Reliability Centered Maintenance: 5 Key Fundamentals of Effective RCM

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Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is an advanced maintenance approach that is used to prevent major failures in heavily utilized and essential equipment. Several industries, such as oil and gas, make use of RCM principles to keep their extensive infrastructures operating smoothly. Managing the reliability of facility equipment is not a new concept, but there are several modern tools that are available to support these efforts.

A subset of reliability-centered maintenance is conditions-based management (CBM), which uses defined operating criteria for each tool as a benchmark for performance. In this post, we’ll explore five key fundamentals for running an effective RCM program. These recommendations can be used during the planning, execution, and improvement phases to streamline your approach to maintenance management.

What Is Reliability Centered Maintenance?

Factory maintenance worker checking bottling equipment

Reliability-centered maintenance is a practice that prioritizes work based upon the likelihood of an equipment failure. The goal of an RCM program is to protect assets that could cause severe disruption in the event of a failure or outage. This approach helps management prioritize maintenance work accordingly and make efficient use of resources. Four key elements of an RCM program are:

  • Identifying points of failure for each asset
  • Focusing on maintaining asset function
  • Ranking assets based upon failure modes
  • Creating a maintenance strategy for each individual asset

An RCM program is a very focused approach that is most often used for high-value and important assets. IT may not be as useful for subsystems and lower priority assets due to the intensive nature of failure analysis and follow-ups. Reliability-centered maintenance is a great option to use with other approaches, such as preventive maintenance and predictive maintenance, as part of a company-wide maintenance program.

1. Define Boundary Conditions for Related Systems

A piece of equipment rarely exists in a complete vacuum. When reviewing your facility systems, it is always worthwhile to consider both the function of the equipment and the connected inputs and outputs. This may include facility supply lines for electricity, air, water, or other materials. Doing this exercise will help you decide how to assign each piece of facility equipment to a related system. Once systems are defined, it is possible to fully analyze each one using RCM principles.

2. Don’t Focus Too Much on Age-Related Failures

It may be surprising, but the cause of failure for equipment systems is random in many cases and not caused by age-related decline. For example, data from the airline industry has demonstrated that between 70-90% of failure modes are not age-related. This is significant when planning RCM activities because these tools may benefit from conditions-based monitoring. Monitoring in real-time will indicate a point of failure immediately and does not bias the potential for a breakdown based upon the age of an asset.

3. Identify Potential Functional Failures

Electrician performing maintenance on electrical box at solar plant

One of the best ways to protect the performance of assets is to determine the potential points of failure. A failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) is one example of a tool that can be used to define several failure modes that can then be mitigated. When reviewing these points of failure it is also helpful to define operating ranges for important parameters. An operating range will give you a tangible measurement that defines a potential failure when values move outside of that range.

4. Choose Maintenance Solutions Based on Failure Modes

Since an RCM approach will prioritize the failure modes for each equipment system, it can also be used to select appropriate maintenance solutions. In some cases, an in-line monitor could be used as a conditions-based solution, or a preventive maintenance schedule may be followed to replace common consumables and keep up with routine maintenance tasks to keep equipment in optimal working condition. A Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) is an excellent resource for planning and organizing this work. Coupled with facilities management asset tags to streamline documentation and monitor equipment usage and conditions, these tools support an effective RCM program.

5. Adopt a Proven RCM Project Framework

Any maintenance program will benefit from better organization. Given the complexity of many facility systems, using a CMMS combined with a proven framework can help overcome several common issues. An RMC project framework can be described in 4 common steps.

  1. Choose a plan based on desired outcomes
  2. Analyze equipment data
  3. Implement maintenance improvements
  4. Measure actual benefits and make necessary changes

This process is best understood as a loop that can be repeated regularly to improve maintenance decisions based upon the latest available data.

Reliability-centered maintenance is an excellent approach for companies that manage high-value, critical assets with demanding performance requirements. When learning about RCM principles, it’s helpful to consult several resources to create a comprehensive plan that works best for your organization, team, and equipment. We hope the fundamentals in this post will help you streamline your maintenance management practices.