In the late 1990s, the Whirlpool Corporation adopted reliability centered maintenance (RCM) at one of its manufacturing facilities. And the results were extraordinary.

Productivity increased by 27%, while sustained equipment effectiveness went up 97%. Meanwhile, maintenance costs dropped more than 22%, according to a ReliabilityWeb report.

Now you might be wondering if RCM is a good fit for your asset strategy. Consider first what it actually looks like in practice: RCM is the process of proactive maintenance planning to ensure that assets perform at maximum operability and minimum cost.

There are several pros and cons to consider, and many organizations follow a multistep process in their RCM efforts. Let’s break down the details.

History of reliability centered maintenance

Did you know that the aviation industry used to completely overhaul every aircraft engine after 8,000 hours of service?

This might seem like a diligent approach to safety. However, the problem was that as an asset maintenance strategy, it simply didn’t work.

After studying 12 years of data, a task force found that that approach to engine maintenance wasn’t increasing reliability. In response to this confounding discovery, United Airlines, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense, pioneered the asset maintenance strategy that we now know as RCM.

The foundation of RCM is equipment data, and modern enterprise asset management (EAM) software makes it easy to capture and access asset information, including maintenance and repair histories, life cycle costs, and inspection reports. Because it keeps centralized asset data both safe and accessible, EAM software makes RCM more approachable than ever.

Practice of reliability centered maintenance

RCM can be used in almost any asset-intensive industry, from manufacturing to fleet to facilities management. For a maintenance program to be reliability centered, it must:

  • Focus on preserving the functionality of assets
  • Identify each of the different ways that assets might fail
  • Rank the assets’ possible failures according to severity
  • Establish the best overall maintenance strategy each asset

Reliability centered maintenance is an advanced practice that you would most likely only use for your most critical assets. Before implementing RCM, it makes sense to consider both the advantages and disadvantages.

Pros and cons of reliability centered maintenance

RCM pros

  • RCM keeps critical equipment more available, and it also lowers costs by eliminating unnecessary maintenance and overhauls.
  • After analyzing the most critical equipment for RCM, organizations gain new clarity on risk profiles.
  • A reliability-focused strategy offers asset managers a structured way to decide between predictive, preventive, or run-to-failure maintenance.
  • Reliability centered maintenance leads to better overall cost performance, which can be enhanced by EAM software that connects asset data to business metrics such as total cost of ownership and asset life cycle.

RCM cons

  • Because RCM is highly reliant on predictive maintenance, there’s a more significant upfront investment in time and resources. It takes time before organizations see the financial return on the process.
  • Less critical or inexpensive equipment often gets categorized for reactive (run-to-failure) maintenance. So when the asset fails, the maintenance team’s schedule becomes unpredictable.
  • Although reliability centered maintenance determines the most efficient maintenance strategy, it doesn’t fully account for everything that goes into an asset’s total cost of ownership. This can be mitigated with EAM software, where centralized tracking provides operational insights, KPI reports, and business intelligence.

6 Steps to Reliability Centered Maintenance

The whole objective of RCM is to keep an organization’s highly critical equipment functioning at peak performance. Your goal is to improve asset uptime for the least overall cost. And that goal is often a moving target as new assets are added or your business changes.

In order to close in on this minimal-cost maintenance status, there’s a succession of steps to follow. And although there are variations in how you might tackle the process, most successful programs include the following six steps.

1. Select the equipment to analyze

The first step of reliability centered maintenance is determining which equipment to analyze. Choose an operation-critical asset that will return appreciable value when reliability is improved. Or, choose an asset with an exceedingly expensive repair price tag.

Remember, RCM has an upfront cost, so the investment should be worth it in the long run.

Here are a few considerations when selecting assets to analyze:

  • Uptime versus downtime
  • Scrap rate
  • Efficiency
  • Total cost of ownership

Because these factors are measurable, they help identify the most problematic assets. These are the ones that need RCM most, as they have the most opportunity to improve. Data in your EAM system can help you target the right assets.

