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What every reliability engineer needs to know about their changing world

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Engineering is a cornerstone of the global economy. Digitization is driving efficiency in the workplace and is changing the way engineers work and make decisions. Product development, transformation and real-time data management are speeding up. Engineering is becoming more complex, innovative, and data led as the cloud allows engineers to store all their designs in one, easily accessible place.

SNC Lavalin says this “The value of cloud computing in engineering relies on data capture, 3D modeling, and creating the best possible customer experience. Digital transformation and the rise of big data have paved the way for digital twin applications, which are hugely beneficial for engineering firms. A digital twin is a virtual model of a physical object and it’s used to replicate real-world assets to gather and analyze data to predict how they will perform. Therefore, digital transformation has paved the way for predictive analysis in engineering and new ways of collaborating and innovating.”

There is a pervasive fear that technology will replace humans. Let’s break that down:

  1. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs will grow by eight percent between now and 2029. For engineering occupations specifically, employment is projected to grow approximately three percent in the next 10 years — adding over 74,800 new jobs by 2029.

  2. For engineers, technology should be viewed as a tool, not a threat. Consider a digital twin: This software allows engineers to work more safely and productively, with less travel time and time on site, in a more unified, visual and collaborative way. Yes, it employs machine learning, but it is not intended to replace workers. In fact, it depends on humans for a number of reasons; to provide the data for it to ingest; to interpret the data it analyzes; to leverage the visual data it outputs to enable all the potential gains in productivity, efficiency, and savings.

Let’s take a look at the current state of technology, and how it is impacting a day in the life of reliability engineers across the world:

Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) in the daily life of a reliability engineer

A non-exhaustive list of 14 common day-to-day jobs undertaken by reliability engineers includes:

  1. Working with project engineers to ensure the reliability and maintainability of new and modified installations

  2. Ensuring adherence to the Life Cycle Asset Management (LCAM) process throughout the entire life cycle of new assets

  3. Participating in the development of design and installation specifications along with commissioning plans

  4. Participating in the development of criteria for and evaluation of equipment and technical maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) suppliers and technical maintenance service providers

  5. Participating in the final review of new installations. This includes factory and site acceptance testing (SAT) that will assure adherence to functional specifications.

  6. Guiding efforts to ensure reliability and maintainability of equipment, processes, utilities, facilities, controls, and safety/security systems

  7. Professionally and systematically defining, designing, developing, monitoring and refining an asset maintenance planDuring mine work, being cognizant and keeping track of ground closure, underground reality and geoscience activities by comparing scans and detecting movements and stresses

  8. Collaborating with subject matter experts on certain parts of the asset before troubleshooting

  9. Providing input to a risk management plan that will anticipate reliability-related, and non-reliability-related risks that could adversely impact plant operation

  10. Developing engineer solutions to repetitive failures and all other problems that adversely affect plant operations.

  11. Working with production to analyze assets, including:

    • Asset utilization

    • Overall equipment effectiveness

    • Remaining useful life

    • Other parameters that define operating condition, reliability, and costs of assets

These jobs-to-be-done are traditionally very time consuming:

  1. Communication is stilted and piecemeal, and collaboration is difficult

  2. Each of the bullets in a job description is a separate data source. Information is stored in silos and multiple locations, making it challenging to find, access, and share.

  3. Finding up-to-date versions of required documents can be frustrating and time consuming, and correlating the various sources of information is a challenge

  4. Need to access third-party data sources to get documents such as non-destructive testing files (NDT)

  5. In some cases, approvals may be required to access certain documents causing delays, and back-and-forth exchanges of information between multiple stakeholders takes time

  6. The need to constantly reach out to vendors, suppliers and other engineers to access CAD models and update repair/replace information, and receive appropriate approvals and confirmations is tedious

  7. Getting specific information to subject matter experts for their opinion

  8. Toolings are required for data analysis and for documenting the solutions that an engineer comes up with

  9. Keeping track of where new installations are present on site and their attributes (make model etc) is a challenge

  10. Testing and ensuring documentation is received/approved/sent out in time to avoid hold ups

  11. Send documents across all teams through various document control systems

  12. Cross-functional team workshops and meetings are held to vet out decisions based upon data. These are frequently on-site and face-to-face, requiring travel time and costs and potentially causing delays while increasing site exposure risk.

For reliability engineers, all this time spent sourcing, searching, accessing, traveling, and trying to communicate and collaborate using multiple different tools and methodologies takes a significant amount of time that could be used far more productively.

How technology is giving back time

Digital twins are revolutionizing reliability engineering by providing immersive 3D visualizations of sites and assets at a component level and on a global scale. Digital twins are virtual representations of an asset that span its lifecycle, uses simulation and machine learning to help decision making, and are updated from real-time data enabling sustainable asset integrity. Digital twins are paving the way for predictive analysis in engineering and for new ways of collaborating and innovating.

Digital twins allow users to easily search, find all the asset’s historic and current computer-aided design (CAD), geospatial, document management, internet of thing (IoT), and operational systems data in a single interface. Users are able to understand and view the data in 2D, 3D, and zoomable 360° panoramic reality. Users can have conversations in a 3D context within the application. Digital twins are especially valuable when they are vendor agnostic, meaning that the application can ingest,aggregate, verify, and contextualize data from any vendor.

By using real-time data and analytics from digital twins, reliability engineers can proactively detect anomalies, perform root cause analysis, and make data-driven decisions to improve asset reliability and minimize downtime. Digital twin software also facilitate collaboration between different teams and departments, fostering a holistic approach to reliability engineering and enabling cross-functional knowledge sharing.

Benefits and outcomes include:

  • Increased productivity

  • Reduced costs

  • Improved safety

  • Reduce site exposure

  • Reduced travel time

  • Enabled collaboration and time efficiencies in meetings, workshops, and communication

  • Reduced risk of field clashes

  • Improved workflow productivity

  • Holistic access to all available historic and current asset data

  • Real time remote site condition analysis

  • Remote emergency training

  • Time efficiency in tracking down data and supplier information with a single source of truth

For reliability engineers, the way of the future is digital. Ultimately, by harnessing the power of digital twins, reliability engineers can optimize asset performance, reduce costs, and enhance overall operational efficiency. Luckily, engineering has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation and digital adoption. All that’s left is to encourage your organization and be a voice for change in your industry to ensure that we all move towards a more productive and sustainable future.


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