Podcast: Who owns reliability at a plant?

Podcast: Who owns reliability at a plant?

Feb. 3, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, author and YouTuber Joe Kuhn explores the role advisors and deciders play in reliability ownership.

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on starting your reliability journey and achieving financial independence. In our monthly podcast miniseries, Ask a Plant Manager, Joe considers a commonplace scenario facing the industry and offers his advice, as well as actions that you can take to get on track tomorrow. This episode offers insight on who should take ownership of reliability at your facility.

Below is the transcript of the podcast:

PS: Hey, Joe, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for lending your manufacturing leadership expertise to our Plant Services audience today.

JK: I'm excited to be here and tackle another question. 

PS: So just a little background for our listeners, in case you haven't heard this series before. Joe, and I have a quick conversation here about a specific topic related to manufacturing, maintenance and operations. If you're just joining us, be sure to go back and check out some of our older episodes from last year. We talked about the skills gap, technology usage, dealing with budget cuts and KPIs like wrench time. We talk about big picture leadership and management issues, and the nitty gritty of running a maintenance operation. One thing I can guarantee you'll walk away with is some specific hands-on advice from Joe, that you can apply to your operation right away. 

So today, we're going to talk about reliability ownership. Who owns reliability at a plant? If any listeners heard the first podcast I recorded with Joe last year, we did talk about this a little bit, but I think it's worth diving into a little bit deeper here. You talked about this as maybe a somewhat controversial topic, and that perhaps there's not an industry wide accepted answer. I know you very much believe you have the right answer. And of course, we want to hear it. So Joe, does the maintenance department own reliability? Does operations? What about management? When we talked about this topic before you touched on two terms, which I really loved. And I hope you can talk about those a little bit today again, which were advisors and deciders for reliability. So can you talk about those important distinctions, as well and why they're important working in tandem?

JK: Yeah, absolutely. And if you want to start a fight at a reliability conference, ask who owns reliability in your plant? There's a lot of different opinions. I have 37 years of experience, and a lot of examples of where I was able, my team and plant were able, to get dramatically improved results by doing it differently than most. Okay, so my firm conviction, and I've been in a lot of debates on this, but it's still firm conviction is that operations owns reliability. Okay. And that upsets the operations people, and it upsets the maintenance and engineering people. But that's what I found, to have that shift in culture has had the biggest impact on the daily decisions in a plant. The daily decisions build up over time to become the culture.

I like to use my car example here, I'll give a home example. And then I'll give a work example, why this is true. Who owns the reliability of your car? You take your car into the mechanic, they change the oil, rotate the tires, and he says, your serpentine belt, one of your belt is really worn, and you choose not to fix it. You drive down the road, you're halfway to Florida on vacation, your serpentine belt breaks, who owns the reliability of your car? It's clearly you, not the mechanic. Here's your term. He's an advisor. They try. They're providing expert advice. They're providing technical expertise, they're providing the labor to fix it, they tell you the quote, how long it's going to take how much it's going to cost, but they are the advisor. The decider is the owner of the car.

Let's use a work example. And say you're challenged with making 50 million pounds of aluminum this month. I came from the aluminum industry. 50 million pounds is your schedule. Along the way, you have some production problems, and you cancel three maintenance outages and you shorten two more. At the end of the month, you make your production target. But the unplanned downtime goes from 5% to 12%. Pick a number: five to 12%. Who owns that reliability? The production person that made the decision to cancel the outages or to run through those outages. The maintenance people were advisors, on why we need to do these outages and what's important, Maybe you can't have that 12-hour outage because of production needs, but we're going to give you four hours. Well, the maintenance person needs to explain the consequences of that and then, pack into that four hours the best they can do. 

But clearly, with the way this plays out in a manufacturing plant is there are advisors and deciders. And I like how that just kind of rolls out. A buddy of mine named Rodney. I won't say his last name, he coined that. And it just really took off on our plant, advisors and designers. And the production people, they aren't that excited about this, they don't know how to tear apart equipment, how it fails, but they need to be the decision maker. So they make the decisions. The advisors, which is that maintenance and engineering people, need to tell them consequences, and risk. But in the end, it's clearly the operations people that own reliability. 

It's not just outages; it's also manpower. You're sitting in your lead team meeting, you're talking about where you're going to put resources, if you put resources on say, a capital installation or an environmental job and take them off of maintaining the equipment and doing reliability work on the equipment. That is a management decision that pulls it away from maintenance and engineering group. Okay, so I like it being with operations. 

Now, some of you may say, well, gosh, it's just like safety. I've heard this before. Everybody owns reliability. Everybody owns safety? Well, if everybody owns it, nobody does. That's my leadership experience. And nobody does. Now, advisors and deciders, that doesn't give maintenance and engineering a pass. They have to find best practices, they have to work on efficiency. So if it was a 12 hour outage, how can we get that down to 10? Or maybe eight through efficiency? Can we develop best practices and start using predictive maintenance tools, instead of time-based tools, so you don't have to shut equipment down, lubrication excellence kind of things, IRI routes, vibration routes, problem solving. There's a lot that goes into the advising. 

