Planned Maintenance
Planned Maintenance

Reliability-Centered Maintenance

Optimizing maintenance strategies through reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a proven method of increasing profitability and decreasing downtime. In this guide, we examine RCM, share implementation tips, and provide details on how it can enhance operations.

What is reliability-centered maintenance?

Reliability-centered maintenance is a maintenance strategy that can take an organization’s maintenance management program to the next level. Undertaking this strategy involves a detailed examination of your assets and their specific maintenance needs. The goal is providing a cost-effective solution that maximizes reliability and minimizes downtime so that your business runs as efficiently as possible.

RCM gets down to the root causes of breakdowns, analyzes the consequences, and determines the ideal maintenance tasks and schedules to keep individual assets up and running, worry-free. By choosing individual strategies for each asset, maintenance teams can predict and identify problems much better than they can using only a single maintenance strategy.

In short, reliability-centered maintenance provides a selective process that reduces inefficiency. RCM discovers what is working and allows organizations to zero in on the maintenance strategies that champion best outcomes.

The history of reliability-centered maintenance

The simplest definition of reliability-centered maintenance highlights the process of discovering an optimal maintenance strategy for every single asset in a facility. But where did this process originate?

F. Stanley Nowlan and Howard F. Heap of United Airlines created reliability-centered maintenance in 1978. Their report, published in that year, intended to increase airline maintenance activity safety and operational risk control through optimizing maintenance programs. As they stated, “The objective of such programs is to realize the inherent reliability capabilities of the equipment for which they are designed, and to do so at minimum cost. Each scheduled-maintenance task in an RCM program is generated for an identifiable and explicit reason.”

After being met with much success, their report was adapted for use by numerous other industries and eventually formed the Society of Automotive Engineers JA1011 standard. The seven questions of the SAE JA1011 standard provide the keys to implementing the RCM methodology properly.

What are the benefits of a reliability-centered maintenance program?

RCM’s core philosophy is one pairing each asset with the maintenance strategy that will lead to the shortest amount of downtime. With this philosophy comes many benefits.

Cost savings

As stated, RCM helps develop a cost-effective plan that eliminates unnecessary maintenance tasks. Since each asset is receiving exactly the type of maintenance it needs when it needs it, teams run leaner and save money. They do this by performing focused, proactive tasks and selective asset maintenance.

Less downtime

RCM gives you a heads-up on upcoming downtime or eliminates it altogether. It’s almost like having a magic eight-ball (that works) because maintenance teams know in advance what maintenance tasks need to be performed and when. Assets stay running longer because of the servicing they receive.

Increased communication

Since RCM generates a detailed maintenance plan, communication is improved. Every employee comes in knowing what they have to do, no questions asked, and can provide asset analysis to facility managers once their work is completed.

Increased safety

When equipment fails to function properly, it can put staff at risk of injury. RCM takes into account all failure modes and designs plans to prevent equipment malfunction. Fewer failures equal fewer accidents.

RCM does, however, come with a disadvantage: the initial start-up costs and time investment can be substantial. Because the whole team is gathering data, overtime and possible equipment failures can add up quickly before a satisfactory ROI is generated.

Nonetheless, RCM does eventually balance out and provide savings, but it’s up to a maintenance department to show higher-ups the benefits. Slow and steady wins the race. Most organizations find that RCM produces more cost-effective results in the long term than a single maintenance strategy.

How do you implement a reliability-centered maintenance strategy?

As mentioned earlier, implementation includes answering the seven SAE JA1011 questions for RCM standards. Those seven questions are:

  1. What are the functions and desired performance standards of each asset?
  2. What are the failure modes for the individual assets?
  3. What causes each of the failure modes?
  4. What are the effects of each failure?
  5. What are the consequences of each failure?
  6. What can and should be done to predict or prevent each failure?
  7. What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be determined?

Each of the seven questions has been appropriately placed within the RCM implementation phases to ensure you’re asking the right questions at the right time. There are three phases in total.

RCM Phases SAE Seven Questions
Phase 1: Decision 1. What are the functions and desired performance standards of each asset?
2. What are the failure modes for the individual asset?
3. What causes each of the failure modes?
Phase 2: Analysis 4. What are the effects of each failure?
5. What are the consequences of each failure?
Phase 3: Act 6. What can and should be done to predict or prevent each failure?
7. What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be determined?

Phase 1: Decision

RCM planning is based on preparedness and needs to yield solid results. The decision phase brings all maintenance team members together for the initial analysis, organization, and prioritization of essential facility assets.

What are the functions and desired performance standards of each asset?

Criteria to consider should include the essentiality of an asset to operations and how the asset relates to production, customer needs, and business goals.