2. Identify equipment functions (and how they fail)

Before it’s possible to identify improvements, a baseline of equipment performance must be established. That means getting a deep understanding of equipment operation, including determining exactly how an asset functions when everything is working perfectly.

The next part of this step is figuring out the different ways that an asset fails—in other words, understanding what can go wrong that then leads to unreliable performance.

Failures don’t always mean total breakdowns. A failure could be:

  • Erratic operation with intermittent downtime
  • An asset not being able to keep up with production
  • Out-of-spec performance or sub-standard products

Once a company understands how the equipment functions and how it fails, it’s time to figure out how to manage those failures.

3. Evaluate the effects of each failure

After identifying the different ways a machine or asset fails, the next step is evaluating the effects and quantifying the results. Then, you can prioritize failures to focus on minimizing those with the most serious consequences.

Besides budget implications, critical failures often have other far-reaching impacts on business. For instance:

Operations – When an asset isn’t performing well, it may have an operational impact, such as degrading product quality or causing you to miss project milestones.

Safety – Some failures lead to unsafe conditions that put operators at risk. Besides the obvious human consequences and costly regulatory violations, safety also affects intangibles such as staff morale and company reputation.

Environment – Substandard asset performance that leads to hazardous material exposure or excessive emissions can damage the environment. It’s essential to include these factors in the RCM analysis.

Thoroughly documenting the effects of equipment failure with your EAM helps build an RCM program, by allowing consequences to be evaluated and prioritized.

4. Pinpoint the causes of failure

Finding the reason an asset fails is no easy task. Root cause analysis or fault tree analysis are useful techniques for identifying these root causes (sometimes called “failure modes”).

Documenting failure modes paints a clear picture of all the ways a piece of equipment breaks down. Besides wear and tear over time, equipment can fail for many other, less obvious reasons, such as human error or fundamental design flaws.

When identifying failure modes, start with a general description then drill down to smaller and smaller details. Consider the following example:

  • Conveyor belt fails
    • Because the bearing seized
      • Because of insufficient lubrication
      • Because of lack of maintenance

As a rule of thumb, there needs to be enough detail to create a maintenance policy, but not so much that the analysis eats up excessive time and resources. Your EAM software can make the process faster and easier.

5. Define the maintenance strategy

With the causes of equipment failure identified, next up is creating a strategy to address them. Each asset will have an optimal maintenance strategy, which depends on its particular failure modes and consequences. Here are three common maintenance strategies.

  • Preventive maintenance – scheduled in advance and carried out regularly to prevent failures, this strategy is best for assets with predictable, high-cost failures.
  • Reactive maintenance – also known as run-to-failure, reactive maintenance works best for assets with low-consequence, low-cost failures. Light bulbs are often the classic example.
  • Condition-based maintenance – for assets that tend to break down randomly or aren’t subject to wear and tear (such as electronics), condition-based maintenance includes monitoring and inspections, which trigger maintenance tasks only when necessary.

6. Create a maintenance plan

The final step of reliability centered maintenance is to act on the information you’ve established. In other words, it’s time to create the strategic maintenance plan. The optimal plan includes the best of all worlds: a balance of uptime, risk, and cost of failure.

Asset maintenance and repair histories are integral to your strategic approach to RCM.

That’s why preventive maintenance software is indispensable when it comes to analyzing asset history. The software also allows for hassle-free scheduling, assigning, and tracking of your new maintenance activities. For work orders, a modern EAM platform allows you to refine your process quickly with drag-and-drop ease.

As a final note, remember that reliability centered maintenance never really ends. As an asset continues its functional life, the accumulated information will help renew, improve, or update the maintenance plan.

EAM solutions support RCM

Advanced strategies related to reliability centered maintenance create measurable improvements for an organization’s bottom line. RCM always includes deep dives into the daily performance of critical assets.

Modern EAM software makes RCM analysis and implementation straightforward. And the enterprise-wide access to asset data comes with additional benefits, such as viewing historical work orders and creating customized reports.

To find out how ManagerPlus EAM software can help you with reliability centered maintenance, schedule a free demo today.

About the author


ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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