1660319737720 Leadgarysmith

Operations-driven reliability

June 25, 2014
5 steps to forging a working partnership.
SMRP Conference

Gary Smith, CMRP, northern & western region reliability lead at Momentive Specialty Chemicals, will present “Untapped Resource — Operators Shared Ownership With Reliability” at the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 21 at 4 P.M. The presentation will use information collected from leading a workshop entitled “Operator Basic Care.” Smith will share how to establish an expectation that ownership of reliability is required, how to understand what “good” looks like, how to educate operators on their places in the work flow process, and how to establish a team relationship between operators and maintenance. Learn more about the SMRP Conference at www.plantservices.com/smrp2014.

How do you successfully engage operators in the ownership of the reliability of the equipment and processes they are responsible for? In my experience, there are five points to creating a successful operations-driven reliability program. These points are:

  • expectations
  • knowledge
  • culture
  • relationships
  • follow-up.


When I started working with operators, I quickly became aware of the fact that in most cases, we have never voiced the expectation that operators will be part of managing the safe, reliable operation of equipment. They were completely unengaged in maintaining their equipment, and what I frequently heard was, “I operate it until it breaks down; then maintenance repairs it, and I operate it until it goes down again.”

A major component we have missed is including safe, consistent, reliable operations as part of their performance expectations. Many operators have never even been asked to provide that service. We miss the boat when we do not engage them because they have tools no one else has. They are the front-line folks that can tell you about:

  • feeling a subtle change in vibration.
  • a different smell
  • a new sound
  • visual changes with the equipment.

These types of observations can only be made by an operator who is in the area day-in and day-out and who has the skills to pick up these subtle changes. We need to tap into those unique skills and get them involved in our reliability culture. I align these types of observations with safety. We need more near-miss observations to ward off the lost-time events. The same goes for the first awareness that something has changed. It is much quicker and cheaper to plan and schedule maintenance at this stage than to wait for the equipment to fail.


Before we engage operators in reliability, we need to spend some time teaching them what “good” looks like, as well as what it does not look like. As we are teaching them to recognize visual cues, the use of pictures is key. We should show pictures of equipment with indications that require attention, wear patterns, or leaks, for example. One particularly effective approach is to take photos of deficiencies the day before the training. When you start the training, give the team a presentation of what to look for and have them go out and do an inspection and document observations. When they return, have them present what they saw and then show them the pictures you took, by way of comparison.

Another consideration is to have them do a second inspection armed with tools such as:

  • bright lights — 2-5 mm candle power
  • thermographic scanner
  • strobe light (great tool for inspecting running equipment)
  • heat gun
  • sonic detector.

Have them inspect the same area with these tools to show what other observations can be found. I like to have an area maintenance person go with them to demonstrate how to use the tools. This helps to start the critical relationship development.


It is critical to develop a culture where operators can see how they fit into the reliability process. I recommend a flowchart approach that goes from inspection to observation to work order to prioritization to scheduling and completion. It is surprising how few understand how the process works or how they fit into the process.

Develop regular inspection routes for operators. Then, a fun approach is to have them take a heat gun on the route and have pre-placed bright stickers on equipment locations to check. The operator needs to know if the temperature is above a critical pre-determined value and advise the maintenance department. Have them document findings and observations and get all of these into the work process.


Relationships can make or break this process quickly. Operations-driven reliability cannot succeed without a relationship in which all parties have the ability to offer observations and each input is treated as a valued input. I hear a lot of operations personnel tell me, “Maintenance will not listen or act on what I say.” This fosters the old mentality of running equipment until it breaks. Another comment I often hear is, “Maintenance is like a black hole. I put information in, but I never see results.” We need to make sure each item is put into the process and is sorted by a predetermined prioritization process to be scheduled.

We need to build a relationship around cultural expectations, by holding both maintenance and operations accountable for safe and reliable production. Our reward system has favored those who ride in on the white horse after a major unplanned or unscheduled event and succeed at getting equipment back on line. It is challenging to change this system; it’s like putting a value on doing PMs. But both departments need to be held accountable and rewarded on the same performance measures.


Gary Smith, CMRP, is northern & western region reliability lead at Momentive Specialty Chemicals. Contact him at [email protected].

It is important to ensure that, when an observation is made, someone follows up to communicate the status. Even if that follow-up is telling someone, “Thanks for the observation, but right now we are not going to do it, and here’s why.” People can accept a “no” and understand why much better than they can understand receiving no feedback at all. With no feedback, the message is that the input has no value, and you will stop seeing any observations contributed.


To properly engage operations in the reliability process, you must first let them know your expectations of their involvement. Then you must train them on the type of observations you want and the tools they can use to make them. Next, make sure there is a relationship of mutual respect between the maintenance and operations personnel. Then, foster and encourage the relationship by ensuring that the observations are followed up on, whether or not that leads to an action. If you miss a step, the process will backslide into the previous system of operations and maintenance personnel working independently, instead of as a larger team.

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