Last week I was in a former customers plant attempting to help with an issue that crept up on an asset I assisted with years ago. Nothing had changed, even though they had spent a few hundred thousand dollars in my absence. I got the sense that there was zero interest in attempting anything that might be reliability associated. I inquired about some of the initiatives and there execution. Ive seen this many times before, unfortunately. Reliabilty programs have existed for decades, more recently they have been the flavor of the month. It's easy to understand why companies get excited over the idea of improved uptime. The numbers are astonishing. large percentage increases in equipment availability, reduced safety hazards, reduced lubricant consumption. But after years of failed this and failed that, many companies are beginning to ignore the fanfare. Reality is hitting reliability in the face. Whenever I get into action mode at a facility, I almost always get an earful from somebody. The story is always the same. "We tried this before, it didn't work". "We did that at the last place I worked, it was a catastrophe". I always listen with intent, mostly to not alienate the naysayers. Part of keeping a program moving is attempting to get as many people on board as possible, especially those that have a negative attitude.
The overall reaction from the reliability community has been to push the blame back on the customer. And at its core, that blame is not entirely unearned. Essentially the responsibility for a plants uptime falls on the plants employees and leadership. However, I believe thats the easy way out for the reliability community. And the reason for this is it is an absolutely absurd amount of work to execute a formidable reliability program that has lasting change. The numbers are not esoteric, massive amounts of uptime increase are absolutely achievable. The difference maker, the people hired to help execute that program. That customer I spoke about above, I recall the last time I was in that plant. I was just beginning implementation of a very labor intensive program. I was spending hundreds of hours a month there. Then I noticed a quote from a well known reliability centered consulting company for an audit, basically exactly the same audit I had done a few months earlier. They did it for free, as had I. I left and didn't have a lot of interest in returning. When I went back to assist years later with the mentioned asset, I was told that company's report ended up nearly identical to mine, then they charged them 75k for implementation. Which didn't fly with anyone. So they attempted to implement the program themselves. Which didn't work.
Full time employees rarely have the free time to execute such a program. And the more they need the program, the less free time they have. There are companies with budgets that can allow large capital projects such as this. And thats what those reliability consulting companies are looking for. And, its deserved IF they can actually execute the program in a lasting way. Going by the number of successful programs... its not looking great.
I believe the wheelhouse for companies like mine, that wish to execute reliability centered programs, are not the large capital project type companies. There are companies that can pull this off, but I am not convinced its success rate is sustainable yet. Very small companies are pretty easy to implement, but the numbers for savings are not very impressive, so the investment is difficult to balance for the leadership. I see mid sized companies being the best place for improvement right now in the culture and space we currently occupy. Companies like tier one auto suppliers, power generation, and continuous food production facilities. Getting the asset information is within the capability of a small team, or even one person. That can keep the initial costs down. Ive had luck with these sized companies because I don't have to charge much for the execution. I roll these costs into the products I sell to the customer for implementation. When I sell the program I can start small, with one line or section of the facility. Work hard and execute, show the value, then expand on that success. Most of the time the cost of implementation is no different than regular operational costs. And, sometimes the slow implementation allows the savings to catch up with the execution costs. Basically allowing the program to pay for itself in real time.
Last week I had a buyer from one of my larger customers ask me to help explain a 40% drop in lubrication related costs. I was happy to help! That kind of result buys you a lot of good will, and more help down the road for more execution costs. The program is only a couple years old, and about 75% completed, but once complete, my presence over the last couple years will have not only helped solidify the program, but helped shift the culture to more a reliability centered manner.
Tips for success...
Work hard, and long. These programs take a lot of effort. Ideas without hard work stay in dream land. Someone has to do that work. And if an employee can not, which is usually the case, then a contractor or vendor needs to fill that need. It won't happen without time and effort.
Hold your vendors accountable. Sales people love to make promises. But execution needs to be help to a standard. Have your vendor write down a timeline, and hold them to that timeline.
Ask for new ideas. Have your vendor present new ideas on a routine basis. Have a quarterly meeting for updates on the program, and for new ideas for improvement. If the vendor is spending the amount of time needed to execute a good program in your facility, they will absolutely see places for improvement.