Five Habits of Great Reliability Engineers

Good habits lead to great success.

In my years as a Reliability Engineer, I have discovered five habits that help me work to my fullest potential. These are all responses to the five common mistakes of a Reliability Engineer discussed in the previous blog post. By employing these habits, if you haven’t already, your ability to find, understand, and solve problems will greatly improve.

Habit 1 – Identify problems

You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists, which is why you must know how to identify them. And many problems do like to appear non-existent, floating just below the surface. The key to being a successful Reliability Engineer is to always assume something is wrong, and do everything possible to assume your suspicions are correct. But how? First, ask the following questions:

  • Does your plant have unforeseen failures?
  • Where is money spent?
  • Are production targets being met?

Don’t dismiss anything as “bad luck” or “just the way it is”, because many of these things are problems waiting for a solution. To locate your problems, find data and evidence. It could be related to production and maintenance costs, production downtime, maintenance overruns or maintenance schedules. Once you found your issues, my suggestion is to address them biggest to smallest, and begin to dissect your first problem.

Habit 2 – Find the cause

Knowing the cause of a problem is essential to fixing it. There’s a difference between treating symptoms and treating the disease. You might be able to fix a machine when it breaks, but whatever broke the machine in the first place is still around, and will break it again. I used to work at a pump station that was operating too fast, and the company brought the cheapest Variable Speed Drive (VSD) available to slow it down. A year later, the bearings in two pump units failed. After a practical dissection, we found out these bearings had been fluted by electrical currents emitted by the flimsy VSD. From there we only needed to contain the stray currents and insulate the bearings to eliminate the problem. If you can figure out the root cause for machine breakage, you can design your solutions. It’ll save you a lot of work and expense in future.

Habit 3 – Assess the alternatives

Organizations talk about continuous improvement and one of the keys is assessing the alternatives. In my experience, no one does that enough. People repeat the same actions for months, maybe years, and their methods eventually become outdated. Do the same problems arise even after you solve them? Are your meetings monotonous and disengaging? Does accounting complain about a particular maintenance cost? Yes? Assess the alternatives. Look beyond what is immediately presented to you. I was able to check the tightness of bolts on machinery using an aviation engineering product called “Torque Check”. Improved methods, tools, software, and communication become available at a rate faster than ever seen before. Pay attention to these changes, think outside the box, learn from others outside your field, and you may find a more efficient and effective way to maintain and improve the plant.

Habit 4 – Decide with data

Found a solution or opportunity for improvement? Want to implement it? Better have data to back yourself up. People won’t care unless they know the benefits. I’ve observed as others ignored the problems Reliability Engineers found. I once observed the work management of some reliability engineers who kept finding problems, but they never recorded them. Naturally without proper data, no one cared. I started doing weekly meetings where I used data from sources outside the inspections to illustrate how more problems were finding us than we found them, and improved the inspection process my colleagues underwent. Within weeks, they found far more problems than they did with the initial method. Armed with reliable data, solutions were finally implemented, with other colleagues in full support of the adjustments. Change is ignited by passion, so get anyone important to care.

Habit 5 – Implement by facilitation

Note that a Reliability Engineer is one cog in a network about more than just Reliability. You must work with others in your company but outside your field. I’ve had to implement systems where I don’t have the technical know-how, so I needed help from others. The catch is that I do not have authority over those people, because they work in their separate departments. By facilitating them, I can get things implemented with more permanence. Once I had to implement a new system and needed the help of several people working in non-reliability positions. To make it a success, I knew facilitating clear and constant communication was paramount. First, I introduced the project to all the relevant people individually, and then re-introduced it at a formal meeting. We had a Gantt chart to track who needed to what and by when, and when any problems arose, I made sure to contact whoever was involved to ensure they were creating a solution. In the end, through much teamwork, we finished the project that I could not do on my own, and I’m sure everyone was proud.

Good habits are key to any successful career, and these five habits for reliability engineers are no different. You’ll find problems easier to find gain a deeper understanding of said problems, as well as find new and efficient solutions never considered before by you or your colleagues. You’ll find yourself endlessly improving yourself and your plant, and receive much satisfaction in return.

For more information on the five habits, the book “5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer” is available now from Reliability Extranet and Amazon Kindle.

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