Reliability Engineering: Glorious Work or Laborious Work?

When you think of reliability engineering, especially in manufacturing, does your mind conjure up images of the glorious work of a Reliability Rockstar or the laborious work of the forgotten few? I think we all wish, at least sometimes, our day included marching as the Grand Marshall in the Uptime Parade followed by an afternoon writing your acceptance speech for the CMRP of the Year Award; but that really just is not the case. While becoming a reliability engineer or reliability technician is a very rewarding career, it takes a lot of hard work and does not come with a lot of trumpets and fanfare. Let's face it, if you do your job perfectly, then nothing happens... the equipment just runs, the plant just produces, and technicians and craftsmen just execute planned and scheduled work. It is calm; firefighting is at a minimum. Life is dare we say boring. So how do you get here? You have to start with the basics and facilitate your site completing tasks like building hierarchy, collecting name plate data and then determining asset criticality. This is definitely laborious work, but it has to be done and done right. This information is the foundation on which all future reliability engineering work will build. How can you collect meaningful Mean Time Between Failure data if you don't have a hierarchy or know what assets are where? Next, you need to take the hierarchy and criticality and use that to identify high risk areas and equipment. Then, begin to create asset management plans that are based on the actual failure modes not the bloated OEM PM documentation. You can do this by using anyone of the Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) methodologies or even just a failure modes effects analysis (FMEA). Again, this is laborious and even a bit tedious, but this has to be done and you might as well be the one to get it rolling. Once we know how the equipment fails, we can now apply the more glorious tools of Predictive Maintenance (PdM). But, if you jump here first without the other steps, you will find yourself an under achiever at best and a money wasting good for nothing gadget guy at worst. Once you get to this stage, you now ready to think about many of the more advanced rock star statistics tools, loss elimination, and RAM modeling. All of these work best when you have good solid data collected to the hierarchy within your Enterprise Asset Management Systems (EAM) and a process that demonstrates stability. With this level of focus and data, you can make the fine adjustments needed to really help the assets perform at rock star levels; then you can practice your glorious parade wave.