Make your plant more reliable

You can secure greater machinery and equipment reliability through improved maintenance processes, which brings us to “reliability-centred maintenance” or RCM.

May 13, 2010   by Steve Gahbauer

Maintenance workers replace filters in a water purification plant.

Photo: iStockphoto

In today’s competitive and cost-averse manufacturing environment, unexpected production downtime is the last thing you want to deal with, but you can secure greater machinery and equipment reliability through improved maintenance processes, which brings us to “reliability-centred maintenance” or RCM.


Ed Stanek, a consultant and strategic work systems expert with LAI Reliable Systems in Chicago, proposes this need can be met doing the right work, at the right time, with the right skills, and at minimal cost.

Stanek, who was a featured speaker at last year’s International Maintenance Excellence Conference in Toronto, suggested considering several choices: developing a preventive maintenance program that focuses on correct tasks and frequencies; optimizing resources; filling CMMS gaps; maximizing analysis of collected data; and looking for opportunities to leverage.

There are obviously several ways of doing that, but as Paul Barringer, a Texas-based reliability, manufacturing and engineering consultant, pointed out: availability is not necessarily equal to reliability.

He says management sees reliability as a means of keeping the plant running and reducing the cost of maintenance. Let reliability maintenance drive the analysis but simplify the results and translate them into time and money terms for a quick grasp of the issues. That requires clear and early communication—often the missing link in the process. What maintenance professionals say about reliability may not be what management hears or understands. It’s necessary to define reliability in terms of time, money and important events. And for that you need a reliability policy and a culture of reliability and profitability.

A reliability policy must consist of a deliberate action plan or policy to guide decisions and achieve rational outcomes, says Bob Williamson of Strategic Work Systems in Columbus, NC, who has been involved in the development of reliability and maintenance systems for 25 years. He says policy communicates how a company expects its employees to respond to equipment maintenance and reliability problems and to opportunities for improvement. Reliability is the result of a carefully constructed environment and must be the fabric of the organization, not part of the fabric. Everyone must be involved in the process and take the time to do it right.

Maintenance alone won’t make machines, systems and processes reliable because most causes of poor performance and equipment-related losses are outside the direct control of maintenance. As Williamson says, there’s a need for overhauling traditional maintenance approaches, changing work cultures, and using focused teamwork and leadership to achieve gains in equipment and process reliability. He recommends turning to your existing RCM system, a gold mine of hidden opportunities.

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