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 adopting these five habits to solve your problems, you should take a peak at our Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course taught by the highly experienced Peter Horsburgh. Registration for the event is free and available on Eventbrite.

The Five Common Mistakes of Reliability Engineers

We all screw up, and that’s okay.

In my years working as a Reliability Engineer, I have made many mistakes, felt frequent frustrations, and found myself stuck in the mud, unable to yank my boots free from unproductive methodology. I thought everything followed a rulebook, but that mindset failed me over and over. I had to learn how to solve problems on my own and in doing so, my productivity soared. As I watch other engineers stumble as I did, I have come to recognise five mistakes we all commonly make, and I’m compelled to steer others away from them.

Mistake 1 – Not knowing the problems you have

People don’t always realise they have an issue, which is problematic as you cannot treat an illness if you don’t notice it’s there. Alternatively, you know you have a problem, but mislabel and thus misdiagnose it. The illness goes untreated and you suffer the unnecessary side-effects of the medicine without reward. I sort issues into two categories; chronic and acute. Acute issues are small flukes and one-offs, while chronic issues are identified by trends and cannot be resolved in a simple manner. If you only treat the symptoms of chronic problems like acute problems, you’ll soon find yourself playing an endless form of whack-a-mole. You whack the problem there, another problem pops up somewhere, whack that, and it pops back up where you just fixed it. You’d need more than a hammer to get rid of these “moles” altogether, and you’ll need to know how they’re thriving beneath the surface. Once you identify the presence of a problem and categorise it accordingly, you’ve made progress, but this is only the first in a series of corrections.

Mistake 2 – Misunderstanding the complications that occur

Many Reliability Engineers can identify the problems they have, but not why they’re happening. If they are ignored, misunderstood, or dismissed as one-off incidents, they’ll continue to haunt you. To resolve the problem, you should follow a process I like to call Root Cause Analysis (RCA). To summarise, you analyse patterns and data and keep asking “why” questions until you find the root cause. Maybe a machine part wasn’t the right part for the job. Maybe the machine wasn’t lubricated properly. Maybe the lubrication was contaminated. These root causes won’t become apparent on their own, but they can be found if you look deep enough for them.

So you found the root cause, and you apply a solution according to the rules you have been trained to follow. Did the problem go away? No? Then we come to our third error:

Mistake 3 – Not questioning the rulebook

You can’t expect different results by applying the same, tired solution over and over. When you have a problem that your regular methods fail to fix, you must find another way. Many Reliability Engineers repeat the same method simply because that is all they and their colleagues know. As Abraham Maslow said, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Trying something different is often discouraged because it is risky, but often innovation is the only step forward (and especially in this world of rapidly evolving technology). Many companies unfortunately see maintenance as a cost rather than an investment, and thus a change in routine is seen as a gamble rather To be given the freedom to try a different method, you will need to challenge the mindset of management and for that, you need data.

Mistake 4 – Ignoring Data

When explaining ideas, concepts, or issues to management, it is imperative that you use data, especially that which is easy to understand and explain. In the business world today, you cannot progress without data to back you up, and frankly, why ignore it? Data is easy to access, analyse, and present, so using it is one of the simplest ways to improve. I once had a boss who had a sign on his door that read, “When you enter this office, please choose the type of debate you want to have.” The choices were a data-free debate, a data limited debate, and a data-driven debate. When I started up a data-limited debate with him, he encouraged me to upgrade to a data-driven debate. Presenting the right data is vital if you are to pitch the improvement needed to management, because only then can the fifth mistake be overcome.

Mistake 5 – Failing to facilitate change

You could have the right idea or strategy, but it doesn’t change anything unless implemented. If your strategy gets rejected, it will be as if you have made no progress at all. There were once some New Zealand engineers who bought some shipping container offices to their worksite, and everyday they would go inside these containers to optimise their strategy, and then come back out, for two years. No one outside the containers knew what was happening, so when the engineers presented their fully optimised strategy to management, it got rejected. If they had invested management during the process, two years of hard work would likely not have been thrown away like that. As we discussed before, if you use data to catch their interest, only then will progress be made.

 

As you may have noticed, these five errors can be closely linked. If you work to fix one problem, you might find yourself solving many others in the process, and that can lead you along a path of ever growing relief. Don’t feel ashamed of these mistakes; we all make them, and we can all learn from them.

