In most manufacturing plants, the failure of process equipment typically yields frantic calls to the maintenance department to conduct reactive maintenance to bring the equipment back online. Post failure and repair, it is common for the blame to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the maintenance department for not "maintaining" the equipment and for not "predicting" the problem in advance of its failure. However, it is important to take a step back and truly understand where the early identification of process equipment problems begins. It is the process operator's responsibility to operate the equipment on a daily basis, and during the course of operating this equipment, the operator is exposed to many aspects of said equipment.
The operator truly is the subject matter expert when it comes to the process equipment, and he should be able to identify how the equipment looks, sounds, smells, and feels when that equipment is running under normal operating conditions. That being said, the operator should also be able to identify when there is any deviation in the overall equipment health. The process operator is key to early identification of maintenance problems which can be recorded and acted upon by the maintenance department. Process Operator Rounds have historically been conducted with a paper-based system that is not easily incorporated into the maintenance planning and scheduling process or the reliability equipment health monitoring initiative at manufacturing plants. However, advancements have been made in capturing this information electronically through the utilization of electronic rounds loaded onto wireless-enabled handheld computers that allow the operator to capture real-time data on the status of the equipment that he is monitoring.
This type of Operator Driven Reliability (ODR) allows for the operator to be guided through the collection of data and be notified when this data is outside of generally agreed upon limits. A series of additional steps, when these limits are exceeded, can also be included in the electronic rounds that may include collecting further data, shutting the equipment down, swapping over to a spare, or entering a work notification for the maintenance department to troubleshoot the problem. The data that is collected can be historized using the plant's data historian, can be fed back to the distributed control system, and in some instances, can be linked to the CMMS for the plant, for review by operations, maintenance, reliability, and safety. ODR solutions can play a significant role in the reduction of reactive maintenance work and costs and extending the equipment life of the installed assets in the manufacturing plant. So, when someone asks, "Where Does Reliability Start?" you can feel confident in answering that the process operator really is the key to ensuring early identification of equipment problems and ensuring asset reliability.