Two Minute Tips  

Design for Reliability: Eliminate the Defects Before They Become a Reality

Tim Rice | Principal Consultant - Defect Elimination, The Defect Elimination Project

If we were to ask management where most of the defects come from in our plants, they might say poor maintenance or poor operating practices. If you asked those performing maintenance and operating the equipment, they will probably say they are doing the best with what they were given.

The design phase might just be the most opportunistic phase of an asset’s life cycle where we can have the greatest influence in not just eliminating defects but making sure they are never introduced in the first place. So why is it that we don’t seem to take advantage of this?

Most new constructions are outsourced to contractors and they may have never heard of any reliability engineering processes, as this has typically only been something we do during the operating and maintaining phase of the asset’s life cycle, so expecting them to consider a design-for-reliability approach might be unfair. Typically a new plant, system or asset is built and handed over once commissioned. Most working in the construction realm have never worked on “the other side of the fence”, meaning they may have never worked at a fully operating plant and seen the impacts design faults can have on everyday maintenance and operating tasks. Because of this, when we hear that a new project is coming to our plants, it might just be time for us in reliability, who work in the operating and maintain phase, to provide our valuable skillset to create a design-for-reliability culture.

A successful design-for-reliability project would be one where we do not introduce defects into a new plant, system or asset. Here are 5 key things we must do in partnership with our construction company to achieve this.

  1. INVOLVE the end user. This means operations, maintenance, HSE, procurement, engineering and your trusted vendors. It’s also wise to get external help from subject matter experts (SMEs) (i.e. those that may have just been through the process of constructing and operating a new plant, system, or asset).
  2. The site should have a clear functional specification for the plant, system, or asset (i.e. carry X tons for X distance at X speed, or pump slurry at X flow rate). The site should be able to show that these requirements form the basis from which the engineering and procurement teams design or select the plant, system, or asset. Keep in mind though that today’s requirement may not be the same as tomorrow’s. Consider market demands and where the company might be in 5+ years (will we need to produce more?). This means we get exactly what we need in order to operate today and into the future.
  3. Even though there’s nothing you can physically see, if you involve the end users and other SMEs during the design phase, they will have experience with what will work and what will not work based on designs and 3D models. With technology and the ability to create a virtual model where someone can wear a set of virtual reality goggles and walk through the design, it can make it a lot easier to spot defects like poorly routed piping and access restrictions which for example makes crane access for changing out a pump very difficult.
  4. Perform FMEA or RCM on the proposed design for the new plant, system, or asset to identify failure modes impacting safety, environment, regulatory compliance, production, future operating/capital costs, and revenue. Identify the failure modes that would cause a functional failure based on your specification and then design them out or make modifications to mitigate the likelihood and/or consequence.
  5. If your new construction is large and you don’t have the time and resources to take such a deep dive into all of the individual assets, then you can, and should anyway, perform your asset criticality assessment to understand where you might like to focus your resources. It can also help identify where you might like to add in additional redundancy (i.e. if a pump is found to be a critical and will shut the plant down if it failed, then design in a standby pump now rather than later when a lack of space doesn’t allow it).

These are my top 5 things you must do if you want to design for reliability and eliminate the defects before they become a reality. There are definitely a lot more things to consider, especially prior to commissioning and handing the plant over to its new owners; that’s operations and maintenance.

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About the Author

Tim Rice Principal Consultant - Defect Elimination, The Defect Elimination Project

Tim has spent approximately the last 15 years working in the in the reliability realm, with a majority of that time in mining and mineral processing industry. Tim holds a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering, and a Graduate Diploma in Maintenance Management. His interests are in driving a whole of life Asset Management process, and how a reliability mentality can deliver positive gains for any organization. Tim’s latest venture has been starting “The Defect Elimination Project”, where he aims to educate and spread more awareness around Defect Elimination and the benefits a Defect Elimination program can bring an organization, whether they think they need one or not. Away from work, Tim enjoys being outside, whether it’s surfing the waves of his native Australia, or shredding the snowy mountains across the globe.