Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

S2:E10 Careers Considered – Reliability Engineering with Steven Dobie

Ryan Chan

Steven Dobie is a Reliability Engineer at Teck Resources Limited, Canada’s largest diversified mining company.


In this week’s episode of Masterminds in Maintenance, we are excited to have Steven Dobie, Reliability Engineer at Teck Resources Limited, back on the show! Today’s show looks a bit different than our usual episodes, and that’s because this episode is the first in our new short series, “Careers Considered”, that dives deeper into the different jobs in the maintenance and reliability industry. To kick things off, Steven gives us a glimpse into Reliability Engineering! Listen today!

Episode Show Notes

  • What are some of the main responsibilities of being a Reliability Engineer?
  • What are the hard and soft skills someone needs to develop in order to become a Reliability Engineer?
  • What does success look like as a Reliability Engineer, and how do you measure it?

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00:03 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds In Maintenance, podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. Each week I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shoot things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful, and other times their idea revolutionized an entire industry. Today, I’m super excited, we have Steve Dobie back here on the show. He’s a reliability engineer at Teck Resources Limited, back here on the Masterminds In Maintenance Show. So welcome again, Steve. I’m really looking forward to today’s conversation.

00:35 Steven Dobie: Yeah, thanks for having me on, Ryan, it’s great to be back. Love the content you’re putting out. So happy to be part of it.

00:40 RC: Could you start us off by briefly sharing a little bit more about yourself, your background, and how you were introduced to the field of maintenance and reliability?

00:48 SD: Yeah, so I’m a reliability engineer for Teck Resources, as you mentioned there, got started in reliability, probably about four or five years ago now. I started with a company called Fluid Life, who does oil analysis, and I was a reliability engineering consultant there. I got a lot of chance to do lots of research and learnings while I was there, and then I was able to take that out into the mining industry where I’d worked a little bit previously in my summers, and I grew up in a mining town as well. Like most of the people, I think, on your podcast, I didn’t ever intend to be a reliability engineer, but certainly where I ended up, and certainly where I like being.

01:22 RC: That’s awesome. Yeah, we’ve talked to so many folks, and I would say nine out of 10 people had no idea that they wanted to get into this space, but I think 10 out of 10 people that we talked to have absolutely loved it after they have gotten into it. Steve, today’s podcast is gonna look a little bit different than our usual episodes, and that’s because this is the first episode in our new short series that dives deeper into the jobs of maintenance and reliability. So, the reason why we wanted to start this series off is because we know that many of our listeners who are curious about pursuing a field in this career don’t really know which career path to take. Whether it’s facilities manager, maintenance planning, technician, reliability, oil analysis, there’s so many different paths. So we hope that this series provides a little bit of insight into the different paths that can be taken in the maintenance and reliability industry. So let’s kick the series off, let’s talk about reliability engineering. What are the main roles and responsibilities of a reliability engineer, the day-to-day responsibilities for this role?

02:24 SD: The biggest important thing, and I think I heard Bob Latino say this, he’s a champion in reliability, for everybody that doesn’t know. But he said if you’re a reliability engineer, you shouldn’t be dealing with the urgent, you should be dealing with the important non-urgent responsibilities. They’re obviously very important, but none of your work should really be involved in the day-to-day outside of presentations and things like that. Day-to-day maintenance should be left to maintenance engineers and maintenance technicians, and reliability should focus their day-to-day on long-term analysis, understanding an asset life cycle, the failure modes and effects, and how things fail, and understanding those concepts rather than trying to solve the current downs and the current failures of today.

03:11 RC: How does a reliability engineer typically interact with the day-to-day department? Bcause we know that those two are closely tied to one another.

03:21 SD: Most reliability team members are part of the maintenance department, myself included. Really what you have to do is, you have to try and distance yourself from that day-to-day, but you also need to maintain being approachable and personable and things like that. So, you still need to be somewhat in the day-to-day and talking to people and understanding what’s going on, because the people that are in that day-to-day maintenance and working on the current stuff, they’re the ones that actually really know how to solve your issues. The information you get, you’ll have to distill it down into, maybe prove it with an analysis or something, but they generally have the information that you need to start solving your problems, so you wanna make sure you keep that relationship there and not just holed up in an office.

04:04 RC: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Again, they’re so closely tied to one another, but again, a reliability engineer is really focused on the long-term asset life cycle, versus the maintenance department is focused on the today, this week, this month. So how do you become a reliability engineer? What’s the most common career path to becoming a reliability engineer?

