Q&A with Heinz Bloch on Reliability Engineering

petrochemical plant

About Heinz P. Bloch

Heinz P. Bloch grew up in Germany during WWII where he attended high school from 1945 to 1950 and started his apprenticeship in telephone technology from 1950 to 1953. Heinz arrived in the United States in 1953 and began working in a machine shop making prototype rocket parts. He then joined the US Army Signal Corps in 1955 but continued to work at the machine shop on weekends and during vacations. After completing his BSME in 1962, Heinz accepted a Design Engineer position at Johnson & Johnson. He then went on to complete his MSME in 1964. Heinz then joined Esso/Exxon as the Regional Machinery Engineer for Exxon Chemical North America where he developed seven high speed machinery patents and completed assignments in Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, England, Japan, and Louisiana.

Heinz’s entire career has been devoted to fluid machinery improvement and teaching. He has since authored and co-authored over 760 publications, including 22 books and 46 editions devoted to reliability improvement.

Heinz's specialties include: Rotating Equipment Reliability Improvement, Failure Analysis and Avoidance, Maintenance Cost Optimization: Pumps, Compressors, Steam Turbines, Machine Components incl. Bearings, Conventional Lubrication, Oil Mist Lubrication, Mechanical Seals, Couplings, etc.



Q: What is the best practice around condition monitoring of the equipment? Lubrication or Vibration? What is your position on which offers more bang for the buck?

A: Building vibration avoidance into a machine is worth far more than finding vibration and reacting to it. Monitoring is appropriate but is not the Number 1 priority of the best-in-class reliability-focused professional. A sound specification and practicing a so-called Machinery Quality Assessment (MQA) up-front is the way to go.


Q: How can I check equipment while it is in operation so that I can catch mistakes or failures early on?

A: MQA and building extra time into (early) commissioning are the answers! MQA activities are carried out by the owner’s SMEs. The owner pays for these and has already increased the budget to include this 5%. This 5% of the cost of reliable machines is expended to ensure that the machines will in fact be reliable. In this way, weak components are identified and upgraded before the machine leaves the factory. Exxon believed that the MQA activity is responsible for zero start-up delay days and payback is often obtained on Day 1.


Q: How will Reliability evolve with this current situation with refineries slowing down or shutting down? (Cloud base vibration monitoring?) How important is STEM right now? Do you feel engineers within the energy sector are more vital than ever before? If so, how can the folks in your field make a positive impact in this historic moment?

A: Mandatory reading of important books and cataloging BiC (Best-in-Class) practices versus “our” practices, then reconciling or conceding, then implementing change. It may also result in cultural change. STEM is more important than ever. Wireless sensors will become the norm but will be of no value if the associated software requires a PhD to interrogate and analyse. STEM is immensely important but STEM education is avoided when students see rewards going to business majors.

Engineers are an important human asset in the energy sector. The whole country slips back by not capitalizing on opportunities in clean energy. Principled engineers lose enthusiasm when “clean coal” is being touted and when fossil fuels continue to be emphasized.

Most senior SMEs have for decades been denied access to managers. SME/Teachers are ineffective so long as they are relegated to impart reliability thinking to mechanics and technicians only. Reliability must start with issuance of an appropriate specification of deliverables. Mindsets that expect to make cheap machines reliable must be shown how this is often impractical and sometimes impossible. Think of a standard bicycle and what it would take to turn it into a racing bike. Would we not start with a racing bike and upgrade it, if needed? It’s no different with machines.


Q: What does the future of the reliability department look like with many people now retiring and taking their skills and experience with them? There is a knowledge gap left behind. Will they depend more on the manufacturers? Do the manufacturers have the knowledge to support them, and would they given the sensitivity of proprietary information?

A: The future is bleak. How would manufacturers justify gearing up for the highly volatile and generally vague promise of the user-purchaser staying close to them? Manufacturers would be conflicted between broadcasting their in-house knowledge and openly disclosing it. Time and again, honestly disclosing their mistakes would be punished by class action lawsuits. The only solution is for BiCs to groom their own SMEs. However, the only way SMEs will stay with the company that “groomed” them is if they are rewarded and respected. We are far from that.

Closely evaluating product quality and service will allow you to exercise caution when dealing with those that ignore you or withhold relevant information from you. Rewarding the reliability-focused providers will be worth the effort.


Q: What makes a SME in this field? In other words, what quality or aspect separates a Rotating Equipment Engineer from a SME, the best from the norm?

A: A SME must be inquisitive and self-motivated. The SME will never advocate purchase of a product whose inner workings he doesn’t understand and has never read up on. A SME who uncompromisingly researches and tells the truth will be rewarded by a sense of self-worth and by gaining and maintaining a good reputation. He resists passing off opinions as fact. A SME does not just state problems, but offers solutions after making a financial case for one or two that rank highest.

Forty years ago, world-renowned efficiency expert Dr. W.E. Deming provided the answer. He stipulated 14 "Points of Quality" that fully met the objectives of both employer and employee and are as true and relevant today as they have ever been. Here’s our expanded recap:

