The Secret of Using Standard Operating Procedures to Achieve Zero Failure Operation

The Plant Wellness Way processes deliver standard operating procedures that ensure equipment parts health and create zero-failure operations
Fundamental to the Plant Wellness Way (PWW) methodology is the use of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to set your company on the fastest path to achieving world class reliability. SOPs and how they are written impact the level that your operations perform at. When SOPs are aligned with the goal of removing the causes of equipment component failures, they produce zero equipment failure operations.

The importance of removing causes of failures is explored in more detail in our article Defining Risk and Reliability

How to Use Standard Operating Procedures

SOPs are more than just what is written into your documentation. When they are utilized to their full capacity, they bring your processes and systems up to a level of optimal performance. With PWW, world class operations are achieved by setting engineering controls into SOPs that put your plant and equipment into their precision operating zone. Operating procedures done the Plant Wellness Way specify exactly, action by action, how to bring each asset into its precision operation zone and keep it there. They are followed to-the-letter by every operator, maintainer, and user.

SOPs the Plant Wellness Way

In PWW top-class procedures are given the name ‘ACE 3T procedures’. They are engineered to ensure that no defects have the opportunity to exist in the system, making zero-equipment failures and zero downtime the new normal for your operations.

ACE, (‘Accuracy Controlled Enterprise’ for businesses and ‘Accuracy Controlled Expert’ for employees) means that all your SOPs are so precise and followed so closely, that they are expected to deliver zero equipment failures. These procedures use a layout and method that helps people to do excellent work the first time.

The 3Ts (Target, Tolerance, Test) failure prevention method is used in ACE procedures to eliminate defects from the work done and prevents problems from starting.

Accuracy-Controlled Enterprises ensure the Physics of Failure causes mechanisms are eliminated by placing quality controls into their SOPs. This is done by setting work standards that, when done correctly, eliminate each mechanism or minimize the chance that any will occur. Additionally, ACE 3T procedure steps follow the “Carpenter’s Creed”—measure twice, cut once— with process steps double-checked to error-proof work. This double checking of work is not done because you do not trust your employees – but to create a parallel test arrangement that reduces the chance of human error and increases the certainty of the right performance. Even if a task is done incorrectly the first time, there is an almost certain chance that the error will be found during the test and corrected.

By using this method for SOP procedure implementation, past wasted costs and efforts become new operating profits. ACE 3T procedures ensure that each job is done right the first time, permanently improving productivity and producing new production profits. With machinery and equipment operating in their precision operating zones and receiving quality precision maintenance, failures and downtimes no longer occur, and previous costs associated with these events are now available to the company as new operating profits.


By simply changing the processes and practices used to ACE 3T procedures, you can transform a poorly performing operation into a star performer.

The Power of ACE 3T Procedures

The beauty of the ACE 3T failure prevention method is its powerful influence for increasing the likelihood of great outcomes. It is a proactive work quality control measure that drastically reduces defect creation and the future failures they cause.

The 3T’s – Target, Tolerance, Test – provide statistical control over a task by setting clear performance requirements, installing control limits and specifying measures to track performance. Developing procedures that ensure accuracy by imbedding targets, tolerance bands and tests in tasks is a highly secure way to meet specifications. They remove uncertainty of outcome.

With sound targets and proof-testing used in a business processes, the organization moves from being uncontrolled, or at best quality-conscious if a quality management system is used, to being truly an accuracy-controlled enterprise, an ACE. No additional costs or demands are placed on the organization, aside from including the 3Ts into its standard operating procedures, and where needed, providing appropriate test devices and training in their use. It is easy and cost effective for any business to be well-protected against all defects and failures.

With 3T defect elimination and failure prevention methods overlaid on standard operating practices the possibility of problems developing and getting deep into a business are greatly reduced. The business systems shrink in complexity because each person is now clearly responsible for product quality and conformity. Now the quality checks are not needed at the completion of a process step because the quality is in-built into the actions and behaviors of every process step. Accuracy and quality are inherent in the ACE 3T system of work and become the only acceptable way to do a job.

Developing Accuracy-Controlled Enterprise Standard Operating Procedures

ACE 3T procedures are easy for the users to follow. However, they require effort to be developed to ensure the best processes and actions are included.

