To Transform or Tinker, That is the Question
Improving reliability is rewarding but challenging. But the question is, should you aim to transform the organization and develop a culture that values reliability and performance, or should you make technical changes here and there, and ‘tinker’ with the current state in order to eliminate the root causes of reliability?
There are pros and cons to each approach. In the author’s opinion the answer is to transform.
There is no doubt that purchasing condition-monitoring systems, lubrication products, alignment tools, and
developing competencies in a range of areas (our CBM, planning and scheduling, etc.) will all contribute to the goal of improving the reliability and performance of the physical assets in the plant. The challenge is that for all of the technical improvements you may make, it is not until you have won the hearts and minds of everyone, from senior management to the people working on the plant floor, that you will achieve the full potential of the plant over the longest period of time.
Around the world there must be millions of dollars of condition-monitoring systems and other reliability improvement tools sitting in cabinets gathering dust. Most plants go through a cycle of reliability: a period of enthusiasm (among a select few), a period of apparent progress as tools and systems are being implemented, a period where some benefits are enjoyed, followed by the collapse of the program.
The program typically collapses because the one dominant person driving the program is promoted or leaves for greener pastures at another company for a consulting firm. Or it fails because senior management no longer understand the need for the reliability team and their ongoing costs when it appears that reliability is no longer the problem it used to be.
Programs fail to achieve the full potential for a variety of reasons:
- Technicians are given new tools (laser alignment systems, torque wrenches, etc.), often without adequate training, and almost certainly without any buy-in to the process. They may or may not use the tools. They almost certainly do not achieve precision on an ongoing basis.
- People with condition-monitoring systems achieve a level of competence but their recommendations are ignored. That may happen because the maintenance department’s ability to plan and schedule is limited, or simply because they do not believe in the technology or believe in the philosophy of “condition-based maintenance.”
- Condition-monitoring recommendations may themselves be the issue. For fear of being blamed if their diagnosis is incorrect, their recommendations are vague and often come too late. And to top it off, in many cases, only a fraction of the capability of the condition-monitoring system is used.
- Reliability specialists take root cause failure analysis (RCFA) training, and may even buy dedicated software, but it is not used frequently, and even when the root cause is discovered, it is not eliminated.
- Vast sums of money and time are spent developing a maintenance strategy with a technique such as Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) yet its recommendations are ignored or “cherry picked” - deciding to follow just some of the recommendations without eliminating the existing PMs that deliver zero value.
- New lubrication dispensing containers are purchased and desiccant breathers are added to gearboxes. But the containers are misused and the desiccants are not renewed.
- Ultrasound assisted bearing lubrication tools are purchased but they still mix the greases, they grease the bearings infrequently and pump dirt from the nipples/Zerk fitting into the bearing.
- People on the plant floor make suggestions for improvement which are ignored.
- Design and purchase decisions are made which result in equipment with maintainability or reliability issues being added to the plant that only add to the number of failures that occur.
- Equipment is operated in such a way that places additional strain on the component thus reducing the life of those components. That includes the way they are started and stopped.
There are many more examples where programs either fail completely or simply fail to achieve their full potential.
There is a common thread through all of the points made above. They are all people issues. And that is why it is recommended to take the transformation path.
With an asset reliability transformation:
- Senior management are not only on board with the program, but they also drive it. They recognize the importance of reliability in the same way they value safety and quality (and hopefully, the environment). They appreciate the financial benefits because the business case has been developed. Plus, they recognize the impact reliability has on safety, quality, and the environment.
- With strong senior management support, every manager will be focused on the reliability improvement process. Reliability will not be simply viewed as a maintenance issue. It will not be viewed as a temporary project. It will be understood that you cannot simply spend some money and the problem will go away.
Unfortunately, “transformations” do not enjoy a high probability of success. In fact, it is widely reported that only 70% of transformations succeed. But there are ways of putting the odds in your favour:
- It must start with senior management and a commitment to remain focused. This includes consistent reinforcement of the key messages.
- Take it seriously and seek to achieve targets within a limited timeframe. There must not be a vague commitment to improve reliability and thus performance. You must understand the current state, set achievable but impressive goals, and establish a timeframe for achieving the goals. There needs to be a degree of urgency. With the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations have a very well understood reason for seeking to improve the performance of the organization.
- Engage everyone. Everyone must understand how they personally benefit. Everyone must be encouraged to contribute. You must demonstrate that you respect their opinion. The author would also recommend that, where possible, you allow the person who makes the suggestion to take ownership of the improvement process. You congratulate them publicly for making the suggestion, and you congratulate them for completing the project.
- Manage all of the individual projects correctly, with review meetings at least every 10 weeks. There must be a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities, with targets, deadlines, and a review process to identify when a project is stalled.
The reliability transformation has been made easier thanks to the safety transformation. Everyone understands how they benefit when working in a safe plant. Everyone understands they must contribute to the safety of the plant.
Everyone is constantly reminded about the importance of safety. Plant safety was not improved simply by buying some software, training one or two people in the safety department, and having one or two people focused on identifying and eliminating safety.
The same must now be true for reliability.
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