The Fantastic Four

Elements provide fast results for equipment reliability programs

by Christopher Jeruzal

There are four crucial elements needed to create a basic equipment reliability program. Having these elements—maintenance strategy, vibration analysis, lubrication analysis, and failure analysis and corrective action—in place promises to provide an organization with immediate results.

1. Maintenance strategy

The idea of a maintenance strategy is to identify all necessary information to reliably maintain and troubleshoot a piece of equipment. A list of critical equipment in a facility should be compiled, and then each piece of equipment should be ranked based on its risk impact to employee safety, finances and mean time between failures.

After the list is generated, a maintenance strategy should be developed for each ranked piece of equipment. A maintenance strategy can include:

  • Original equipment manufacturer’s name and contact information.
  • Equipment reliability and availability goals.
  • A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).
  • A list of critical spare parts.
  • Maintenance procedures.

A maintenance strategy should evolve as new failure modes and changes in components are identified.

2. Vibration analysis

Vibration analysis is a complementary tool to the maintenance strategy because it is commonly used to detect many failure modes found in the FMEA. Equipment component defects can be detected well before they actually threaten a piece of equipment. Bearing defects, fan imbalance, belt wear, sheave eccentricity, gear tooth wear and pump cavitation are just a few of the common equipment component failures that can be detected with vibration analysis.

Vibration analysis organizations typically provide customers with the necessary hardware, software, calibration services and training solutions. Some organizations even send trainers to a customer’s facility and train the customer’s employees using familiar equipment. Hands-on training is an invaluable service and gives employees the best chance at succeeding.

3. Lubrication analysis

Oil analysis is another complementary element to the maintenance strategy. To only look at vibrations would be similar to looking at only part of the defect picture; therefore, analyzing equipment lubricants should be done to ensure a complete understanding of equipment component failures.

Oil analyses not only look at type and grade of oil, but they also identify problems such as contamination, component wear, acidic oil and dirty filters. Lubrication report samples can be found online and typically include a trend of three to six months worth of analyses.

A service agreement should be set up with a lubrication analysis organization to have it analyze lubrication samples on a periodic basis. Training solutions for employees are typically offered through the lubrication analysis organization. Good lubrication programs have countless benefits, and they’re important to have to improve reliability.

4. Failure analysis and corrective action

As failures are identified postmortem or as potential failures are identified with vibration analysis or oil analysis, determine what caused the failure. Tools such as fault tree analysis and cause and effect diagrams can be used in conjunction with the FMEA that was created with the maintenance strategy to get to a root cause.

After the root cause or failure mode is identified, add it to the FMEA and plan to mitigate that failure mode from recurring. By updating the FMEA, the maintenance strategy is also updated and ensures service schedules are done at the proper intervals.

While many potential reliability elements exist, incorporating the four crucial elements will give an organization a good start establishing a reliability program. Ultimately, a reliability program needs to be tailored to meet organization-specific reliability and maintenance goals and can also incorporate other elements of reliability.


  • Barringer, Paul, et. al., "Reliability Programs: Successful or Failures?" December 2007, www.barringer1.com/dec07prb.htm.
  • Bloch, H.P., Geitner, F.K., Machinery Failure Analysis and Troubleshooting, third edition, Vol. 2, Gulf Publishing Co. 1999.
  • Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co., General Motors, "Potential Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) Reference Manual," second edition, 1995.
  • ExxonMobil, Signum Oil Analysis webpage, http://signumoilanalysis.com/signum/index.html.
  • Insight Services Inc., "Three Aspects of Oil Testing," www.testoil.com/testing-three-aspects-of-oil-analysis.html.
  • Ramu, Govind, "FMEA Minus the Headache," Quality Progress, March 2009, pp. 37–42.
  • Rockwell Automation Inc., vibration monitoring and training, www.rockwellautomation.com.
  • Rooney, James, et. al., "Cause and Effect: Fault Tree Analysis Assesses What Leads to an Event," Quality Progress, February 2009, pp. 38–44.
  • SKF USA Inc., vibration monitoring and training, www.skf.com.
  • Technical Associates of Charlotte, P.C. "Illustrated Vibration Analysis Chart," pp. 6.4–6.8, 1997.

Christopher Jeruzal is a maintenance engineer for Occidental Chemical Corp. in Ludington, MI. He earned a master’s degree in engineering from Kettering University in Flint, MI. Jeruzal is a senior ASQ member, an ASQ-certified reliability engineer and a member of ASQ’s Reliability Divisionand Six Sigma Forum.

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