In the plant maintenance and reliability (M&R) industry, we regularly discuss the value of the Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP) qualification offered by the certifying organization of the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP). We should! It’s a fantastic, management-oriented certification that evaluates an individual’s skills in the five body of knowledge areas defined by SMRP: business and management, work management, people skills, manufacturing processes and equipment reliability. Every maintenance and reliability pro should pursue the CMRP to confirm the foundation of his or her skills.

Requirements to achieve ASQ’s Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE) qualification

  • Eight years of verifiable experience and/or education (up to five years for education)

  • Proof of professionalism

  • Successful completion of examination

Core skills evaluated by the CRE

  • Reliability management

  • Probability and statistical tools

  • Modeling and prediction

  • Data collection, analysis and corrective action

  • Reliability tools in design and development

  • Maintainability and availability

  • Reliability testing

  • Product safety and liability

But is there more? Perhaps a certification for the more technically inclined reliability professional? There are technology certifications for oil analysis, vibration analysis, etc., which are quite valuable. One important qualification that has largely flown under the radar screen, though, is the Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE) offered by the American Society for Quality (ASQ). The CRE deals with the quantitative and analytical skills employed by reliability engineers to manage reliability and risk. In my view, the CRE is a technical qualification that’s worth a hard look for the career-minded, technically inclined maintenance or reliability engineer.

ASQ is a large professional organization with more than 100,000 members. Among its services (which includes publishing journals and supporting standards activities), it offers a well-defined, well-accepted professional qualification program. Its Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) and Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) designations are considered the gold standard in the quality industry.

Years ago, recognizing the importance of reliability and dependability to the quality equation, ASQ developed the CRE. It is a stout qualification that requires significant experience and/or education as a prerequisite (see box on page 6) just to qualify to attempt a rather difficult four-hour examination covering a broad range of reliability engineering topics. However, if you are successful, you’ll take pride in the fact you were significantly tested by the process.

I initially became certified by ASQ as a reliability engineer in 1996. At the time, the term “reliability” was just beginning to creep into the vernacular of North American industry. At that time, there were few plant “reliability engineers” but plenty of “maintenance engineers.” Today, the reliability engineer title is becoming commonplace. As our focus shifts toward reliability engineering, a healthy shift in my view, perhaps we should investigate ASQ’s CRE as a qualification goal. I believe the CRE can confirm that a reliability engineer has the skills to effectively collect and analyze data, which, in turn, is employed to make effective decisions.

In the past, when I’ve discussed the CRE with people within the reliability industry, I often heard remarks suggesting that the qualification is too “design oriented” or too “product oriented.” I think the comments are off the mark. The CRE is a superb evaluation of an individual’s knowledge about and application of the technical tools used by reliability engineers to manage, optimize and, where required, improve reliability.

Here are four reasons why we should take a hard look at the applicability of the CRE qualification for our industry:

  1. The tools themselves can be employed to manage the reliability of products or processes, such as manufacturing processes in plants. For instance, if Weibull analysis of industrial electric motors reveals an unusually high prevalence of early life failures, the problem could be attributed to design, material selection or manufacturing processes. It could, however, also be attributed to poor in-plant storage, imprecise installation or poor initial startup. So, is Weibull analysis useful to the design reliability engineer or the plant reliability engineer? Both benefit from the data and the ability to analyze and turn it into useful information. The design engineer utilizes the information to modify activities within his control. The plant engineer utilizes it to modify parts storage methods, installation and startup procedures, etc. Just because the CRE skill set historically has been used in support of design engineering, we shouldn’t interpret that those skills aren’t useful to the plant engineer.

  2. One might argue that “Product safety and liability,” one of the main headings in the CRE body of knowledge, clearly doesn’t apply to plant reliability engineering. Stated another way, this topical category is about risk management. I’d argue that risk management is the heart and soul of reliability engineering – whether it be designing products and systems or managing their use. In the plant, don’t we apply our reliability engineering skills to protect against the financial, safety and environmental risks of machine or process failure? Failure to do so creates potential liabilities for the firm on several levels. I submit that knowledge about safety and liability management, among other risk management activities, is a critical component of the reliability engineer’s required skill set.

  3. A good dose of design and procurement orientation in the CRE qualification may be just the ticket for us in plant engineering. Plant reliability assurance is a function of design and procurement, operations and maintenance. Having strong roots in maintenance, we in the M&R community tend to overemphasize the role maintenance plays in overall plant reliability assurance. Maintenance can’t affect machine or system reliability; it can only enable the machine or system to reach its reliability potential. In the human body, there is simply no substitute for good genetics and DNA in fending off disease. Design and procurement make up a machine or system’s DNA – which determines its reliability from the start. Plant maintenance has been disconnected from the design and procurement process for too long. We’ve all seen the result of this disconnect. Rather than shunning the CRE because of its strong emphasis on design for reliability and maintainability, let’s embrace the opportunity to close the loop between maintenance, design and procurement.

  4. If we don’t think that the CRE in its current form completely meets our needs for plant engineering, let’s a) consider the previous three arguments and recognize that most of the skills evaluated by the certification are applicable; b) get certified in large enough numbers to cause the Reliability Division of ASQ to take notice; and, c) populate the committee with some of our kind and work toward getting the existing body of knowledge modified and/or expanded to reflect our needs. In other words, let’s quit making excuses, recognize the value of the CRE and work proactively with ASQ to make reasonable changes.

As a consultant, I often hear “if only we had good data, we could . . .” Well, the CRE is about the skills required to effectively collect and analyze data. The future of reliability engineering will be much less conjecture and “gut feel” oriented and much more data driven. Are your quantitative reliability engineering skills up to the challenge? Attempt ASQ’s CRE and you’ll find out!