A Maintenance Manager’s Guide To Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM)

Do you question whether or not your equipment is running as best as it could be? Do you wonder if you might find ways to improve productivity and reduce maintenance costs by optimizing your maintenance? Then you may want to investigate Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM).

1. What is Reliability Centered Maintenance?

There’s plenty of jargon thrown around when it comes to Reliability Centered Maintenance – but, simply put – RCM is a structured process that identifies problems which when solved increases the productivity of your equipment and assets while reducing maintenance costs. Reliability centered maintenance isn’t necessarily a maintenance method, it’s more of a method of analyzing breakdowns to identify which maintenance methods will work best for each piece of machinery.

When done correctly, RCM can affect your company’s bottom-line in a huge way.

Ebsco reported a 63% return on investment after starting a reliability centered maintenance program.

2. How to Perform the RCM Analysis

If you’re looking to perform a Reliability Centered Maintenance analysis, there is a standard set of questions to help you. These questions are offered by SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), the regulatory organization on RCM and other engineering standards. The questions below are listed as part of SAE’s JA1011 standard.

We’ve taken those questions and simplified them in this guide with a real forklift example

RCM analysis

Question 1: What are the functions and associated desired standards of performance of the asset in its present operating context (functions)?
What a mouthful. Don’t worry we will break it down for you.

A) Before we answer that question, we need to select which equipment you’re going to analyze with RCM.

When deciding what piece of equipment to start with you should consider which piece of equipment is most valuable and causes the largest pain for your organization when it has a breakdown.

This will allow you to reap the biggest rewards for your efforts.

B) We need to figure out the “functions and associated desired standards of performance” part.

Simply put, what does the selected piece of equipment do and what is the desired performance? To understand the piece of equipment’s highest levels of productivity, refer to your production crew for productivity data.

C) We need to figure out the “in its present operation context (functions)” part.

To understand the piece of equipment’s present operation context you will need to refer to your CMMS for data on maintenance operations. If you don’t have a CMMS, you might be able to find this data in your paper records. If you can’t find these numbers in either location, other maintenance managers may be able to help you.

Your answer might look something like this:

Forklift Machine #3 can move 18 pallets per hour when running at peak levels. Currently, the Mean Time Between Repair (MTBR) is 800 hrs with an average downtime of 6 hours. If we run our forklift 40 hours a week, every 20 weeks (800/40) we experience a critical breakdown and we lose the ability to move 108 pallets (18 pallets * 6 hr). Based on data from your CMMS or other maintenance managers a forklift should have an MTBR of 1200 hours. If we can increase our MTBR by %50 to the average MTBR we will gain the ability to move 54 more pallets every 20 weeks.

This will give you a good look at where you might be able to improve.

If you can’t find all the data that’s ok. Build it out the best you can.

Question 2: In what ways can it fail to fulfill its functions (functional failures)?
Now that we know where we are and the desired outcome we hope to achieve we need to identify the source of the breakdowns (failures).

With that in mind, look through your records or think about the recent breakdowns and what may have caused them.

Using a forklift as an example your answer might look something like this:

  • Human error
  • Fork malfunction
  • Engine malfunction
Question 3: What causes each functional failure (failure modes)?
You can build on the previous list of failures to expand and answer question 3:

  • Human error – caused by poor training
  • Fork malfunction – caused by poor maintenance and/or poor operator behavior
  • Engine malfunction – caused by poor engine maintenance (oil changes etc)
Question 4: What happens when each failure occurs (failure effects)?
This question is pretty simple – your answer should reflect the negative effects of the failures you’ve described. It might look something like this –

  • Human error – accidents (breakage, spillage, human injury), productivity decrease, etc.
  • Fork malfunction – equipment damage, accidents (breakage, spillage, human injury), increased labor and repair costs, productivity decrease, etc.
  • Engine malfunction – equipment damage, increased labor and repair costs, productivity decrease, etc.
Question 5: In what way does each failure matter (failure consequences)?
This is very similar to the previous question, although you will break it down by the negative effects due to the fact a failure can have multiple negative effects.

  • Increased labor and repair costs – $25 per hour and $500 average in parts
  • Equipment damage – $800 each incident due to shortening the forklifts operating life
  • Productivity decrease – $300 per hour due to interrupted production
  • Accidents (breakage, spillage, human injury) – Potential safety violations, employee injury, and damaged goods. Potentially thousands of dollars per incident.
Breaking this down to actual numbers will allow you to estimate and forecast the costs associated with failures.

For example, let’s say an engine malfunction occurred that caused a downtime of 6 hours. The total bill would be $150 for labor, $500 for parts, $800 due to a shortened operating life, and $1800 for productivity decrease. This totals a whopping $3250 for a single breakdown on a single piece of equipment.

