Maintenance and Reliability - a House Divided?

Speaking to manufacturing management teams back in the old millennium, I used to get a laugh by asking four questions:

"How many of you are manufacturing people?" Lots of hands would go up.

"Okay, how many are financial people?" A smaller number of hands would be raised.

"How many raised their hands both times?" No hands.

"Do you begin to see the problem?" I would ask, and we'd all have a chuckle.

It was accepted that financial and operations people were born, lived, and died on two different planets. The guys in the game didn't understand the scoring system, and the scorekeepers didn't know how to play. A lot of writers and consultants made a lot of money trying to bridge that gap. They enjoyed modest success in solving the problem.

If we look at maintenance and reliability in most companies, we see the same kind of gap, and it's just as silly as the old operations/financial one, maybe sillier. The whole culture seems designed to keep maintenance and reliability people apart. We attend different schools: Maintenance people are trained to fix things, but not to determine and prevent the causes of the failures. Meanwhile reliability people study patterns of failure and predictive strategies, but not how to fix things.

Take a look at your company's organization charts. It is a rare reliability department that reports to the same manager or even general manager as the maintenance department. Both groups are supposed to be optimizing availability and OEE of the same equipment, but you won’t often find them together. And it takes a board meeting to get the departments around the same table.

Check out the plant meeting schedule. Very few organizations have weekly meetings where both maintenance and reliability participate. Maybe that shouldn't surprise us. How many plants invite production people to maintenance scheduling meetings, or maintenance people to production scheduling meetings?

There are exceptions, and their results tend to be exceptional as well. But in most organizations, maintenance and reliability live in separate silos. Moreover, neither group usually communicates very effectively with their shared client, production.

If I'm not describing your organization, then stop reading here, congratulate yourself, and go buy coffee for someone in another production support group. But if you agree that the maintenance/reliability gap exists in your shop, find things you can do about it. Here are some suggestions to prime your thought processes:

When repair orders requiring over half a tradesperson hour are completed, insist that maintenance document what failed and what they did about it. Then have maintenance and/or production people identify expensive and repetitive failures and review them monthly with reliability engineers. Of course major failures should require real time root cause analysis (RCA) as part of the correction work.

When new maintenance supervisors are hired, have them spend a few weeks working in reliability as soon as possible. Likewise require new reliability engineers to spend a few weeks working with maintenance as early as possible in their careers. It's good if they know where the equipment is and what it looks like.

You can bring the maintenance and reliability people in to hold tool box talks and Q & A sessions with the plant troops, too. Make sure every production worker knows who his maintenance leader and reliability engineer are and how to reach them. After all, production feeds them.

Include all three groups in training whenever it makes sense. The variety of outlooks enriches the discussion and the participants can practice problem solving together.

If there is an incentive system for maintenance and reliability people in your organization, insist that they be measured by the same results and rewarded accordingly. You may want to explain that it is impossible for maintenance to succeed while reliability fails, and vice versa. While you're in the neighborhood, you might try to maximize production people's input to these incentive criteria.

My old friend Fred used to work for a company that had an employee dinner every year, in good times and bad. If times were good, it was an occasion for steaks all around. In unexciting years, the menu was beans and franks. Either way, everyone shared the same meal at the same time and place.

It's nice to have frequent, graphic reminders that we're all in the same boat.