The Benefits of Reliability & Maintainability (Interview with Dr. Klaus Blache)

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If you’re a maintenance professional, you probably already know you want to minimize the amount of reactive maintenance you perform. And a great way to do that is to focus on reliability & maintainability.

We’ve asked our partners at the University of Tennessee’s Reliability & Maintainability Center, and in particular Dr. Klaus Blache, to help us better understand reliability and maintainability.

If you’ve been reading us for a while, you may have also read our articles on Creating a Culture for Reliability, Maintainability, and Continuous Improvement and What Is Maintainability & Reliability?. If you haven’t read those articles, you may want to check them out. Plus, keep your eyes out for future articles on related topics, including one coming very soon on predictive & conditions-based maintenance.

Also, once you finish this article, you’ll see we’ve got a Free PDCA Cycle Infographic you can download down at the very bottom (or at the link you just passed). You can use the PDCA cycle to evaluate the effects of your reliability & maintainability efforts (or any continuous improvement efforts).

You’ve got two options here: Watch a recorded version of our conversation or continue down to read a transcript. The world is your oyster–enjoy!

Convergence Training:

Hey everybody and welcome. This is Jeff Dalto of Convergence Training and RedVector, both of which are Vector Solutions brands. And we’re here today to talk a little bit about reliability and maintainability with a special guest, Dr. Klaus Blake. Klaus is the director of the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center, which is also known as the RMC I believe, in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Klaus, how are you today?

Klaus Blache:

Doing great, Jeff, and hello to everybody too.

What Are Reliability & Maintainability?

Convergence Training:

Alright, cool. Well, thanks for spending a little time with us. We just have a couple questions for you to learn a little bit more about reliability and maintainability and also the RMC there at University of Tennessee.

Could you start by telling us kind of briefly what reliability and maintainability is and what it’s all about?

Well, I’ll try and keep it short. You know, reliability, I say fortunately and unfortunately, is one of those words, that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s kind of like a word like systems. Right?

Convergence Training:

Right.

Klaus Blache:

Where you and I may mean something else.

But the standard definition is simply the probability that a piece of equipment will perform its required function, or what it’s supposed to do, without failure for certain amount of time that you expect to operate.

But for reliability day-to-day, it’s a lot of things. You know, it could be a lubrication program, it could be an uptime in your equipment, it could be are you able to use it when you need to? It’s document control, it’s planning and scheduling. And there’s a lot of things around that. So again, that’s theirs is it a reliability of product, is it reliability of machinery, equipment, of process, reliability of people, so you kind of see where I’m going.

At the the end of the day, it’s are you getting what you need, at the specs that you needed it at, as fast as you needed it at, and at the quality that you need.

So with that, I’m going to switch to the word maintainability. But before I say anything about that, I want to talk about maintenance, and maintenance is the act of maintaining, it’s actually the service function of doing it, when something needs to be replaced, or something broke. But we said it’s going to be reliability and maintainability. So I want to differentiate between maintenance and maintainability.

Most people use those words together like they’re the same and they’re definitely not.

Maintainability is a designed-in parameter. We teach 33 modules on maintainability, and that includes things like interchangability, simplicity, diagnostics, easy assembly and dis-assembly. Let me just give you one example. It might be that if you had if you had a piece of equipment that looks like your tabletop, let’s say it’s your desk, and you have a small piece that by history breaks a lot, that’s in the middle of the equipment, and that would cost you $5 to replace. But in order to get to that, over half the time you potentially break $1,000 or $100 piece that’s in front of it. So why didn’t they design it the other way around?

So that’s part of that design for dis-assembly, whether it’s modular accessibility, it’s a little bit of ergonomics.

So again, the key thing is, is maintenance is the service function, and maintainability is a designed-in parameter that you really need to design up front. And so when you talk about things like likes life-cycle costs, that’s why it costs a little more to design for maintainability that extra 10 15%. But that’s where you save all your money. If you don’t do it up front, it’s obviously either highly expensive, or impossible to do later on.