04:28 SD: You apply for a job and somebody gives you a title, and you’re thrown into the fire and you’re like, “Okay, so what’s this reliability thing?” I think that’s how most of us got into it. I’ve heard of some companies, they have a reliability training program. Generally, you come from a maintenance background, or you’re a mechanical engineer. I myself am a materials engineer, which deals with a lot of failure analysis and stuff like that, so it’s a nice fit in that capacity. But to become, truly become a reliability engineer, you need to do a lot of learning. You need to, obviously, listen to the content that you and other podcast providers put out there, you need to do a lot of reading, there’s a lot of great books on reliability. You just need to go through and understand what the math and resources that are available. And there’s different certifications out there. I know SMRP has the CMRP, which is a great validation of knowledge. It doesn’t prove that you have knowledge. My idea of certifications are, they’re a good validation, but you don’t need it to actually prove that you can do a job, your work should be able to speak to that yourself, but if you’re looking for a new job and wanna be in reliability, those certifications obviously help prove to potential employers that you understand reliability.

05:41 RC: So essentially, what I’m hearing, Steve, is you take a shot, you apply for that job, you throw yourself into the deep end and you learn. It sounds like that’s kind of the most common jump into the space of reliability.

05:57 SD: Which is, it’s so ironic considering the job of reliability is to have that forethought and understanding for total asset life cycles and total cost of ownership, and understanding those concepts, yet, we all just kinda jump into it head first and sink or swim, more or less.

06:17 RC: Do you see the typical career progression going from a technician, to a maintenance manager, to a planner, to a reliability engineer, or is it more commonly where, again, you’ve got a few years of experience, and then you just jump directly?

06:37 SD: It kind of depends where you are. So in Canada, we’re a little more strict on what you’re allowed to call an engineer. There’s two essential routes to get into, be a reliability professional. For the reliability engineering route, you go to university, you get your engineering degree. And then people like me, we just fall, end up falling into it somewhat, and learning as we go. Then the other route, which, and they’re probably better suited to reliability at the start, is the people that come from the floor. There’s a lot of technicians out there, there’s a lot that just love to turn wrenches and are perfectly content, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that with somebody that loves doing their job, just loves fixing things day in and day out, and doing it that way.

07:18 SD: But there’s other people that want to get into the office and stuff, and areas like that. So the normal transition, I think, would be from a mechanic on the floor to a planner, where they can get their feet wet and understand whether or not they actually like sitting in an office. A lot of them don’t realize what it actually means to sit in an office all day. Like I was doing shift work, and 12 hours at a computer is a long time. And then if you like that, then it’s a pretty natural progression, being that a lot of maintenance and reliability training stuff is often lumped together to start building your reliability repertoire. If you do find that you don’t like working in an office, you can always start doing the reliability technician stuff, get into the vibe sensors and understanding that. And then your office time is probably more 50-50.

08:07 RC: Absolutely, so many different ways to get into reliability. So here’s a scenario, I’ve landed my first job as a reliability engineer. How do I measure my own success? How do you measure your success as a reliability engineer?

08:25 SD: It really depends why you were hired. So I started with the company I worked at before Teck, I was the first reliability engineer that company ever had. The idea of success was quite a bit different than a company that has a somewhat more mature reliability department. So if you’re the first one in there, well, first of all, you need to improve the assets in some capacity. Whether it’s through traditional reliability analysis or just getting different people on the same page, that was a lot of it for me, was, “Let’s, okay, we’ve got four different people talking, let’s make sure we’re all doing the same thing, make sure all our arrows are pointed the same way, so that we can come together and do what’s best for the assets.” If you’re coming into a more mature situation, then there’s gonna be a lot more structure around what you do, and success is gonna look a lot about project completions and calculating the value that those projects are bringing to your business.

09:22 RC: The one piece that you mentioned that really stuck out to me was being the bridge between operations and maintenance, because we’ve heard that so often, that those two departments clash all the time. It’s, “We wanna take equipment down so that we can run our annual checks on them.” And operations saying, “Go, go, go, we have no time to put things on stop.” It’s basically to prove value that both sides are important, operations and also maintenance. And if we can find that harmonious middle ground, then the company as a whole is gonna move forward almost 10 times better, leaps and bounds better than it was.

