Like all technical disciplines, there are some key foundation concepts within reliability engineering that allow new players to reliability to have an immediate impact on asset performance.
First, it is critical to understand the technical definition of reliability, because perhaps it is not reliability you need, maybe it is availability that is the driver of performance within your organization.
Either way, understanding what impacts reliability and availability are essential if you are going to improve performance.
The next step is to then understand the connection between reliability, availability, and maintenance. It is beneficial to understand the history of maintenance, maintenance systems and the development of maintenance plans and how the reliability engineering discipline has evolved to where it is today.
There are some key fundamentals with setting or reviewing maintenance plans that are still widely misunderstood and have a significant impact on performance. The reality is that in many cases maintenance plans are altered without the required due diligence or technical understanding of the reliability engineering principles, leading to unplanned failures and high risks and costs.
To be successful as a reliability engineer these fundamentals must be understood and applied appropriately to drive performance up and costs and risks down. With the application of these principles, reliability engineering becomes an application of art and science combined and moves an organization away from subjective opinion-based decision making.
To truly have an impact as a Reliability Engineer requires more than a surface understanding of P-F intervals, functional analysis, MTBF, Weibull distributions and effective problem solving, but a much deeper understanding of these fundamentals, how they connect and impact on asset performance.
I recall a specific event whereby a critical pump was subject to monthly vibration analysis, set with the guidance from the consultants who completed the vibration analysis for us. Basically, the interval was set based on the criticality of the pump. The pump failed in an unplanned manner twice within 1 year, with catastrophic effects because the whole plant cannot operate without this critical pump.
What was happening was that the product being pumped would wear the seal and once worn the bearing behind the seal would fail within around 24 hours.
Clearly, monthly vibration analysis was not going to detect degradation that can occur within a 24-hour period. The example illustrates how P-F intervals are related to specific failure modes (not components) and the actual task and technology being used to detect the degradation.
Without a sound understanding of these key principles, the outcomes of critical unplanned failures are typical. Foundational knowledge in the principles of reliability engineering is essential for anyone new to the discipline which cannot be learned through experience alone, but rather, accelerated through a structured approach to the key aspects and how they are applied in practical examples.