Great expectations

If you don’t try to approach a level of expected reliability with your more knowledgeable customers, you might find that if you need a new machine and don’t buy it, you pay for it without ever getting it.

Joe FeeleyBy Joe Feeley, Editor in Chief

I AM NOT entirely sure Henry Ford was speaking about industrial machinery when he reportedly said, “If you need a new machine and don’t buy it, you pay for it without ever getting it.”

Even so, it’s a worthwhile discussion to have with that potential customer of yours who’s contemplating a next-generation machine. Depending on that company’s awareness of the safety, productivity, and reliability improvements they could enjoy from upgrading to something other than the lowest initial-cost option, they might be missing the big picture on overall cost of operation.

On the other side of the street lives the very-well-informed potential customer. This company does its homework, has a good handle on lifecycle costs, and recognizes the value of a machine that runs forever, changes over speedily, is highly accurate and protects its operators.

At the top of a list of machine-buying companies that think this way, you’re likely find Goodyear Tire & Rubber. At a Reliability World 2006 conference session, Chris Smith, one of Goodyear’s reliability engineers, presented his company’s methods for testing and acceptance of industrial equipment they purchase.

Much of what Smith discusses mandates that the machine builder be in close consultation with the customer to define these expectations.

There are four categories to consider when defining acceptance criteria for equipment, reports Smith. He defines these as machine reliability and machine product quality—before it is shipped—and the same two conditions after installation. His presentation focused on the acceptance criteria regarding machine reliability.

He says the first step is to arrive at an acceptable unplanned downtime figure, then calculate the average downtime per breakdown. “The equipment manufacturer usually can help determine the average time of repair,” says Smith. “Some caution should be exercised here. Estimates of average repair time given by the vendor are likely to reflect repair times based on experienced technicians.”

In Goodyear’s case, the plant ultimately will have responsibility for repairs, but if you retain after-sales maintenance support, this could mean that your data better be pretty accurate so as not to create unrealistic goals.

After a bit more figuring, Goodyear arrives at an MTBF goal that will be tested and verified by running the machine prior to acceptance. “Having well-defined and quantifiable goals for equipment reliability should make spec writing easier,” believes Smith. “This will be an advantage when dealing with vendors. Having a standard methodology for specifying reliability criteria will facilitate creation of specifications to be included in the RFQ.”

Smith says this information should give the machine builder an understanding of what’s expected of the design. “If testing methods, data collection methods, and pass/fail criteria are included in an RFQ, there won’t be any surprises for the vendor when the equipment is tested,” he says. “If the standards aren’t met, it’s clear that the vendor will be responsible for any upgrades or reengineering necessary to achieve the acceptance criteria.”

Not much grey area there, folks. So, I’m guessing that some of the tips in Jim Montague’s cover story on system design tools might help keep you out of trouble in this type of customer relationship.

Jim reports on many of the software tools that can help you design machines that you can be highly confident will run perfectly—before you even build them, let alone ship and install them. Maybe that’s a minor exaggeration at present, but, from the look of Jim’s story, it’s coming.

If you don’t try to approach that level of expected reliability with your more knowledgeable customers, you might find Henry Ford’s quote distilling down to this for your company: “You’ll pay for it, because you didn’t ‘get it.’”