What Does Reliability Mean to Your Business?

public electricians working on a power lineAccording to R. Keith Mobley, performance optimization consultant, it’s simply a myth that maintenance creates or controls reliability: “In truth, maintenance struggles just to maintain the inherent design reliability of plant assets and to stay ahead of the premature damage resulting from improper operating practices and unrealistic demands imposed by management. Why, then, do so many people think that reliability is a maintenance issue?”

In other words, reliability is about more than just part maintenance; in this day and age, reliability and functionality must coexist. In fact, as Mobley reminds us, physical asset maintenance and a holistic company culture are both vital to being a “reliable” manufacturer. For example, maintenance cannot help companies who haven’t designed their equipment for reliability and operability from the very beginning. 

Step one on the reliability scale, says reliability management specialist Drew Troyer: plant and equipment design must be taken seriously. “Design in a modular fashion so it’s easy to retool the machine for future generations of products,” Troyer notes. “This reduces your time to market for new products. An old approach to equipment design that gets you functional at the lowest up-front cost is likely to yield undesirable results when it’s time to make any changes.” If you’re not designing a reliable plant from the very beginning, the chances of achieving future goals are tremendously low.

What does it mean to be reliable in the first place? What questions should manufacturers be asking themselves when they ask, “Am I reliable or not?” The Business Dictionary says that for manufacturers, reliability is “The probability of failure-free performance over an item’s useful life, or a specified time frame, under specified environmental and duty-cycle conditions.” In “Agile Project Management: Adapting over Conforming,” Jim Highsmith claims: “Reliable processes focus on outputs, not inputs. Using a reliable process, team members figure out ways to consistently achieve a given goal, even though the inputs vary dramatically.”

If you’re an advanced manufacture, the key to reliability is results—being able to adapt processes in a variety of ways to construct a failure-free performance. Adapting to a variety of conditions, even in the face of failure, is the key to success.

This variety, says Mobley, leads to the myth that reliability is either unattainable or expensive, unable to overcome the infinite variables when workers do things their own way in a complete vacuum, from the factory floor to the boardroom. Hence, we assume that reliability issues have to do with purely machine maintenance, when that’s not the case at all.

For your business, it’s important to understand what it means to you to be reliable. Does it mean that your equipment is well-maintained? Does it mean that your plant has been planned under the auspices of future reliability? Does it mean that every worker works alone, making no mistakes?

The company culture, in order to achieve consistent reliability, must be one of cooperation and adaptability. “Reliability is and must be treated as a holistic organizational issue where all functions and all employees, from the CEO to the newest hire on the factory floor, have critical roles to play. Unless or until consistency throughout the organization becomes the norm—becomes a part of its DNA—reliability is not possible.”

At Distefano, reliability means a few things. For one, the ultimate goal is on-time delivery of a consistent, high-quality product, which is why we’re so proud of our successful track record in meeting customer demands effectively. We have our own transportation division, so we’re always able to deliver product in a reliable manner.

We also find it important to be able to offer a complete product line, but with industry-leading efficiency and accuracy. Rather than offering one product and doing it really well, we strive to offer a variety of machined products that are all done really well. From metal stamping to CNC punching and more, our customers have a wide array of choices that they know will be high-quality.

Questions? Comments? Would you like to learn more about reliability in advanced manufacturing? If so, leave a comment in the section below!

photo credit: JCP&L Continues Circuit Upgrades to Enhance Service Reliability via photopin (license)

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