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José Durán Operational Reliability
is Essential in Productivity Assurance

by José Durán

Traducir al Español

This field is too wide and its definition could be really hateful or too general, so I will try to embark the readers in the Operational Reliability (OR) ship using thinking exercises:

  1. Think in low reliability and make a list of facts associated with it (take 2 minutes).
  2. Read the list created above and for 3 minutes try to find somebody in the company not involved with these problems.
  3. During a minute make a list of people that could be beneficiaries of an Operational Reliability Improvement plan.
  4. Are you still thinking that "OR" is maintenance stuff?

Well during several workshops held, we have found the following answers:

Question 1:

Facts associated with low reliability.

  • Failures
  • Losses
  • Emergency maintenance
  • General dissatisfaction
  • Emergency spare parts
  • Accidents
  • Management dissatisfaction
  • Production extra time
  • Missing sell orders
  • Low production
  • High job/people rotation
  • Low productivity
  • Low performance
  • Low efficiency
  • Work associated diseases
  • People Stress
  • Environmental problems
  • Legal liability
  • Clients penalties
  • Bigger energy consumption
  • Union problems
  • Outsourcing
  • Bad Maintenance
  • Bad Operation
  • Lack of training
  • General mistrust
  • Etc.


The whole above adjective set is indicative of Improvement Opportunities with a very high value.

Question 2:

Who is involved in the above list?

Everybody from management down, covering the whole organization level.

Question 3:

Who could be beneficiary of an Operational Reliability Improvement plan?

Everybody will be beneficiary of such kind of plan.

Question 4:

Are you still thinking that OR is maintenance stuff?

Absolutely no I am not!.

By now, we are clear about what OR means and who is involved in it. The companies insisting to confine OR to maintenance department are neglecting many aspects that could improve their productivity. On the other side those who are accepting OR like a collective issue and trying to improve continuously have a row of competitive advantages over the first ones. In our experience like world-wide consultants we have seen that companies looking OR like a collective topic are getting better results in their improvement plans than companies that do not, so the greater faulty attempts reside in the second group.

Let’s see OR in depth.
The next figure will illustrate the main idea:

Operational Reliability

As we can see OR has four big feeders,   we need to act over them if we want to have a Long Term Continuous Improvement Plan. This process called Operational Reliability Improvement (ORI) generates changes in the organization culture turning it into a different organization with a wide productivity sense, with a clear business vision and fact driven. Every isolated improvement attempt in one of the four OR’s feeders may bring benefits, in fact it will. But without taking into account the other big factors, it is possible that these benefits could be limited and/or diluted in the organization and becoming only projects  rather than transformations. These are the typical cases of isolated implementation projects of Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) that is focused in equipment/systems reliability, Total Quality Management (TQM) focused and powerful in process/quality reliability, etc.

Different cases are driven in the Japanese Culture, where their aggressive plans of continuous improvements are using a tool mixture. This allows them to go in the perfect rhythm and generate an industrial revolution in quality. But their TQM is used with Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and visionary plans of human reliability improvements, covering this way the four factors of OR.

In the western world the stories are different. In general we have very well defined boundaries (fenced and mined) between: production, maintenance, human resources, engineering, etc. This isolates the continuous improvement projects, and they are always bumping with "neighborhood" collaboration needs. Here we may find the limits (sometimes lethal) of such kind of projects. Have you ever faced one of these situations? How many times have you heard from maintenance: If production worked it would be wonderful, Production: That is not my job and vice-versa, that sounds great but here, it is not possible.

Well, some companies are daring to do it (fortunately the number is growing) and all that looked as a fantasy world is becoming real in some companies. Where there is a festive teamwork environment involving from maintenance to engineering, from delivering to purchasing departments. Where the problems are seen like improvement opportunities and they have been solved upon business impact rather than personal rank. Where training is supplied upon business needs rather than individual wishes. Where everyone accepts his or her responsibility over productivity and the "guilty" concept is released over a stronger one: OWNERSHIP.

That means high level managerial support and conviction of this, is not an easy and/or short-term task. Training, money, time, resources investment must be done, the results will be better than expected.

For example, in Venezuela there is an oil industry expansion. They are looking for new wells to improve the oil production. But, in some areas there is a looking process for "hidden wells", that means detection and solution of problems limiting the current installed production, allowing to rise the capacity without drilling any new well. The solution of just one of those problems brought 20.000/year oil barrels, without drilling a centimeter and using a work team during six weekly meetings.

