8 Pitfalls Lead To Reliability Failure

Nov. 16, 2016
One or a number of issues often doom many reliability programs to failure. Recognizing and addressing eight common issues are crucial when setting up a reliability program and for ensuring its ongoing success.

The purpose of a reliability program is to ensure that a plant’s physical assets can meet production goals at the lowest possible unit cost while mitigating safety and environmental risks. Such a program requires ongoing assessment, testing and performance reporting. It should become embedded into the culture of the plant as just “part of the way work is done.”

Any information and measures must be used to assess the financial, environmental and operational impact of the plant’s assets, and consequently to bolster the bottom line of the organization in a cycle of continuous improvement.

A reliability program will ensure the “hidden capacity” of a plant is uncovered and exploited for maximum operating effectiveness at the lowest marginal cost. This is especially true as the age of a facility begins to take a toll and equipment approaches (or exceeds) its expected useful life, as is so often the case in the chemical industry.

[callToAction ]

Unfortunately, implementation of a reliability program isn’t without pitfalls. Missteps can seriously derail successfully implementing the program and sour plant leadership and frontline staff on any future attempts. So, it’s critical that a reliability program is implemented correctly the first time.

Why Does Reliability Matter?

Put simply, from a cost/benefit perspective a business-focused and technically based reliability program arguably is the most economically feasible and successful method for delivering a strong return on assets. Reliability is the grease that lubricates a plant’s ability to “do more with less,” which is the economic reality that many chemical processing facilities face.

A well-functioning reliability program ensures a plant is positioned to take advantage of market changes that can make a particular chemical more (or less) profitable almost overnight. Moreover, as a plant’s asset base begins to degrade and long-range capital budgets are slashed, applying reliability principles aimed at getting the most out of the existing assets and extending their life while simultaneously managing new capital assets properly is imperative.

At its root, a well-designed maintenance and reliability program will:

• identify and quantify high-risk assets to allow for prioritization of maintenance, operations and new capital efforts;
• pinpoint and mitigate known causes of failure so equipment functions to its intended design requirements;
• reduce susceptibility to catastrophic events;
• optimize maintenance and operating costs;
• ensure spare parts are on hand when needed… and aren’t when they’re not;
• defer capital and extend asset life;
• make certain new assets are adequately cared for and available to operate for their entire expected life; and
• promote building a culture of asset care and continuous improvement into the workforce.

Causes Of Failure

Unfortunately, despite the strong business case and clear benefits of implementing business-focused technically based maintenance and reliability programs, such programs often fail to deliver on their promise at a chemical plant. Let’s look at eight typical reasons for this:

1. Lack of leadership support. An informal survey pointed to this as the most common cause of failure. In essence, it usually stems from:
• absence of a well-defined business case to identify the benefits of implementing the program;
• poor communication of the scale and impact of implementing a reliability program on the rest of the organization; and
• senior management viewing maintenance and reliability as a cost center.

What to do: Engage leadership early and build a business case that clearly outlines the benefits to your organization based on your specific chemical and plant configuration. Ensure the business case is presented in the language of your senior management and is aligned with its vision. Don’t shy away from critical issues of cost and risk — and build out a clear roadmap that indicates when financial benefits should be expected and how they will be measured.

2. Poor application of risk-based thinking. One of the first steps to building a reliability program is to identify a plant’s assets and evaluate their criticality and risk in a structured way. Too often, chemical manufacturers neglect to undertake this important activity or misapply the logic, leading to devoting significant effort to assets that present low risk to the organization’s goals or, conversely, contribute little to its profitability.

What to do: Make certain a clear and consistent risk matrix is used across the production asset base. Ensure the organization correctly applies the outcomes of the risk evaluation to scheduling maintenance work, evaluating capital projects, performing reliability-centered-maintenance-type analyses, and everything in between.

3. Failing to treat the effort as a program. Too many chemical manufacturers regard a reliability improvement initiative as a one-time project rather than as an ongoing program. This inevitably undermines sustainment of the effort and leads to poor implementation of the outcomes of the development work.

What to do: Build a sustainment plan from the outset. Ensure the key performance indicators selected to monitor the program are both project-based (schedule, budget, etc.) as well as performance-based (availability, cost per unit produced, etc.). Also, make sure there’s a clear mandate for change management and sustainment support and appropriate budget allocated to that effort.

4. Wrong choice of people. Many organizations tend to view reliability as “extra work.” So, they assign people to the program based on convenience as opposed to skills — often picking people on “light duty” to support a program at its launch.

What to do: Get the key technical and leadership people “into the tent” from the beginning of the project. Don’t settle for “Special Project Bob.”

5. Infatuation with software. In many cases, people become transfixed by the software tools and the tools quickly turn into the focal point for the initiative. While software tools are important, my experience clearly shows that process, practice and people are the most crucial elements for success.

What to do: Build and implement business processes and drive tool selection based on the process that will work for your organization. Effectively put the horse before the cart.

6. No short-term wins. People often begin a reliability program implementation with the best of intent. However, they quickly become overwhelmed by the size and scale of the activity.

This often can be seen when there’s a short-term high level of investment but support for the project quickly evaporates when meaningful improvements to equipment performance and cost measures don’t appear in the first few months of the program.

What to do: It is critical that early efforts show tangible and meaningful wins that can be (and are) communicated throughout the organization.

7. Inattention to change and integration. Many chemical makers will devote significant technical resources to a reliability initiative — but with little regard to the impact of the program on the “day to day” lives of their people. This causes fear and distrust of the program and often a passive-aggressive attitude that inevitably will cause the program to fail.

What to do: Put dedicated resources and budget to tackle the change and cultural development aspects of the program. Ensure these resources aren’t just about holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” but have a well-defined and structured approach to leading the change elements.

8. Death by training. Armed with the best of intentions, many organizations will look at the reliability program particularly as a means for addressing a lack of knowledge within their technical group. In such cases, the companies will engage industry experts to train a specific subset of their people. They do this with little regard for the organization at large and a lack of appreciation of the substantial effort required for developing and implementing a reliability program. This leaves the organization susceptible to employee attrition. It also leads to significant effort and budget spent on formal training — with little attention to coaching, auditing, implementation, etc., that will ensure the training is put to good use.

What to do: Look at training (especially formal classroom training) as a supplemental method for ensuring knowledge transfer. However, make sure the expectations are reasonable, and the trainees are capable of delivering the outcomes expected of them.

Achieve Success

While the business case that supports implementing a reliability program is strong from a profit, safety and environmental stewardship perspective, many factors can cause failure of the program. Despite these challenges, if an organization develops a practical and robust strategy, trains its employees to embrace a proactive culture toward reliability, and gets real commitment from its leadership team, then it’s likely to achieve impressive business results from its reliability program.

ADAM GRAHN is a Vancouver, B.C.-based partner at Deloitte Canada. E-mail him at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Keys to Improving Safety in Chemical Processes (PDF)

Many facilities handle dangerous processes and products on a daily basis. Keeping everything under control demands well-trained people working with the best equipment.

Comprehensive Compressed Air Assessments: The 5-Step Process

A comprehensive compressed air audit will identify energy savings in an air system. This paper defines the 5 steps necessary for an effective air audit.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...

Managing and Reducing Methane Emission in Upstream Oil & Gas

Measurement Instrumentation for reducing emissions, improving efficiency and ensuring safety.