10 things your equipment operators can do to improve reliability

Here are the 10 things your operators can do today to improve the reliability of your equipment.


I have always believed that the equipment that makes your products and the operators who operate it are the most valuable PLE_1406_WEB_IMG_ARG_Doug_Plucknetteassets you have.

I often wonder why our most valuable assets receive so little training, are swapped around like poker chips in Vegas, and are often expected to do little more than push a button and babysit the machine.

Well folks, it’s time to wake up. Here are the 10 things your operators can do today to improve the reliability of your equipment.

1. Keep it Clean – I don’t think that in 2014 I need to produce a mountain of data that supports the fact that clean machines run significantly better. We need to give our operators time to clean their equipment and perform routine operator care tasks each shift. These tasks need to be clearly identified with qualitative descriptions that give specifics regarding what type of cleaning agent, what type of cloth, and what the area should look like when the task is complete.

2. Insist on Training – I visit dozens of plants a year, and within minutes on the production floor, I can determine if the plant manager takes the time to train his/her equipment operators. Trained operators understand how their equipment works and they know the performance standards it needs to maintain to operate properly and how to troubleshoot and address any problem they might encounter with their machine. Those without training fumble through the day; they know where three buttons are on the operator screen: stop, start, and reset. They shut their machine down and contact maintenance for simple problems, and they struggle with product changes.

3. Stop the Musical Chairs – The theory that we need to train all of our operators to run every piece of equipment continues to cycle through the manufacturing community every few years, so for someone like me, I see this mistake continuously. To any manager who believes in this foolish concept, I challenge you to put on some work clothes, take a month out of your busy schedule, and try this out yourself. See what you can learn in a few days on each machine, and decide for yourself if you feel confident in what you are being paid to do. Having your operators change machines on a regular basis makes about as much sense as it would to have NASCAR drivers drive someone else’s car in the race each Sunday.

4. Learn SPC (Statistical Process Control) – The next step beyond learning how to operate your machine is learning when to make adjustments based on operating and product parameters. I learned SPC as a maintenance technician and began trending and predicting chemical reaction times. In doing so, I was able to forecast our production numbers for the coming weeks and months. SPC is a very powerful tool used mostly by the folks who work in product quality, but it can be just as powerful, if not more, when put into the hands of operators who are looking at learning more about the machine or process they operate.

5. Get Serious About Root Cause Analysis (RCA) – I was at a conference last month and when I made this statement, a couple of experienced operators in the room rolled their eyes and looked away. When I asked them about this reaction, they said; “We have to do 2 or 3 RCAs a week and nothing ever comes of them. We use a simple 5 why process and most get filled out just to meet our manager’s goals to say we are doing them.” RCA has been getting a bad name lately, and in most cases, it’s because the triggers are set way too low and because people rush through the process and look for a single solution. Your lead operators or team leaders should be leading your RCAs, and if you didn’t find the correct solution, it’s because you didn’t identify all of the causes.

6. Bring Precision Into Product Change
– More than half of my customers report that they struggle with product changes. We expect our machines to perform precision work, but we rarely apply precision techniques to our machines when it comes time to perform a product change. Somehow as managers we have come to believe that a Sharpie mark that is nearly ¼” in width on a piece of sheet metal will result in a tremendously accurate product change. Make 6 other marks, in different colors maybe, don’t label any of them, and do this in 6 or 8 different stations and now sit back in your office and wonder why your operators struggle at each product change. If I were an operator, I would want to bring precision techniques into each product change; the use of jigs and blanks will go a long way in reducing the cycle time for product change and improve the precision to a point of once and done.

7. Get Involved in the Reliability Tools RCM and TPM – If you are really interested in how your machine was designed, how it was intended to be operated and maintained, volunteer to become part of a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) or Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) team. Both of these tools take operators to the next level.

8. Drive Decisions with Data –If you want to see changes, you need to bring data to the table. In your job, you are surrounded by useful data, and each day you record useful data, but chances are that very little is done with that data. Learn the art of business by driving change through data supported decisions.

9. Make Safety First –If your equipment is not safe, then it cannot be reliable. It is important for all of us to understand that in order to have safe and reliable equipment, we all have to do the right things when it comes to safety. Cutting corners on safety to keep your equipment running doesn’t help anyone and it puts your personal health and safety at risk. If you have been cutting corners on safety at your plant, do the right thing starting today; shut it off and demand that someone make it right.

10. Follow the Checklist – If your job is to operate a piece of equipment, it doesn’t matter if it is a Boeing 747, a chemical reactor, paper machine, steam turbine or flour mill, you should be using a detailed checklist to start up the machine, shut it down, make sure it is fit for use, or perform a product change. The checklist wasn’t created because someone thinks they are smarter than you or that equipment operators are dummies; the checklist was created to ensure that we do our jobs in the correct order and sequence to ensure safety and reliability.

In closing, I would be remiss in not adding that in facilitating hundreds of RCM analyses over the years, I have grown to have the upmost respect for manufacturing equipment operators. The best equipment operators enjoy their work, they see the value in what they do, and quite often, they have some great ideas on how to improve both our processes and equipment and they do this while working rotating shifts, often scheduled to work while their children and families get on school busses or play in ballgames and concerts. Yet, when something goes wrong in the middle of the night, while us engineers and managers are home sleeping, they are the first people we seek to blame for the upset.

Doug Plucknette is a Principal, World-Wide RCM Discipline Leader at Allied Reliability Group. This content originally appeared here. Edited by Brittany Merchut, Project Manager, CFE Media, bmerchut(at)cfemedia.com

Sergio , , 04/25/15 01:50 AM:

Thanks Doug; I got every idea as I have been there, experienced. Great work!
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