To start writing a procedure, you must first be clear of your understanding about how each process step will work. This is done by drawing a Process Map of the procedural steps, like that shown in Figure 1. Each step is documented, with a short (3 – 4 word) title that explains the purpose of the step, below which is a more detailed summary of the step’s purpose. Above the step title you list all the step performance indicators (KPIs). Underneath the step title the procedure steps are listed, along with any prompt questions or explanations of the step procedure.

A flowchart layout of process steps with their procedures and performance indicators is the most effective way to display the procedure process map. This layout helps people to quickly understand the process design, what is important to monitor and measure, and identify process improvement opportunities.

Figure 1. Layout the Current Process/Procedure and Showing Each Step

Click here to to view a PDF version

The sample template below (Figure 2) shows how an ACE 3T procedure could be written out for users to apply and record the procedure implementation. This layout is adaptable and can be altered to suit an organisation’s existing templates and document standards. Instructions for the procedure are broken down into separate tasks and actions to be performed. The job is only considered to be done once each action for each task is completed correctly, in order, and on time. The purpose of any ACE 3T procedure document (Figure 2) is to clearly display all the required information to complete the job perfectly, from start to finish. The test for each task, the tolerance range, and has the target listed in the “best” column. Additionally, procedure documents include clear actions for the user to take if the tolerance range is not met. This is done so that the user can confidently complete the task with the best practices for the system.

Figure 2. Accuracy Controlled Enterprise 3T Procedure Content

4 Rules for Setting Quality 3T Procedure Values

ACE 3T procedures are easy for the users to follow. When setting the quality values for ACE 3T procedures the tolerance range is determined based on specified, materials science proven operation standards.

  1.    The “Good” tolerance is the most demanding original equipment manufacturer (OEM) specification.
  2.    The “Better” value is a stretch goal that is one-third to halfway between Good and Best.
  3.    The “Best” target is the current world best practice for the task, so that you and your people know that when the Best target is reached, they are doing world-class work.
  4.    The test is the simplest way to check that the outcome is within tolerance. This is a paralleled work task, greatly lifting the chance of the action’s success.

If there is no OEM value for a task, use your industry’s standard as the Good or tolerance value; otherwise, a suitable international standard or code of practice can be applied. You can also choose to use your organization’s current standard as the good value. Keep in mind that the Good value you use must be a fair representation of the currently accepted performance in your operation for the activity. It is the baseline from which your people will grow from, to become the best in your industry.

The Best or target value is typically found in the books and articles written by experts on the subject matter. Sometimes Best values are documented in international standards. When using published standards, choose the most demanding performance target. If it is not possible to find the best practice for the target value, then make it a magnitude greater than the Good value.

3Ts are included for each activity in a work task. They provide accuracy control and allows users to clearly identify the quality requirements they need to meet. Quality standards gives certainty that the procedure will achieve the precision operation zone for that component and result in zero failures and breakdowns.


The only way to achieve zero downtime operations is by first setting high level standards in your SOPs

Motivating for World Class Performance

People are curious creatures and so it is important to be clear with your employees about why each procedure is included and how their work is impactful, both for the company and their colleagues.

When you explain the purpose and value of the procedure to your employees, they can build a more detailed understanding of why their work is important. It helps them to form an appreciation for why and how performing excellent work in a timely manner is important. In this explanation, be sure to identify the processes with outputs that are important to the business. For these processes describe how these outputs impact the company as well as indicating everyone who will be affected by these outputs. This allows your people to know exactly the impact of the quality of their work on a work-place community and business scale.

In your operating procedures or work instructions, include images as well as words to communicate to the user. Many people learn better with diagrams and so including them helps to improve the clarity of communication and breaks up the document, so it is easier to absorb the information.

SOP users must prove that they have met each of the set quality standards as they progress through the procedure. As a result, when developing the work instructions, include a definition and explanation of the information flows, the data to be collected, and the records needed. Ideally, design the procedure so it can be used to record results and collect evidence of quality assurance.

