Design for Reliability: Facility Upgrades

Design for Reliability: Facility Upgrades

Elizabeth Ruiz

Published on 9/6/2023

This year we are seeing big changes in industrial manufacturing due to new advances in technology and automation, and we are all trying to keep up. Many companies are investing in large-scale facility upgrades to incorporate these new technologies and keep up with demand. From their experiences, we are learning about benefits, challenges, and effects on processes that facility upgrades can bring. A focus on designing for reliability will be essential in planning these upgrades. 

Benefits of Facility Upgrades

Upgrading and automation of equipment and facilities can be beneficial to organizations in many ways. Reliable Plant provides a good list:

Plant Reliability – Replacing older assets with up-to-date equipment eliminates the expensive breakdowns and downtime that problems in older equipment can cause. Improved reliability results in increased manufacturing throughput, lower manufacturing cost, and lower energy consumption. 

System Safety – Modern equipment includes features that ensure that your crew is working safely. 

Cost Savings – Upgrading will incur large costs up front, but the long-term benefits shouldn’t be ignored. Use Life Cycle Cost to financially evaluate the level of reliability we design into the equipment. 

Availability of Parts – Updated equipment has greater spare parts availability than older assets. This makes repairs more affordable and minimizes equipment downtime. Read about how 3D printed spares are changing spare parts procurement.

Digital Capabilities – Use of newer technology in reliability and maintenance, such as Cloud-based applications, IoT connectivity, and condition monitoring sensors provides plant managers’ decision making capabilities by providing actionable equipment information to avoid unplanned downtime.

Challenges of Facility Upgrades

While the benefits to facility upgrades are undeniable, upgrade, expansion, and automation all come with their set of challenges, according to The International Society of Automation

Common challenges include: 

  • Tendency to go over CapEx and OpEx budgets.
  • Underestimation of true cost of delayed startup.
  • Overestimation of production levels to be delivered from new capabilities in production.
  • Delays in schedule increase CapEx cost and cause delays in expected revenue from new capabilities in production.

Common mistakes made during the facility upgrade process include:

  • Lack of project planning knowledge
  • Starting the project planning process too late
  • Inadequate resources – not enough personnel 
  • Inexperience – you have to have the right people 
  • Lack of project management oversight – people have to be able to recognize developing problems

Design for Reliability

Many factors should be taken into consideration when upgrading a facility, including preventive maintenance, spare parts management, maintainability, energy conservation, and crew safety. The challenges that facility upgrades and expansions can pose, as well as the extremely high investment value, underline the importance of project planning and designing for reliability, inspectability and maintainability.

Inspectability – Design in a way that equipment can be easily inspected. Inspections allow for planning and scheduling to be done safely, efficiently, and with top quality. Ignoring the importance of inspectability during the design phase will create an environment of reactive maintenance

design for reliability by making sure equipment can be easily inspected

Maintainability – Design in a way that assets can be easily maintained. For example, pumps, motors, and other components that need to be repaired or replaced need to be safely and easily accessible to the maintenance crew. 

design for reliability by making sure components are accessible in equipment units

Reliability – Designing for reliability mitigates future reliability and maintenance problems during the design phase. Designing for reliability can improve OPE (increasing equipment availability, reducing loss, increasing time between failures, and decreasing time to repair).

Other planning steps that are helpful in facility upgrades include needs assessments, budget planning, process transition, how progress will be measured, how those measurements are used for improvement, and facility design. 


Facility upgrades offer a range of benefits, including improved plant reliability, enhanced safety, long-term cost savings, and the integration of digital capabilities. Nonetheless, challenges like budget overruns and production overestimations must be managed. Designing for reliability, inspectability, and maintainability is paramount, ensuring sustained performance, minimal downtime, and cost avoidance. 

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