What makes a reliability engineer great?

In the world of reliability engineering, it’s often accepted to be “good enough” for many reasons. Large, complex facilities may have so many things going on that just keeping everything running reasonably well is difficult. Finding the actual causes of problems can be tricky, and convincing maintenance technicians to accept new practices can be even trickier. However, striving for greatness, even if it takes years, is a laudable goal. Here are some ideas to help:

Be a Detective

Reliability greatness starts with finding the right problems to focus on. For most facilities, this can be difficult. The best place to begin your detective work is looking at unplanned failures. This area often eats up more resources due to its emergency nature, results in unplanned downtime and production losses, and creates a negative domino effect on other scheduled maintenance work.

Dissect the Problem

Once you find a particular problem, don’t stop at the first obvious solution. Often times, great reliability engineering requires you to drill down to the root cause to find the culprit that started the whole problem to begin with.
According to Peter Horsburgh, founder of Reliability Extranet, you need to ask “why” five times to discover the real solution. He provides this great example:

  1. Why is the equipment broken? It is vibrating.
  2. Why is it vibrating? It’s not lubicated.
  3. Why isn’t it lubricated? The oil is bad.
  4. Why is the oil bad? It has water mixed in.
  5. Why is there water in the oil? It was stored outside.
    The solution, therefore, is to store the oil inside.

Use Your Data

Although most reliability engineers have access to maintenance data, they seldom use it to the fullest potential. Shake off the belief that spending time with data is wasteful. In fact, analyzing the data should save you time and trouble in the long run because you’ll have better direction and reasons for pursuing the maintenance tasks that you select.

Search for Best Practices

Finally, get outside of yourself and even your company to identify best practices. A fresh, new technician or someone from a different facility may see your problem in a new light. Many online communities exist to share experiences, failures, and successes. Take advantage of the work of other reliability engineers to find your best solutions.

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