Making a Case for Operator Driven Reliability

Nov. 22, 2006
By Dave T. Staples, SKF Reliability Systems The concept of Operator Driven Reliability (ODR) as an integral part of an over-all proactive maintenance strategy has existed for some time. Yet many industrial facilities have been hesitant; ...

By Dave T. Staples, SKF Reliability Systems

The concept of Operator Driven Reliability (ODR) as an integral part of an over-all proactive maintenance strategy has existed for some time. Yet many industrial facilities have been hesitant; organizational issues and company culture can keep ODR programs at bay. After implementation, ODR programs may leave unclear responsibilities. But a basic understanding of what ODR is all about and what it can achieve is a good place to start.

An overriding goal of the ODR process is to help keep plants running better, longer, cost-effectively, and competitively by reducing unplanned downtime and increasing uptime of their processes and associated machinery assets. Owning and operating assets constitutes one of the biggest cost items in a production facility and an ability to increase asset efficiency can turn into one of the largest sources of profit.

Under ODR, front-line operators are involved with (and some perform) basic maintenance activities above and beyond their classic operator duties. Operators observe and record overall machine health by checking for leaks and noises, monitoring temperature and vibration, and taking responsibility to monitor any abnormal machine conditions. In some cases, operator-performed maintenance efforts can expand to cover cleaning, minor adjustments, lubrication, and even simple preventive and corrective tasks traditionally handled by a maintenance department.

This is a departure from traditional operator duties, which typically originate from an OEM. The OEM recommendations are sometimes made without understanding or appreciation for the process or environment in which the asset is installed. This can result in missed or overlooked inspections, valuable to keeping the process available, or even worse, wasted time collecting unnecessary information.

With operators newly empowered, the probability of detecting machine faults rises exponentially and earlier failure detection can increase asset reliability and MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure). This can pay significant dividends across the board.

For any plant to fully realize true value from an ODR program, though, there must be a team-based approach. The team must be all-inclusive, actively getting endorsement and participation from management, production, and maintenance personnel.

Our experience tells us that in some cases, senior managers may view maintenance as a function that adds cost to the organization, while production adds value. A culture of blame may be present among production management, who would readily point fingers at poor quality maintenance (and resulting equipment downtime) as prime reasons that they missed targets. In many organizations, maintenance and operations departments function virtually independently of each other, effectively divorced with separate agendas.

Such situations do not bode well for plants striving to improve productivity and profitability. ODR can serve as a bridge to those achievements by fostering and promoting internal dialogue and offering a cost-effective way to improve machine and process operation along the way.

Our experience also tells us that at its best, ODR can encourage a culture that will not tolerate failure. The process has shown time and time again that it can maximize cross-functional teamwork and identify many previously hidden opportunities for continuous improvement.

So how does a plant get an ODR program up-and-running? Here are some basic tips;

  • Begin with an overall strategic maintenance plan,, including defined goals/objectives for ODR within this plan.
  • Understand that ODR is a deliberate process for gaining commitment by operators to keep equipment clean and properly lubricated; detect symptoms of deterioration; provide early warnings for catastrophic machinery failures; make minor repairs (with the proper training); and assist in making selected repairs.
  • Open the lines of communication plant--wide to foster program understanding, commitment, and cooperation.
  • Clean the equipment to like--new condition, make minor repairs, and develop a list of anticipated future repairs.
  • Organize and deploy leadership--driven, self-managed teams, such as a reliability improvement team consisting of Operations, Maintenance, and Reliability personnel.
  • Specify the best methods for operators to clean,, lubricate, inspect, and perform minor repairs for machinery and determine the appropriate level of support for an operator during repairs.
  • Develop written procedures for operators and include them in quality and maintenance guidelines (standard operating procedures).
  • Detail existing predictive and preventive maintenance procedures and include those in the ODR program that operators would be capable to perform.
  • Document the procedures for startup,, operating, shutdown, setup, and changeover practices.
  • Measure results. Refine the ODR program as an ongoing and continual process contributing to your maintenance strategy.

The most effective ODR program benefits from enabling technology. Moving to a paperless ODR program can promote consistency, availability, standardization, and accuracy of data; legible logs; elimination of duplicate reporting; traceability; compliance verification; and streamlined procedures and response. High-tech tools and software have helped rewrite the rules.

A new generation of hand-held portable data collectors (mobile computers) are among the enabling tools pushing ODR programs away from paper. These rugged, high-performance inspection tools equip plant personnel to collect, store, and communicate machine-condition data quickly and easily for improved equipment availability, reliability, and safety. Operators can trend machine and process conditions, compare newly collected data with previous readings, and record observations of machine conditions or questionable measurements.

Likewise, the decision support systems and accompanying software have expanded the possibilities for ODR. These systems offer immediate access to maintenance advice and instruction without involving time-challenged maintenance colleagues. Operators can be guided to take appropriate corrective actions on the spot.

These decision support systems vary. Some are dedicated to a particular aspect of maintenance activity; others may accommodate varied inputs (such as inclusion of monitoring parameters) or even subjective inspection data; and more sophisticated systems will interface directly with other software packages used to monitor and maintain machinery. All offer unprecedented maintenance-program capabilities.

It should be emphasized that ODR should not (and often cannot) constitute a complete maintenance solution for any plant. Many routine inspections and simple maintenance tasks, for example, may have to be conducted to satisfy statutory or certifying authorities. Accompanying standards, rules, and regulations may necessitate a level of competence and/or qualification for compliance that some operators simply may not possess.

Our experience tells us that for many organizations the ODR approach is long overdue.

SKF Reliability Systems, a business unit of SKF USA Inc., offers a wide range of programs, technologies, services, and expertise to enable industrial companies to reduce unscheduled downtime and increase machinery uptime for improved productivity and profitability. Contact Dave T. Staples at 215-513-4400 or visit