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Reliability engineering may not be the most well-known role within engineering disciplines, but this job — part detective, part inventor — is in demand in the manufacturing world, including at Domtar. Becoming a reliability engineer can be a rewarding career choice for people who like to solve problems, lead collaboration and make tangible contributions to the success of the business.
This type of engineer enjoys a lot of variety and opportunity on the job. Just ask Scott Anderson, a reliability engineer at our Marlboro Mill. In his work, he identifies potential improvements in equipment maintenance processes, then designs and implements solutions that make operations more efficient.
Anderson says people are surprised to learn of the significant savings he can help deliver to the company. “For instance, a small compressed air leak can cost hundreds of dollars per year in wasted energy,” he says. “On its own, that may not sound like much. But when you add up many small leaks, it can become substantial.”
The Reliability Engineer Skillset
Working as a reliability engineer is both challenging and gratifying. Anderson enjoys researching and analyzing the details of a problem, such as a pipe failure, and following the data to find the root cause.
“If I don’t dig down to the source of the issue, the solution I propose will only work temporarily. A fix can get things back up and running — and sometimes this is what we need — but a solution for the root cause will prevent it from reoccurring, which is the ultimate goal in reliability,” he says.
Once a reliability engineer has followed the clues and discovered the problem, he or she must design a workable solution. “Change may require input from operations, maintenance and reliability to incorporate new ideas,” he says. “Even something like moving from a 300-series stainless pipe to a duplex stainless pipe can be more complicated than you might think.”
Although it’s important for a reliability engineer to be proactive, it’s not possible to solve every problem. One must evaluate the problem’s effect on the process and the solution’s potential return on investment.
Anderson says it’s important to have the right mindset. “Sometimes specialized training or knowledge is required to determine the root cause and a solution, but the basis of being an effective reliability engineer is critical thinking and a problem-solving mentality.”
So, You Want To Be a Reliability Engineer?
Larry Bryant, Domtar’s director of reliability, says he looks for specific skills such as data analysis, problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking when interviewing reliability engineer candidates.
“Of course, applicants must have an education in engineering, whether it’s technical training or a college degree. But it doesn’t have to be in mechanical or electrical engineering specifically,” Bryant says. “In terms of profile, we’re looking for people who are great at reading and interpreting data and who love making things better in partnership with others.”
Domtar offers a well-structured reliability program, including a 10-week training course for those who want to move into this role, including entry-level reliability engineers.
Anderson had worked at the mill as a mechanical engineer for six years when he began the training program to become a reliability engineer. His familiarity with pulp-and-paper processes and technology, as well as his good working relationships across operations, maintenance and leadership, helped him excel in the program and his new role.
Through ongoing training and the support of his colleagues, Anderson continues to grow as a reliability engineer. As the mill’s point person on lubrication issues, he is part of a Domtar-wide team that meets regularly with an external expert to discuss common challenges and new principles.
Collaborating across divisions and sharing findings and practices with other mills contributes to our continuous improvement program.
“A perfect example is how Scott has taken our best practices for pressure vessel and tank integrity and implemented them at the Marlboro Mill,” Bryant says. “Likewise, he is participating in the development of improving our lubrication standards.”
People with a reliability engineer skillset can move around within Domtar’s mill system, providing them even more learning opportunities and opening a world of career possibilities.