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.
PS: Do you see a greater appreciation today for the concept of design for reliability?
RR: Yes, definitely. I think organizations are understanding more about reliability. I think in the old days, reliability means you had bad maintenance. I actually had a vice president tell me that one time. So I had to kind of educate him. And once I educated him, he got it. Oh, yeah, it is about design, it is about installation, it is about how you operate it and about how you maintain is. So as people start to understand and start looking at long-term problems, most of the problems eventually go back to design. I know at my company, our worst performing asset, when you look at all the data, our worse asset was (the result of) an improper application. That asset was designed for something else and we were using it for some other way and it was the worst-performing asset in the entire company. So that was a design issue.
Now the challenge is in how to get in front of the design arena. Several times I was (directed), “Hey, Ron, go check out the design and look for reliability.” And I go there and I start talking to project manager. I say, “OK, what kind of equipment have you selected?” And it turned out, there was no discussion. They already ordered the equipment because of long lead times. They’ve already been placed, like there’s no opportunity to change it. It’s like, there’s nothing I can do here. You’ve already selected equipment, you know, without regard to reliability. It’s all about delivery schedule or delivery schedule cost, so that’s the challenge. But I do think organizations are starting to realize that.
PS: What are plants doing better now than they used to be? And where does the greatest room for improvement remain?
RR: At the plants where I worked, folks got a lot better in documenting their work orders. That’s good for reliability research. When I’m looking at work orders and we have a problem, it (gives) me a foundation of where to start looking, and then you can start talking to people and get more information. The craftspeople used to put in the absolute minimum information. Over years of coaching and coming up with standards, I’d say that improved a lot. You could get a sense of what’s going on much, much better.
Another thing I’ve seen improve is understanding what the PM can and can’t do. There was a time when people thought that if you had a perfect PM program, you’d never have a failure. And I still see that with regulators. I even had a regulator say to me, “Hey, if it failed, that means you have to do a PM twice as often.” It failed because the guy drove the fork truck into it. It had nothing to do with the PM.
So again, we have to develop training to help explain to people, you know, PMs, they have their place, and there will be a PM that’s worth its weight. But a poorly designed PM can actually cause more problems Just trying to get away from the knee-jerk reaction of, OK, add a PM or do it more often, that’s been a journey, also.
PS: Who have been some of your own mentors along the way?
RR: There are a couple, actually. I was lucky to have some good bosses that kind of grasped the ideas really quickly. Even the boss that selected me to be a maintenance manager – I wasn’t thinking that was what I wanted to do. And this one boss where I worked said, “No, I think you’d be a good maintenance manager.” And put me in the job and I loved it. The fact that he was able to see that – and some of that was what I would bring from my experience in the Navy – but the fact that he was able to see that I would be a good fit? That shows his people skills were amazing, so he was a big influence.
The other influence I would say is SMRP in general. Shortly after getting in that role, I went to a conference in Chicago. And I saw all these practitioners and I heard people the late John Moubray speak. My eyes were opened! It’s like, wow, there’s stuff I could do here. One of my colleagues, John Schultz, he and I went to that conference, and we both said, “This is cool.” And we both told ourselves, “We’re coming back and we’re going to present next year.” We both made that goal and we did. I presented on the cultural challenges and he presented on predictive maintenance.
I fully support people going to conferences and interacting and learning and catching new ideas. It gets you out of your office and gets you on the floor seeing some other possibilities. I’ve got to give huge credit to SMRP for that. So I would consider SMRP to be a mentor.
PS: You’re an experienced speaker now on reliability topics at conferences and events across the country. If you had your choice, what would you want to talk about next? Would it be machine-learning topics? Would it be impressing upon the industry the importance of embracing the digital side? Something else?
RR: My biggest concern right now is actually with troubleshooting skills, so it’s almost a back-to-basics kind of idea. The biggest gap I see is, do people really understand how the equipment works? And I’m talking from technicians to engineers to craftspeople. Equipment’s gotten more complex. I remember back in the day with my car, I used to be able to do certain things on my car, which I can’t do anymore because it has chips and everything. So we’re losing that ability, and part of it is trying to understand how your equipment works and getting familiar with it.
What I like about this whole field is the interaction of equipment, the people, the process, in achieving our goals. What is it in there that needs to be worked on? To me, it’s always important that engineers and technicians be out there in the field. If something breaks, you know, maybe you call the vendor in. You know, hopefully you’re looking over the vendor’s shoulder and you’re watching. Hey, what are you doing? What are you learning? But what we’re also finding is the vendors, their skilled people are leaving them, too. They’re retiring. So sometimes the vendors will send out relatively new people. You’ve got to be careful of that. That’s happening more and more now.
PS: What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in 25-plus years in the maintenance and reliability field?
RR: You know, it was 25 years ago (at Eli Lilly) that we originally said, “Hey, we want to do proactive maintenance.” OK, that’s fine – but what does that mean? Initially, the first thought was we need planner-schedulers. OK, so we’ve got our planner-schedulers. And then we found out, it’s not quite working. What do we need? Oh, we need to add more predictive maintenance. OK, let’s add some more predictive maintenance. Oh, we need reliability engineers. Oh, OK, let’s get that. Oh, we need to have good spare parts.
What I’ve really learned is maintenance and reliability is actually a pretty complicated system, more complicated than most people realize. And so part of (the challenge) is trying to let people know that – that there’s a lot of moving parts in this system, and we need to reward people appropriately for that.
I’ve tried to help show some of that complexity. But that’s been a journey. It’s been a journey showing that you may think it’s one thing, but you’ve got to have all your ducks in a row to make it all work correctly.