You also have to be a good salesperson. Okay, so very important. Let’s back up a little bit, you asked the question, should reliability be the responsibility of operations or maintenance? I like to say, where's it going to do the most improvement? Where is that? I found that to be with operations, making more holistic decisions than just hey, I need to get these pounds out, I need to get high quality pounds out, that's all I have to do. I don't care what it cost or if we suffer unplanned downtime. They need to make better decisions holistically for the plant and long term. And it sets up the right culture. Culture is an accumulation of decisions and actions that you're taking. You can't have, two people following different rules. Also, one of the things that a lot of people don't realize is, something I’ve seen from observation that I've done over the years, I've been in 41 different locations, up to 50% of the reliability issues that I've seen, 50% have been caused by production, how production is operating the equipment. When the equipment isn't working quite right, do they get out of hammer and hit it? And some of operators have taken on lubrication tasks, and then they don't do the lubrication right, so there can be a huge tie to the actions operators take and how they run the equipment, that affects reliability. 

So for me, for those reasons, operations needs to own it. And maybe in 20 years at your plant, you can you can shift to everybody owns it. But if you're trying to drive culture change, this is a simple management decision that you can make tomorrow, you can sit two people down, the person that's in charge of maintenance and the person in charge of operations and say, you own it, and here's why. Simple decision, and it will change the culture.

PS: That's great. We're not looking to start any fights here, but I think it's a good topic to discuss. And I think the way you frame it, I love that advisors and deciders so much, because I think it reframes the discussion rather than making it about ownership. It's putting each into their own ownership area and what they're responsible for, and it's a good way to think about.

JK: The second part of your question what what's management's role in this, and this is a big problem. A lot of management people would hire a consultant to come in and do the reliability thing, change all the other people in the organization, and I'm gonna keep on doing the same old thing. And that never works. That never works. Management has to be involved. And that can be things like auditing expectations. So you expect efficiency at an outage. As a plant manager or department manager, do you go out and audit that outage? How efficient is that outage? When a PM was executed last week? Do you go out and inspect that PM? Did they do the PM? Or did it get canceled? You talk to the mechanic and they say, yeah, it was supposed to be a four-hour PM, and we only got one hour. And you got to see what reality is. So you audit expectations out on the shop floor. When a piece of equipment fails, this is something I did, we had a morning meeting eight o'clock. And if a piece of equipment failed in the last 24 hours, there was always a go and see. And the planner that was at that meeting would always bring the last PM. So if the pump failed, we'd go out with the last PM, we'd look at the equipment say well, did the PM address this failure mode? Do we need to change something about the PM was the PM even done, was it even performed? Sometimes you'd look at a piece of equipment  and you say there is no way anybody PMed this piece of equipment. That cover that's on top of that pump has inch of dust on it. And that didn't happen in the last month. So you audit expectations, audit failures, audit PMs, audit outage work. You form a reliability lead team, that's the best practice. You get the leadership together and say, we're going to start tracking some KPIs on our journey, maybe we're trying to go more condition monitoring like PdM. So we're tracking the percent of work that is predictive maintenance. 

Also, management needs to provide training for people that need to make personnel decisions, and this can be the harder one. It would be unusual if you're going 100% reactive plan. I'm saying it'd be unusual for you and end up with the same lead team in a year that you currently have. And that's the not exciting to talk about. But there are some people that thrive in the emergency work environment, and they can't thrive in the planned work environment, and you're going to have to make some personnel changes. I've seen that at 100% of locations. It's that something that needs to be done.

Reward and recognition is a big one, and then selling, selling reliability on all your discussions. So if I'm the plant manager, and I'm talking with the operators, I'm talking with the mechanics, I'm talking to the vice president, I'm selling reliability. I'm talking about how it's a key initiative that we got. So the management's role in creating a reliability culture is huge, and it is often neglected. So if you're a manager out there, a reliability culture is not a check you write to a consultant to give you 13 best practices. No, it's a change in what you do. Probably 20% of your job needs to change if you're in management and you want to go down the path of reliability.

PS: Yeah, it sounds like everybody does have an important role as long as they're focused in the right direction.

JK: Advisors, deciders and sponsors—three different roles, three different actions. All important, all critical all need to work together. Any one of them could cause a failure of the culture change. But I think these are simple, though. It doesn't cost anything to have managers start being proactive sponsors and to add reliability to the responsibility of operations. That's an easy change, no money.

About the Podcast
Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast offers news and information for the people who make, store and move things and those who manage and maintain the facilities where that work gets done. Manufacturers from chemical producers to automakers to machine shops can listen for critical insights into the technologies, economic conditions and best practices that can influence how to best run facilities to reach operational excellence.

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About the Author

Anna Townshend | managing editor

Anna Townshend has been a journalist and editor for almost 20 years. She joined Control Design and Plant Services as managing editor in June 2020. Previously, for more than 10 years, she was the editor of Marina Dock Age and International Dredging Review. In addition to writing and editing thousands of articles in her career, she has been an active speaker on industry panels and presentations, as well as host for the Tool Belt and Control Intelligence podcasts. Email her at [email protected].

About the Author

Joe Kuhn | CMRP

Joe Kuhn, CMRP, former plant manager, engineer, and global reliability consultant, is now president of Lean Driven Reliability LLC. He is the author of the book “Zero to Hero: How to Jumpstart Your Reliability Journey Given Today’s Business Challenges” and the creator of the Joe Kuhn YouTube Channel, which offers content on creating a reliability culture as well as financial independence to help you retire early. Contact Joe Kuhn at [email protected].

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