Question: How do I best establish an Equipment Reliability (ER) program?
Answer: As the old saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
While no two facilities—or their financial and operational requirements—are the same, migrating to an Equipment Reliability (ER) program can reduce emergency situations, cut costs, and help minimize production downtime. It can also reduce headaches! There’s no one “correct” way to set up an ER program, but the following general guidelines can be adapted to your specific situation. An ER program may also carry many different names, depending on your company and industry. But the fundamentals remain the same.
First, let’s quickly look at the raison d’être for establishing— or polishing up—an Equipment Reliability program. The objective here is to move your facilities department efforts from emergency “fire drills” to a consistent, predictable operation that will avoid production downtime, stabilize costs, maximize the reliability and life of your tools, and make facility and personnel management more predictable. Much like designing a new facility, the development of an ER program can be slated into four high-level stages:
- Concept development;
- Program development;
- Implementation; and
- Review/feedback/program adjustment.
These four steps allow for a virtuous, continual feedback and improvement loop—compounding personnel and operational savings over the lifecycle of the program. It also contributes to the development of staff expertise.
The scope of this column will only allow us to review the high points—if you’d like additional information please feel free to contact me at my email address, below.
The effort you undertake at the concept development stage will significantly impact the success of your ER program. Put in the required time, and be sure to include input from key stakeholders. Like all projects, you should start (and finish) by defining your goals, objectives, desired outcomes, and key stakeholders. Decisions you make at this stage will forever impact the success of the program.
It’s best to cast the net wide when considering stakeholders— an inclusive approach will promote buy-in and you will likely want to transfer specific program implementation responsibilities to various groups within your organization. Within the stakeholders, identify key personnel early on who can act as program coordinators. Look for self-starters who understand the value of an ER program, are well respected within the organization, and can implement their sections in an organized way. Many times these people will be members of the facilities engineering staff. Don’t forget to consider including key personnel from other company sites—close coordination will not only reduce the “silo” effect but will enhance adoption of the program.
Focus on these areas when developing your plan, although you should add to/subtract from the list to tailor it to your facility’s needs:
- Maintenance: preventive, predictive, and responsive to events;
- Vendor engagement protocols and quality assurance;
- Maintenance and repair protocols;
- Failure investigation and analysis;
- Tool replacement/expansion/installation;
- Interface with the operations team;
- Tool testing;
- Testing and balancing;
- Management systems, including the development of records systems and reporting forms;
- Roles and responsibilities;
- Training and;
- Continual monitoring, reporting, feedback and improvement.
Don’t try to invent the universe in a single quarter. Tackle one segment of the program at a time, get it up and running, as well as transferred to the appropriate implementation champion, before undertaking the next. While it’s critical this plan be developed as a total facility tool, it’s best to prioritize the segments and develop each thoroughly instead of trying to tackle too much at once. Ditto for program implementation—a planned phase-in will work better—so during your concept phase develop a sound schedule for both program development and implementation. Manage it aggressively to avoid slippage—or the credibility of the entire program could be jeopardized.
Once you’ve identified the universe of program requirements unique to your facility, take some time to align the staff hours required to develop, implement and execute the plan with your staff’s available time and expertise. With today’s lean operations, it may be to your advantage from financial, schedule, expertise and staff availability perspectives to contract this program out. The scope can run from functioning as an informal staff advisor to total plan development or a complete turnkey contractor relationship that includes implementation.
Some areas that are all too frequently “lost in the shuffle” of the ER program development efforts include a strong, ongoing employee training program and carefully developing the support systems—in conjunction with your IT department—to ensure success. These systems can run from the mundane: developing forms, tracking and reporting requirements—to the mundane: developing your equipment database.
A last word: stay up-to-date on the development of new technologies that can cut your effort, your record keeping and your costs while delivering superior information. Get your staff up to speed on tools like BIM (Building information Modeling) and insist that your outside engineering and architecture partners deliver your plans and specs that way.
Developing a sound ER program requires lots of spade work upfront, but the payoffs far exceed the effort.
Richard Bilodeau, PE, is director of engineering at SMRT, architects and engineers (www.smrtinc.com). His 30 year career includes plant engineering positions in clean manufacturing. Richard has designed, operated, and supervised the construction of advanced technology facilities, numerous industrial projects, healthcare facilities, and corporate offices. He’s engineered clean manufacturing facilities for lithium-ion batteries, medical devices, electronics, and pharmaceutical clients. Richard can be reached at: TheFacilitiesGuy@smrtinc.com.