What does a reliability engineer do on a day-to-day basis
A reliability engineer is responsible for the design, manufacture, operation and maintenance of equipment or systems that have a high degree of reliability. This generally requires expertise in manufacturing, engineering and design. The role is to ensure that the products remain operational despite external conditions such as vibrations, thermal stresses, fire hazards and other hazards which may compromise the performance of a system or equipment. This can be achieved through the use of components which are easy to manufacture, assemble, test and install; have a high reliability and compatibility with other components; have an understanding of the products specific physical and material properties to ensure that they will withstand certain stresses. The ability to adapt the design of an assembly, component or system to changes in equipment functions, environment or technology may also be important.
Because a reliability engineer looks at faults and the ways in which they can be avoided, they are often known as fault avoiders. They identify areas where faults may occur and develop measures to minimise the occurrence of faults whether by eliminating causes for such events or improving the functioning of a system once it has become faulty. This may involve making the product or system easier to manufacture, manufacturing the product or system in an improved and more efficient way, improving the ease of maintenance and implementing suitable design features.
Engineers and technicians are responsible for producing components of equipment that help to reduce noise, improve efficiency and carry out functions that can damage equipment. While reliability engineers often work with others who specialise in designing and building equipment, they often also work on their own initiative to improve the performance of machinery using their own expertise in designing and building equipment. In addition to their work designing equipment and machinery, reliability engineers often have to identify sources of faults in machinery, equipment and products which requires them to know about different manufacturing processes, as well as the components used in the production of a product or system.
The skills and training required to be a reliability engineer
This requires a wide range of skills and knowledge. The skills and knowledge include those related to engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, chemical engineering and mechanics. There are also the requirements for management and organisational skills which can be developed through experience. The training required depends on the engineering environment in which a reliability engineer will be working. This can range from traditional craft training to degree level. It is still necessary to learn the basics of the relevant engineering disciplines and this can be done in an engineering company or at a university depending on the training facilities available.
The benefits of being a reliability engineer
A career as a reliability engineer is a rewarding one. The ability to ensure that critical systems continue to operate even when subjected to external pressures and hazards allows the reliability engineer to play a key role in ensuring that machines, equipment, products and people remain operational; thus helping them achieve their intended purpose. A career as a reliability engineer has the potential for significant future growth and development. The career is also attractive to people who enjoy working with technology and solving complex problems.
A career as a reliability engineer also gives you the opportunity to make a real difference to the people you work with, and the community as a whole. Improving the levels of safety in workplaces, schools and hospitals is vital, particularly when we consider how much we rely on technology in our everyday lives. Developing an interest in safety and reliability in your youth can be useful if you wish to pursue a career in the transport sector. The development of a career as a train driver is one example.
How to become a reliability engineer
A career as a reliability engineer requires the completion of a university degree in engineering or science. The first degree may be in an area such as electrical, mechanical or chemical engineering and the specialisation will be gained through experience and further study. A graduate with an electrical engineering degree could specialize as a reliability engineer in either electronics or power generation.
Graduates in mechanical engineering can join the large number of plant reliability specialists. These graduates should follow a course in mechanical engineering, perhaps specializing as a reliability engineer. A large proportion of the graduates with an electrical or chemical engineering degree will spend their careers in the electronics companies, and will develop the technical experience that is essential to the position later on.
Highly technical positions within “engineering” require excellent analytical and written skills, an ability to work under pressure, good interpersonal skills and high levels of self-motivation and confidence. As a “reliability engineer” you may be required to work long hours on short notice to solve problems.