Turn Bad RCM Programs into RCM Success – 4 Questions You Need to Answer

If your organization uses, or wants to use, Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), you’ll need sure answers to the four questions below. Asking the questions shows great insight about the problems with implementing RCM. I was surprised to receive them, as the person who posed them was a student in our Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) from Analysis to Implementation Online Training Course. How wise he was to foresee the troubles he would face when his operation tried to introduce RCM.


Q1. Should one be fully proficient in Root Cause Analysis (RCA) before embarking on an RCM program?

Q2. Would it be needed that a culture of proactive maintenance should be instilled in work teams before launching an RCM program for it to be a living, sustainable program? Because if teams are accustomed to being reactive, the sudden shift to doing proactive tasks from RCM may not yield the expected result.

Q3. If maintenance KPI’s e.g. MTBF, etc. have not considerably improved on implementing an RCM program, would the RCM program be seen as a failed project since it has not lived to expectations?

Q4. Is RCM possible if a plant does not have an existing condition monitoring program? Since some schedules developed during the RCM analysis would include predictive maintenance.


I responded to the questions in the order they were listed.

A1. Are you implying in this question that people doing the RCM analysis ought to know of all the failure modes in their equipment, so that in the RCM program they can select the best maintenance strategy to address the modes? Or, are you implying that when maintainers do RCM tasks they need to know the failure modes and how to correctly address them during the repair?

It is not necessary to be proficient in a Root Cause Analysis methodology to do RCM, but it would certainly help to make the RCM program successful earlier if people knew how to correctly analyse the causes of failure modes. To address failure mode identification during RCM analysis you bring together a team of people knowledgeable in the equipment design, use and care, like engineers, maintainers, operators, and even the equipment manufacturer. They use their experiences and knowledge to list all the failure modes they can identify that are considered possible to occur in the equipment. This combined wisdom and know-how is then used again to choose what activities to do to eliminate or control each failure mode.

To address lack of knowledge in the maintenance crew of failure mode causes and the best reliability-creation solutions to use, see my response below to Question 2.


A2. Having an organization with a proactive reliability culture would be a wonderful situation in which to implement RCM. But there are few such operations around. Like you hinted, most sites are reactive to a lesser or greater extent. I’d bet any company that has a proactive reliability culture wouldn’t need an RCM program, because their plant is already running brilliantly. By the way, proactive reliability culture is exactly what our Plant Wellness Way brings to its users.

The problem with “culture” is no one knows how to surely change a wrong culture to the right culture needed to make RCM successful. In a Plant Wellness site, you do not try and change the culture. Instead you introduce the right practices and let the right ways of working create a better culture. You’d form a core team of 4 maintenance people (2 mechanics, 1 electrician, 1 instrument and control technician) for each 1,000 equipment items (pump set, compressor set, tank, vessel, etc.) who are trained and practiced in highly skilled world class maintenance work methods. You raise their technical capabilities to a Precision Maintenance specialist level with the skills and knowledge to diagnose reliability problems, and then fix them to best practice quality. Their jobs are to improve the reliability of each asset one by one and teach the rest of the operation’s people how to keep the assets reliable once the equipment is at high reliability. They become the role models others will emulate. The operations and maintenance groups will see great improvement in equipment reliability and want to know how they too can become that good. The culture will change to one that strives for the right reliability performance, since the people that bring reliability improvement will have more successful careers, greater recognition, and higher incomes.


A3. If you wait for the RCM program to work and only look to see if the cost of maintenance falls, there is a high chance of disappointment. It can take 12 to 18 months of consistent effort to make operating cost savings with RCM. It is best to get condition monitoring results and trend them on graphs to prove the RCM program is working and is quickly producing positive results. Gather baseline data, such as operating performance variables (e.g. power voltage and current, pressures, flows, temperatures, etc.), machine vibrations, oil contamination results, frequency of shaft misalignment errors, frequency of parts clearance errors, etc., before the program starts and then plot the same data once RCM is in practice. The plant and equipment will be seen to be immediately running better. Thereby proving the RCM program is working and confirming that much lower maintenance costs are on their way to you in a few months’ time.


A4. RCM is heavily dependent on using predicative maintenance strategy. It requires you to apply appropriate condition monitoring (CM) techniques to monitor for failure modes. Normally smaller operations contract CM consultants to take running equipment CM samples and do the analysis. Larger operations can fund the development of a CM specialist group within the organization.

CM programs don’t only use highly technical analysis equipment and specialist technicians. You’ve been doing CM of sorts from the day your site went live. If a maintenance work order or operator instruction asks them to clean, check, inspect, measure, compare, or uses other words that imply to access the situation or the state of a thing, then you’ve been doing condition monitoring. It’s possible to gain great progress in reliability improvement by using your people on watch-keeping rounds. Arm them with low-cost measuring devices to record equipment operating variables, such as laser guns or touch-on thermometers to get temperatures, ultrasonic headsets to get overall noise and even frequency readings, thermographic hand-held cameras to get temperature differentials, vibration pens to measure total machine movement and looseness, etc. Take readings every shift as part of the shift duties and then electronically record the values in trend charts to monitor for changed performance. If the equipment has sensors and meters sending electronic readings, you can plot the performance charts live. Share the charts with the managers, operators, maintainers and engineers responsible for the asset. To get their interest, explain to them what conditions and performance indicate healthy equipment, and which indicate trouble.

I hope the answers are what you wanted to know. Please ask me if you have further questions.

All the very best to you,

Mike Sondalini