Reach for reliability

What it takes to make the climb from reactive to RCM

By Ricky Smith, CMRP

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It’s great to talk and write about best practices, reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) and how important they are to a plant’s ability to compete in our global economy, and we’ve been doing it for years. We know many facilities have embraced the principles and some have even implemented them. We also know many have not.

We decided to take a measure of the degree of implementation, the prevailing attitude towards RCM, and the differences between the RCM haves and have-nots. We invited maintenance professionals of all stripes to tell us via a Web-based survey not only where their plant’s actual practices are on the scale from reactive to reliability, but also how well their departments cooperate, their management’s attitude towards maintenance, and some key factors that drive the necessary culture changes.

Some 272 industry professionals participated in the survey, and more than two-thirds are maintenance and reliability managers. A significant number of senior managers as well as plant and production managers participated.

The results may be surprising to many and, I hope, eye-opening to those who have them closed. Bear in mind that responses are voluntary, and people are more willing to volunteer good news than bad.

Waving the flag

Starting off on a high note, every single respondent stated that asset reliability is a significant concern to them (“Survey Results” sidebar, question 1). I’m not surprised. Most reliability professionals I know are always questioning themselves whether or not they have optimal asset reliability at optimal cost, and this concern resonates with senior management.

But is reliability really under control — and is it sustainable for the future? No matter how good a grip you think you have, never underestimate the need to keep looking for ways to get better by ensuring the reliability of your capital assets, measuring reliability and continuously improving. The impact of asset reliability on asset utilization and performance dictates that we pay constant attention to this critical process.

Does management understand?

In most plants surveyed, senior management seems to understand the significance of reliability (question 2). One of the questions I constantly hear is, “If senior management understands the significance of reliability, why don’t they support a reliability initiative?”

Most senior management cannot and won’t accept a reliability initiative if it is not supported by a business case, points out Jack Nicholas, a world-renowned reliability expert. In the business plan, senior management wants to see:

  1. The value a reliability initiative will bring in hard dollars through:
    a. Increased capacity, asset availability.
    b. Reduced maintenance cost.
  2. Other outputs (not typically captured in hard dollars).
    a. Decreased risk of environmental incidents.
    b. Decreased asset life-cycle cost.
    c. Decreased capital maintenance (replacing equipment because it is “worn out” or “old”).
  3. The time to value (from when the initiative starts to when the company will start realizing results).
  4. The cost of the initiative (nothing is free).
  5. Amount of internal and external resources required.
  6. A plan with a timeline.
  7. Key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to manage the initiative (leading and lagging KPIs).
  8. Length of time for total return on investment (must be validated by the company’s financial expert).

If these items can be delivered in a professional manner, it’s hard for management not to accept and support the initiative. In fact, we want senior management to be the sponsors of any reliability initiative. Top leadership has control over the destiny of a plant. In particular, if a plant is at risk of closure, projects such as reliability improvement initiatives can be game-changers.

Speaking of closure, 28% of respondents report their plant or operation was at risk of being downsized or shut down (question 3). Numerous government reports say that in the next three to five years, 25% to 30% of companies will be downsized or shut down. For example, Ford and General Motors are closing plants and laying off thousands of employees.

“Business conditions that used to change every seven to nine years now change every seven to nine months,” Andy Harshaw, vice president, Dofasco Steel, was recently quoted as saying. “Companies must be flexible to change or face the fact that they may shut their doors.” Harshaw went on to say that managing asset reliability was important to Dofasco’s strategic goal and survivability of his company.

Who owns reliability?

More than 46% of respondents say the maintenance department owns the reliability of their plant/facility. From numerous discussions and my own experience as a maintenance manager, I know most companies blame asset reliability issues on maintenance. I say, “In the best companies in the world, everyone owns reliability.” Not surprisingly, only 20% of respondents gave what I consider the best answer (question 4). Until production accepts a partnership with maintenance to care for assets and keep them reliable, the plant will probably never reach the level of optimized reliability at optimal cost that is required for the company to reach its business goals.

Production/Operations should be the number one believer and driver of an effective preventive maintenance (PM) program. If they don’t own the reliability of the assets, the PM program probably won’t be effective. Almost 70% of survey respondents stated they had an effective PM program, but 44% indicate that equipment breakdowns are the norm (question 5). A preventive maintenance program cannot be effective if equipment breakdowns are the norm.

An interesting correlation is that 44% of respondents say breakdowns are the norm, and about the same percentage assess the reliability of their assets as ranking between being 1 and 5 on a scale where 1 is “real bad” and 10 is “world-class”. I conclude without surprise that an effective Operations-driven preventive maintenance program improves equipment reliability, reduces reactive maintenance and adds value to a company.

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