Think about the car you drive to work each day. You know it better than anyone else does, including when it’s due for an oil change, what kind of gas mileage it gets, and what oddities you may have to contend with while driving it. Now, think about the machinery at your factory. Wouldn’t it make sense that operators know more about these machines than anyone else?
This idea is the concept behind operator-driven reliability. This maintenance theory puts equipment functionality and maintenance demands in the hands of operators, encouraging them to stay abreast of machinery functionality in a very direct, hands-on manner. If an operator is accountable for the machinery they’re using, they’re more likely to take an active role in maintaining it.
Determining scope of responsibility
Understanding the benefits of operator-driven reliability means first understanding what it’s not. It’s not an every-man-for-himself approach to maintenance, nor is it an abandonment of maintenance programs already in place. Instead, it’s another level of foresight into preventive maintenance and downtime avoidance.
Operators aren’t responsible for delivering maintenance solutions to their equipment any more than drivers are for their cars. Maintenance techs still serve as the “mechanic,” delivering vital maintenance services. However, operator-driven reliability encourages operators to note when (proverbially) the gas tank is low, the check-engine light is on, or a headlight is out.
More than a meter-reader
The key to implementing operator-driven reliability is working with operators to expand their understanding of the machinery they’re overseeing. Most understand the nature of the equipment and how to use it; yet few can anticipate issues by observing signs. Turning meter-readers and valve-turners into knowledgeable workers means putting another set of eyes on the machinery each and every day.
In many cases, in-house training alongside repair and maintenance techs is enough to instill accountability in operators. For example, educating them on the warning signs a particular machine exhibits prior to breakdown can be enough to prevent downtime in certain situations. Likewise, leveraging operator expertise alongside mechanical understanding of machinery may help operators better predict issues such as offset calibration.
When you start seeing your operators as more than button-pushers, they become something much more valuable: the first line of defense against reactive maintenance and repairs.
Accountability demands support
More than just training, operators need resources if they’re going to be accountable for equipment reliability. Not contextualizing operator responsibilities or providing tools for success will lead to failure. Take a look at some of the essentials required for establishing a successful operator-driven reliability program:
- Clearly defined and widely communicated goals and expectations
- Support from on-the-floor management and maintenance teams
- Benchmarked Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track accountability
- Processes and chain of command for action by operators
- Preparation for expanded oversight roles
Most important to remember is this: Operator-driven reliability programs are not an excuse to blame operators for equipment malfunctions. Instead, look at them as an opportunity to promote responsibility and autonomy, with better outcomes for operators, maintenance techs, machinery, and the plant as a whole. When operators feel like they own the machinery, they’ll be more vested in keeping it running correctly.