Who to hire: A reliability or maintenance engineer?

Oct. 6, 2020
It’s tough enough to get new full-time positions approved, and combined positions may make  ore sense for your plant.

Many small and medium-sized plants do not have the luxury of specialized engineers within the maintenance department – often they’re lucky to have any at all. Unfortunately, there is little guidance for those plants, which are hard-pressed to implement best practices without the key roles necessary to do so.

Let me propose an option: consolidate the maintenance and reliability function into a single engineering position.

Engineers serve an essential role in the arduous transformation from reactive to proactive maintenance. Techniques such as FMEAs and vibration analysis, for example, are based largely on the application of engineering principles. Accordingly, world-class maintenance departments staff multiple disciplines. Two of the major categories are maintenance engineers for day-to-day breakdowns and reliability engineers for long-term structural improvements and planning.

Furthermore, maintenance and reliability are complementary. Through daily maintenance support and troubleshooting, an engineer learns the ins and outs of machinery, which can then be applied to develop effective PMs and process improvements. In turn, reliability and long-term planning are incentivized because they reduce breakdown frequency, thus relieving daily pressure.

By combining the roles, stakeholders and decisionmakers are actually in greater alignment than in a traditional world-class maintenance environment. Siloing, whereby information isn’t communicated between groups (each one is a separate “silo”), is eliminated. Segregating daily maintenance from long-term planning can defeat the purpose of a diverse staff entirely if inefficiencies such as these develop.

At first glance, a drawback to this approach is workload balance. The reliability industry tends to view maintenance and reliability as a zero-sum game: maintenance engineers can’t help with breakdowns if they’re in FMEAs for 8 hours, and reliability engineers can’t prevent them in the first place when they’re pulled in to daily maintenance. However, smaller plants have some advantages that make optimization of these two priorities – short- and long-term support – much more feasible.

A smaller facility has fewer assets by definition. All else equal, that means fewer breakdowns, PMs, and data to track and trend. Smaller plants also have fewer people; when an engineer knows every operator’s name, it’s easier to spot trends across shifts than at a larger enterprise, and change management is simplified. The combined effect is a more manageable load for one person to handle.

What about the engineer being asked to perform double duty? There is no better way to sharpen ones chops than by being a one-stop shop for all around maintenance support. Mechanical Engineers will become fluent in electrical engineering and vice versa, chemical Engineers will learn how to program PLCs, and salaried white collars will learn to work side-by-side with blue collars. Engineers under these circumstances can become indispensable to an organization, which is an excellent way to accelerate a career.

Having both maintenance and reliability engineers can be a big advantage for a maintenance department. But without the funding to support specialized professionals, that’s probably not an option. The same can be said for the concept of world-class maintenance writ large. Many recommendations are not readily applicable to small and medium-sized plants. That is not to question, the wisdom of established reliability practices, but instead to posit they must be adapted to scale properly. Combining maintenance and reliability engineering positions is one way this can be done.

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.

Sponsored Recommendations

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...

The Importance of Air-To-Cloth Ratio when Selecting Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
Selecting the right filter cartridges for your application can be complicated. There are a lot of things to evaluate and consider...like air-to-cloth ratio. When your filters ...