Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Five Hats for Reliability Engineers

I was recently meeting with some new reliability engineers as they were getting ready to step into the role for the first time. They were asking what kind of things they should expect to be doing in the role. I came up with five hats that they will wear on a regular basis.  I have listed them below with a bit of detail.
The Technical Reliability Hat
Reliability engineer first and foremost are there to analyze failure history and prevent or mitigate failure in the future. While wearing this hat they will use tools like RCM, RCA, statistics, PdM, FRACAS, experts,  and the internet.
The Trainer Hat
Reliability engineers will wear this hat when they begin to share new techniques for predictive maintenance or precision maintenance as well as any other technique that have not been used in the past. Here they will be looking to introduce the “best practice” and demonstrate how it should be done and why it is important. While wearing this hat you will see them use training manuals, equipment manuals, single point lessons, experts from outside the company, and maybe even a bit of Power Point.
The Coach Hat
Successful reliability engineers will put this hat on when they go out on the floor after providing training.  They will work with individual to ensure complete understanding of the improvements to the process. While wearing this hat you will notice the engineer using tools like his ears to listen and understand the concerns of the individual and his hands to demonstrate the concepts while answering the questions that linger in the minds of the students.
The Sales and Marketing Hat
Reliability Engineering is not understood as of yet by the masses. That is why you must have a sales and marketing hat. When you wear it you will be marketing the value of precision maintenance, RCM, RCA, FRACAS, and the cost of not doing it. You will also be selling the predictive maintenance tools to both the maintenance crafts as well as the leadership. You will feature the “saves” to build a basic understanding by the affected parties until everyone “buys in” to the concept. When wearing this hat the RE will be using samples of past success, failed components as props,  pictures, case studies, and benchmarking results.
The Meeting Hat
This is an ugly hat in some organizations where they exhibit the traits of a “Meeting Manufacturer”. These MM sites seem more focused on making meetings that they are on making products. In general however, the RE should expect some time with the meeting hat. Wearing the hat is the only way to get many things accomplished within the organization. While wearing this hat you may find that you need to take along all of the hats above to be successful.

Avoid the Fire Helmet
This is the one hat that reliability engineers need to avoid as much as possible. If you are continuously forced to wear this hat you will not be able to put in the time wearing the others. To say it differently, If you are focused on today's spot fires you can not be focused on tomorrows forest fires and will be held back from improving overall plant reliability.

What other hats do you keep lying around to wear as an Reliability Engineer?


  1. I was thinking of some other hats for Reliability Engineers to wear, which include a System Safety hat, a System Security hat, a Design Engineer hat, a Human Factor hat, a Maintainability hat and a Manufacturing/Quality Engineer hat.

  2. How about the Finance hat? It's the one you need to wear when talking about the value of all the other hats.

  3. Great suggestion on a few more hats that should make the list. Thanks to both of you.

  4. Nice list of job duties for plant support engineers and plant supervisors who do not have the luxury of having access to professionally trained Reliability Engineers. I especially like the suggestion to avoid wearing the fireman hat as much as possible. With over 38 years in the conventional power plant business, I think the five hat analogy covers a lot of the job description. RE's need to let the chain of command know about these five hats and their impact on the bottom line.

  5. Good article. I know this is a brief description of the Reliability Engineers roles and is not all inclusive but life cycle cost and reliability at the design phase (design for reliability) must be mentioned. This is where a company will be most successful. Just as predictive and proactive maintenance strategies aim to detect or eliminate failures earlier in the life of the equipment, the same goes for reliability. The longer you wait, the more expensive and difficult it is to fix. Trying to increase the reliability of equipment once it is in operation is difficult and expensive since the inherent reliability of the equipment is determined in the design phase.

  6. This is the one hat that reliability engineering need to prevent as much as possible. If you are consistently compelled to put on this hat you will not be able to put in enough time dressed in the others.