Build your reliability strategy in 5 steps

Predictability is a good thing when it comes to your assets.

By David Rosenthal, PE, CMRP, Reliability Strategy and Implementation Consultancy LLC

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Achieving supply-chain predictability works out to be a competitive advantage for most manufacturers. Each year, business planning models are filled with assumptions about a manufacturing network’s capability to produce and ship product as promised to the customer base. These assumptions often are conservative and based on a history of less-than-optimum performance.

Manufacturers need to understand their current capabilities and continually improve their uptime and process availability. Traditionally, the capabilities of these facilities in their networks vary as a result of product mix, processing, packaging capabilities, shipping issues, access to markets, distribution networks, and the availability of their assets. However, many uptime issues are caused by the unavailability of their assets (unreliability); these problems result from equipment failures and process and operational issues. Manufacturers strive to improve reliability to have predictable supply-chain processes that deliver product to customers on time and meeting all “purchased” specifications.

Some manufacturers take a strategic approach to improving their manufacturing network (site) availability by instituting and implementing corporate reliability guidance. This isn’t the common approach, however. Many manufacturers let their sites develop their own practices; these may not reflect industry best practices and may compete with (and lose to) other corporate initiatives. Don’t let this happen at your organization – here’s a five-step process to developing a corporate reliability initiative.

Pre-Planning: why develop a reliability program?

The value proposition for a corporate reliability program can cover many aspects important to the business.

The evaluation begins with analysis of what is plaguing the business followed by an assessment of future needs that will be met with this comprehensive equipment-care initiative. The value proposition’s development starts with company and business leadership as they begin to understand the potential case for improving asset care.

Reducing the impact of environmental, health, and safety incidents caused by equipment failures leads our value proposition list. Also consider that unplanned events can result in customers not getting their orders on time.

Gaining manufacturing network capacity by improving plant uptime can defer capital investment and can also be an objective of a corporate reliability program. Gaining a fraction of uptime from several facilities can negate the need to build new facilities, saving millions in capital investment.

Other parts of the value proposition are:

  • Focusing the organization on business goals and objectives
  • Gaining a more-predictable supply chain
  • Reducing overall operating costs by reducing breakdowns

Overview of the 5-step process

Certainly, all of these factors lead to improving bottom-line results from sales revenue improvement, higher margins, and lower operating costs.

The process begins with senior company and business leaders developing the business case they will use to “sell” the corporate reliability strategy to the organization. This assumes a fairly enlightened leadership that understands the potential benefit for the application of maintenance and reliability practices.

The process also likely will involve some role shuffling. Certain roles will need to have responsibilities added to their portfolio; other personnel may need to be promoted to roles such as global reliability leader. New hires may be necessary, too. Laying the foundation for success in this initiative also demands thoughtful development of vision and values.

Before any work gets started, metrics are needed to gauge long-term progress. These are high-level lagging metrics to be reviewed by leadership quarter to quarter. The corporation also needs to know where each site will be starting from in implementing the initiative. An internal or third-party assessment will dictate what each site will focus on to reach the targets of the high-level metrics.

Ensuring the organization has the knowledge, competencies, and skills to properly deploy the corporate reliability program is the next step in this process. Every aspect from hiring, job descriptions, job promotion, incentives, and training needs to be reviewed and adjusted. Training must be customized for each organizational level. Leadership will need training on reliability, machine failure, and establishing the business case for reliability investments, while floor-level personnel must learn troubleshooting and root-cause analysis skills.

Developing the reliability program involves establishing the playbook by standardizing and writing out the methods and tools each site will use in this initiative. The playbook can be organized by several means as body-of-knowledge pillars, work processes, and selected tools and methods. Failure reporting is also started to accelerate the remediation of bad actors across the network. A useful strategy is “loose and tight,” which allows for both corporate guidance and site flexibility to use site-developed methods.

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