Benefits of Focusing on Reliability & Maintainability

Convergence Training:

So all right, good, good definition. And thanks for the call out between maintenance and maintainability.

So for an organization or company, what would be the benefits of focusing their efforts on improving reliability and maintainability?

Klaus Blache:

Well, the easiest one is that every company…when I ran this stuff at Cadillac, and prior to that to the global stuff, reliability and maintainability for General Motors, we call it SPQRC. And those are the five things that you run any business with, you know, for your return on investments. It’s your safety, your people processes, R was responsiveness, but we can talk to that in terms of uptime, throughput, inventory, Q for quality, and C for costs. All your businesses run on that.

And reliability can impact all of those if you’re doing the right things in three or four areas of reliability and maintainability, that drives all those things in the right direction. And if you compare a bottom-quartile organization, I would say on reactive maintenance, versus a top-quartile organization, the cost is between six to seven times more, if you’re bottom-quartile versus top-quartile, so the immediate thing is cost. If you’re there, you’re probably highly reactive. If you’re highly reactive, safety’s always also going to get better. And so you can kind of see how it all ties into the five things you need to drive good ROI.

Convergence Training:

Yeah, I’ve never heard of SPQRC. Thank you. I scribbled that down.

You mentioned reactive maintenance. And can you, for those who don’t know what it is, can you explain what that is.

What Is Reactive Maintenance?

Klaus Blache:

It can be simply anything non-planned or simply emergency repair, it’s broke, I have got to go out there and fix it to keep the production line running, to do something in the process. Or some companies track meantime between failure. So it’s all those things, you’ve got to go out there and fix stuff because something’s not working that was not planned to stop.

It doesn’t count things like outages, or planned stops, or refurbishments. It’s those emergency repairs.

Convergence Training:

Great. And so if a lower-quartile company is doing a lot of reactive maintenance, those upper-quartile companies are doing what as an alternative?

Klaus Blache:

The upper-quartile companies are doing the proactive maintenance, they do the technologies, they mitigating the failures, many of them before they get there.

And to put some numbers on it, a bottom-quartile average is 64%. That’s 64% reactive maintenance. And for the top-quartile, and these are North American numbers, top-quartile North American companies are at 9% reactive maintenance.

Studying Reliability & Maintainability Through UT-RMC, Convergence Training & RedVector

Convergence Training:

All right, great. Thank you. So leaving the organizational focus, if I was an individual, what why might I want to study more about reliability and maintainability? Perhaps at a place like University of Tennessee’s RMC?

Klaus Blache:

The initial answer might be that there’s 200,000 job openings plus, that don’t get enough people fast enough and that are supposed to do this. I think, kind of as we started saying, that it’s a generic word almost like systems and means a lot of different things to a lot of people. But the reliability piece of that you can use that in any kind of business. We have mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, industrial engineers, computer science, biomedical that are implanting devices, they’re going to do reliability, growth calculations, aerospace, and it goes on and on. So all seven, eight parts of the engineering college and all the degrees that go with that, all of those contain a minor in reliability and usability engineering. And so there’s use for that, and in all those avenues.

The Reliability & Maintainability Implementation Certification

Convergence Training:

All right, good answer. So there at the University of Tennessee at your RMC, you offered something called the reliability and maintainability implementation certification, or RMIC. Could you tell us more about that RMIC that you’ve got available out there?

Klaus Blache:

Yeah, what is it is, and to differentiate the offering too, the reason I landed here is because this is the only University in North America has both an undergraduate and a graduate program in reliability and maintainability engineering. You can get a doctorate, whatever you want to. So that’s kind of the academic side.

From the professional development side, we started a professional certification, that’s University-sanctioned on this registry-marked to the university. And it’s six classes, six professional development classes, three to five days in the project, and the project is with measurable results against an ROI. So it’s a deliverable, it’s not a book report, it’s a deliverable. At the end of the day, usually a three to six months plus project.

