Equipment Reliability FAQs

by Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

How Do You Measure Equipment Reliability?

Equipment reliability is needed both to reduce costs and to make sure that the company can get products or services to its customers when they are desired. Equipment reliability has become a hot topic, but too many organizations continue to struggle when it comes to putting a formal equipment reliability system in place. The following questions represent those that I have been to comment on in recent months.

What is the best approach to “selling” new reliability and asset care processes to the production team?

Most people do not like to live with the headaches that they experience on the job each day. While they may gain a sense of self satisfaction from putting out fires, they will gain a much higher level of pride if they can show how they have put these fires out for good.  If you can convince them that these new processes will help take away their headaches, then you are well on your way towards selling them on the need for a reliability and asset care focus.

Additionally, you need to involve them in the improvement efforts, as opposed to telling them what some other group in the company is going to come and ‘do for them.’  You also need to let them know ahead of time how their daily job will be affected if they are successful – will they be asked to keep doing more with less?  How will their job change? How will they use their work time differently if the number of fires to be extinguished each day decreases significantly?

EXPLORE MORE: Escaping Reactive World

What are some examples of effective “rewards systems” for recognizing desired employee behaviors in regard to equipment reliability?

Let’s start off by highlighting the least effective (and most damaging) form of rewards – the ‘one winner’ system.  Avoid creating any form of recognition system such as ‘employee of the month’ that recognizes only one person at the expense of others.  Instead, put in place a reward system that recognizes anyone who meets or exceeds a certain set of criteria.  Secondly, avoid rewarding someone excessively for ‘simply’ doing their daily job.

The best form of reward system for any improvement effort is a well-designed profit sharing plan that allows employees at all levels to obtain some additional amount of pay when site or organizational goals are met.  The most effective plans have a short line of sight (monthly payouts for example), are based on achieving a balanced set of performance goals, and vary in amount as a greater percentage of the desired goal set is achieved.  Within such a system, reliability improvements would be reflected in downtime reductions and reduced equipment replacement needs, which in turn would fall into the ‘cost’ performance area bucket.

You may also want to supplement your profit sharing plan with recognition such as gift certificates or free meals for any individual or team that helps implement an improvement which significantly impacts reliability.  Many organizations which are hesitant to pursue a full blown profit sharing approach will instead go this scaled down route.  Begin by defining (1) what amount you are willing to budget for formal recognition, (2) what types of contributions will be recognized, and (3) who will be eligible for such recognition. 

Most importantly, realize that in a work system, individuals (such as an engineer) can rarely be successful on their own. In turn, it sends a negative message to the supporting team members (other engineers, supervisors, and front line employees) if that individual is recognized and they are not, or if that individual is recognized to an inequitable degree.

DISCOVER MORE: Measuring Employee Ownership

What are some effective approaches to educating equipment suppliers on effective “designs for reliability”?

One of the best approaches to use involves holding regular supplier conferences, which are hosted by the organization, on at least an annual basis.  For some key suppliers, quarterly meetings of this nature are often required, especially in the first year or so of the transition to a reliability focus.  During these meetings, both company expectations and emerging trends and practices can be covered.  A second approach for educating suppliers is based on involving them on a concurrent engineering team as new equipment is being developed or designed.  Finally, the equipment specifications themselves can help guide a supplier towards providing the type of service the company desires.

The company needs to keep in mind how the supplier agreement for a given job, along with the overarching supplier management system. Both play foundational roles in ensuring that suppliers keep their skills relative to reliability design up-to-date and incorporate these design factors into the products and services they provide to the organization.  Too many organizations simply negotiate with a supplier on price. They fail to consider the often more important factors of design soundness, design for reliability, and user friendliness as part of the agreement and supplier evaluation system.

How critical is the implementation of a formal planning and scheduling process to the improvement of equipment reliability?

A formal planning and scheduling process is essential to improving plant reliability. Without a formal process, it becomes much too difficult to ensure that limited time and money resources are allocated to those areas that need them the most.  Many efforts to improve reliability fail simply because the ‘squeaky wheel’ gets the grease instead of other areas that are actually more critical to plant success.  Additionally, preventive maintenance activities tend to be discounted, even when a formal process is in place in many cases. This is due to the reactive culture that exists in most organizations.

If you would like more information about the process improvement and reliability enhancement tools I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at

What are some effective approaches to communicating equipment reliability responsibilities to all plant team members?

The most commonly used approaches for communicating job responsibilities of any nature are the job description, the compensation system, the personal development process, and the measurement system.  The job description should define not only what needs to be done each day, but the amount of time that should be spent of key types of work and how that work will be measured.  The compensation system rewards people for doing work that is consistent with expectations, and the personal development process serves as the primary vehicle for addressing performance that fails to meet expectations.  The measurement system also helps communicate what is expected, as its mix of measures sends a strong message about what is relatively more important.

Process owners (supervisors and managers) also play a key role in communicating performance expectations, including those of a reliability nature.  These people choose what to cover in formal meetings, and how much emotion and time to devote to each agenda item.  Supervisors and managers make daily decisions about what performance issues they will choose to recognize positively, provide negative feedback on, or ignore.  In each case, a message is sent to the people about what is important and what is not.

Most organizations employ all of these approaches to some degree.  The challenge lies in using them effectively and accepting the fact that effectiveness can not really be determined without employing some form of measurement system for a given approach.

How do you maintain a sense of “ownership” by the craftsmen for the care of specific assets?

Ownership cannot be established if you do not (1) define the expectation that process ownership is required, (2) empower people to take initiative to make improvements to those processes, (3) give them key process feedback on a regular basis, (4) provide the time and money resources to help them succeed, (5) make the requisite work system changes as a management team help minimize human error and equipment problems outside the control of these people, and (6) consistently recognize them in a positive manner when the desired behavior (a sense of ownership) as demonstrated through measurable results.

You also need to assess your own belief systems as a management team.  Do you believe that people come to work wanting to do a good job, or do you think that people will cut corners any chance they get?  Do you prefer to blame people when problems arise, or is it your tendency to search for those systemic factors that are in essence encouraging higher levels of human error?  Do you believe that equipment failures are simply a fact of life, or do you as a management team attempt to identify and remedy those systemically induced human errors that lead to a higher frequency and severity of equipment problems than you desire?  People will be much more reluctant to take ownership if they perceive that they are being left out on an island – in other words, is management helping them succeed or setting them up to fail?

Keep improving! Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer, Great Systems

If you would like more information about the process improvement and reliability enhancement tools I have to offer, please send me an e-mail at