Designing Equipment for Ease of Use and Maintenance.

An analysis of over 500 man years of asset run time indicates that Human Error is a contributor to around 50% of equipment problems and effectiveness losses.

Add to that another 35% of failures due to difficulties in access and inspection and the evidence shows that over 80% of reliability issues can be eliminated during the equipment specification and design stages.  The gains include increased return on investment due to

  • Reduced Equipment Life Cycle Costs
  • Shorter commissioning cycles
  • Reduced skill development time
  • Lower equipment manufacturing cost
  • Rapid start up from day one operation

An additional gain is the reduction in project delivery time for future projects because the PP (Problem Prevention) Design approach expands the frame of the design process to incorporate how the asset is used and maintained. The aim being to design assets are easy to use right, difficult to use wrong and simple to master.

The process starts with formalising the factors that impact on that goal and establishing a basis for taking decisions from concept through to detailed design.

It may seem counter intuitive but at the concept stage, even though decisions taken have a major impact on life cycle cost, choices have to be made without detailed analysis of every option.

Even if the data was available, there isn't the time or resource to consider every option in detail. So at the early stages of a project, even where a rigorous assessment process is involved, some important choices have to be taken based on judgement.

These quality of these choices can be massively improved by using a common set of standards to guide the decision making process.

The table below sets out 6 sets of standards together with generic benchmarks to guide decisions when experience of the new design is scarce. That is often the case where new technology is applied. The generic benchmarks are shown against a 1 to 5 scale where 3 is acceptable and 5 is optimum.


 Standard Category



5. Optimum

Safety and Environmental

Function is intrinsically safe, low risk, fail safe operation able to easily meet future statutory and environmental limits

Little non standard work

Moving parts guarded, few projections

Meets SHE and fire regulations

Easy escape routes and good ergonomics

Foolproof/failsafe operation

High level of resource recycling

Uses sustainable resources


Function is immune to deterioration requiring little no intervention to secure consistent quality

Low failure rate

Low idling and minor stops

Low quality defect rate

Flexible to technology risks

Good static and dynamic precision

Stable machine cycle time

Easy to measure

Flexible to material variability


Process is easy to start up, change over and  sustain “normal conditions”.  Rapid close down, cleaning and routine asset care task completion.

Simple set up and adjustment mechanisms

Quick replace tools

Simple process control

Auto load and feeder to fed processing

One touch operation for height, position, number colour etc

Flexible to volume risk

Flexible to labour skill levels


Deterioration is easily measured and corrected, Routine maintenance tasks are easy to perform and carried out by internal personnel.

Easy failure/detection/repair

Off the shelf/common spares used

Long MTBF, Short MTTR

Easy to inspect and repair

Easily overhauled

Self correcting/auto adjust

Inbuilt problem diagnostic

Predictable component life

Fit and forget components

Customer Value

Process is able to meet current and likely future customer QCD features and demand variability.  Provides a platform for incremental product improvement

Easy order cycle completion

Maximum control of basic and performance product features

Flexible to product range needs

Capacity for  future demand

Robust supply chain
Simple logistics//forecasting needs

Flexible to potential market shifts

Access to high added value markets

Life Cycle Cost

Process has clearly defined cost and value drivers to support Life cycle cost reduction,  enhance project value and maximise return on capital invested

Clarity of current capital and operational cost drivers and process added value features

Potential for value engineering gain

Resource economy

High level of resource recycling

Flexible to financial risks (e.g. vendor)

Easily scalable to 400% or to 25%





Why this works

In addition to guiding choices, the standard categories are used to define team member accountabilities:

  • Technology team members own Safety and Reliability standards
  • Operational team members own Operability and Maintainability standards
  • Customer facing team members own Customer Value and Life Cycle Cost standards

Taking decisions using just one of these three skill sets is a common cause of failed projects. Using these standard categories to collate and codify knowledge (or the lack of it) encourages innovation and more informed decisions. The approach also facilitates cross functional collaboration making it easier develop practical design solutions to issues and added value opportunities as they emerge throughout the concept to delivery process.

A pre requisite for this approach is the engagement of users and engineers who understand the current operation and customer value stream.  Their role is to codify their experieince and insight of the front line reality into a meanigful framework to guides decisions during the detailed design, construction, installation and commissioning steps. Getting the balance of detail right is not easy. Too detailed and it locks decisions into a specific technology or even vendor approach. Not detailed enough and it is of little value.

The table below is an extract from a project for a food and drink manufacturer.  As you can see, the original categories have been developed into a standards taxonomy for the specific industry design challenge. 







Customer Value




Changeover SMED

Operator access egress and lighting

Maintainer access egress and lighting





Material Usage

Line start up and run outs

Accelerated wear


Machine performance


Utility hazards

CIP/ Sanitisation


Energy and Environmental control

Installation Hygiene

RM Quality


Equipment hazards

Work Place Organisation

Material logistics


Ease of hygiene

Process control


Fall Hazard

QC checks

Operator intervention

Hand tools

QA tests

QA inspection




Visibility of normal conditions


Control of defect source



Line of sight


RM Tolerance


Defect detection

Cause of defect/loss


Material flow

Process control

Work station design


FG Material flow

Compressed air


Micro hazard


Workplace organisation

Routine servicing




Product Safety/QA







Statutory Compliance




Energy recycling/saving




These become the chapters of the standards design book and are used to structure the companies approach each module of the current project to guide:

  • Vendor selection
  • Option evaluation
  • Layout development
  • Checklists for witnessed inspection
  • Commissioning
  • Design and evaluation of work instruction and workplace organisation
  • Definition of work standards
  • Skill development process design.

Once a company has defined these standards, they can be used to guide the design and delivery of future capital projects, improving specification quality, speeding up project delivery, increasing project added value and securing user engagement with the changes and opportunities that the new investment brings. 

Why would you run a capital project any other way?

Find out more

The above is part of the Early Equipment Management toolbox. An approach developed to deliver flawless operation from day one for new assets and processes. To find out more about how to build Early Equipment Management principles and techniques into your capital project process access our resource page or contact us to arrange a call.