By Jay Shellogg, Aladon Network Member and Director of Reliability Services at Strategic Maintenance
When it comes to building a reliability culture, organizations that focus on asset life-cycle management strive to be prepared for anything.
Except maybe a pandemic.
Organizations I have worked with in the past have recognized unique regional impacts such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards, but almost universally never recognized infectious disease as a failure mode that could cause a significant enough impact to affect reliability.
I’ve seen maintenance experts consider the common flu as a failure mode, but it was always treated as a normal part of operating and maintaining a facility. I have never heard an organization raise any concern that the annual flu could cause a significant impact.
Without warning, though, businesses everywhere were faced with a new failure mode that shut down their operations, and they had no plans to mitigate the consequences.
What I saw, though, is that those organizations that had an understanding of the principles of RCM were able to adapt their organization and culture to mitigate the threat COVID-19 presented.
Early on in 2020, as I spoke with sites I routinely work with, we discussed COVID-19 as a failure mode, the same as we would talk about lubrication degradation, fatigue or corrosion. However, as the organizations began to develop mitigating responses, what we saw was that the impact was much broader than a typical failure mode. COVID-19 drove us to an Operating Context change that affected the entire organization.
Here are examples of how I see organizations change their Operating Context
One 24/7 operation switched from eight-hour shifts to 12 hours so that they would always have two “spare” shifts available in case one shift was infected.
They staggered start times for all crews so that there would never be a “log jam” in the clock alley during shift change, and they allowed a time lag for disinfection between crew clocking.
I saw organizations use the Aladon RCM process to reduce the number of inspections and equipment checks they were doing. Typically, organizations will perform “feel good” checks on equipment with very little technical validity. With the onset of staffing changes related to COVID-19, the available manpower was no longer there. These organizations were able to significantly reduce their “required” inspections to just conduct those inspections that were technically valid.
We also saw some organizations experience skyrocketing demand and pricing for goods and services. These organizations were suddenly asked to produce more than they had ever before.
We all experienced shortages of tissue and paper towels, and there was a similar shortage of small arms ammunition. The demand for building materials remained strong with increases in pricing reaching historic highs. This was true for the demand for home power equipment as well. These demands put new pressure on manufacturing plants to produce more goods as fast as they could.
I can list many more examples of changes, but all of them point to the same RCM principle of needing to define an organization’s Operating Context, and understanding when that Operating Context is changing.
Those organizations that had a good understanding of the Aladon RCM principles were able to quickly pivot their organization to respond to the new reality of operating during a pandemic. These organizations were not only able to survive, but thrive in this new paradigm.
How 2021 might look different for businesses
The organizations that understand Aladon RCM principles and can put those principles to practice are positioned to survive and even thrive. This sets them up to be able to respond to any new paradigm that comes along, in addition, to “normal” business challenges. RCM gives organizations the ability to quickly adapt during times of significant and rapid change–even unprecedented change.
Organizations that are unfamiliar with the principles of RCM will continue to struggle with the “normal” challenges that all organizations face. In 2021, we will see organizations that have implemented the Aladon RCM principles succeed; while, organizations that lack this understanding continue to struggle to survive.
Businesses should act now to build a reliability culture
Organizations often want to wait on the implementation or expansion of reliability until some future date when the organization feels more ready. However, in practice I have found that organizations are never “more ready” than they are right now.
The sooner an organization acts on improving reliability, the sooner that organization will improve its performance in safety, environmental, quality, costs and profitability.