  • View every maintenance event as an opportunity to upgrade. Investigate its feasibility beforehand; be proactive. 
  • Ask some serious questions when there are costly repeat failures. There needs to be a measure of accountability. Recognize, though, that people benefit from coaching, not intimidation.
  • Ask the responsible worker to certify that his or her work product meets the quality and accuracy standards stipulated in your work procedures and checklists. That presupposes that procedures and checklists exist.
  • Understand and redefine the function of your purchasing department. Support this department with component specifications for critical parts, then insist on specification compliance. “Substitutes” or non-compliant offers require review and approval by the specifying reliability professional.
  • Define and insist on daily interaction between process (operations), mechanical (maintenance), and reliability (technical and project) workforces.
  • Teach and apply root-cause-failure analysis from the lowest to the highest organizational levels. 
  • Define, practice, teach, and encourage employee resourcefulness. Maximize input from knowledgeable vendors and be prepared to pay them for their effort and assistance. Don’t “re-invent the wheel.”
  • Show personal ethics and even-handedness that are valued and respected by your workforce.
  • Never tolerate the type of competition among staff groups that causes them to withhold critical information from each other or from affiliates.
  • Eliminate “flavor of the month” routines and meaningless slogans.
  • Reward productivity and relevant contributions; let it be known that time spent at the office is in itself not a meaningful indicator of employee effectiveness. 
  • Encourage pride in workmanship, timeliness, dependability and the providing of good service. Employer and employee honor their commitments.
  • Map out a program of personal and company-sponsored mandatory training.
  • Exercise leadership and provide direction and feedback.


Q: What is your advice for a GOOD Manager in today’s environment?

A: Managers must make reading assignments mandatory, as mentioned above. Involve the future SME in “shirt-sleeve seminars.” They have to educate themselves to be able to present the 7-10 minute long Shirt Sleeve Seminar. It gets tacked on to the obligatory twice-per-month safety meetings. Managers must practice networking, and teach an entire company and its managers by making these presentations.

A good organization will map out a training plan that is equivalent of a binding contract between employer and employee. There has to be accountability in terms of proficiency achieved through this targeted training. And, by the way, if you think training is expensive, try calculating your costs without proper training. Hopefully, the organization for which you work considers it a wise investment to invest in proper and highly effective training. Your trainers should not be the average retiree; instead, hire an experienced subject matter expert whose past career concentrated on adding value.

To acquire knowledge, we must read. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, if all we do is place a good book on the shelf and not read, it will leave us as uninformed as the person who never learned to read. Mark Twain died in 1910, but he surely knew and conveyed common sense. We can apply it today, especially if we must work from home for considerably longer than we originally expected.


If you're interested in learning more about the reliability industry, please contact us or get in touch with Michelle Dutemple, Senior Consultant, at (832) 900-5973 or [email protected].


Full Length Text Books by Heinz P. Bloch

  1. "Machinery Reliability Improvement", (1982). Also revised 2nd and 3rd Editions, (ISBN 0-88415-663-3)
  2.   "Compressors and Expanders", (Co-authored with Ralph James, others); (ISBN 0-8247-1854-2)
  3. "Machinery Failure Analysis and Troubleshooting;” 1984; (ISBN 0-88415-662-1) 3rd   and 4th Editions (ISBN-978-0-12-386045-3); co-author Fred Geitner; Portuguese Ed. ISBN 978-85-352-7421-9
  4. "Machinery Component Maintenance and Repair", (1985); also revised 4th Ed. 2019;    (ISBN 978-0-12-818729-6); co-author Fred Geitner
  5. "Major Process Equipment Maintenance and Repair",  (1985); also revised 2nd & 3rd Ed. (ISBN 0-88415-663X); co-author Fred Geitner (ISBN 0-88415-663-X)
  6. "Oil Mist Lubrication Handbook", (1987); ISBN 0-87201-640-4
  7. "Process Plant Machinery for Chemical Engineers", (1989); also revised 2nd Edition with Claire Soares (ISBN 0-7506-7081-9)
  8. "Introduction to Machinery Reliability Assessment", (1990); also revised 2nd Ed, co-author Fred Geitner, (1994); ISBN 0-88415-172-7
  9. "A Practical Guide to Steam Turbine Technology", (1996); [also Spanish and Hebrew Ed.] (1st English Ed. ISBN 0-07-005924-1; 2nd Engl. Ed., 2009, (released in 2008, ISBN 978-0-07-150821-6)
  10. "A Practical Guide to Compressor Technology", (1st Ed) (1996) [Also Spanish Ed.] 2nd Ed., (2006), (ISBN 0-471-727930-8)
  11. "Reciprocating Compressor Operation and Maintenance", (1996), ISBN 0-88415-525-0: co-author Jack Hoefner
  12. "Oil Mist Lubrication: Practical Applications", (1998); ISBN 0-88173-256-7; Co-author Abdus Shamim)
  13. "Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities", (1st Ed. 2000); 3rd Ed. ISBN 0-88173-761-5; co-author Ken Bannister
  14. "Turbo-Expander Technology and Applications", (2001); ISBN 0-88415-509-9; Co-author Claire Soares
  15. "Pump User’s Handbook: Life Extension,” First Edition, (2004), ISBN 0-88173-452-7; 2nd Edition, (2006), ISBN 0-88173-517-5; Third Edition, (2010), ISBN 0-88173-627-9; 4th Ed., 2014), ISBN 0-88173-720-8; co- author Allen Budris
  16. "Maximizing Machinery Uptime," (2006); ISBN 0-7506-7725-2; Co-author Fred Geitner 
  17. "Compressors and Modern Process Applications" (2006); ISBN 0-471-72792-X; co-author Arvid Godse; also Russian Ed., (2013)
  18. "Pump Wisdom: Problem Solving for Operators and Specialists”; (2011); ISBN 9-781118-04123-9
  19. "Compressors: How to Achieve High Reliability and Availability” (2012); ISBN 978-0-07-17-7287-7, also Portuguese Edition, 2014
  20. "Petrochemical Machinery Insights,” (2016), ISBN 978-0-12-809272-9
  21. "Optimized Equipment Lubrication, Oil Mist Technology and Storage Preservation,” (2020), Reliabilityweb.com, ISBN 978-941872-98-7
  22. "Fluid Machinery Improvement: Life Extension for Pumps, Compressors and Steam Turbines,” expected release late 2020, ISBN 978-3-11-067413-2

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