Look up reliability engineer (RE) jobs on Indeed.com and you’ll find more than 20,000 openings listed. I would argue that emerging technologies are driving some of this huge demand for REs; this raises some questions. Has the role of the manufacturing plant RE changed? What new skills and competencies are required, and what do REs need to do to stay on top of the changes and continue their vital role in managing the life cycle of assets?
Fundamentals of the RE role
Building strategic partnerships – The reliability program cannot function effectively and achieve its goals in a vacuum. Its success depends on support from key partners across functional areas, including operations, maintenance, quality, design engineering, information technology, materials management, procurement, and EHS. The RE must develop and nurture strategic partnerships to achieve maximum results.
Root-cause failure analysis (RCFA) – This has been the sledgehammer in the RE’s toolbox, and I don’t see that changing. The RE’s RCFA responsibilities include:
- Developing and updating trigger criteria for RCFA
- Preparing for the subsequent analyses, including by conducting thorough preliminary investigations, gathering evidence, identifying the right team members, and interviewing witnesses
- Selecting the most appropriate tools to facilitate the analysis and validate the probable root causes (5 whys analysis, design/application review, Ishikawa [fishbone] diagrams, sequences of events, fault tree analysis, change analysis, FMEA, event and causal factor analysis)
- Identifying and evaluating solutions to prevent failure recurrence
- Verifying solutions
- Documenting and leveraging results of changes enacted
Proactive root-cause analysis, on the other hand, has changed – we’ll get to that in a bit.
Leading teams – The RE must be able to facilitate RCFAs and lead reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) activities and change initiatives. This requires cultivating competency in leading people, managing tasks, and facilitating decisions.
Life cycle asset management (LCAM) – REs have responsibilities for optimizing each phase of the asset life cycle, beginning at conceptual design and continuing through shutdown and decommissioning.
- Concept – facilitating/engaging in design for reliability and maintainability, comparing design options
- Create/acquire – Configuration management, commission plan, install for reliability
- Operate and maintain – the risk plan, operating plan, maintenance plan, capital plan
- Decommission and dispose – the decommissioning plan and the asset disposal process
Management of change (MOC) – In my experience, many reliability problems result from design issues and uncontrolled changes. The RE is the process owner of this best practice used to ensure that safety, environmental, and value stream risks are controlled when an organization makes changes to its facilities, documentation, personnel, or operations.
Risk management – REs are risk managers and will continue to apply a risk-based asset management (RBAM) strategy across the entire life cycle of an asset, minimizing risk to the value stream. Many RBAM competencies remain the same. REs apply a risk-based approach to asset maintenance and operations; prioritize reliability efforts on critical equipment and failures that impact operations; and incorporate RCM principles to decrease downtime, lower maintenance expenditures, and minimize total cost of ownership.
Asset condition monitoring, however, has changed – we’ll get to that in a bit, too.
Continuous improvement (CI) – REs spearhead efforts to improve performance using plan-do-check-act (PDCA) methodology, data mining and modeling, and advanced analytics. CI competencies that have not changed include:
- Opportunity identification
- Measurement of defective performance
- Proactive root-cause analysis process
- Cost/benefit analysis of improvements