Through ACE 3T procedures, your team is being supported to improve their work quality, and most importantly, build up their confidence and sense of achievement in the workplace. You are giving your people a challenge to rise to, and the tools and processes to reach the targets set. Disengaged and uninterested employees are more likely to be careless in their work – bringing risk into a company. With the ACE 3T approach to SOPs your employees are provided with the knowledge, tools, and opportunity to improve their sense of importance in the company. With the right tools and knowledge available your employees can improve their quality of work and see their recorded improvements so that pride in their work. By consistently performing excellent work and respecting the impact their tasks have on others, they earn respect from their colleagues, supervisors, and managers.

Including People in the Writing Process

It is the duty of the ACE 3T SOP writer to deliver success to all users every time the job is done.

Once the total number of procedures and work instructions is known, then writing into ACE 3T format is shared out between those team members whose duties include drafting procedures. Wherever possible, cut and paste existing procedures and work instructions into a new document laid-out in your ACE 3T format. If a job has not been documented before, then a 3T SOP will need to be written for it. Use existing jobs with SOPs to base new procedures off as applicable, incorporating changes to suit the ACE 3T requirements of the job tasks. If there are people experienced in the work being documented, they should either write the draft SOP or be interviewed for their suggestions. If necessary, bring-in help from outside of the organization.

The first author of a procedure should be the current ‘expert’ on the job, i.e. the person who does a job at present. The team members writing ACE 3T procedures will need to observe people doing the work to check that a procedure is complete and identifies all the appropriate proof-test for each task. If the current expert can write well, then give them the time to draft the SOP for that job, using the ACE 3T layout for your company. Sometimes it is necessary to get an expert from outside of the organization to write the procedures, in which case, look at this cost as an investment to maximize your systems future profit creation.

If the person who currently does the job does not yet deliver the best quality results, ask them to help with the first draft of the procedure. A second draft is then done with someone who does the best job so the procedure can be reviewed and refined as needed. Similarly, if multiple shifts do the same job, each shift will have input on the procedure and review it so that they all support the contents. This means that you are getting the best ideas from all people involved.

By including the people who do the jobs in the procedure writing process you are effectively asking them to “buy-in” to the new system. This is an effective way to get your workforce to support the system changes and build a sense of ownership into their work actions in the procedures. Furthermore, your company benefits from the practical knowledge and experience that each person who does the job brings, ensuring that your ACE 3T procedures are as effective, clear, and beneficial as possible.

As the procedural task steps are written, include the best practice requirements from the experts on the subject. This brings the best practices currently available into the business to support problem solving and develop the most effective SOPs for your company possible.

Once the first and second drafts of the procedures are written, another person with relevant experience checks them to confirm and endorse the documented steps. If the SOP is critical to health and safety, or the success of a business initiative, it should be thoroughly reviewed and analysed by resident and invited experts. This may include having meetings where the SOP is examined in detail to establish the risks and consequences if it is implemented wrongly. If the consequence of an error is catastrophic, it is necessary to include control points and third-party checks into the procedure to keep full command of the job. The process map for a procedure will be highly valuable when risk analysis is required.

Until the right engineering controls are set in place, the best precision maintenance practices are used, equipment is always run in their precision operating zones you cannot achieve zero downtime and zero-failure operations. When you write and use ACE 3T standard operating procedures you put into place a zero-breakdown action plan that brings world class reliability, operational success and new profits to your company.


Guarantee World Class Reliability Success for Yourself. Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness: The Complete Guide to Successful Enterprise Asset Management

Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness: The Complete Guide to Successful Enterprise Asset Management explains how to use system reliability engineering principles to design and build robust, reliable, and self-improving companies. This book explains how to develop and use integrated business systems to achieve optimal production performance and make operating fortunes.

Written by operating asset management expert Mike Sondalini, the book explains why and how Plant Wellness Way EAM methodology ensures engineering, operating, and business processes and workflows that get operational excellence.

Plant Wellness Way EAM is explained in Industrial and Manufacturing Wellness book

I have been focusing on RCM while at Toyota Motor Manufacturing NA. When I found Industrial Maintenance Wellness it bridged the gap between operational failures and component molecular failures. Mike’s process are excellent and the documents he has develop shows deep understanding of how components fail and how to prevent performance loss. I recommend it as part of a any library, for studies in reliability or team, as training tool it excels reducing the leaning curve.

Mike Burgett

United States