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What is reliability culture?

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“Reliability culture” is a term that’s thrown around a lot in the world of asset management. It refers to the overall culture shift that’s required for an organization to fully understand the big picture when it comes to asset reliability—the probability that an asset will be able to work failure-free for a period of time within normal operating conditions.

But how can an organization support and enforce reliability culture? According to Bruce Wesner, former Managing Principal with Life Cycle Engineering, and the Asset Reliability @ Work podcast, it all comes down to asset ownership.

Reliability-focused culture: What does it mean?

According to Wesner, there are three things to understand in order to wrap your head around what a reliability-focused culture entails:

1) Operators are the asset owners in a facility

Many leaders believe that assets are owned by the maintenance team at their facility. Wesner argues that the operations team actually owns the assets. Operators interact with equipment day in and day out, meaning they understand the assets better than anyone. Acknowledging this fact is the first piece of understanding reliability culture.

2) Maintenance folks operate as on-site specialists

The maintenance team’s role is to ensure an asset is available to perform its designated purpose at its designated rate, and that the asset is available for operations in order to meet their production needs.

3) All parties who will use and maintain assets need to be involved in design

Finally, it’s essential to get input from the people who will both be using and maintaining an asset during the design phase.Wesner says that it’s helpful to use a RAM analysis in this situation—that is, defining the reliability, availability, and maintainability expectations of a given asset.

When is it time for a reliability overhaul?

Given the points above, it’s safe to say that if a facility’s assets are proving difficult to use and maintain for either operations or maintenance people, there’s a problem with reliability. But what are the other, more tangible signs that a facility could be in desperate need of a reliability overhaul? According to Wesner, there are some very clear signs to look out for:

Safety issues

This is the number one red flag that points to a reliability problem. If maintenance technicians are constantly having to repair broken assets and there isn’t a good process in place for these repairs, people are put at risk.

You’re drowning in reactive maintenance

Does it feel like you can’t get out of the constant loop of firefighting asset problems in your day-to-day operations? Conversely, are repairs planned in advance? If it feels like reactive maintenance is ruling your maintenance team’s activities, it’s time for a change.

You’re having trouble hitting your KPIs

Performance metrics tell the story of organizational health. Which dashboard metrics are you using to measure your performance? If you’re having trouble achieving these metrics, it’s time to consider whether challenges in reliability might be at play.

You’re seeing high maintenance and overtime costs, and large amounts of downtime

If financial analysis is leading to surprise at how high your maintenance and overtime costs are, it could point to a systemic problem with reliability. Similarly, if there’s frequent unplanned downtime in your facility, there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

You’re seeing product quality issues or low customer satisfaction

Quality-based returns from customers or customer complaints could be an indication that things could be improved. Similarly, large amounts of scrap are a clue to look out for.

What are the challenges of establishing a reliability-focused organization?

According to Wesner, there are two mistakes an organization can make in trying to stand up a reliability-focused culture.

1) Failing to address organizational silos

In many organizations, engineering, maintenance, and operations exist in their own silos, with not much communication happening between them. These silos must be broken down to create partnerships and ensure that everyone is working together.

2) Failing to create engagement at all levels

Implementing a culture of reliability gets really difficult if stakeholders at all levels of an organization—from leadership to operators to the maintenance team—aren’t engaged early on in the process. Ask yourself how everyone in the organization can be made aware of the need for reliability changes and how you can create a desire for them to adopt these changes.

How is reliability success measured?

KPIs are the number one way to measure the health of reliability processes, says Wesner. Leadership must be engaged in setting these KPIs and developing a dashboard that is visible and applied to all areas of the reliability effort. This will allow everyone else to start creating the right behaviours to support those KPIs, and ultimately support an overall reliability strategy.

Read more about reliability-centred maintenance here.

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