10:06 SD: Absolutely. Operations wants to get the most out of the assets as possible, and you need to help them understand that to get the most you need to give a little. Maintenance wants to do the absolute, they wanna fix it to new every time they see it. We need to get them to understand that, “Okay, you don’t need to go that far. Sometimes there is good enough. And what’s gonna be good enough, and what does your next set of maintenance look like to help get the most out of the asset.” At the end of the day, I work with haul trucks, I want that truck to move as much dirt as possible throughout its life. And how that happens, we can handle some issues here and there that maybe make the asset a little less functional in some capacity, but if it’s not affecting its ability to move that dirt, or safety environment, those things as well of course, if it’s not affecting that, then maybe it’s something we can push off, or maybe there’s no value in doing it at all. And so that’s where the reliability engineer has to understand that total asset life cycle, the operating context, and work with operations and maintenance to, in my case, move as much dirt as possible.

11:21 RC: So, let me try paraphrasing here, and let me know if I got this right. So, a reliability engineer’s success essentially looks like being the bridge, the glue between maintenance and operations, to maximize productivity and output for assets.

11:37 SD: That sounds about right. [laughter]

11:40 RC: So maybe pivoting a little bit here, Steve, what do you see as the most challenging aspect as a reliability engineer?

11:48 SD: It’s the people. The people are always great. But there are so many different personalities out there. There’s so many different types of people you need to work with, and you need to understand what their motivation is. I always tell people every day, “Everybody comes to work for a reason. Nobody’s coming to work to do a bad job. And you need to have some empathy for people that are maybe having a rough day, you need to have some understanding around that. But you also need to get your work done.” I really like the phrase, I took a course on negotiations, and the phrase was, “Be hard on the problem, not on the people.”

12:25 SD: Whenever I’m working with somebody and trying to deal with somebody, first of all, I try to put myself in their shoes. What are they going through today? I try and make that relationship a little more personal, then when we’re talking business, when we’re talking about the problem, I can be as frank or as hard as I need to be on that issue, but they understand that it’s just the issue. And that’s really the hardest thing that particularly we as engineers do, is we tend to just forget all the pleasantries and just jump straight to business. And some people like that, but I guarantee you, the people on the floor, the majority of them don’t. They want a coffee, they wanna chat for 10 or 15 minutes, then they wanna get into the business. Even if it’s a five-minute conversation, you have to make that time for that personal relationship.

13:12 RC: Yeah, definitely. Again, going back to this whole role of being this facilitator, it sounds like it’s a very people-oriented position. And I know that we like doing our root cause analyses, and our five whys, but it’s not just a blame game here, we have to affect change amongst the entire organization. And often that changes could be amongst tens, hundreds of people, and that’s most often the most difficult barrier. Do you have any advice, any tips, recommendations, for anyone interested in becoming a reliability engineer?

13:53 SD: First and foremost, if you’re not one, obviously you’re not one yet, start listening to the content around it. Even in your current job today, listen to reliability topics, because they are applicable to all sorts of industries. I was a design engineer at Fluid Life. I would have been a much better designer if I was working with the concepts of reliability in mind. If you’re interested in the field, definitely start listening to podcasts, read a lot of the content that’s out there. I think some of the best content is on Accendo Reliability, they’re one of my favorite go-tos. Of course, UpKeep, and I think your stuff is on there as well, so. There’s lots of great resources out there for getting into reliability. Read about it, see if it’s something you want. But one thing to keep in mind, if you are expecting to be in the field climbing on trucks or looking at assets all day, it’s not gonna be the role for you. That’s gonna be more the maintenance engineering role, and the reliability people, we tend to sit back more in an office.

14:51 RC: And Steve, what do you love about your role as a reliability engineer?

14:56 SD: You know, the thing that I like the most is, the changes I make are going to last a long time. I have a few projects I’m working on right now, and I’m probably not gonna be in my role by the time a lot of the value we get from them comes to fruition, but I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that I’ve left my mark on a larger scale. One of my friends, Rob Kalrosky, you know him, he used to work at Teck many years before I did, and I still go back and I still see his name on stuff that he worked on like nearly 10 years ago. It’s great that those things last and you’re part of something that’s longer term. I think that’s my favorite part.

15:34 RC: That’s awesome. Can you share with our listeners all the different ways that they can connect with you, follow you on your journey?

15:40 SD: Really, LinkedIn is gonna be the best. You can just type in Steven Dobie, I think I should be one of the top ones. I’ve been on your podcast a couple of times, I do quite a bit, like I said, Rob Kalrosky’s my friend, so I’m on his podcast fairly frequently as well, so you can connect on there, too.

15:56 RC: Awesome, thank you so much, Steve, for joining us, and thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s special Masterminds In Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of UpKeep. You can also connect with me, I’m very active on LinkedIn, or you can also shoot me an email directly at [email protected] Until next time. Thanks again, Steven.

16:15 SD: Thanks Ryan, appreciate it.

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