QUALITY IN THE FIRST PERSON
Worth the Investment
Reliability professionals are important for risk management
By Jigish Vaidya
Innovation, Creativity and excellence allow organizations to stay competitive, maintain market presence and sustain growth. Reliability professionals play key roles in achieving these goals by improving efficiency, cutting costs, formulating business predictions and providing cost-benefit analyses.
The reliability engineering and management team at Long Island Railroad was established about 15 years ago with the goal of increasing the level of quality, efficiency and overall excellence of the organization’s maintenance program.
Our team began by formally establishing a quality management system based on ISO 9001 and the Association of American Railroads’ M-1003—Specification for Quality Assurance. At the same time, we developed new, effective ways to identify component and system performance trends, as well as early-warning action systems.
In the last five years, as we worked to continuously improve quality and reliability, we replaced our old, unsupported maintenance system with the more flexible, powerful system that allows us to gather more accurate and precise data.
We were in the flagship initiative of transitioning from a conventional life cycle maintenance plan to a reliability centered maintenance (RCM) plan. The RCM plan changed the conventional practice of rigidly relying on the original equipment manufacturer’s change-out recommendations for parts. Instead, the RCM plan calculates change-out recommendations that are optimized for the environment and conditions in which our fleets operate.
In recent years, the RCM program has been a catalyst in terms of decreasing maintenance costs, improving maintenance effectiveness, decreasing outages and increasing the fleet’s reliability performance.
Unfortunately, many smaller organizations struggle to justify the benefit of initiating or expanding reliability management programs. While quality assurance and control seem to be widely understood and apparently necessary, the idea of reliability management remains somewhat unfamiliar. However, even start-up organizations can benefit from a reliability team.
Based on objective data analysis, reliability professionals provide clear and compelling explanations for a variety of organizational circumstances. They construct and conduct surveys, as well as devise other efficient ways to collect raw data, which they process and analyze within context to look for patterns. They use this information to advise top management and recommend an organizational strategy.
Think of them as die-hard data scientists who can convey the excitement of data mining and analytics to top management and other employees.
While doing so, they also stimulate team members and management into strategic engagement, develop and enhance problem-solving skills based on objective evidence, and improve data users’ capabilities. They often bring a fresh perspective to the table, present facts and encourage new ideas through their perseverance and knowledge.
Reliability professionals constantly develop new knowledge and capabilities by mining useful data. Their persistence and subject matter expertise can lead to useful and often game-changing analyses, which empower top management in critical decision-making capabilities.
Reliability professionals also play a major role in helping management assess the organization’s performance and competitiveness. The data sets that reliability professionals use can provide accurate gap analysis reports, as well as quantify an organization’s areas of success, in order to suggest a path toward achieving a higher level of performance.
Another reliability professional tool, and probably the most relevant to ISO 9001:2015, is predictive analytics. This addresses factors such as:
- Which parts are more likely to fail?
- What are customers willing to buy?
- What will be the new trend?
- What’s the potential risk of a new product?
Predictive analysis can be used to tame unpredictability in organizational processes or cycles, and unlock the value of previously unimaginable business approaches. Predictive analytics protects the organization’s bottom-line by foreseeing which business activities and investments could pay off and which ones could hurt finances or credibility.
Reliability professionals are useful for predictive analytics because they know how to reap the benefits of big data. Big data are a collection of data sets that are too big and complex to be processed using traditional database and data processing tools. Examples of big data include emails, document databases, environmental sensors, financial transactions and location records.
With the ability to create, implement and innovate within a complex end-to-end process—in the most cost-effective way possible—reliability professionals can team up with various departments.
Their skills can be effectively applied to several Six Sigma methods including: failure review boards; failure mode and effects analysis; failure mode, effects and critically analysis; and root cause failure analysis.
Organizations of all sizes would benefit from understanding the potential of reliability professionals by affording them the time and resources necessary to implement a strong reliability management system.
Jigish Vaidya is a senior manager of operational statistics at the Long Island Rail Road in Jamaica, New York. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lukhdhirji Engineering College in Gujarat, India. He is an ASQ-certified quality engineer and a senior member of ASQ.