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Reliability Insights

You can’t maintain your way to reliability

We often hear the phrase “maintenance is key to reliability”. 

And while it’s true that proper maintenance is important, it’s not the only factor that determines your plant’s reliability. In fact, relying solely on maintenance to ensure reliability can be dangerous to your organisation. 

In this short article, I’ll explain why that’s the case. 

Maintenance is not enough 

Maintenance is the act of performing regular inspections, tests, and repairs on a system to keep it in good working condition.  

As maintenance practitioners, we know that it’s important because it helps organisations detect and correct problems before they become major issues, and it helps to extend the lifespan of our plant and equipment.  

However, maintenance alone is not enough to ensure reliability. 

A plant’s reliability is also determined by your equipment’s design, the quality of its components, and the environment in which it operates.  

For example, if your pump is poorly designed, made with inferior components, and operated in corrosive conditions, then it will be less reliable no matter how much maintenance is performed. 

I love this quote from Terrence O’Hanlon that embodies this— 

“You can’t maintain your way to reliability” 

If your equipment’s inherent reliability is poor, then doing more maintenance will not help. 

Too much maintenance is expensive 

Many organisations find out the hard way that maintenance is not enough to keep their plants reliable. 

But their solution is doing more and more maintenance. 

They assume that doing more maintenance tasks can improve their plant’s reliability. But they soon realise that this gets expensive with little return on investment 

As a result, they become discouraged. 

They then start saying that maintenance and reliability is a money sink.  

An expensive necessary evil. 

But research shows that up to 60% of our preventive maintenance tasks are adding little to no value. 

In other words, we’re doing too much maintenance that’s not necessary. 

That means more maintenance isn’t the right answer.  

It’s not the solution to achieving a reliable plant. 

Your Reliability Depends on your People 

What you need to achieve reliability is to apply the principles of modern preventive maintenance in your organisation. 

You need to know what works. What doesn’t. 

You need to know what maintenance to use for specific failure modes. 

And you need to have a proper planning & scheduling process in place. 

That’s why, going beyond your equipment’s inherent reliability or doing excessive maintenance… I would go so far to say that— 

Your plant’s reliability depends more on the people running it. 

Your maintenance crews. 

Your top management. 

Your leadership. 

And you’re in trouble if your team believes that you can simply ‘maintain’ your way to reliability. 

You can’t. 

Or if they believe that expensive high-quality equipment is enough to have a reliable plant. 

It’s not. 

What you need is a team well trained in the principles of Planning & Scheduling, Preventive Maintenance, and Defect Elimination to really achieve significant improvements.  

And then build a culture of reliability to sustain those improvements. 

How to Ensure Reliability 

So, what can be done to ensure reliability?  

The key is to take a holistic approach that includes not only maintenance. 

First, make sure that the equipment you are using is designed to be reliable, made with high-quality components, and they are operated in the right condition. 

Second, don’t do MORE maintenance. Do the RIGHT maintenance. 

Doing more maintenance can get expensive. And when it fails, you will be discouraged from investing in your maintenance and reliability efforts. 

By picking the right type of maintenance, you can become up to 60% more efficient in your maintenance efforts. 

Third, train your crew

If you’ve been telling yourself every year that… 

“This is the year we get out of reactive maintenance” 

“This is the year we reduce our maintenance costs” 

“This is the year we increase our plant productivity” 

but you’re still relying on maintenance planners and schedulers with no formal training, those who have simply learned on the job… 

… or work with a PM program that is ineffective and inefficient… 

… or keep fixing the same failures over and over… 

Then nothing will change. 

You will still encounter excessive backlogs, expensive PM programs, and a deep-rooted firefighting culture. 

Because the harsh truth is, you’ll only ever be as good as your team. 

Finally, sell the value of maintenance to your top leadership

Many improvement initiatives fail.  

Often because senior management was never on board to begin with.  

You need to sell the value of maintenance and reliability to your leadership so that you can get their support. 

Final Thoughts 

While maintenance is an important aspect of ensuring reliability, it is not the only factor that determines a plant’s reliability. A plant’s reliability is also determined by its equipment’s design, the quality of its components, and the environment in which it operates.  

Relying solely on maintenance to ensure reliability can be dangerous and expensive for an organization. So it’s important to take a holistic approach that includes design, quality, and environment.  

Additionally, organizations should focus on doing the right maintenance, rather than just doing more maintenance.  

And you can’t do all of these if you don’t have a well-trained crew. Training your maintenance crews in the principles of planning & scheduling, preventive maintenance, and defect elimination, and building a culture of reliability is the key to achieving significant improvements in your reliability. 

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