Operator-driven reliability (ODR) is a maintenance philosophy that focuses on empowering operators to take ownership of their equipment and drive reliability. Unlike other maintenance philosophies, ODR puts the responsibility for equipment health more squarely on the operators’ shoulders. This can be a challenge, but it can also lead to better overall equipment reliability. A perfect example of operator-driven reliability is how you care for your personal vehicle. Is your mechanic responsible for noticing issues or potential failures? No, because they don’t drive your car every day. You, the operator, have to be responsible for noticing problems and your mechanic is only responsible for fixing them.
The Importance of Operator-Driven Reliability
Maintenance departments are not solely responsible for asset reliability. Production and operations departments (the owners and operators of equipment) greatly influence asset reliability. There is evidence that 25-40% of maintenance failures are directly attributed to how facilities operate their equipment. Equipment reliability is affected by the methods and procedures used during startup, shutdown, and changeover. So, logic states that the operators should be responsible for detecting subtle changes in the condition of the assets in the first place.
Further studies show that you leave about 33% of your asset improvement opportunities on the table if basic operator care isn’t part of your overall reliability program. The Penn State Applied Research Lab estimates that improved physical asset management could recover $200 billion to $500 billion annually for North American industries. As a result, businesses can improve their bottom lines by eliminating gaps between current and potential performance. Furthermore, those responsible for operating physical assets are best equipped to detect problems.
An Example of ODR
As the saying goes, when a product or service is breaking down, talk to people within 10 feet of the problem to solve it. They are also the ones most likely to recognize if equipment operation is the cause of poor performance or something else. For example, a restaurant is suddenly getting food out to customers slower than before. Using the 10 feet rule, the manager should speak to the cook and kitchen staff to identify the cause. It is highly likely that they know which critical equipment is malfunctioning, such as a burner that isn’t lighting and slows down cook times. Similar to this example, the operators of large plants and facilities are generally the ones closest to the problem.
How to Implement Operator-Driven Reliability
It is possible to improve the performance of key assets by identifying the areas that have the most problems, then finding out exactly what is affecting their performance. However, it takes more than asking operators to inspect their equipment to build a successful operator-driven reliability program. In most organizations, basic maintenance troubleshooting techniques are not adequately taught to many operators. Their lack of understanding of cause and effect between symptoms (warning signs) and consequences (failures) leads to a breakdown of the function of the system.
Troubleshooting and correcting problems quickly is essential for operators to avoid negative business impacts. To ensure operators are operating with the latest knowledge, they should be trained effectively and continuously. Also, to mitigate disruption or damage, operators must understand the workings of systems and equipment, recognize problems before they escalate, and take the steps necessary to mitigate them before they cause widespread damage. Detecting problems early, like overheating or vibration can prevent expensive problems from occurring and reduce equipment downtime.
What Do Operators Need to Know?
You can mitigate most equipment failures by teaching operators:
- The ins and outs of their equipment
- What constitutes normal performance
- Signs that maintenance is needed
- How to perform basic inspection and maintenance tasks
Operator-Driven Reliability Requires a Culture Shift
Getting products out the door or completing a service is the primary responsibility of an operator. In the early stages of functional failure, a machine is still able to perform its basic functions. For example, as long as there is a mechanical seal, a pump can still move the product from point A to point B. In organizations where reactive maintenance is the primary response and there isn’t an ODR program, operators learn to ignore warning signs and wait until the pump fails before reporting. This is the classic thinking of, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
So, if you want to develop operator-driven reliability in your facility, you must include safe, reliable, consistent operation of equipment alongside performance expectations. Again, an operator’s main job is to meet a product quota or complete a service. They are often rarely asked to consider equipment function as part of their daily goals. This is an essential task because front-line personnel can inform you about:
- Different equipment smells
- Subtle vibration changes
- Unusual equipment sounds
- Visual equipment changes
Even the most competent reliability professional cannot implement best practices on their own in the “real world.” There has to be buy-in from management, operators, and technicians. Unfortunately, some employees may only consider short-term concerns. Generally, short-term interests take the form of repair-focused activities, whereas long-term interests take the form of reliability-focused activities. Creating a high-performing and profitable organization requires long-term investments. Rather than focusing on repairs, industrial enterprises should embrace a reliability-focused approach.
ODR is Key to Long-Term Asset Reliability
You should not underestimate the value of operator-driven reliability. Your operators spend the day in and day out with the equipment that drives your organization’s reliability. So, their observations can make a huge impact on detecting issues early, minimizing downtime, and improving reliability. To build a culture of reliability, you must harness their hands-on knowledge. Yes, it will take time, as ODR is not an off-the-shelf solution you can implement on short notice. However, the investment in getting buy-in and training operators is well worth the long-term reliability benefits.