What’s your reliability and maintenance temperature?

6 high-level items to guide your assessment.

By Andy Ginder, Allied Reliability Group

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Just as individuals should undergo an annual physical, companies should complete an annual checkup to evaluate the health of their organization in terms of reliability and maintenance. Unfortunately, most companies only conduct audits on a haphazard basis, or at insufficient frequencies. As such, they never derive the substantial, sustainable results that are possible from a structured assessment approach.

Benchmarking or assessing your organization can be done in collaboration with a consulting organization, or it can be tackled internally without outside support. In either situation, there are a few critical items that should be considered.

End purpose

The obvious initial question is, “Why are we doing this?” Are we conducting an assessment solely for the sake of doing an assessment, or is there a true desire to improve our business? Many companies “check the box” for having completed an assessment, but only a minority can later point to significant changes in how they managed their business that evolved from the assessment findings. An organization serious about change clearly defines what it hopes to achieve from an assessment and subsequent improvement activities. Company sponsors, champions, and leadership structures are created at the corporate and site levels to guide the process, free up needed financial and labor resources, eliminate barriers to change, and celebrate achievements.

Performance standards

What are the standards against which we are going to compare our current performance levels and practices? If the assessing team doesn’t have a common understanding of best practices, whether they relate to precision maintenance techniques, configuration and population of a management system, or planning and scheduling, they will be hampered in pinpointing key areas of opportunity. Prior to initiating the assessment, the team needs to understand what they’re evaluating and what “good” looks like. If that knowledge is lacking, it can be procured from consulting organizations or from professional societies such as the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals. They can provide information about best practices and the lagging indicators that reflect how well companies are applying those practices.

Area of focus

This seems a simple item to identify, but it requires more thought than one would initially think. The level of support for the endeavor, available resources, and other issues need to be addressed. Ask a few questions to clarify what you’re doing.

  • Will it be a corporate assessment (all sites) or just an evaluation of one or two locations?
  • Will all areas and departments at a site be involved or will the focus be on specific areas?
  • If individual areas are assessed, do you address the ones that appear most receptive to change or the ones perceived to have the greatest need for change?
  • Will it be a holistic, broad-based assessment investigating a wide range of reliability-and-maintenance-oriented areas, or will it focus on isolated business practices — planning and scheduling versus application of condition based monitoring?

Information gathering

Many assessments are time-consuming as plants host a team of assessors who capture information and conduct interviews over multiple weeks. Having participated in hundreds of assessments over the past 30 years, I recognize the value of being able to walk the plant, talk to site personnel directly, and search out the means to validate what I am seeing and hearing. Today, an opportunity exists to shift this paradigm. Electronic surveys and tools enable us to capture more information from a broader group of functions in a plant, while being less intrusive on their daily activities. Greater use of these tools enables us to decrease the “boots on the ground” time that is needed to verify accumulated data and ensure understanding and ownership over assessment findings.

Learning activities

Assessments should not just be about assessing, but also about learning. Electronic surveys can have white papers embedded that educate people in good practices. On-site assessment activities can be structured to include experiential interventions and targeted walkabouts with site personnel that allow them to co-evaluate with the assessor improvement opportunities in daily site activities such as planning and scheduling or root cause failure analysis meetings. Or they can participate in structured learning exercises built around unlocking hidden inventory, mapping business process flows, or evaluating cycle counting techniques. Regardless of whether an electronic tool is being used or not, an assessor can lead groups of people through group working sessions that not only allow them to identify their current performance levels but also impart to them an understanding of best practices and what they require.

Accountability

lead andy ginderAndy Ginder is principal at Allied Reliability Group. Contact him at gindera@alliedreliability.com.

Without accountability assigned to key corporate and site personnel, few changes of substance will result from the assessment. Although there should be some sort of quarterly follow-up with the site to ensure that improvement plans are being executed, annual reassessments should be performed. Every second and third year, the assessment may be less intensive in nature, honing in on those areas that were identified as most urgent in the initial assessment. Periodically, every 3-5 years, an in-depth assessment should be conducted to ensure all areas are still meeting expectations.

Moving forward

This article touches on six high-level items you should consider regarding assessments. Many additional items need to be considered, but this should provide a starting point to ensure your assessment achieves the highest level of success.

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