What Is Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM)?

As you might know, there isn’t a single solution that works for all maintenance management issues. This is mainly because there are so many different potential paths for problems. Each asset actually has a different set of failure modes, underlying causes of failures, effects that result from those failures, and strategies for foreseeing and preventing these failures.

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a methodical, ongoing approach to asset management that seeks to match critical systems with the best maintenance approach available, ultimately boosting overall reliability. It’s based on the notion that you should first determine which techniques are efficient before putting them into action in a way that best serves your individual requirements.

Now let’s delve deeper into the specifics, beginning with the key principles of reliability-centered maintenance.

The Key Principles of Reliability-Centered Maintenance

There are a few principles of RCM that should be considered when beginning the practice. See below for a breakdown of each one.

  • Concentrate on Critical Functions: RCM starts by determining the crucial tasks that assets must complete. Prioritizing maintenance efforts by each asset’s function and significance is a big help.
  • Identify Failure Modes: The next step is to identify all potential failure modes that might affect the asset’s essential functions. The purpose of this thorough analysis is to identify potential problems and their underlying causes.
  • Analyze Consequences: Following the identification of failure modes, RCM evaluates the potential effects that each failure mode may have on operations, safety, the environment, and other crucial variables. Organizations can prioritize maintenance tasks based on their potential impact thanks to this analysis.
  • Put Preventive Measures Into Practice: RCM emphasises the use of preventive measures to reduce or get rid of failure modes. These actions could be regular upkeep, inspections, testing, or component redesign to increase reliability.
  • Optimise Maintenance Strategies: By customizing maintenance strategies to meet the unique requirements of each asset, RCM aims to strike a balance between cost and performance. Combining preventive, predictive, and corrective maintenance strategies may be used for this optimization.
  • Continuous Improvement: RCM understands the value of ongoing development. It encourages businesses to assess the efficiency of their maintenance plans and make the necessary modifications in light of customer feedback, data analysis, and technological advancements.
  • Engage Cross-Functional Teams: RCM encourages coordination between various departments and teams. A comprehensive and well-rounded approach to maintenance decision-making is ensured by involving personnel from various disciplines, such as maintenance, operations, engineering, and management.
  • Share and Document Knowledge: In RCM, documentation is essential. Organizations are urged to keep thorough records of failure modes, maintenance tasks, and justifications for choices. Continuous learning is made possible by this knowledge sharing, which also makes future decision-making easier.


Where Is Reliability-Centered Maintenance Used?

Reliability-centered maintenance was first utilized in the aviation industry and is still frequently used within that industry today. Its success over time has prompted its adoption in numerous other industries, including:

  • Military hardware manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Steel manufacturing
  • Food distribution
  • Nuclear energy

In situations where the consequences of failure are severe, the application of RCM is especially important. Let’s use the pharmaceutical industry as an example. A flaw in a pharmaceutical product could have significant effects on thousands of people who depend on it for their health and well-being. Such mistakes might cause significant harm, illness, or even the tragic loss of life. Pharmaceutical manufacturers prioritize implementing PCM strategies to avoid these consequences and ensure the dependability and safety of their products.

Reliability Centered Maintenance Standards

Several established standards outline the reliability-centered maintenance approach. Two noteworthy standards are the SAE standard JA1011: Evaluation Criteria for Reliability-Centered Maintenance Processes and the IEC 60300.3.11-2011 dependability management application guide.

RCM is a methodical process that involves addressing 7 fundamental questions to ensure effective reliability-centered maintenance:

  1. Functions: What are the functions and performance standards associated with the asset in its current operational context?
  2. Functional Failures: How does the asset fall short of fulfilling its intended functions?
  3. Failure Modes: What are the underlying causes for each functional failure?
  4. Failure Effects: What are the consequences or impacts when each failure occurs?
  5. Failure Consequences: In what ways do these failures matter or have significance?
  6. Proactive Tasks: What measures can be taken to anticipate or prevent each failure from happening?
  7. Default Actions: What course of action should be taken if it is not possible to identify a suitable proactive task?

By systematically addressing these questions, RCM provides a structured framework to optimize maintenance strategies and enhance reliability.

