Striving to achieve a ‘reliable state’ for improved productivity

Four ways to reorganize your people and processes will keep assets operating at longer intervals, which will increase productivity and make the workplace safer.

By Stuart Grant, DuPont Sustainable Solutions March 9, 2017

In today’s rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive global economy, companies are under tremendous pressure to function at the peak of performance, and do so cost-effectively. But with so many initiatives and programs that comprise the daily operations of an organization competing for limited time and resources, it can be difficult for companies to know where to focus their attention.

While those initiatives that companies consider a priority will vary depending upon the organization’s unique business situation and industry sector, one area that most companies in the manufacturing industry would be wise to focus on is the convergence of safety, reliability and productivity that enables the achievement of a "reliable state."

A reliable state is the point at which a company’s safety, reliability and productivity are optimal. As a result, organizations are able to realize increased performance, efficiency and profitability. As the term suggests, reliable operations are the keystone to achieving optimum safety and productivity.

With respect to safety, the more reactive or corrective maintenance that a company must perform to repair equipment and components, the greater the risk of injury to workers as this type of maintenance can be more unpredictable and hazardous than preventive maintenance. Increasing the reliability of equipment by appropriate use of precision, predictive and planned maintenance keeps unscheduled repairs at a minimum and leads to a decrease in safety incidents and injuries.

Similarly, when reactive or corrective maintenance needs to be performed to repair equipment or components, those assets are generally out of operation for a longer time than for preventive maintenance. Improving the reliability of equipment reduces the need for mechanical interventions (transient conditions), and keeps those assets operating at longer intervals, which in turn increases productivity.

A collective goal

But what steps can companies take to keep their maintenance and reliability program functioning at its peak so they can achieve a reliable state of heightened reliability, safety and productivity?

First and foremost, achieving a reliable state must be a collective goal of the entire organization, both company leadership and employees. Often this involves changing how the concept of reliability is perceived. Employees sometimes have the misperception that productivity gains achieved through reliability programs are primarily intended to downsize personnel within the company. That is why it is important for employees to realize that improving the reliability of equipment within their area of control is about creating a safer working environment for them and other employees—it is about protecting them.

It is also important that company executives make clear their commitment to improving reliability to all employees. This includes not only demonstrating their commitment by dedicating the necessary financial resources, but also by conveying it through face-to-face communication with workers on the shop floor in a tone that is supportive of employees’ efforts.

Once all employees in the company buy in to achieving a "reliable state," processes and practices must be effectively executed to reach and sustain that goal. Doing so requires work to be executed with operational discipline. DuPont Sustainable Solutions defines operational discipline as, "The deeply rooted dedication and commitment by every member of the organization to carry out each task the right way every time."

Operational discipline means complying with a set of well thought out and well defined processes, and consistently executing them correctly. Operational discipline provides a structured way to accomplish tasks through a fundamental set of procedures that are specific to a business’s unique products or service offerings. It improves the execution and performance of the work across an organization to a point where leaders and employees consistently and continuously address the day-to-day operational needs of the business in a timely and safe manner.

When companies employ operational discipline, certain tasks reach higher levels of efficiency, contributing to fewer mistakes and better quality. As a result, time and opportunities open up for everyone to focus on elevating performance and results. There is a ripple effect of benefits, each having the power to unleash rapid and continuous improvement. Regardless of the industry, operational discipline increases reliability, decreases the risk of a high-consequence incident occurring, and contributes to increased productivity.

One way to ensure operational discipline is for companies to keenly focus on addressing leading indicators in their maintenance and reliability programs. Leading indicators, if not recognized and acted upon, will result in an actual failure or event, which is a lagging indicator. They can include incident near-misses and unsafe conditions, or early function failure in equipment. A simple example is rust. Rust on a component is a leading indicator of corrosion and loss of mechanical integrity, and if it is not addressed immediately through a preventive maintenance action (for example, removing the rust and repainting the component) it could lead to a lagging indicator. In this case, the lagging indicator could be a hole in the component, which leads to leaks of hazardous materials.

The human tendency is toward addressing lagging indicators because they require immediate attention. In some cases, though, lagging indicators can be as severe as a major incident that requires shutting down equipment for an extended period, or even a fatality. Clearly, striving to address leading indicators through good operational discipline is one of the best ways for companies to increase reliability, safety and production.

Four steps to organizational discipline

Sustaining operational discipline across an organization is no easy task. Companies need to adopt an integrated approach to their business processes if improved operations are to be effectively and efficiently implemented on a consistent basis. An integrated approach links critical elements, including:

  • Process management: Establishing the right strategy, governance and key performance indicators, developing an organizational structure to support processes and monitoring performance.
  • The technical model: The specific steps and procedures to conduct a maintenance and reliability program and address identified hazards.
  • A capabilities engine: The training and coaching necessary to provide employees the right skills and collaborative mindset to pursue operational discipline.
  • Mindsets and behaviors: Motivating employees, changing behaviors and encouraging individual ownership of results through the active participation of corporate leadership, from C-suite executives to the critical level of first-line management.

This integrated approach promotes the operational discipline required for companies to achieve a reliable state.

Optimizing a company’s reliability, safety and productivity can seem a daunting task, particularly given the many competing priorities faced by organizations. But by thinking of them as interdependent priorities, and pursuing them through business processes that are fully integrated, the reliable state is attainable.

Stuart Grant is global maintenance & reliability champion with DuPont Sustainable Solutions.