THE Hongkong Productivity Council is backing reliability-centred equipment maintenance, to help Hongkong industry maintain its competitive edge internationally. ''This philosophy says that a machine should be given a maintenance schedule tailored for its particular operating environment,'' said the council's associate consultant, Mr Stephen Tong Ching-yu. The concept would also apply to utility providers to ensure efficiently run plant, which would cut costs to consumers. Reliability-centred maintenance is distinct from the two conventional practices. The most primitive method is to act on failures and the other is for maintenance at regular intervals specified by the supplier. ''The highest machine reliability will result from a maintenance schedule designed specifically for the machine's operating environment,'' Mr Tong said. ''For instance, a car used in the damp conditions in Britain would be more rust-prone than if it was used in the dry climate of Saudi Arabia. ''The two environments would thus require maintenance intervals of different lengths.'' This philosophy was important in Hongkong as most machines were imported. ''In the territory, machines very often have to operate overtime, while in supplying countries they may just work from nine to five. So the supplier's recommendation may not suit the Hongkong context,'' Mr Tong said. Machine failures would thus occur even though the user had followed the supplier's instructions. ''When things go wrong, people will complain about the company using the machine but not the unsuitable recommendation by the supplier,'' he said. Reliability-centred maintenance was especially important in industries where a mechanical failure would result in disasters or affect a huge number of people. Examples are aviation, nuclear power plants and public utilities. Rapid expansion of such industries underscored the need for reliability-centred maintenance in Hongkong and in China, Mr Tong said. Working out a maintenance schedule peculiar to an operating environment involved different parties including consultants, machine suppliers, machine operators and maintenance supervisors. The Hongkong Productivity Council provides a consultancy service to Hongkong companies intending to adopt reliability-centred maintenance. Clients include China Light, Hongkong Electric, the Mass Transit Railway Corp and the Housing Authority. Another public utility is considering using the service, according to Mr Tong. He said that in the council's experience the new maintenance philosophy would also save costs entailed in unnecessarily frequent maintenance as recommended by machine suppliers. However, he said most small manufacturers in the territory were still at the most primitive level of maintenance philosophy - having machines repaired only when problems arose.