How Is RCM Different from Standard Maintenance Programs?

RCM acknowledges that not all assets in a facility carry the same level of importance, both in terms of safety and operational efficiency. The goal of the decision-making framework is to effectively allocate resources to meet the specific needs of equipment maintenance while keeping costs in check.

In simpler terms, some assets are more crucial for daily production goals than others. This is where RCM comes in handy, as it provides a roadmap for management to prioritize, optimize, and assign maintenance tasks.

According to the O&M Best Practices Guide, Release 3.0, highly successful facilities typically divide their maintenance efforts into the following categories based on RCM:

  • Less than 10% of maintenance is reactive, meaning repairs are done after a failure occurs.
  • Approximately 25% to 35% of maintenance efforts are preventive, focusing on routine inspections and maintenance to prevent failures.
  • Around 45% to 55% of maintenance activities are predictive, utilizing advanced technologies like infrared, acoustic (partial discharge and airborne ultrasonic), vibration analysis, sound-level measurements, and oil analysis to predict and prevent potential failures.

Although RCM puts a strong emphasis on predictive maintenance technologies, this software might not be financially viable for small to medium-sized companies. In any case, RCM is worth looking into, as the practice has received recognition and approval from government authorities.

What Are the Differences Between Risk-Based Maintenance and Reliability-Centered Maintenance?

Now that we have a clear understanding of what reliability-centered maintenance involves, let’s address any confusion that may arise when comparing it to risk-based maintenance management.

When it comes to RCM, the approach revolves around selecting the most suitable maintenance strategy for each specific asset. For instance, when dealing with light bulbs, the strategy might involve running them until they fail, whereas, for a forklift, upkeep might be more likely to involve preventive maintenance to prevent any issues from occurring.

On the other hand, risk-based maintenance operates on a set of fundamental truths about maintenance that we cannot escape:

  • There is always an abundance of tasks to be completed, surpassing the available time to accomplish them.
  • We often face a scarcity of manpower to handle all the necessary work.
  • Regardless of how generous our maintenance budget may be, it is not without its limits.

Due to these constraints, we are compelled to prioritize which assets deserve our time and attention. It is simply impossible to address every maintenance need. Risk-based maintenance, therefore, involves a systematic process of determining how we utilize our limited resources by:

  1. Establishing the Criticality of Each Asset: Assessing the importance and impact of asset failure.
  2. Developing a Maintenance Program based on Risk: Creating a plan that focuses on mitigating risks associated with asset failures.
  3. Planning Maintenance Activities Based on Risk Reduction: Allocating maintenance efforts in a way that minimizes potential risks.
  4. Allocating Necessary Parts and Repairs Based on Risk: Assigning resources and repairs to assets according to their risk levels.

Assets with a higher consequence of failure (CoF) receive greater attention, whereas those with lower criticality receive less. There exists a spectrum between the assets with the highest and lowest criticality, each requiring a corresponding level of maintenance.

The RCM Process

There are 7 steps to the RCM process. Each of them is outlined below.

Step 1: Choose the Equipment for Analysis

First, carefully select a piece of equipment to focus on for reliability-centered maintenance analysis. Pick equipment that plays a crucial role in our operations, considering factors such as its impact on overall performance, past repair costs, and preventive maintenance expenses.

Step 2: Understand the System and its Function

The chosen equipment should be part of a larger system that serves an important function. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of how this system operates, its inputs and outputs, and the overall purpose it serves. For example, if the chosen equipment was a conveyor belt system, we could discern that its function is to transport goods from one point to another. Aside from the system’s purpose, we also need to know what powers the belt, the goods it handles, and the final destination.

Step 3: Identify Potential Failure Modes

At this stage, we need to identify all the possible ways in which the system can fail to fulfil its intended function. For instance, the conveyor belt might fail by being unable to transport goods effectively or by operating at a slower speed than required.

Step 4: Determine the Causes of Failures

To understand why failures occur, it’s important to collaborate with operators, experienced technicians, and experts in reliability-centered maintenance. This is how to efficiently pinpoint the root causes of each failure mode. For the conveyor belt example, potential causes could include inadequate lubrication of the rollers, bearing malfunctions, or a loose belt.

