Don’t relax your way back to a reactive culture

Getting to a reliability-focused culture often is a multiyear process. Keep long-term goals front of mind throughout the journey, CMRP of the Year Ron Reimer says.

By the Plant Services editors

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Ron Reimer, the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals’ 2017 CMRP of the Year in the Veteran Professional category, currently serves as reliability manager at Catalent Pharma Solutions. Previously a nuclear submarine officer with the U.S. Navy, Reimer worked at Eli Lilly for more than 25 years, most recently as senior reliability engineer, before joining Catalent in April. He spoke with Plant Services’ Thomas Wilk and Christine LaFave Grace in May about the long-term mentality necessary in developing a culture of reliability and the need for a more-analytical and strategic approach to maintenance – especially preventive maintenance.

PS: At the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Conference in Knoxville last year, you talked about the challenge of shifting to rewarding team members for reliability-based behaviors instead of just recognizing individuals for fixing a problem that never should had happened. What are some best practices for making that shift happen?

RR: That’s a great question, because the natural reaction of management is, if someone fixes the problem, you want to give them a reward, and that’s not necessarily bad. But unfortunately, it reinforces reactive culture. And the proactive culture is much more invisible, if you will.

One of the things I recommend doing is setting yourself some goals. For example, we had a goal of trying to have a world-class lubrication program. So we defined what that would be; we identified all the components and how you store all the lubricants, how you identify the lubricants. And then as we reached those goals, we recognized, we have a reward situation. We let upper management know and (encouraged them) to reward the team on the journey that they were on.

Another example would be with expanding a PdM route. Maybe a site is analyzing just something small, just a fraction of its equipment, and by expanding that, again, management can reward that.

Part of it is teaching what proactive behavior looks like. And if you’re their leader, I think it’s part of your job to point that out to management and kind of keep it at the forefront, because it’s easy to get invisible and it’s easy to get pushed aside. You want to bring it up front and (emphasize) that this the behavior we want.

A lot of times we get satisfied with, “Yeah, well, the part’s broken? Replace the part.” No no no. Let’s go deeper than that. Once you find out the true root cause and you actually do solve the problem and you prove that you’ve solved it, I think that’s a chance for rewards.

The issue is that all of these things take time, you know, versus the guy who can immediately fix the broken pump; that reward is immediate. So that part is a challenge. That’s the challenge of the proactive lifestyle is to keep it in front of people and to keep pushing that agenda. I think if you ever relax, the culture will kind of go back to the reactive, because it’s so much easier.

PS: How should reliability leaders keep team members and management apprised of what they’re doing? How can they publicize their wins and keep that focus on becoming more proactive front of mind? In your experience at Eli Lilly, was it a matter of one-on-one conversations, weekly emails, taking senior managers out on the floor to show them what’s going on?

RR: All of those things worked, actually. I’m thinking of some of the bosses I had. Part of it is one-on-one discussions and trying to explain what’s going on. And there’s nothing like showing. You know, “Let’s get out in the field and let me show you this one problem area, and now look at how much better it is.” Even myself, when I can physically see the assets, it makes a big difference, much bigger than, “OK, here’s a PowerPoint presentation” – which, if that’s all you can do, then that’s a little bit you can do. But if you can actually get them out into the field and show them? That’s much more impactful.

PS: When there are so many initiatives that plant leaders are told to focus on, whether it’s investing in and implementing new digital technologies or acquiring the skilled talent they need, how do you ensure that reliability stays in that balance of priorities?

RR: It’s a long-term journey. Most companies who have gone through some kind of reliability journey, 18 months is the quickest (for significant change to happen). But usually it’s three or five years before you actually start seeing meaningful results. Part of it is getting people on board, especially management, who are the sponsors. But let them understand it’s a long journey. It’s not a quick win. There will be some quick wins – hopefully, you’ll fix some problem or a piece of equipment. But to actually start improving on your bottom line, that’s going to take three to five years, but it happens. It does show. And you’ve got keep it in front of people. When it does happen, acknowledge that success.

We had situations where some of our manufacturing lines were able to more than double their output. But that took about three years of constant (asking), why is it not running? How do we fix it? Fix this piece. Fix that piece. It’s a bunch of small things that eventually do add up. If it was one thing that was obvious, we would’ve fixed it years ago.

PS: So, for example, on a line that more than doubled its output, what were some of the changes made that allowed for that kind of improvement?

RR: I call it the reliability journey, and reliability is an outcome ... Reliability is a function of how you select your equipment, how you install your equipment, how you operate your equipment, how you maintain your equipment, what kind of raw materials are you using, what kind of spare parts are you using? How you do all of that, the outcome is how reliable is the equipment.

With the line we’re talking about, it was all of the above. We found there were issues with raw materials. We found there were issues with how we’re maintaining it. We found there were issues with how we were setting it up. There were a bunch of little wins as we kept working our way through it. But usually it is not a silver bullet. It’s a combination of all those things that finally allow you to achieve that – (something) working the way it’s supposed to be working.

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