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On the face of it an 11-letter word, but ever stopped to think just how much is packaged into the promise of delivering ‘reliability’, especially when that promise is made in the context of a high-hazard chemical production company? Consider for a moment some closely associated words: dependability, consistency, trustworthiness – all elements that our stakeholders expect from us, but none quite sum it up in the same way as Reliability …the idea that we can predictably deliver the same outcomes safely and efficiently every time in order to meet or exceed specifications. Victor Foster, Mechanical Reliability Engineer based at Fite Road, talked to us.

Excellent reliability has always been critical for Lucite International’s (LI) business. It’s what underpins all our relationships with our customers and it is what has been at the heart of achieving such long-term partnerships with them. In line with our philosophy of continuous improvement and shaping a better, more sustainable future for LI and its partners, LI has joined the Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). This move will help us tap into potential new talent, access expert reliability training, keep up-to-date with best practices and provide our existing and future recruits with a unique resource to help us go even further in improving our reliability.

Tell us a bit more about the RMC?
VF: The RMC is best described as an independently funded research branch of the College of Engineering at UTK. It is there to advance reliability and maintenance education and practices within the academic and industrial communities, which it does by creating opportunities for members to access a comprehensive program of education, industry projects, research, and information sharing. (http://rmc.utk.edu/)

How did we get involved with the RMC?
VF: One outcome from LI’s annual Manufacturing Excellence (MEx) self-assessment was the need for our Fite Road site to focus attention more closely on plant reliability. The site established reliability engineers for each area: Tricia Foster for MMA, myself for the sheet plant, plus an electrical reliability engineer, Kevin Wright. Having graduated from the RMC program at UTK, I’d worked with the RMC program at a previous company and found it provided an immense amount of knowledge and experience. I joined LI’s Regional Maintenance Excellence team, led by Johnny Maldonado, and shortly after we decided to partner with the RMC in order to connect with other companies struggling with the same opportunities to better shape ideas for their own reliability programs.

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What are the benefits of us joining the RMC?
VF: The RMC is one of a kind in the US today; it connects academia with industry and is the only university to offer a certificate, minor, and master’s degree in Reliability Engineering. Principal, Dr Klaus Blache has over 30 years’ experience in manufacturing and engineering and leads a great team with inputs from many disciplines, including Nuclear, Chemical, Electrical, Industrial and Mechanical Engineering. With over 50 member companies that meet three times a year, it gives us all a fantastic opportunity to share openly what we’re doing in the field of reliability so that we can learn from one another. There’s also an annual Maintenance and Reliability conference (MARCON) in February for sharing thoughts and best practice. This year, I presented a paper on ‘Reliability Leadership’ at the conference.

What about the RMC’s educational program?
VF: In addition to the regular certificate, minor, masters program, there are over 30 classes on different reliability topics through the year for member companies to attend. We can use these to train our people on RMC theories and practices. We also get to screen the available RMC interns. These students are already passionate about studying reliability at college, and each receives 40 hours of reliability basic training before turning up to our site. And as part of our membership, we can send one employee to this 40-hour training program for free.

How would you sum up our future with the RMC?
VF: Overall, the relationship that we’re building with UTK is a win-win for us both. We enjoy the benefits of the learnings and they get real world experiences to ensure their program stays relevant to industry trends. It means we can look forward to our future success with reliability, which is crucial for us to stay ahead.