Step 5: Assess the Impact of Failures

Here, we carefully evaluate the consequences of each failure mode. Equipment failures can have various effects, such as compromising safety, disrupting operations, or affecting other interconnected equipment. We assess the severity and criticality of each failure mode by utilizing methods like failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA) or fault tree analysis (FTA).

Step 6: Choose a Maintenance Strategy

In this step, we determine the most appropriate maintenance approach for each failure mode. Depending on the specific circumstances, we consider options such as condition-based maintenance (detecting early signs of failure), preventive maintenance based on time or usage, or even system redesign to eliminate or modify the failure mode. Some failure modes may be better suited for a run-to-failure maintenance schedule if they are deemed less critical.

Step 7: Implement and Review the Maintenance Plan

To derive value from the reliability-centered maintenance methodology, it’s crucial to put the recommended maintenance strategies into action. Once implemented, it’s important to regularly review and update the maintenance plan based on new information and insights. By staying proactive and adaptable, we can continuously improve the effectiveness of the maintenance practices and enhance overall equipment reliability.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Reliability-Centered Maintenance

Successfully implementing reliability-centered maintenance brings numerous benefits to organizations that have the means to adopt it. This framework eliminates the need for guesswork in maintenance prioritization, providing a consistent, structured, and cost-effective approach to asset management.

RCM heavily relies on predictive maintenance (PdM) technologies, and its advantages and disadvantages align with those of PdM. However, RCM offers unique advantages by allowing facilities to align resources with equipment needs more effectively, resulting in improved reliability and reduced costs—far surpassing the benefits of any single PdM strategy.

The Advantages of RCM

There are a few advantages associated with adopting an ECM approach to asset management.

  1. Cost Effectiveness: RCM minimizes unnecessary routine maintenance tasks, leading to cost reduction. When combined with preventive maintenance, RCM has proven to reduce workloads by an impressive 70%.
  2. Enhanced Teamwork: RCM fosters a collaborative approach to maintenance tasks. Involving all departments and teams in problem analysis and decision-making improves communication, cooperation, and overall teamwork.
  3. Improved Asset Performance: RCM eliminates unnecessary overhauls, thereby reducing downtime. Additionally, it enables quicker failure diagnosis, leading to improved asset performance.
  4. Increased Employee Motivation: Involving employees in the application of RCM helps them develop a deeper understanding of the assets within their operational context. This sense of ownership motivates them to actively address maintenance issues and contribute to solutions.
  5. Enhanced Safety and Environmental Integrity: RCM strives to understand the implications of every failure mode and takes proactive measures to prevent them. Furthermore, the maintenance prioritization process ensures the availability of essential protective devices, thereby promoting safety and environmental integrity.

To exemplify RCM’s benefits, consider the case of the NASA Marshall Flight Center. By implementing an RCM strategy, they achieved savings of over $300,000 by reducing maintenance costs, enhancing workplace safety, and extending the lifespan of their aging assets. The program also facilitated a reduction in energy consumption and minimized the centre’s environmental impact.

RCM Disadvantages

Despite its advantages, RCM also comes with a few disadvantages. The first is the initial cost: The price of beginning to implement RCM can be substantial. It requires teams to invest significant time, finances, and resources to initiate the RCM analysis process. As a result, the return on investment may not meet executive expectations in terms of speed.

Another notable drawback of RCM is that it encompasses all other maintenance strategies, including their respective drawbacks. For instance, if you choose a run-to-failure approach for an asset, you simultaneously expose yourself to the risk of an unplanned failure.

Consequently, some view RCM as costly compared to solely relying on predictive or preventive maintenance programs. Nonetheless, most experts agree that RCM proves more cost-effective in the long run.

Using a CMMS with Reliability-Centered Maintenance

A properly implemented CMMS can greatly support the RCM process. NEXGEN CMMS software helps maintenance programs develop goals for cost tracking, benchmark data, and monitoring the bottom line of any organization. Our CMMS collects and centralizes the data you need to perform the analyses that reliability-centered maintenance requires.

If you’re ready to make the jump to modern maintenance management, it’s time to reach out to NEXGEN. Schedule a demo today and see what NEXGEN can do for you.