Teach Your Organization To Fish
Klaus M. Blache | September 1, 2019
If reliability is to be sustained, a successful reliability engineer will teach others in the plant “how to fish.”
Throughout my many years in manufacturing, there have been several labels put on similar functions performed on the plant floor. At one point, some groups wanted to eliminate industrial engineering, saying that manufacturing engineers and plant-floor teams would soon perform those functions. Of course, that didn’t happen. As company capabilities and needs evolve, so should definitions of various job titles. The same holds true for reliability engineering.
Although I added a few words for clarification, substituted the word ‘reliability’ for ‘systems,’ and paraphrased some longer items, this is the definition used for systems engineering on Wikipedia: “Reliability engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering and engineering management that focuses on how to design and manage complex systems over their life cycles. At its core, reliability engineering uses systems-thinking principles to organize this body of knowledge.” The definition goes on to state that it covers areas such as reliability, logistics, coordination of different teams, testing and evaluation, maintainability, and many other disciplines necessary for successful system development, design, implementation, and ultimate decommission.
When you look up reliability engineering in Wikipedia, it states, “Reliability engineering is a sub-discipline of systems engineering that emphasizes dependability in the lifecycle management of a product.” Reliability is further described (in the more standard definition) as the ability of a system or component to function under stated conditions for a specified period of time. It recognizes reliability as closely related to availability, system safety, and managing risks of failure.
Making things even more unclear is that, as companies aspire to the benefits of reliability engineering, they assign the reliability engineer title without defined roles, responsibilities, and sufficient training. Reliability engineering, in practice today, more closely fits the definition of systems engineering. Recent reliability-engineer job postings are looking for people to:
• teach personnel about programs being implemented to improve reliability and the positive results of these programs
• share reliability best practices across facilities
• ensure that a spare-parts program is implemented
• develop and review PdM program and schedule
• perform analyses to identify reliability risks using reliability modeling and prediction, Weibull, Six Sigma, RCA, fault tree, and many more
• develop best practices and long-range strategies for rotating equipment
• implement new technology to improve reliability and enhance machinery performance
• support capital projects and testing/acceptance of new pumps and turbines.
Reliability engineering can go in many directions, further complicating the definition. You want an engineer who can think logically, is strong analytically (some prefer statistically), wants to solve problems, can think big picture, and has good communication/team-building skills. The person should have some formal education in reliability and maintainability, either from a university and/or professional-development program, based on the job responsibility. You want a reliability engineer who has knowledge and practical skills. It’s important that they, according to the old adage, “teach the organization to fish,” in relation to their role in reliability, versus him/her doing it all. Otherwise, you will never achieve a sustaining process in the organization. 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 email@example.com.