Having visited hundreds of manufacturing plants in the last 17 years, someone recently asked me if there were any traits the most reliable plants all had in common. I have listed below the top 6 signs of a reliable plant.
Sign 1 – The plant is clean! The plants that are top performers are clean all of the time, clutter is unacceptable, and the tasks required to keep the plant clean are routine business. The reason I refuse an immediate tour is that I know the plants who understand reliability are clean all of the time. If someone insists on an immediate tour, I know they have had their people working their tails off to clean up the plant over the past few days. If I wait for just a day or two, the clutter and filth will return. The last part of every plant tour I do will also include the dumpsters, and if they are overfilled, I know a massive clean-up took place.
Sign 2 – MOC (Management of Change) is in place! For each and every RCM analysis I do, I ask for equipment drawings and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) manuals. The plants who understand what it takes to be reliable can easily produce these documents, and with a quick review, one can also see that they have been updated to show revisions. Those who are struggling will have a hard time producing these documents and what they can produce does not represent what is actually in the field. Truth be known, most companies have an MOC process but a large percentage do not actually follow through with the process. Reliable plants understand that without current drawings, manuals, and information, mistakes will be made in operating, maintaining, and troubleshooting.
Sign 3 – Reliability is measured! I know I am in for a good week when I ask a group if they know the reliability of the asset we are about to perform an RCM analysis on and they have an answer. Plants that understand reliability measure OEE/TEEP (Overall Equipment Effectiveness/Total Effective Equipment Performance) on their critical assets and actively seek to improve and stabilize reliability using proven tools and methods. Plants that struggle with reliability “don’t have time to measure reliability”, measure it at the plant level, or change one or more of the components of the measure to make their numbers look better.
Sign 4 – SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) are in place and followed! This seems like a simple concept. A company spends a fair amount of money to purchase and install a manufacturing asset, so one would think the first thing on a manager’s mind would be to protect that asset by ensuring that SOPs are written and become part of our everyday business. Of the companies I have visited over the past 15 years, every one that had SOPs in place also had the other four signs of a reliable plant. Plants that fail to have SOPs use every excuse in the book to explain why they feel they are not needed or important. When they are done giving excuses, I ask them if they would ever fly an airline that felt the same way. Should pilots be allowed to just start up, take off, fly, and land the aircraft the way they think is best, or is there a valid reason for the checklists and SOPs they follow each flight?
Sign 5 – Maintenance is planned/scheduled and performed! Plants that are reliable understand the importance of maintenance, and as a result, the planning, scheduling, and performance of maintenance is part of their routine business. They are able to plan, schedule, and complete better than 90% of their maintenance work throughout the year. While they still have emergency unplanned outages once in a while, they represent less than 10% of their workload. On-Condition Maintenance (aka Predictive Maintenance (PdM) or Condition Based Maintenance (CBM)) represents 40% or more of their maintenance workload and PM (Preventive Maintenance) is in the range of 7-10% of their work. The companies who struggle with planning, scheduling, and performing routine maintenance will never achieve the level of reliability they need to accomplish Lean Manufacturing or work in a Just-In-Time environment. While they might dabble with On-Condition tools such as vibration analysis, airborne ultrasound, or infrared thermography, they won’t have the discipline to plan and schedule corrective maintenance prior to suffering the collateral damage that goes along with running to failure.
Sign 6 – The Maintenance Craftspeople Have Been Trained in and Use Precision Maintenance Techniques. Smart companies understand the best designed equipment in the world can be ruined if we don’t take the time and effort to ensure it is precision aligned, balanced and torqued. Because the understand this they allow their people the time it takes to do things right. The culture of precision maintenance breeds continuous improvement. When you expect precision and find something less as you work on your equipment the people put in work orders to make it right. As these problems are identified and eliminated emergency and demand work decreases.
In closing, I would be foolish not to include a comment that one thing all reliable plants have in common: strong leaders who have an appreciation for the people who are committed to continuously improving on each of these 5 categories. Great leaders set goals, provide direction, and create a working environment where people share in their success.