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Execute the basics of reliability and maintenance well and you will get guaranteed results. Part I

by Christer Idhammar

First I like to tell you about myself and from what perspective I write this article. My world is process industries such as Iron, Steel, Pulp, Power and Wood based industries such as Oriented Strand Board (OSB), medium Density Fiber (MDF), Chemical, Oil and Gas, Food and Beverage etc. In short all industries where a break down of critical equipment assets results in risk for environmental damage, personal injury, lost quality and volume in throughput or high costs for maintenance.

I lose some of my important arguments if reliability is not important because then the maintenance organization has no “revenue”. If reliability is not important the sense of urgency and importance in the work we do, as a maintenance organization is not there.  

International phenomena
I work on a worldwide arena and observe the same problems, or improvement opportunities, in all countries and all type of industries. If you have worked as a reliability and maintenance professional in many industries and/or countries you also know that this is true. If you only worked in one plant you believe that you are unique and different than all other plants but that is very seldom the case. The reason why maintenance management is so similar between different types of industries and facilities lies in a couple of facts.

  • Equipment does not break down, components such as; gears, couplings, control valves, transducers, seals and bearings break down. The whole equipment e.g. a compressor does not break down. These components are the same with some variations in all industrial plants. The environment they operate in is different but if an electric motor is covered by chocolate, saw dust or pulp the consequence is the same: it will overheat and shorten electric life dramatically. Some plants have a more aggressive corrosive atmosphere but again the consequences of corrosion are the same.
  • Reliability and maintenance management is driven by the system and processes people work in, not by the physical assets the organization maintain.   

There are some differences that make implementation and execution of best reliability and maintenance practices more or less difficult. These are more cultural differences and it is important to know and understand these. They include but are not limited to:

  • Political Systems make a difference in e.g. how profits are calculated.
  • Taxation rules make a difference in how life cycle costs are calculated.
  • Living standards are different between countries. In many countries with high living standard I often find a culture of entitlements and complacency and less of a desire to improve than in other countries where people are eager to learn and improve their performance.
  • Labor laws, working hours and employee benefits and unionization are very different between countries.
  • Some industrial plants have many short and long shut downs others have no scheduled shut downs. This fact only changes the way you plan and schedule work that requires equipment to be down to do work. If your plant has scheduled shutdowns you must plan work before you schedule work to be efficient. If your plant has no scheduled shut downs, or if it is easy to shut down and start up again, then you should focus more on planning and execute planned work when the opportunity to access physical asset can be done safely at best opportunity from manufacturing point of view.

But the system, processes and practices used to manage reliability and maintenance are not different. Nor have they changed in the last fifty or more years. What has changed and improved dramatically is technology including much better and more affordable computer systems and tools for condition monitoring. We have much better and more affordable equipment for measurements and analysis of component condition such as:

  • Infrared cameras.
  • Wear Particle Analysis.
  • Vibration Analysis.
  • Acoustic Emission
  • Alignment of components.
  • Stroboscopes.
  • Ultrasonic methodologies.
  • Etc.

Do the Basics better and better
My advice is to never forget to improve execution of the basics of maintenance. This was true 50 years ago and it is still true. Too often we complicate things beyond what is necessary. In the field of reliability and maintenance many tend to give new names on what in the end anyway comes down to the basics. TPM, RBM, VDM, QCC, RCM and many other acronyms only lead to confusion in the message you need to send to your employees in the maintenance organization. They will start talking about the “Program of the month” and lose faith in you as a leader.

Anyone who have attended any conference including conferences covering the subject of Reliability and Maintenance have heard several speakers referring to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity:

“To do the same thing over and over and expecting different results”

This hold true if you do the wrong thing. However if you do the right things better and better over a long period of time you will generate substantial results.  

I know from a very long experience in industry that guaranteed results will be achieved by executing the basics of reliability and maintenance (the right things) better and better forever. 

