Improving Inherent Reliability of a System

The inherent reliability of a system is determined by the system’s design. It means that the design of the system would determine the upper limit of reliability the system exhibits during operation. Suppose, for example, a system, with the best possible maintenance is able to achieve availability of say 90% we can say that this is the upper limit of the system’s capability that is determined by its design. A good “preventive maintenance” plan can never improve a systems inherent reliability. In other words, preventive maintenance, contrary to what many believe, cannot make a system “better”. It may, at best, only help realise the inherent reliability as determined by the physical design.

Hence the suggested process to “improve” the inherent reliability of a system, may be framed as follows: –

Understand the dynamics through tools like vibration analysis
Monitor changes and rate of change
Eliminate unnecessary maintenance tasks
Change the design of the system interactions to eliminate inherent “imperfections” and revise the maintenance plan.

In most cases, this would be the general approach.

Until we can effectively undertake some design changes (Design Out Maintenance – DOM) or take measures to eliminate inappropriate maintenance actions (Review of Equipment Maintenance – REM) it would not be possible to go beyond inherent reliability of an equipment, specially if it is undesirable in the business context. For example, a vertical pump of a power plant kept failing very frequently or had had to be stopped quite often when vibration shot beyond the trip limits. This behaviour of the system is determined by the design of the system. Unless the design (specifically the interactions between components) is corrected for improvement; the system (vertical pump) would continue to behave in that manner for all times. Likewise if the MTBF of a machine is say 90 days, it would not be possible to considerably improve the MTBF way beyond 90 days unless some undesirable interactions (which I call system “imperfections”) are corrected for improvement and a proper review of existing maintenance system is carried out. 

Such “imperfections” can be both physical and non-physical. Design features, most importantly, the interactions between physical/non-physical components are arguably the most important characteristic of a system that determine a system’s inherent reliability.

In addition, there are many physical design features that influence reliability like redundancy, component selection and the overall integration of various pieces of the system.

In the context of RCM, design extends far beyond the physical makeup of the system. There are a number of non-physical design features that can affect, sometimes profoundly, the inherent reliability of a system. Among these are operating procedures, errors in manufacturing, training and technical documentation. When a proper RCM analysis is conducted on a system or sub-system, there’s a good chance that the resulting maintenance actions will enable the system to achieve its inherent reliability as determined by its physical design features. However, if the inherent reliability is below user’s expectation or need then the design features are to be improved to achieve the desired level of inherent reliability.

Moreover, if unwarranted maintenance tasks are eliminated as it will greatly reduce the risk of suffering the Waddington Effect. There is also a good chance that if operating procedures, training, technical documentation and so forth are found to negatively impact inherent reliability, these issues will be identified and corrected. As evidenced by the Waddington Effect. In virtually every case, less than optimal, non-physical design features almost always have a negative impact on inherent reliability. Therefore, in RCM analysis a through review of existing maintenance plan (REM) along with DOM is necessary to improve inherent reliability of a system.

In brief, right amount of Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) tasks, Scheduled Inspections (which is a part of CBM activity) REM and DOM would not only help us realise the inherent reliability as determined by the physical design but also improve it, if the original inherent reliability is below business expectation.


Dibyendu De


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