'Reliability is long-term'

In this special feature interview, Ramesh Gulati says plant managers need to take a more hands-on role and a long-term financial view to build a reliability program that’s...reliable.

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Ramesh Gulati is the asset management and reliability planning manager at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, TN. He was on the team that developed the CMRP and CMRT exams and is an award-winning author of books on best practices in maintenance and reliability. He recently gave an extended interview to Plant Services.

PS: What did it mean to you to be named SMRP’s CMRP of the Year last year in the Veteran Professional category?

RG: It’s a great honor. I’ve been working in maintenance and reliability and asset management for a long time and with SMRP since 1997-’98, when I was looking for a way to certify our people. We had been doing a lot of training and wanted to test their knowledge. I couldn’t find a way to do that, so I got involved with SMRP.

PS: What do you think prompted your nomination for the CMRP of the Year award?

RG: I think some of my colleagues who put together my application thought I’ve been a big advocate of certification. Really, that’s education. A lot of people come to my class as a kind of preparatory for the CMRP exam, but I tell students, no, I don’t do that, I don’t prepare you for the CMRP exam. I do education; I get you the knowledge on maintenance and reliability and how to do better, what the best practices are. To me, passing the CMRP exam is a byproduct of your knowledge. That’s what really we were doing in our company back in the mid-’90s. We started a lot of training in maintenance and reliability and getting our people education in what best practices are and how to implement them. And then we wanted to know, are they grasping that knowledge or not? And we found the CMRP exam was one way to evaluate whether people were grasping that knowledge.

PS: Can you describe the process of developing the CMRT (Certified Maintenance and Reliability Technician) exam?

RG: It took us (SMRP) almost 4–5 years to develop CMRP, and it got introduced in 2001, but we identified a need for something for our technicians, too. Back in the mid-2000s, ISA, the Instrumentation Society of America, they were asked by their member companies to come up with some kind of a technician-level certification. So they spent a lot of resources in coming up with a certification program for technicians, but they didn’t have the right people or procedures to get that going, so they were looking for somebody who could take the next step. They asked for a few people, and we at SMRP said, hey, we will take over this.

PS: You talk about best practices—how have you seen the definition of that evolve from a maintenance and reliability perspective? Does it encompass more now than it used to?

RG: Best practices is a relative term. I’ll give you an example: the asset management certification process. We implemented it 10 or 12 years ago, but for (those new to the idea), that’s a best practice for them. It reflects a journey. We cannot be standing still. We are always looking for better and better all the time, otherwise you cannot survive. You have to make improvements all the time, continuous improvement. I’ve been involved with ISO 55000, and continuous improvement is key—you need to have it or you cannot survive in today’s environment. Continuous improvement and best practices go together—you’re always looking for how you can make it better. That’s a best practice.

PS: What are some of the biggest stumbling blocks for manufacturers on this journey of continuous improvement?

RG: Most of the time you run into (manufacturers saying): “We are unique. We are different. We make this product; nobody else makes it.” Any place I go—I’ve been to many industrial companies here and there—always people say, “We are unique; no one else is doing this.” You have to get somebody from outside to tell them, “You’re not unique.” The product you make may be unique, but your process is common. What you use—motors, gearboxes, compressors—they may be larger sizes; you may say, “Hey, we’ve got a motor which is large, 10,000 or 30,000 hp, nobody else has it,” but a motor’s a motor. Yes, your product is unique, but the process is the same.

The other (challenge) is getting leadership engaged. A lot of times you hear, “Yeah, we want to do it” because somebody in management goes somewhere, they hear an RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) program, and they come back and say, “Let’s implement an RCM program and take a few dollars for it from here,” but really they don’t have their heart in supporting it. Because all of these best practices—RCM and all other kinds of things—they take time. It’s a long-term effort. It takes a lot of guts. Leadership has to set the example.

When we were trying to implement reliability improvements and in that process educate our workforce and also get them certified, I went to my boss – this was in 2002 or 2003 – who was director of the facility O&M department and had 700 people working for him. He was a good manager and was planning to retire from this job, but I told him, now that we’re implementing all of these reliability improvements and training, I want you to take this CMRP exam. He said, “Are you out of your mind? Get out from my room!” That’s the way his world was. But we started a conversation and talked a few more times, and finally I told him, “You are the leader. You have to show you are leading.” A couple of weeks later, he said, “OK, we will do it.” He took the exam; he and all his managers passed; and that set up the tone. Leadership has to get engaged.

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