Design for reliability: How to help OEMs help you

Get better designs for automation and reliability from your suppliers.

By Marie Getsug, Commissioning Agents Inc., and Stephen Holland, Abbott Laboratories / Abbott Nutrition

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Design for reliability: It sounds like such an obvious concept – smart design from the get-go can help end users avoid asset failure, thereby keeping maintenance costs in check and reducing total cost of ownership. But how can you identify the products that will, by design, be the best fit for your plant?

You start by defining exactly what your goals for a given asset are and then identifying original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that have the capabilities, expertise, and experience to design, build, and deliver physical assets that will perform beyond stakeholders’ expectations, that’s how.

Identifying all of the stakeholders and their interests is critical to accomplishing this objective. Not identifying all of the relevant parties and individuals may be the biggest mistake project managers make across the board to jeopardize the long-term performance and lifecycle costs (LCC) of the assets their capital projects introduce.

If you limit the stakeholders identified at the “initiate” phase of a project, the user requirement specification (URS) and supporting engineering specifications and standards will lack the depth to represent all of the project’s users and objectives. When tunnel vision sets in at this early phase of concept and design, focusing on the traditional cost, scope, and schedule to define a project, the opportunity to raise the bar on the LCC and long-term performance is often lost before it’s even defined.

As Figure 1 shows, the level of influence is greatest at the earliest phases of the project. This is why it’s so critical to ensure that all of the interests, functional requirements, and user requirements have been gathered from everyone affected throughout the asset’s life.

Stakeholder identification and analysis

The pool of stakeholders extends far beyond the internal departments represented within the buyer’s organization. OEMs, contractors, vendors, and other outside suppliers represent a group of external stakeholders often not invited to participate in the project. What opportunities are missed as a result of this oversight? For one, the organization misses the opportunity to have this group of professionals apply their expertise to a project and work collaboratively to meet all of a project’s objectives.

A tool carefully constructed to identify the OEMs, contractors, vendors, and suppliers that can partner at this level is the request for information (RFI). The RFI should be used to inquire about the capabilities, expertise, and experience a company offers to qualify it as worthy of receiving a request for proposal (RFP).

A thorough stakeholder analysis defines stakeholders and their interests, attitudes, and concerns. But it does more than this: It explores opportunities to leverage the project team’s expertise to solve potential problems. The more the project team can be engaged and have ownership of the project up front, the more likely team members will be to contribute their expertise and innovations.

Request for information

An RFI is an inquiry into the standard practices of a company in order to quantify and qualify its capabilities and desire to take a project from concept to operation and deliver the value and performance the project requires. The questions should be open-ended and shouldn’t be leading to allow each company that responds to demonstrate what it typically brings to a project and partnership. The RFI will determine who will be invited to respond to the RFP. 

Recognizing that the biggest opportunity lies in being involved in the design and selection of the system/equipment, identifying the OEMs that are most willing and capable of participating and contributing at this early phase provides a strategic advantage and value to the overall project. Consider that:

  1. As many as three in five failures and safety issues can be prevented by making changes in design1
  2. 80% or more of a facility’s lifecycle cost is fixed during the plan, design, and build phases2
  3. 30%–40% of equipment breakdowns are related to poor equipment design or condition3

Identifying OEMs, suppliers, vendors, and contractors with expertise in the maintenance and reliability profession that can translate their expertise into the equipment, options, documentation, training, and services they supply is paramount to achieving the goal of each capital project.  In developing the RFI, consider requesting information pertaining to a company’s ability to support requirements pertaining to an asset’s lifecycle.

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