August 2015


HP Reliability: Ten sure steps to substandard reliability performance

Equipment reliability can be enhanced or jeopardized by many different actions, inactions, commissions and omissions. Reliability may be a hollow term to many. Still, first and foremost, a reliable plant is a safe plant.

Bloch, Heinz P., Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

Equipment reliability can be enhanced or jeopardized by many different actions, inactions, commissions and omissions. Fortunately, entire corporations have prospered because of a consistent and highly productive reliability focus. However, some companies have disappeared because they only paid “lip service” to reliability, or because company executives placed reliability concerns at the bottom of their priorities list.

Reliability may be a hollow term to many. Still, first and foremost, a reliable plant is a safe plant. Safety and reliability cannot be separated. While some of these actions, inactions, commissions and omissions may take a company close to the brink of failure, we believe that, when five or more of these factors combine, they are likely to push a company over the brink.

Here, then, are 10 sure steps to substandard reliability performance, in alphabetical order:

  1. Benchmarking fix. Statistics? What statistics? Why call it a failure in the first place? Why not just call it a routine repair? All machines need repairs sooner or later, don’t they? We have no failures. We just do lots of maintenance.
  2. Buying cheap notions. We always buy cheap. We can always fix it up if it does not work. Or we can always sell the whole plant to investors with lots of money. All we need are good lawyers and dumb buyers.
  3. Confirmation bias. We listen to those who have figured out what we want to hear. We reward those who have gotten away with guessing the way we would want them to guess. Alternatively, we support those who find ways to blame “issues” on things other than our guesses. Also, we can always blame it on the manufacturer.
  4. Imperfection argument. Nobody is perfect, and everything is relative. That is why we don’t even have to try. We must be OK doing what we have always done; if it was good enough for our CEOs in previous decades, it is good enough for us today.
  5. Opinion support. We prefer to listen to opinions instead of facts. We allow our staff to commingle opinions and facts, and see no need to separate the two.
  6. Overconfidence. Our failure record might indicate that we are not nearly as smart as we think, but nobody’s data-collection effort is perfect. Therefore, we are not concerned that our failure record could be flawed, and we do not lose sleep over the matter.
  7. Repeat failure tolerance. My guys report to the operations department. The operations team is interested in production. As long as we produce, we are all happy. That is why we have spare pumps—one pump out for repair has no production impact.
  8. Status quo preference. My boss was promoted by not making any waves. Because I also want to be promoted, I will not make waves either. Therefore, I just say that the failure record does not bother me. It has always been this way.
  9. Team player demands. The guys who do not jump on my bandwagon just are not team players. At a minimum, I will see to it that their careers are redirected into dead ends.
  10. Training permissiveness. I let my team players choose what training they need. The fact that they prefer Honolulu over Detroit is not one of my concerns, and travel is one of their fringe benefits.

These sure steps to substandard reliability performance may raise eyebrows. We tend to believe that we are smarter than we actually are. However, if you are introspective and note any of the above traits in your organization, you might consider listing them in order of importance. You might then proceed to map out an appropriate improvement strategy and, hopefully, stick to following the map.

This map is best summarized by noting how successful companies impart reliability to their machinery assets. Management in consistently reliability-focused work environments will ascertain that both the operating range and safety factor (SF) of a machine are fully defined. If, for example, this range has an upper throughput limit of 100% and an SF of 1.3, then the reliability-focused environment will not encourage, allow or reward operation at over 100%. Operating within parameters where an SF is not present can prove disastrous. HP

HEINZ P. BLOCH is the author of 19 textbooks and over 600 papers and articles. He was also a senior engineering associate for Exxon Chemicals. He is in his 53rd year as a reliability professional and continues to advise process plants worldwide on reliability improvement, failure avoidance and maintenance cost-reduction opportunities. He holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering and an MS degree in mechanical engineering, both from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.  


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