How to Get Started on a Reliability Improvement Journey

How to Get Started on a Reliability Improvement Journey

When faced with a task of improving something, you assess the current situation, define the future state and determine the path to get to the future state.  Improving Reliability at a site should follow the same process.  This blog focuses on the first part – Assessing the current situation.

To understand what we are trying to improve we need to understand what Reliability is.  A classic definition of Reliability is the probability that an item will perform its intended function without failure under defined conditions for a defined period.  In Manufacturing, this translates to a stable, trouble-free operation of equipment and processes.  Availability is a measure of Reliability and Unscheduled Downtime is a measure of Unreliability.  We can define the improvement of Reliability as the reduction of Upsets, Equipment Failures and Unscheduled Downtime.

When considering the current situation, it is helpful to compare the site to the core elements that most reliable organizations have:

  • Focus on Unscheduled Downtime
  • Visibility of Results
  • Proactive Approach to Identifying Potential Failures and Preventive Mitigation
  • Reactive Approach for Unexpected Failures including Analysis and Prevention of Reoccurrence
  • Standardized Work Processes and Procedures


Assessing the “Focus on Unscheduled Downtime” comes down to determining who is responsible for improving Availability and how they approach their roles.  Some of the questions that should be asked include: Is it a part time role?  Are there multiple groups responsible (with the result that no one is accountable)?  What training and competencies do they have?

The key to assessing the core element of “Visibility of Results” is determining if the metrics/performance indicators that are tracked are tangible.  After working in several facilities, Becht has observed that some of the best results come from organizations with poor work processes and some organizations with a great work process have poor results.  This means that you cannot judge results solely based on the work process results/metrics.  To measure improvement, metrics need to tie directly to results (availability, cost, unscheduled downtime, etc).

A common mistake made while assessing the “Proactive Approach to Identifying Potential Failures and Preventive Mitigation” is to confuse the element with a tool that is used to address the element.  RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) falls under the Proactive Approach element. RCM is a tool that was developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s under the guidance of the Federal Aviation Administration.  At a high level, RCM looks at the function of the equipment, the failure modes and determines the appropriate maintenance activities for the equipment.  Many assessments look at “Is RCM implemented at the site? And if so, what is the coverage of the implementation?”  The right type of assessment looks at what proactive approaches are in place and the results of those approaches.

When assessing the “Reactive Approach for Unexpected Failures including Analysis and Prevention of Reoccurrence”, the key is determining the various responses to a failure, discipline around the approach and actions from the responses.  Examples of the questions to ask include:  Is there structured approach to eliminating poorly performing equipment (bad actors)?  Who is involved in the approach? What are the results?  How are failures investigated?  Are there different responses based on the complexity of the event?  Are the action items followed through to completion?

While a few sites can be highly reliable without “Standardized Work Processes and Procedures”, they are in the minority.  An assessment should be made of the work processes and procedures to compare them against industry practices.  It is also important to understand when and why the work processes and procedures are deviated from.

Assessing the current situation with regards to Reliability requires knowledge that comes from the experience of running successful reliability programs.  Becht personnel, most with over 30 years of experience, have long term reliability careers within Owner Organizations and, as a result, approach reliability with an owners’ perspective.  If you need help getting started on your Reliability Improvement Journey, Becht can help.

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About The Author

Charles Maier has a broad background focused on plant operations, maintenance, reliability and cost containment. His expertise is analyzing situations, identifying opportunities and implementing strategic solutions that deliver bottom line results. He has spent the last 20 years working for a major oil company with previous experience in the pulp and paper industry as well as serving as a nuclear officer in the United States Navy. He is a key member of the Becht team delivering site improvement programs focused on maintenance and reliability. While working for a major oil company, Charles led multiple site business improvement efforts in downstream and upstream sites. Key sustainable results include a reduction of contractor workforce by 10%, a reduction of pitstop durations by 30% and a reduction of total maintenance cost by 20%. He also implemented a site reliability program which captured over a $1 Billion dollars through the establishment of a reliability department and associated processes including RCA, RCM and bad actor programs. Charles was the lead author for the maintenance work process of a major oil company and has helped develop company-wide tools and programs to deliver improved maintenance and reliability performance. He has also facilitated multiple company technical networks in the area of maintenance. Mr. Maier received his Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture from Webb Institute and his Masters of Science in Engineering Management from Southern Methodist University.

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How to Get Started on a Reliability Improvement Journey

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