What is Operational Reliability Improvement?

Accordingly, we have seen an Operational Reliability Improvement (ORI) process. This means a structured way to improvement on every aspect involved in the OR. What could be reached with it? We could talk a lot here, but we can summarize all in only two words: Improved Productivity.

"Benchmarking", "Vision/Mission statements", maintenance strategies reviews and "business reengineering process" are activities really popular in these years. Huge money amounts are invested and the results many times are disappointing or nothing. So, what is making ORI different?

ORI is a flexible tool tailored for companies looking for business excellence and their optimal asset management. It is a continuous improvement process based in facts, reached by a total harmony in the tools and techniques based in risk. The companies integrating tools, techniques and organizational development have been prized with several millions of dollars yearly in benefit.

An Operational Reliability process is a mixture of technical solutions, structured thinking, employee motivation and organizational development. With everything tied with proven first hand experiences and hard data.

Where are you now?

You could be in a really good position in the Operational Reliability road, but if something in the followings lines sounds familiar in your company, you have big tangible improvement opportunities, let us see:

    • The company direction is changing in a continuous base because of management rotation.
    • Focus in cost rather than values.
    • Too much/less communications or/and without focus.
    • There is not any improvement program covering the whole company.
    • You used consultant services that made reports, and nobody read them or took actions upon recommendations.
    • Maintenance is considered a "necessary and expensive" evil.

If your company is shown in one of the above statements you should dare to start an Operational Reliability Improvement process and take the exciting journey towards World Class performance.

Results of Operational Reliability Improvements

Operational reliability is based on common sense approach towards business excellence. This is not a magical recipe, but this introduces a systematic approach to eliminate the failure causes and bad reliability actors affecting the critical process and the overall company profitability.

The workforce is who solves the problems and provides the input assuring success. But without commitment and management involvement even the biggest effort will not win. The Operational Reliability creates a new manager’s role: creating the environment to get the results.

Results may be fabulous. Not only in improved productivity and profitability terms but also in terms of motivation, attitudes, safety and long term understanding.

Let us see some opinions:

"Operational Reliability is not an initiative - it’s just a better way of running the business. It changes the way the workforce thinks and acts and provides the reliability tools to help them."

John Thornton, Div. B Manager, Conoco Humber Refinery

"The only practical, cost-justified way forward"

Tom Hastie, E&P Engineer, Railtrack, UK


"When we started with Operational Reliability people thought they knew it all. Doing Root Cause Analysis they realized they had much to learn and they have been learning."

J Alvarez, Production Unit Manager

CRP, PDVSA, Venezuela (the largest oil refinery in the world)


Case Studies

Let us see some case studies:

PDVSA E&P Occidente

(National Venezuelan Oil Company, Exploration & Production)

Study: Operational Reliability Improvement (5 pilot areas, 2 years working)

Results: Benefits worth more than US$10 million/year in terms of: Failures reduction, non-justified maintenance and risk reduction and additional production. Work environment improved and request number for teamwork has been growing steadily.

UK Power Supplier

Study: Shutdowns & Work Optimization

Result: $7million/year savings by reorganizing operational shutdown content and intervals.

Major International Oil Company

Study: Maintenance Strategy Review

Result: $800,000/year saving by cutting out ineffective preventive maintenance, a 40% saving in maintenance costs.

Petrochemical company

Study: Operational Reliability program

Result: Improvements worth $88 million/year within three years. Major plant improved from 77% to 98 % availability

Now we will see some company’s names that have been working in Operational Reliability Improvement.

  • Anglesey Aluminum
  • Anglian Water
  • Aylesford Newsprint
  • Grupo Baker
  • Brown & Root
  • Conoco
  • DNV
  • ESSO
  • Intevep
  • National Grid
  • Northern Island Grid
  • Petronas
  • PetroCanada Railtrack
  • Royal Mail, UK
  • Severn Trent Water, UK
  • Shell

About the author:

MSc. José Durán is an international consultant, he is working with The Woodhouse Partnership Ltd. (UK based company), now he is in account of PDVSA (refining, exploration, production, research and development departments) and Brown and Root (Halliburton Colombia Div.). He is working implementing and training in Reliability Centered Maintenance, Industrial Risk Management, Maintenance Optimization, Risk Based Inspection and Operational Reliability. He is in Venezuela.

Further information and your comments or feedback:


Tel/fax: 58-74-446159

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This page last updated on

25 August, 2011 12:43









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