Reliability-Centered Leadership
in the Age of Industry 4.0

Reliability-Centered Leadership in the Age of Industry 4.0

By: Dan Moss, CMRP, Senior Associate

With the advent of Industry 4.0, facility management may be reevaluating or extending the role of the reliability engineer (RE). Given its process-centered, highly technical focus, Industry 4.0 presents a perfect opportunity for REs to shine. Nevertheless, in my opinion, organizations that assume the majority of the RE’s work will be process centered are making a grave miscalculation.

Moving to Industry 4.0, like the iterations before it, requires buy-in from the personnel who will interconnect with it.
One of the most significant variables in equipment reliability has always been people — not only operators and maintenance staff, but also regulatory compliance, IT and even financial and other back office staff. That won’t change with Industry 4.0. In fact, the impact of the “people variable” becomes greater with major technology shifts. In these situations, fear of change and territorialism may cause even workers that support a reliability-centered culture to perform less enthusiastically or efficiently.

In short, the best way for any facility to prepare for the advent of Industry 4.0 is to ensure that as many “people processes” as possible are in place to support asset management and risk reduction. Furthermore, to help reduce the anxiety many people feel when faced with new technology, they should be coached to understand that Industry 4.0 is just another iteration in the long journey to excellence, and that their value as contributors is not diminished by the effort.

Leading the Pack

With their strong affinity for both processes and reliability, there is no better individual to help these workers bridge the “acceptance gap” than a RE, especially in companies that are “rebooting” their operations to revolve around Industry 4.0.

  • In well-run operations, REs (or other strategic leaders) may already have developed a reliability-centered culture driven by personnel who will support that goal.
  • In facilities where such a culture is absent or has not been attempted, Industry 4.0 offers an opportunity to implement a reliability-centered culture while also addressing employee concerns regarding new technologies.

With that said, even the most charismatic RE may encounter resistance. In my experience, overcoming it is much easier when there is a connection in place between the RE and those he/she is coaching to embrace Industry 4.0:

Priority #1: Trust. Trust is an effort that necessitates honesty, openness and time. There are no shortcuts, but a concerted effort can strengthen the bonds — and deliver the desired outcome — more quickly.

Priority #2: Humility. Humility is often defined as “a modest view of one’s own importance,” but it would be better framed as willingness to take such a view. The most effective coaches go to where the student is and speak to him or her at a level they can understand.

Priority #4: Vision. The RE’s goal should be to develop a common vision with the personnel he is coaching. This is rarely the case at the outset, but through the process of working together and developing plans, the RE and his students can develop a clearly aligned vision of the future.

Priority #5: S.M.A.R.T. Goal Setting. The RE should develop a defined, time-specific goal, aligned with the established vision. A good model for goal setting is to follow the S.M.A.R.T methodology — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Priority #6: Planning. By far the most successful efforts start with a plan. Serendipity has no place in a reliability-centered culture.

Final Thoughts
Embracing a new reality isn’t easy for anyone, but that doesn’t reduce its importance. When change is accompanied by a resolute but supportive environment, good outcomes arise more easily. Dragging a group of people somewhere is always more difficult than having them follow a leader they admire and respect. Such an approach is even more valuable when firms are already struggling under the organizational “weight” of adopting new technologies such as Industry 4.0.