And in order to get the certification, you take three classes from us. And you can take up to three classes from a training partner. And so there’s only one required class, we call that a boot camp, we have a three-day version that’s more for implementation, and a five-day overview that’s kind of drinking out of a fire hose, you know, with a 500-page workbook and here’s all the basics of reliability and maintain ability.

Beyond that, I kind of look at one of the old Covey statements, “Begin with the end in mind.” What do you want to be able to do differently that you can’t do now? Because again, reliability is so big, you’ve got to pick one thing that you really want to get better at, preferably what you’re going to do your project on it, show that you can do it, and then that’s your project, then you come up with results.

And I’ve savings from $20,000 or $50,000 up to the millions, you know, average projects and some over 200 projects with $4,000 a project. So that doesn’t mean everybody has to save that much money. But the point is, it’ll pay back tenfold what you invest in the training.


Convergence Training: 

All right, great. And for those listening, while I have not completed the RMIC itself, I’ve taken the three-day boot camp and learned a ton. So that was a good experience. And I recommend it as a class.

Klaus, what about yourself? I know you’re the director, but what do you do at UT-RMC?

Klaus Blache:

Yeah, well, we get involved in a lot of different things. We have about 80 member companies, and so we’re tied into supporting them. We do assessments for companies–and when I say we I mean my entire staff–we put a students into internships, summer internships, some do co-ops after, and I look at it about every three, four years, we have students from around half the United States on something on reliability and maintainability. We do specific projects for companies, we do 30 to 40 training events ourselves, we have over a dozen training partners, including RedVector, where you can also go to get some of that training and come towards the certification.

Convergence Training:

Great, great. And you just mentioned, I guess a part of the RMIC certification process is you can take courses from any number of training partners that UT has contracted with or created a relationship with, and you have one of those partnerships with RedVector. What can you tell us about that partnership with RedVector?

Klaus Blache:

Awesome, RedVector. And I don’t know exactly how many classes you have, about 2,500 titles in your online focus. And people going towards the certification can count three forty-hour blocks, however they need to put them together. So what that means is 120 hours of training with RedVector would count towards three of our training partner classes, then the other three would have to come from us. And then you do a focus project that’s mentoring, you sign up for project class. And that’s that deliverable back to your place of employment.

Convergence Training:

Great, great. So if a company or an individual listening to this wanted to learn more about your program, where should they go?

Klaus Blache:

There are a couple of ways to get there. They can just go to our website at www.rmc.utk.edu. Or if they just go to Google and put RMC, then leave a space, and then put UTK we’ll pop up about 10 times, and any one of those is us.

Convergence Training:

Yeah, I’ll confirm that. That’s what I always do, I google UT RMC, it always works.

Okay. Well, thanks so much.

For everybody out there listening, this was Dr. Klaus Blache with the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center. Check out their materials on reliability and maintainability, including their Reliability and Maintainability Implementation Certification (RMIC), and check out their partnership with RedVector as well (you can look at SOME of our manufacturing training courses here, but there are more). And Klaus, his coworker, Chris and I have been writing a series of blog articles on reliability and maintainability at the Convergence Training blog, so keep an eye out for that stuff as well. Klaus, Thanks a lot and have a great day.

Klaus Blache:

Thanks, Jeff. And everybody. If you have any questions or shoot us an email, we’re pretty good at getting back. So thank you.

Conclusion: Reliability & Maintainability Are an Investment In Your Organization’s Future

We hope you can now see how efforts to improve reliability & maintainability at your workplace are an investment (and much better than relying on reactive maintenance). Stay tuned for more on issues related to reliability and maintainability from your friends at Convergence Training and UT-RMC, and of course thanks to Klaus for his time.

Before you leave, take a moment to download the free PDCA Cycle infographic below! 

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FREE PDCA Cycle Infographic

Download this free infographic of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle commonly used for quality control, project planning, and continuous improvement.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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