Gauge reliability: Survey for strengths and weaknesses

Setting standards will improve functions by identifying and addressing problems.

June 24, 2019   by Steve Gahbauer

A maintenance and reliability assessment improves functions and addresses problems. PHOTO: Adobe Stock

Maintenance standards are key to plant performance. One of the most effective ways to ensure your plant is competitive and profitable is to conduct a maintenance and reliability assessment. Interviewing knowledgeable personnel with objective questioning ensures a solid overview of maintenance efforts to identify strengths and weaknesses. A quantitative assessment provides validation, cost justification and benchmarking of reliability KPIs.

A recent MainTrain maintenance conference convened by the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC) hosted Matt Price, the reliability services manager of Pioneer Engineering in Calgary. He presented a technical paper on the use of a qualitative survey to focus on quantitative reliability assessment. Price, a certified maintenance reliability professional, specializes in condition monitoring and high-end analysis of rotating equipment in production plants as well as oil and gas facilities.

Fully understanding maintenance with the strengths and weaknesses of reliability can be a huge undertaking. Price noted a study is performed in one of two ways. The first calculates, tracks, and compares key performance indicators, watching work history trends and comparing business units.

The second is a qualitative approach, where plant employees are questioned about compliance with maintenance and reliability best practices to determine perceived strengths and weaknesses. A numerical assessment, while data-driven, doesn’t necessarily bring the hole picture into focus. This approach does provide an understanding of actual costs and work performed. But it also gathers an overwhelming amount of data without a clear direction of how to begin an analysis.


A qualitative assessment also has weaknesses, including potential bias from the personnel answering questions. However, it does provide a better overview of reliability and maintenance programs as viewed by those within the organization.

Price suggested a more effective and repeatable reliability assessment combines the two. A quantitative assessment uses the plant’s CMMS work history to develop trends, key performance indicators and comparisons. These factors will either validate or invalidate what plant personnel say in a qualitative survey. Quantitative cost information is effectively used to justify projects, programs and personnel required to improve maintenance and reliability activities. A reliability assessment is most efficiently and effectively administered in this way.

Price stressed the use of a qualitative assessment to better focus a quantitative analysis provides the best combination of overall understanding from personnel with the accuracy and reliability of historical data.

Set targets

There are many reasons to conduct a reliability performance assessment. A lot can be learned from processes, procedures, or from people who are working to ensure equipment reliability. A better understanding of weaknesses helps set targets for improvement, and to determine the appropriate focus for resources. An assessment allows for comparison as well as to develop a course of action for improvement.

This includes prioritizing weaknesses, understanding available budget, manpower and material resources. An assessment will also aid economic justification for increasing funding or assistance for a reliability improvement program.

Price said an assessment should be broad in scope and understanding of all the actions that have an impact on equipment reliability. Generally, this is broken into several sections. They include:

• projects and engineering

• operations

• preventive maintenance

• condition monitoring

• reliability-focused corrective maintenance


• materials handling

• reliability culture

• reliability engineering and programs.

Such an all-inclusive approach helps to eliminate many of the possible failure modes and ensures the failures that do occur can be scheduled, thus ensuring maximum operational flexibility around the repairs.

Industry must work toward sustainable and effective ways to stay in business. This includes containing costs and ensuring effective maintenance keeps the plant running and the budget balanced. The next step, often overlooked, is to push for forward-thinking maintenance and reliability programs. A maintenance and reliability assessment is one way to get there.

Steve Gahbauer is an engineer, a Toronto-based business writer and a regular contributing editor. E-mail

 This article appeared in the March 2019 print issue of PLANT Magazine.