What is the road to reliability? How does one get on it, and more importantly how does one enter and stay in the fast lane?  Presently I am chastising myself for asking not one, not two, but three questions in the same breath. 

So, what is the road to reliability?

The first thing to understand with the concept of this particular road, is that the road has a beginning, but doesn’t have an end.

It is unrealistic to assume that your organization, your equipment, and your people will sustainably be able to achieve 100% availability. This brings us to a common beginning, or the on-ramp of the road to reliability. There is a toll of sorts at this point. In order to proceed, you will need to know the current availability of your organization, its equipment and its people. Here’s a tip: measuring things such as asset availability need not be as complex as it sounds. However, relating the availability of your assets to the availability of your systems, and the availability of your organization, is a bit more complex, as it deals with concepts such as; redundancy, failure rates, supply chain, operational goals, and those all-important profit margins.

Asset management programs and accompanying software get lots of press these days. It is hard to find a maintenance engineer who doesn’t understand the value of asset management to the corporate bottom line. In reality, there are so many asset management tools and concepts available today, that it makes achieving reliability centered maintenance (RCM) and condition-based maintenance (CBM) sound relatively easy.  The current catch phrases include big data and IoT (Internet of Things), or IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things). And the thought of having all this information so easily available might foster a misguided concept that reliability and availability can be purchased and implemented in short order.

OK, the first steps to getting on the road to reliability include measuring operating parameters and being able to evaluate your performance – even against competitors. 

It’s wonderful to have real-time data and dashboards at your finger-tips when information is needed to make decisions.  But achieving and maintaining this level of technical sophistication requires time, effort and discipline – in spite of business trends that tend to ebb and flow. During lean periods it is common for companies to cut back and lose focus and traction regarding reliability initiatives.  In some cases, that also means losing top-notch, irreplaceable experience. And that generally comes back to haunt those organizations when business picks up. Instead, what they needed was a bit of patience and some thinking in the long term. Getting on the road and staying on the road are thus two different things. 

What is needed to stay the course and even move to the fast lane?  Indeed, measuring performance and communicating performance goals and targets should be the beginnings of your reliability initiative, and one part of the route to the fast lane.  To keep that initiative alive, it must continue to grow and thrive.  Reliability initiatives have a maturation process, not unlike the people who create them.  During the initiative infancy, everything tends to be reactive.  When something breaks, you fix it. And that is why measuring things such as reactive and proactive maintenance percentages is so important; these measures help us to determine where we are on the road, and help keep us centered.  

As our initiative moves from infancy to adolescence, more and more structure is needed.  Things such as failure coding and failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) help us to understand not only what can go wrong, but historically what has gone wrong. In turn, that knowledge enables us to put proactive and preventive maintenance strategies in place to help ensure we meet the mission goals of our assets.  

APM The road to reliability

Moving into the fast lane can only occur once the process itself is stable.  In the process control world, this is referred to as loop tuning and indeed many of the same concepts apply. Are process variable, set point, and deviation part of your reliability initiative? 

As your initiative moves from adolescence into full maturity, you will be able to sense minor changes in operational performance, and react to those changes early enough and with the proper degree of loop output to compensate and change the direction of the trend.  Therefore, measuring the effectiveness (performance) of maintenance strategies becomes the final input into the availability/reliability control algorithm.  Running a control system in automatic only works well when each part of the control system is working properly and in synch with each other.  Operational, Maintenance, Reliability and Safety goals and performance must be viewed and analyzed side-by-side, so that the effects of changes in one area can be seen in other areas of the business.  This is where a risk based approach to decision making keeps organizations on the road to reliability, and enables an organization to merge into the fast lane.  Staying in the fast lane means that you must continue to measure and control the things that got you there in the first place. So, while it would be nice to claim that we had reached asset reliability adulthood or full maturity, that doesn’t mean that there is nothing left to learn.  In fact, it means that an organization has attained resilience, flexibility, maturity and foresight in its processes, people and technology. That enables the organization to remain in the fast lane – on the road to reliability. And the organization continues to learn, grow, adjust and prosper.

Let's continue on this journey.  Read Part 2

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About the author

Don Rozette

APM Senior Product Manager, GE Digital

With more than 20 years of experience in the Instrumentation, Controls and Reliability fields, Don brings a fresh and client-based viewpoint to the Product Management role. His experience has helped further integrate the Compliance & Integrity Management solution into the overall APM solution. Don attended West Valley College in Saratoga, California and is a U.S. Navy Veteran.

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