 

Do you want to learn how best to avoid these mistakes in future? Why not take Peter Horsburgh’s Extraordinary Reliability Engineer course to learn everything he wished he knew much earlier in his career. Registration is available on Eventbrite.

Free support tools and information released for the 5 Habits.

Inside my book, ‘5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer’, you will find “bit.ly” links and QR codes within it (see the image). These link to various Reliability Extranet web pages, including the free tools that have been developed to support the book.

You will find in the book a Self-Assessment, PowerPoint Template, and articles on RCA and Fault Coding.

When the Self-Assessment is completed it gives you a ranking on how you are implementing each of the 5 Habits. To find the tool most helpful, I suggest you read the book, assess yourself, make some changes, and re-assess to see the improvements.

These are free and can be accessed by scanning the codes or clicking on the links in the Kindle version of the book. Have a try, scan the QR code in the attached image, and watch it take you to Reliability Extranet!

Please enjoy and if you have any suggestions for improvements to the supporting materials and tools, please let me know.

Thanks,

7

5 Habits now available for purchase

Exciting News: After the online launches last week, the ‘5 Habits of an Extrodinary Reliability Engineer’ is now available for purchase on Amazon or Reliability Extranet.

The Kindle version is available for single purchase or is included as a part of your Kindle unlimited subscription. The print copy is available via Reliability Extranet and comes signed by the author, Peter Horsburgh. Limited copies are available for immediate dispatch.

If you would like a hard copy, click here on Reliability Extranet.

Or you can find the Kindle version here.

Free Online Book Launch Announced for the “5 Habits”

Tonight the Launch of the 5 Habits was announced on Peter Horsburgh’s LinkedIn profile.

Post message:

*Announcing* the Online Launch of the ‘5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer’ at 7pm on May the 15th in three (3) timezones.

Free Online tickets can be found in the comments attached to this post for the Australasian, European and American timezones.

Two (2) randomly selected attendees per launch will receive a free One on One Coaching session valued at AUD$500 with me (the author).

Six (6) in total will be available. Tickets are limited, so get yours now before they all go!

Online Book Launch
Online Book Launch

Australasia Launch Tickets can be found at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5-habits-online-book-launch-australasia-tickets-46000564928

America’s Launch Tickets can be found at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5-habits-online-book-launch-americas-tickets-46033480379

European Launch Tickets can be found at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/5-habits-online-book-launch-europe-tickets-46033308866

5 Habits: Introducing Gilbert, the Reliability Engineer

Gilbert is the Reliability Engineer in the 5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer. At the beginning of the book, Gilbert starts out frustrated. This is because he has no data, no tools, and no knowledge to use. By applying the 5 Habits he becomes confident as he is equipped with the right tools, enabled with knowledge, and justified with data.

There are over 40 illustrations in the 5 Habits. Most with Gilbert, but there are other characters as well. Paul the manager, Jackson the tradesman (Craftsman), and Gertrude the scientist.

These characters would not have come into existence except for Gary Silversides. Gary is MD of one of the SIRF Roundtables in Australia and one of the reviewers of the manuscript of the 5 Habits. He suggested that it needed illustrations. I took his advice and Gilbert was born.

Gary, when you mentioned that you had a “small part” in the 5 Habits, I feel that was understated. Many people that have seen the book have said “the illustrations have made the book”. To me, you have given a major contribution and for that I cannot thank you enough.

Tickets for the online launch will be available tomorrow. Seats will be limited. Connect with me to get the announcement on LinkedIn.

The countdown is on to the release of the 5 Habits. Check the counter here: https://www.reliabilityextranet.com/the-5-habits/

Introducing the ‘5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer’

Announcement from Peter Horsburgh:

I am very proud to announce that my first book, “5 Habits of an Extraordinary Reliability Engineer” is being released this month on the 15th of May.

I wanted to write a book that was different to all other reliability books, the book that I needed when I was a young engineer myself. I saw a gap in how to behave as a Reliability Engineer and what you needed to do day to day in order to ensure success of yourself and your plant.

Here comes the ‘The 5 Habits’!

If you want to keep updated on the free stuff I’m working on to support the book, make sure your connected to me on LinkedIn where I will be announcing them as soon as they are ready to go.

Sincerely,

A very excited 7.