Make it stick: Are the reliability improvements you’ve implemented fleeting or permanent?

Oct. 29, 2020
A successful program must be independent of specific personnel – including those responsible for its implementation.

As a reliability professional, what happens when you go on vacation, take a leave of absence, or get a promotion? Does everything fall apart or can your systems carry the load? Are the improvements you’ve implemented fleeting or permanent?

A successful program must be independent of specific personnel – including those responsible for its implementation. Just like procedures are designed to make maintenance tasks repeatable regardless of who’s on the wrenches, the program itself must be similarly self-sustaining. This is one of the biggest challenges in maintenance and reliability.

One way to think about long-term viability is through the lens of the corrective action hierarchy. A quick explanation for those unfamiliar with causal analysis or OSHA’s safety hierarchy: corrective actions vary in effectiveness based on how dependent they are on human factors. If, for example, equipment is re-engineered to reduce breakdown frequency, there is a greater chance of sustaining that improvement than if workers are instructed (administratively) to use equipment in a different way to achieve the same end. The greater buy-in required, the harder it is to successfully implement a systematic solution.

Since a maintenance and reliability program, on a fundamental level, is really just a collection of corrective actions, the same concepts readily apply. At the top of the list are engineered changes to equipment, which are the most assured corrective action. Elimination of root causes through design change should be the target solution for specific equipment issues. Corrective actions of this type are the most likely to pass the test of time, do not depend on the daily presence of a reliability professional, and keep problems at bay with minimal organizational effort.

Normally, administrative controls such as written work instructions come next in the hierarchy. The CMMS (i.e., your work order system) is so central to reliability and maintenance, however, that it deserves a separate category. Part engineering and part administrative, an asset management system is a hybrid of the two. Improvements to asset lists, spare parts, or PM strategies stored on the CMMS are more robust than typical administrative controls because they’re translated into tangible work orders with minimal input from personnel. (This process also means human factors have less of an adverse impact on work order accuracy.) To further improve effectiveness of your administrative controls, consider tying performance evaluations to metrics like schedule adherence that are explicitly dependent on the CMMS. You also should invest time organizing, updating and otherwise cleaning up your data, as data errors tend to propagate throughout the word order system – the time you take to clean up your data will be time well-spent.

Lowest in the hierarchy are administrative controls like maintenance procedures and work flow management. Corrective actions that fall under this category require significant buy-in from the organization from top to bottom. Strategies like Six Sigma are great for developing and refining streamlined processes with clearly defined responsibilities, which is the key to long-term success. Additionally, simplifying the maintenance of administrative controls will boost their longevity. For example, keep specific work instructions in stand-alone procedures rather than your CMMS. Since a typical PM usually applies to several different pieces of equipment, any corrective actions to the maintenance task can be implemented by just changing the procedure – a single document – rather than multiple records in the CMMS (for each of those pieces of equipment). Less upkeep increases the likelihood that a maintenance strategy survives over time.

In summary, maintenance and reliability projects will likely require a combination of corrective actions from all three categories: engineering, CMMS, and administrative. Each has its advantages and can complement the other two. Engineering changes are the most limited in scope, but require fewer active human resources once implemented. Administrative controls are the most difficult to implement, but can be the most transformative particularly as an organization transitions from reactive to proactive maintenance. Keep an eye out for ways to rack up engineered improvements, update your CMMS whenever possible, and make your administrative controls robust so that your work has a lasting impact.

Reliability professionals strive for the light at the end of the tunnel – a plant that is humming, clockwork maintenance schedules, and above all else, finally a 40-hour work week! But even then, one question will still remain: what will happen when you’re not there to make sure it all goes smoothly?

About the Author

Alex Ferrari

Alex Ferrari, CMRP, is a Maintenance Manager of a specialty cosmetics manufacturer in Charlotte, NC. He has worked in the chemical and nuclear industries both in the US and abroad in Argentina. As a blogger and as a maintenance professional, Alex aims to explore the challenges faced by small and mid-sized facilities without the budget for by-the-book reliability programs.

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