Make reliability the focus of the maintenance and operations departments

Get operations to run equipment and keep it running with a reliability perspective.

By Craig Cotter, PE, CMRP

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A reliability-centric organization makes reliability the focus of the maintenance and operations departments. The company must have a strong, independent reliability leader who not only looks at traditional reliability improvements, but also influences and leads the organization’s operations, maintenance, capital, and turnaround functions to improve overall corporate performance, with the motto: “Engineer it right, keep it running, and repair it right.” This is Part II of a multi-part series.

Click here to read Part I  Click here to read Part III

A separate and dedicated reliability department will fail if not led by the right person. Leadership is an intangible factor, but it will dictate success for the organization, especially if the department is being formed from scratch. This manager must have both the technical expertise in reliability and the people skills of leadership and negotiation. This person must be able to form a new department, provide a vision with specific plans and a process that will move the organization toward its goals, convince management of the benefits of a reliability-centric organization, while navigating the politics of the operations and maintenance departments. This person must also be able to say, “no,” to operations and maintenance managers and focus them on important long-term goals, as opposed to urgent daily issues.

Typically, when a reliability department is formed, the operations and maintenance departments view the additional personnel as more bodies to help them with the daily equipment repairs and unit upsets, doing the work their own people should do. This is not to say the reliability department ignores daily issues, but rather adopts the “teach them to fish” philosophy, helping them to do their jobs better, but not doing their jobs. Part of the reliability department's responsibility is to teach operations and maintenance personnel how best to keep it running and repair it right, and this will begin to reduce the daily issues, freeing up more time for them to focus on what really works, rather than on what is not working today.

Figure 1. Reliability engineers and machinery specialists should be set up to support the asset and plant initiatives.
Figure 1. Reliability engineers and machinery specialists should be set up to support the asset and plant initiatives.

The organization of the reliability department must be set up to handle both short-term (daily/monthly) issues and long-term (more than five years) issues and programs. A good model is to organize the department into engineers and machinery specialists. A machinery specialist is a non-degreed millwright/machinist with 10 to 30 years of experience with his tools. The department is then divided into asset support and staff support groups. Figure 1 shows this breakdown of reliability engineers and machinery specialists set up to support the asset and plant initiatives. Figure 2 is a sample chart of roles and responsibilities.

Figure 2. Organize the department into engineers and machinery specialists, who are non-degreed millwrights/machinists with 10 to 30 years of experience.
Figure 2. Organize the department into engineers and machinery specialists, who are non-degreed millwrights/machinists with 10 to 30 years of experience.

Keep it running

The reliability department’s involvement with operations is to help to run the equipment, as opposed to the equipment running them. The centerpiece of this leg of the stool is the operator-driven reliability (ODR) process. Operators are the key to equipment reliability, because a good operator sees, touches, listens to, and smells the equipment every day. The operator is the first to know when equipment changes, and this early detection and issue remediation is a giant first step toward keeping the equipment on line or taking the equipment off line before catastrophic failures occur. Equipment deteriorates when left alone. It does not matter how well the equipment was designed or installed or repaired; if left alone, the equipment will fail. Experience has shown that the magnitude of the failures increases proportionally to the operators’ non-involvement and lack of ownership. Therefore, operator involvement is crucial for improved reliability.

The reliability department’s part of this ODR process involves developing operator equipment checks and operating maintenance routines; training on startup, operation, and shutdown procedures; and instruction on the basics of rotating equipment, including:

  • pump fundamentals
  • compressor fundamentals
  • mechanical seals
  • equipment troubleshooting
  • lubrication basics, greasing, and changing lubricant
  • basic vibration training and data acquisition techniques
  • equipment startup, operation, and shutdown checklists
  • pump switching process
  • basic maintenance
  • cleaning seal flush lines
  • cleaning seal pots
  • changing filters
  • cleaning strainers

An example of a checklist to be used for operator-driven reliability rounds is shown in Figure 3. An example of a pump startup sheet is shown in Figure 4.

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