The basics are perhaps not as glorious to talk about as many would like them to be but I find them very interesting and challenging because I am still interested in people and equipment and the fantastic results that can be achieved when an organization execute these well. Results can even be life changing for some people.  Organizations today are spending way too much time on other more complex initiatives and therefore forget where the true improvement potential lies.

The basic elements of reliability and maintenance are:

  • Maintenance Prevention
  • Inspect
  • Prioritize
  • Plan work
  • Schedule work
  • Execute work

If you do not Execute these things very well you will never have time to do what you know you need to do to become as reliable and low cost as you can be. I stress the word Execute because most organizations know what they need to do. So many strategies and improvement plans are developed and so little Execution of the very basic elements of reliability and maintenance occur. These next steps are:

  • Root Cause Problem Elimination
  • Apply Life Cycle Cost when specifying equipment
  • Design for Reliability and Maintainability in early equipment design
  • Use tools such as 5S, Single Minute Exchange of Dice (SMED), Reliability Centered Maintenance methodology (RCM), to enhance performance of work within the processes that build the whole reliability and maintenance system

A holistic overview of the reliability and maintenance management system, processes, elements and tools can be described in the models per figure 1 and figure 2.   

Figure 1. The System. The market drives the production plan and all maintenance work requiring shut down of equipment must be coordinated with production plan for best time to be executed. When maintenance work is planned and then scheduled you have set the process people work in right so they can execute work much safer and more cost effective. To plan work efficiently you must have access to an up to date technical database including Bills Of Materials (BOM) and other information. After work is completed it should be recorded as to what was completed, parts and material used, update information to BOM and other valid information. The recorded information shall be used to continuously improve using Root Cause Problem Elimination (RCPE). However, most organizations do not work in this  “Circle of Continuous Improvement” they work more in the “Circle of Despair”.  This means that they React, Repair with low quality because of the reactive mode and therefore will have to Return to rework and the circle Repeat itself. To get out of this “Circle of Despair” you must set up the processes for Prevention, Condition Monitoring, Prioritization, Planning of work, and Scheduling of work, Execution of Work, Recording of executed work and how to do RCPE. 
The Processes. An example of a process is Planning and Scheduling, or Work Management Process. It contains several steps and starts with Work Request then Priority of Request etc. as seen in figure one. 
The ToolsThe tools are used to enable and enhance how well you can execute the processes. It is very important that Processes and Tools are not mixed up. To be successful you must have a very well established system including its processes. Tools are good and very useful when used in the right environment. Implementation of only a tool will only result in temporary improvements. The system and processes must be in place to support sustainability and continuous improvement.

Figure 2. Within the process called Planning and Scheduling each step consists of a number of elements. E.g. best practice within the work request process is that the request is not a work order and shall be done using the Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS), the requested priority shall be done according to a priority guideline agreed to between operations and maintenance, The object identity shall be clearly described verbally and with equipment number, etc. per figure 2. These elements are what we call the right things to do.

The structures of system, processes and elements described above are what we call Current Best Practices (CBP) for reliability and maintenance. If you do an audit it is on the level of elements that you evaluate and discover improvement potential and the gap between how good your organization can become.

A good advice is to only focus on the right things to do and not discuss how you can do these things. That comes as the next step. The reason for this is that the first step must be to agree on the right things to do. Because they are all common sense your organization will agree. They might not agree to how you are going to implement these things. As a leader you must show what your beliefs are and give your organization a direction that is what you do here. Then you bring your organization with you to help execute your strategy.  You can say that the well described 245 elements comprises a very well documented reliability and maintenance strategy and if this strategy is not executed you have wasted money and time to develop it. Figure 3 shows what we often find in many organizations.


Figure 3. Many organizations are spending much time to develop and document a reliability and maintenance strategy and not much time to implement and execute this strategy. Many will even change the strategy when a new key manager arrives. This is not uncommon. It is quite obvious that a strategy must be executed otherwise it served no other purpose than to keep people busy developing it. Best organizations execute a well defined, documented and continuously communicated strategy and strategy is long term and does not change when new key managers are employed.