Current Insights

The Concerning Lack of Appreciation for the Critical Role of the Reliability Function

May 23, 2024

There is ongoing strong sentiment for the lack of attention to, and appreciation of, both the reliability function and the engineers responsible for equipment reliability. Several factors contribute to why so many industrial companies continue to overlook the importance of reliability engineering.

Short-Term Focus

Industrial companies often prioritise short-term goals such as meeting production targets or reducing costs. Reliability engineering, which involves upfront investments in design, testing, and maintenance to ensure long-term reliability, does not receive sufficient attention.

Lack of Awareness

Some companies simply do not have the same awareness of the concept of reliability engineering, or its potential benefits compared to general maintenance. If they haven’t experienced significant reliability issues in the past or haven’t had the expertise to analyse and address them, they may not recognise the importance of reliability engineering in improving overall operational efficiency and reducing downtime.

Cost Considerations

Reliability engineering requires investments in specialised equipment, training, and personnel, which some companies may perceive as additional expenses that do not directly contribute to their bottom line. Without understanding the potential cost savings and improved performance, companies are hesitant to allocate resources to it.

Reactive Maintenance Culture

Companies often operate in a reactive maintenance culture, where they only address equipment failures as they occur rather than proactively identifying and mitigating potential issues. This reactive approach results in increased downtime, production losses, and higher maintenance costs in the long term. Companies might not recognise the benefits of transitioning to a proactive reliability engineering approach.

Misconceptions from Leadership

There could be misconceptions that reliability engineering is an unnecessary expense or a purely technical function that doesn’t align with business goals. Educating decision-makers about the strategic importance of reliability engineering and its potential impact on profitability and customer satisfaction is essential in overcoming this.

Underestimation of Risks

Some companies underestimate the potential risks associated with equipment failures, such as safety hazards, environmental damage, and reputational damage. Without considering the broader implications of reliability issues, companies will not prioritise reliability engineering efforts aimed at preventing or minimising these risks.

Lack of In-House Expertise

Reliability engineering requires specialised knowledge and skills in areas such as data analysis, statistics, predictive maintenance, and risk assessment. If a company lacks personnel with expertise in these areas, they will not be able to implement effective reliability engineering processes.

Reliability should be a priority, not just an afterthought. Everyone at our company should take reliability seriously, not just the reliability engineers.

The Reliability Engineer

Reliability engineers are crucial to the success of asset-intensive organisations. They play a vital role in ensuring that equipment, machinery, and other critical assets are running efficiently and effectively. Their work helps to prevent costly downtime, reduce maintenance costs, and ensure that businesses are operating at their peak potential.

This extends to the reliability engineers themselves being often overlooked and misunderstood. This can be due to a lack of understanding of the value they bring or a failure to recognise their contributions.

The strengths of a Reliability Engineer are often process-driven and analytical, adept at identifying potential problems, analysing data, and implementing solutions to prevent equipment failure and downtime. Professionals must develop some of the soft or communication skills which often inhibits their progression within the organisation.

The Role of Leadership

Reliability engineers are specialists, not generalists, and require the freedom to spend time on design and strategic thinking. Leaders often overlook this strength and do not appreciate the true value that reliability engineers deliver. Because their focus is so short-term and quarterly based, when it comes to things like asset utilisation, the whole notion of understanding what a reliability engineer does is quite intangible. As a result, reliability engineers are often deployed to do other things across maintenance and operational functions.

But when reliability engineers are forced to perform tasks outside of their area of expertise, they can become disconnected and disengaged. And a wasted asset. Conversely, there are instances where engineers with maintenance experience are given the role of reliability engineer, despite the work requiring an analytical approach rather than a focus on fixing and maintaining equipment.

The Role of the Enterprise

Reliability engineering emphasises statistical analysis, but experience and history show that quantitative methods alone are insufficient for success. In many of the most serious operational failures, poor decision making, and miscommunication exacerbated a fundamental engineering failure. These events remind us of the importance of leadership, transparency, and accountability in reliability engineering.

Rigorous reliability processes, role clarity, and clear accountability structures that align with the broader company strategy are essential components of reliability success. So is reliability engineering talent management and development.


Reliability should be a priority for everyone within an organization, not just the reliability engineers. By recognizing and addressing the factors that lead to the underappreciation of reliability engineering, industrial companies can significantly enhance their operational efficiency, reduce downtime, and ultimately improve their bottom line.

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