Down with maintenance, up with reliability

May 26, 2023

| 2 min read

Down with maintenance, up with reliability

Maintenance has existed for as long as people have owned things they consider valuable. If an expensive piece of machinery breaks down, nine times out of ten you’re not going to dispose of it – you’re going to fix it. Maintenance is such a fundamental part of the world we live in, but it’s not always talked about like that.

“If you call a plant manager and tell them you want to talk about maintenance, they’re going to try to get you off the phone as fast as they can,“ explains Jason Afara, Solutions Engineer at Fiix.

But wait, aren’t maintenance and reliability the same thing? Yes and no. While they’re both rooted in the same activities, think of reliability as the next evolution of maintenance.

Maintenance vs. Reliability

What is maintenance?

Maintenance has traditionally functioned as a one-to-one technical relationship with equipment. For a long time, maintenance teams used a reactive approach to dealing with maintenance—when something breaks, it’s fixed. Planned maintenance was a very limited approach to keeping things running.

What is reliability?

Reliability encompasses so much more than just the technical aspects of maintenance. It’s a more holistic approach that addresses the root causes of failure and builds long-term solutions to curb them. It includes building a culture, designing a plan, and creating maintenance strategies that support reliability focused maintenance. We wrote an entire article dedicated to defining reliability, which you can read here.

Maintenance has traditionally functioned as a one-to-one technical relationship with equipment, where something is fixed when it breaks. Reliability on the other hand, encompasses everything machinery interacts with including technology, culture, design and strategy.

Key differences between maintenance and reliability

It’s a shift that’s been taking place since the manufacturing industry began to embrace digitization. Collecting and monitoring machine data has become even easier with technology. Now we are learning to use that data to better plan and understand maintenance operations. With so much information available, we can see the idea of reliability become much more prevalent, shifting us from just fixing things to developing a culture of reliability.

What is reliability culture?

We discussed reliability culture in great lengths in another article, but to summarize, reliability refers to the practice of proactively using maintenance to extend the useful life of an asset. Reliability culture takes that principle and applies it to the people maintaining the assets. To really make it work, everyone needs to feel like they have ownership of the machines they work with. That way, they’re more likely to take care of them and fix anything that might go wrong before it becomes a big deal.

The role of total productive maintenance in establishing reliability culture

One of the primary goals of total productive maintenance (TPM) is to create a culture of reliability, where every employee takes responsibility for maintaining and improving equipment performance. It uses the 5s foundations (sort, systemize, shine, standardize, sustain) to introduce the processes and standardization needed to allow operators to start thinking about machinery as something that needs to be continually improved.

Once operators are performing the activities necessary to lay the foundation for TPM, management can begin to advance the TPM framework by setting up activities that support the eight pillars of TPM. We talk about the eight pillars in this article.

8 pillars of TPM: autonomous maintenance, planned maintenance, quality integration, focused improvement, new equipment management, training and education, safety health environment, and administration

The strategy encourages everyone from the top down to view equipment maintenance as a part of their job rather than something only maintenance technicians do. That level of accountability creates a sense of ownership which can lead to a more proactive and collaborative approach to equipment maintenance.

Another cornerstone of TPM is that it looks to identify and eliminate the root causes of equipment failure, rather than just fixing the symptoms. If everyone understands how the decisions they make and the actions they take impact equipment performance, they are more likely to take steps to prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

The bottom line: Reliability isn’t going anywhere

As we begin to embrace the digitization of the maintenance industry, setting up a reliability-focused culture will only become easier. The knowledge provided by connected machines and smart data will allow facilities to move into a truly predictive maintenance mode, where reactionary maintenance is left in the past and planned, proactive, reliability-focused work is the norm.

Ready to start your reliability journey? We recommend this further reading:

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