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Maintenance and reliability efforts are critically important in today’s industrial environment where increasingly complex and interdependent equipment are utilized. Failure of a single part may only result in a small consequence, but there is always the likelihood it could lead to a catastrophic systemic incident resulting in considerable loss of production time and capital. 

Yet despite this risk, maintenance and reliability programs all too often fall victim to cost and staffing pressures faced by companies. While most organizations see the importance of budgeting for these programs, they can be costly endeavors that are most likely to be cut when annual budgets need to be reduced or margins are tight.

Conducting maintenance programs to help ensure reliable operations is a worthwhile investment that can lead to increased performance, productivity and profitability for companies. Another significant yet often unrecognized benefit of maintenance and reliability programs is that they also result in increased safety performance, making them all the more important for companies to pursue. Losing production time or needing to reinvest in a piece of equipment because of a lack of adequate maintenance is bad enough, but should the equipment failure result in injury to a worker or workers — or worse, loss of life — a company could face legal and reputational consequences that are much more difficult to recover from. 

That is why companies today are wise to always think of maintenance and reliability as crucial to safety performance, not simply as a means to preserve physical capital. In fact, safety and reliability are two sides of the same coin. Safety programs implemented in isolation from maintenance and reliability programs are not always sustainable and can leave a company exposed to risk. 

Of course, developing an effective maintenance and reliability program that also contributes to increased safety performance is not a “cookie cutter” exercise. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all approach, but when thinking about the ideal maintenance and reliability program, there are certain considerations that companies should keep in mind.

Do Fewer Repairs

First, make it a goal to conduct fewer repairs to equipment. That may sound counterintuitive, but it is to say that companies should take the adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” to heart and strive to prevent failures as opposed to being content with quickly fixing failures after they have occurred.  Studies have shown that there are increased instances of safety incidents during transient conditions, such as maintenance.

One way organizations can prevent mechanical failures in equipment is by referring to a P-F Curve, which can provide companies with insights to ideal strategies for maintenance of an asset or asset component from its initial design to likely failure (see image below).  The P-F Curve illustrates the maintenance strategies that can be applied to an asset to prevent the need for a reactive, corrective mechanical intervention.

Precision maintenance occurs during the earliest phase of asset deployment and refers to steps that can be taken during the design and installation of an asset to minimize future defects and potential reliability issues before it is ever put into use. Examples include balancing, laser alignment and material of construction

Predictive maintenance refers to early detection of the potential function failure by use of condition monitoring techniques such as ultrasonic, infra-red, and thermography. These allow intelligent, planned interventions to take place, and because they are planned, the element of surprise is often removed.

Preventive maintenance refers to regularly required (and planned) maintenance tasks that are necessary to keep the asset in good working order and maximize the investment.  Given the specifications of an asset, it is possible to anticipate certain upkeep that is necessary or the replacement of critical components that will need to occur after a finite period of use.  (For example, after 2,000 hours of use, or after early detection of failure, the hydraulic fluid in the control arm of a certain asset will need to be drained and replaced.) 

The goal of Precision maintenance and Predictive/Preventive maintenance is to avoid Reactive/Corrective maintenance, which is maintenance that is required after an unmitigated problem or failure occurs. It is at this point that the potential likelihood for injury to workers increases dramatically, either as a result of the mechanical failure or even because of the Reactive/Corrective maintenance itself, which is often more complex and unpredictable, and often occurs at a very inconvenient time and requires immediate response.

By being diligent in pursuing Precision maintenance and Predictive/Preventive maintenance, companies can avoid occurrences of Reactive/Corrective maintenance, thus improving asset reliability and safety performance simultaneously. 

Improve Mechanical Integrity

While a P-F curve helps organizations identify appropriate maintenance strategies that can be conducted during each phase of an asset’s lifecycle to keep it in good working condition, companies should also focus on improving the mechanical integrity of an asset to prevent a failure that could harm workers.

Mechanical integrity is the management of equipment to ensure it is properly maintained to keep “harmful energy” where it should be — away from workers. It is primarily focused on preventing the loss of primary containment. “Harmful energy” is defined as anything such as chemicals, heat, electricity, or kinetic energy that is released from equipment in an uncontrolled manner during the course of its operation that can place people in harm’s way. 

After design and quality assurance, mechanical integrity comes into play when an asset or piece of equipment has been placed into service (see image below), and is composed of a series of tasks that work together to keep “harmful energy” contained during its operation, including:

  • Implementing proper maintenance procedures to preserve the integrity of process equipment
  • Providing adequate training so personnel can know how to maintain deployed equipment
  • Ensuring quality control of materials and parts used to maintain equipment; and
  • Conducting reliability engineering to ensure safe operation of the equipment until its next test or inspection

Reliability engineering is the key element that directly links mechanical integrity to improved safety.  It reduces risk based on the specific function of the equipment. Reliability engineering generally falls into three categories:

  • Risk-Based Inspections that analyze the integrity of static, physical equipment;
  • Safety Integrity Level analyses, which determine the functionality of electronics and instrumentation used to operate programmable equipment; and,
  • Reliability-Centered Maintenance, which ensures production processes enable a system to function as intended.

Make The Pursuit Of Reliability And Safety A Goal For All

The responsibility for increasing reliability and safety within a company doesn’t rest solely on management’s shoulders. Nor is it something that should simply be left to workers to execute. To achieve sustainable reliability and safety, all personnel in an organization, from the C-suite to shift workers, must be committed to it and actively pursue it day after day. The entire organization must understand and believe that a reliable plant is a safe plant, and a safe plant is a profitable plant.

Some companies have difficulty convincing workers to consciously engage in activities to promote reliability. Workers can have the misperception that their responsibility lies only in correctly utilizing equipment to accomplish their daily task, and that it is up to management to be mindful of necessary maintenance and upkeep required to keep the equipment operating reliably. But by emphasizing how improving the reliability of equipment contributes to a safer working environment, personnel will gain a personal stake in reliability efforts.

It is important to note that establishing this mindset throughout an organization is not accomplished through a single company-wide staff meeting or one training seminar. What is required is ongoing communication and interaction between company leaders and workers in which leaders demonstrate a clear commitment to reliability efforts and the expectation that everyone has an important part to play. This is not to say that leaders should assume a “command and control” mentality in advocating reliability efforts throughout the company.  Often, ongoing leadership that empowers workers to commit to reliability efforts in small groups or individually, and that encourages individuals to be a leader rather than needing a leader in the pursuit of better reliability, is the best way to instill a daily commitment to reliability efforts.

Conclusion

Maintenance and reliability programs make good business sense because of the advantages they provide companies in terms of protecting physical equipment. When you consider how they also contribute to protecting the safety of an organization’s most important asset — its people — then it is easy to see why many consider maintenance and reliability efforts indispensable to a business’s operating plan. Those companies that approach safety and reliability as interdependent priorities will be better for it.

Stuart Grant is global maintenance & reliability champion with DuPont Sustainable Solutions. DuPont Sustainable Solutions is a leading provider of world-class operations consulting services to help organizations transform and optimize their processes, technologies and capabilities. DuPont Sustainable Solutions is committed to improving the safety, productivity and environmental sustainability of organizations around the world. Learn more about DuPont Sustainable Solutions at www.sustainablesolutions.dupont.com.

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