maintenance partnerships. Remove boundaries between departments.

14. Take action to accomplish the transformation. Involve the entire workforce. Develop a comprehensive improvement process based on systems thinking. Implement practical tools and techniques that can be used by the entire workforce.

In the late 1980s, Deming would visit the GM Powertrain plant and headquarters near Detroit to discuss quality and reliability. I recently found a letter he wrote after one of those visits that includes additional advice. My comments are again in italics. 

No amount of investment will, by itself, ensure quality. You need to get there by applying best practices.

Tampering with a stable system is not improvement of the system. We need the help of profound knowledge to reduce variation. Stamping out fires and solving problems are not improvement of a system. At best, they only put the system back to where it should have been in the first place. Root-cause analysis and continuous improvement needs to be a formal process to ensure that the best standard operating practices are followed.

Investment in gadgets, high technology, automation, and new machinery are not, by themselves, the answer. Engaged people and clear, focused processes will determine the level of success.

It is better for management to work on causes of cost and waste, to work at the source. This means improvement of design, care and maintenance of equipment, materials, processes, care and maintenance of people, training, and education. Predictive technologies and condition-based maintenance are implemented to fix problems at the source. What we learn from those efforts is used to design-in better reliability and maintainability for equipment, products, and processes.

Remember, it’s all related. My data analysis shows that a plant’s processes are interconnected, as depicted in the flow chart. So, following standardized operating best practices is critical. One of Deming’s most profound statements: “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” EP

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



Klaus M. Blache

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