Reliability engineers are responsible for identifying and managing asset reliability risks, and then working to reduce those risks. Depending on the industry and market, reliability engineers have the opportunity to affect multiple assets and processes. Specific skills and tasks may vary significantly from company to company, but the job will typically include measuring performance of critical assets, identifying root causes for failures, managing related data, and implementing maintenance tasks to improve reliability.
What Do Reliability Engineers Do?
The role of most reliability engineers can be subdivided into three main areas: elimination of losses, management of risks, and life cycle asset management.
Elimination of Losses
Often, one of the first jobs of a reliability engineer, or even the reason for the creation of that position, is to examine production losses and inspect assets that are racking up extremely high maintenance costs. The reliability engineer, working with management and operations, leads the effort to discover the root cause of these losses and then creates a plan for eliminating them. Priority is placed on the most critical assets, and establishing or improving a predictive and preventive maintenance plan is usually involved.
Management of Risks
Reliability engineers are also responsible for managing health, safety, and environmental risks as well as anything that could negatively affect asset capability, product quality, and production capacity.
Reliability engineers may also be called upon to help design, install, and modify assets in order to minimize the total cost of ownership. They help create the guidelines for external MRO suppliers, as well as set inspection and review procedures. By systematically implementing the reliability plan, reliability engineers can shepherd value-added preventive maintenance tasks, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of predictive maintenance initiatives.
Periodically, reliability engineers must update management on anticipated risks that could cause a negative impact within the organization. During an oral presentation or within written reports, possible solutions should be presented that would eliminate anticipated and repeated failures of critical assets. This may include issues around capacity, regulatory issues, or quality. Often, the reliability engineer will use tools such as root cause failure analysis to make these determinations.
What Skills Are Needed?
Perhaps the number one skill a reliability engineer needs to have is the ability to learn. Every asset failure is an opportunity to problem-solve, both in the short term and the long term. Over time, an organization will gather the data needed to make better and smarter reliability decisions. Here are some general skill categories that will be helpful for a reliability engineer.
Reliability engineers should understand the basic premises of electronic, electrical, mechanical, software, and system engineering. Reliability engineers can be pulled from the ranks of those team members who have an engineering degree or background. Many continuing education programs are available for those non-engineers who would like to obtain introductory knowledge.
By learning to actively listen to coworkers, technicians, and managers, reliability engineers can better understand overall issues and problems. Once root causes of failures are determined and a plan is drawn up, reliability engineers must be able to be persuasive in both written and oral communications, as well as have excellent presentation skills. These skills are critical to successfully implementing preventive maintenance tasks and programs with the needed management and organizational buy-in.
Statistical Modeling and Data Analysis
Reliability engineers need to understand how to use statistical tools to create models, which can help them design better maintenance solutions. In addition, reliability engineers should know how to analyze data to make smarter decisions, as well as to illustrate the value of reliability processes and programs.
Material and System Modeling and Analysis
In some cases, reliability engineers will need to understand how particular materials and systems behave under different circumstances and environmental conditions. For instance, temperature, pressure, humidity, and a host of other factors can positively or negatively affect the reliability of a particular asset or production line. Having this knowledge or relying on a reliability team member to handle this component of the program is extremely useful.
Root Cause Analysis
Getting to the root cause of a particular problem is critical to reliability engineering. While reactive maintenance is typically focused on resolving the immediate problem as quickly as possible, predictive and preventive maintenance tasks are much more focused on improving the reliability of a particular asset or process. Successful proactive programs can only be built if reliability engineers can find the root cause of the problem.
It's important for reliability engineers to get past the technical details of maintenance and operations. Reliability engineers must be able to communicate the impact of these reliability issues to management and decision-makers. Understanding the correlation between reliability data to overall business objectives is critical to a successful career in this area. Reliability engineers must be able to translate the work they are doing into language that’s understandable and important to the management team.
Remember that customer satisfaction and success is the end goal for any business. As a reliability engineer, it's important to understand what end-users or customers want, the problems they have, and how reliability contributes to the solutions your company delivers. This customer focus will help reliability engineers illustrate the value of their work to the management team as well.
Typical Job Description of a Reliability Engineer
Once reliability engineers have obtained at least some of the above skills, with an eye for continuing to develop the skills they don't yet have, they can consider jumping on a reliability team or taking over the responsibilities of a reliability engineer at an organization.
Although job descriptions for reliability engineers will vary across industries and companies, here are some common hats that a reliability engineer may wear.
Champion of Life Cycle Asset Management
Reliability engineers may work with other relevant departments to make sure that new and modified assets meet reliability standards through a predetermined process.
Developer, Installer, Commissioner
These individuals may help to create guidelines and evaluation of external service providers, ensuring that third-party vendors follow the internally established reliability processes and procedures in the products and services they're providing.
Final Checkpoint for Upholding Reliability Standards
Reliability engineers may be involved in the last stages of new installations to ensure reliability standards are met.
Creator of Asset Maintenance Plan
People in this position may help ensure that preventive maintenance tasks, as well as predictive maintenance processes, are put in place once issue identification and failure causes have been identified.
Risk Monitor and Reporter
Reliability engineers may keep an eye on potential risks as they relate to safety, environmental issues, and production problems. They may be responsible for providing feedback to management, as well as making suggestions for solutions to mitigate those risks.
These individuals may be the point people who employ statistical controls, fault tree analysis, and other reliability modeling tools in order to create solutions to potential problems revolving around quality, capacity, or compliance.
Reliability engineers may work with production staff to analyze critical asset utilization, the remaining useful life of assets, and overall equipment effectiveness.
They may help deliver reliability information to production, management, and technical staff on an ongoing basis, which may involve providing analyses to help these teams make decisions on whether to repair or replace a particular asset.