What are the failure modes for the individual asset?

Simply put, your team should understand and list every way an asset can fail. Are lubrication issues causing an issue in performance? Is preventive maintenance not up to the manufacturer’s standards? Are parts faulty and breaking? Is there a design flaw? Dig in and note how assets break down and become unable to perform their desired functions.

What causes each of the failure modes?

Root causes of failure must be exposed. For example, list out all the possible reasons an HVAC system might stop working due to the failure modes listed (e.g., too much debris, lack of maintenance, improper sizing, improper installation, and so on). It’s important to know what’s causing the break downs.

After organizations answer the three questions in the decision phase, they should have a healthy list of assets, where they fall in terms of their workday importance, and the ways they can fail. Now, they can move on to the next phase.

Phase 2: Analysis

Analysis of the data collected in the decision phase will start to form the reliability-centered maintenance strategy. It begins with examining the functional failure modes.

What are the effects of each failure?

This entails analyzing the impact that asset failures have on business. Are products damaged? How much downtime is created? Are workers still being paid during a shutdown? In this step, teams also analyze repair costs, as well as the asset’s preventive maintenance history and associated expenses.

What are the consequences of each failure?

A team’s observation skills and knowledge are needed here. How do failures impact safety? Is downtime unavoidable? Do parts have to be ordered every time a particular asset breaks down? What is the long-term impact of each failure on the asset?

This is the time to dive into the results of failure. Don’t shy away from getting into the fine details of what happens when something isn’t working.

A few processes can help organizations ask the right questions to discover the repercussions of failures.

Failure modes and effect analysis (FMEA)
A step-by-step approach to identifying all possible failures in an asset’s design, process, and production
Failure mode, effects, and criticality analysis (FMECA)
A method that involves quantitative failure analysis through creating a series of linkages between potential failures, impacts, and root causes
Hazard and operability analysis (HAZOP)
A systematic technique often used to identify potential system hazards and operability problems
Fault tree analysis (FTA)
Created by Bell Telephone Laboratories, FTA shows a top-down graphic analysis of failure
Risk-based inspection (RBI)
RBI is an inspection methodology based on risk factors for equipment malfunction; it is used to predict and avoid potential failure

An organization must be as comprehensive as possible at this point in their analysis, no matter the style of the analysis they engage. The next phase depends on it.

Phase 3: Act

Now’s the time to take an organization’s previous RCM data collection and decide on the maintenance methods to prolong production and keep uptime intact. It begins with another SAE question.

What can and should be done to predict or prevent each failure?

Teams now discuss and select a maintenance tactic or strategy, informed by the two phases they just worked through. Is preventive maintenance the best option for most assets? What about reactive maintenance? Is run-to-failure applicable? Choosing the appropriate maintenance method for each asset keeps costs and failures at a minimum. Properly executing this step is crucial for success.

What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be determined?

A typical breakdown of a facility using RCM would show predictive maintenance being performed 45 to 55% of the time, preventive maintenance 25 to 35% of the time, and reactive maintenance less than 10% of the time. That’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

When a maintenance type cannot be determined or an alternative found, it may be time to replace the asset. Use the above statistic or the chart below to help decide which strategy is best for an asset.

Maintenance type Use when Example
Replacement Maintenance repair costs are too high or when replacement parts can’t be found for a failed asset An engine overheats and melts the inside of a tow motor
Reactive Assets are non-essential, unlikely to fail, or have a backup Replacing lightbulbs, tires, a conveyor roller
Preventive Assets need to be serviced at set intervals or meter readings Oil changes, belt replacements, or cleaning equipment on a monthly basis
Predictive Asset sensors indicate service needs to be performed Pressure readings fall on a water main, a vibration sensor detects abnormal compressor activity, or electric meters show a decrease in facility voltage
Deferred Assets need specialized parts ordered or outside vendors to complete maintenance work Replacing roof shingles, parts to fix an asset must be shipped from overseas, or the typical maintenance team lacks sufficient training to fix an asset

With an RCM strategy in place, organizations can then review the process and fine-tune it as necessary. Maintenance cost savings and decreased downtime should be evident right away.

Optimize your reliability-centered maintenance strategy

cross-device mobile checklists in preventive maintenance software

A CMMS is a reliability-centered maintenance strategy’s best friend. It can set up and send out maintenance tasks, report on costs, show failures, and collect data on any aspect of an RCM plan’s implementation. This tool helps your RCM strategy perform to its fullest, delivering instant feedback that will allow you to adjust or pivot to become more efficient and effective.

FMX is a CMMS that can help. Learn more about our solution by taking our maintenance management assessment and asking how we can respond to your operation’s RCM needs.

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