5 most important tasks of the reliability engineer
By Carey Repasz

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The position of the reliability engineer, or RE, is very common in today's maintenance organizations. What is uncommon is an understanding of what the RE actually does.


Is the role of a reliability engineer often misunderstood?
  • 1. Yes
  • 2. No

While the following tasks are not by any means a complete description of what the RE does, these tasks represent the most important tasks that every RE should be performing in a maintenance organization.

1. Manages the equipment hierarchy and equipment criticality databases.

The equipment hierarchy and criticality are the foundation that all reliability improvement strategies rely on. The level of completeness and accuracy of these databases are absolutely essential in order to build appropriate maintenance strategies and target reliability improvement tools to the appropriate systems where the greatest benefit will be realized. Hierarchy also includes all necessary component information and attribute data that will enable failure mode analysis. Maintaining an effective criticality database insures that the relative importance of each piece of equipment is understood so that strategies can be determined and work can be prioritized for the most effective use of resources.

2. Ensures all plant equipment has an equipment maintenance plan on file to match the expected failure modes.

The RE crafts a strategy of both preventive and condition-monitoring tasks that are specifically designed to identify or prevent failure modes. By using collected information about the equipment, failure modes are identified and the appropriate tasks are selected to identify or prevent these failure modes as early as possible. The strategy is implemented according to the criticality database. Methodologies to determine the failure modes of equipment include reliability centered maintenance (RCM) and failure mode mapping.

3. Develops and manages the PdM/CBM program.

As the owner of the failure-mode-based strategy, the RE will develop and implement the condition monitoring program, often referred to as CBM or PdM. This entails determining what technologies will be deployed to which equipment, based on an understanding of the capabilities of the CBM technologies to address failure modes and the resources available to apply to the most critical assets. Using the foundational elements to determine which equipment should initially be included as well as what technologies are deployed to what failure modes is a key to early success. Measuring and understanding the health of the equipment included in the strategy will determine the next phase of implementation. The RE will manage the CBM program by tracking key indicators such as equipment health, route adherence and mean time to implement recommendations and defect elimination.

4. Performs statistical analysis on equipment failures to determine changes to the equipment maintenance plan.

Understanding what types of failures are most common through analysis of the Failure Reporting and Corrective Action System (FRACAS) enables the RE to make adjustments to the existing equipment maintenance plan. Collecting and analyzing equipment failure data allows for the tracking of bad actors and identifying dominant failure modes. Implementing the appropriate strategies enables a robust defect elimination strategy. Statistical analysis of failure data using tools such as Weibull analysis allows the RE to accurately determine what type of maintenance strategy is most appropriate. Tools such as availability simulation allow for the optimization of task intervals.

5. Leads and manages the Root Cause Analysis process.

Managing the Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process consists of identifying appropriate triggers, facilitation of RCA and managing the Action Item Register. Effective triggers allow opportunities to be identified without overwhelming the system. Proper facilitation will obtain the true root cause and identify appropriate action items that will not only solve the problem at hand but make possible system and process level improvements. Effective management of an Action Item Database will drive ownership of the corrective actions as and make for an effective method to communicate and track results.

Establishing processes for these five activities allow the RE to fulfill the primary mission: creating and implementing an effective strategy to identify machinery defects and eliminate the source of those defects and use the appropriate tools to continuously improve that strategy.

Carey Repasz has spent the last 16 years in maintenance. After specializing in jet aircraft maintenance for the U.S. Air Force, he has worked in the mining, steel, plastics, pharmaceutical, paper and food processing industries.