Question 6: What should be done to predict or prevent each failure (proactive tasks and task intervals)?
This is where we get to the heart of why Reliability Centered Maintenance is important. Can you implement preventive or predictive maintenance to prevent those large unexpected costs and interruptions? Is it worth it, and if not, should you use a run-to-failure strategy?

Using the example in Question 5, what could have been done to prevent the $3250 breakdown?

After your technician fixes the problem, they will know what caused the failure. Knowing the cause of the failure allows you to plan and schedule maintenance to prevent more breakdowns.

For example, let’s say a clogged filter caused damage to the engine which led to the breakdown. Now we know what to do. Replace the filter on the forklift every 3 months along with changing the oil so that the air can freely flow through the forklift’s engine which should prevent it from deteriorating and breaking down.

The solution is not always as clear-cut as changing a filter, but doing the RCM analysis allows you to get the data to make the decision if spending resources on preventive maintenance is worth preventing the breakdowns. If it isn’t, a run-to-failure (reactive) strategy might best meet your needs.

Question 7: What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be found (default actions)?
This question sounds more confusing than it is.

Here is another way to word it:

If you can’t implement preventive or predictive maintenance plans to solve the problem, is there anything else that can be done?

Sure there this. It just takes a little creative thinking.

For instance, let’s say you have an old forklift and you decide the best choice would be to let it run until it dies. You can prevent the production downtime caused when the forklift finally breaks down by putting a process in place to rent a forklift or borrow a forklift from a different department so that you don’t lose productivity. Coming up with these solutions is often best when you brainstorm with other folks on your team (i.e., technicians, management, production staff, other departments).

This is a situation where the unexpected breakdown isn’t really that unexpected so you can prepare the solution upfront.


Quickly implement an effective PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE PLAN by following these 13 simple steps!

You Will Get:

[1.] A PDF file you can print out

[2.] 13 steps divided into 3 sections

[3.] Defined GOALS for each section

[4.] A few important tips to help you avoid common pitfalls when creating a PM plan

3. How Can Your Company Implement Changes Based on RCM Analysis?

Once you’ve answered the above questions, it’s time to start implementing changes based on the results of your RCM analysis.

From here, you’ll determine what plan is needed. Here is a breakdown of some of the most common maintenance strategies and how to implement them.

Reactive, preventive, predictive maintenance with RCM

Run-To-Failure/Reactive Maintenance
Definition: Fixing the equipment as it fails.

Example: If you wait for your circuit board to fail before you send a technician to repair it, then you’re relying on corrective maintenance. This type of maintenance tends to be the most costly, but never completely avoidable. That being said, corrective maintenance has its time and place and due to your Reliability Centered Maintenance analysis, you will know when to properly use it.

Preventive Maintenance
Definition: Work that is performed regularly on a scheduled basis to lessen the likelihood of equipment failure. Preventative maintenance is performed while the equipment is still in working condition to avoid unexpected breakdowns.

Preventive maintenance can have returns as high as 545%. Here’s how you can implement a plan of your own:

Step 1. Select machines that require regular maintenance and have high replacement/repair costs. Scheduling preventive maintenance on these assets will provide your company with the greatest returns.

Step 2. Determine a maintenance schedule based on the asset’s requirements

How often does each machine require routine preventive care? – This information can be found in the machine’s manual. If you can’t find the manual, visit the manufacturer’s website as they usually have a copy online.

Step 3. Gather relevant information from your colleagues and supervisors. You may need to speak with production team members or other staff to get a good sense of how you can best implement a preventive plan and when best to service the equipment.

Step 4. Implement your preventive maintenance. Now you need to decide if you want to run your plan manually or if you’d like to implement a CMMS system that can automate the processes.

Once the preventive maintenance plan is running smoothly, slowly start adding other assets that will benefit from a good preventive maintenance schedule. Before you know it, all of your equipment will be on your preventive maintenance plan and you will start seeing the benefits.

For a more detailed guide on how to successfully implement a preventive maintenance strategy check out our How To Switch From Reactive Maintenance To Preventive Maintenance – Complete Transition Guide post.

Predictive Maintenance
Definition: Determines the condition of equipment while it’s in use through hardware and software designed to measure functionality or abnormalities. The return on investment is gained through knowing exactly when services are needed, and only servicing equipment when it’s required.

Independent studies by the ISI (Institute for Scientific Information) have shown that predictive maintenance can reduce preventive maintenance tasks by 15% and have an overall effect on downtime of 1-2%.

Example: Let’s say you use thermal imaging equipment to determine when circuit boards need repairs. Visual inspections won’t catch problems such as the circuit board overheating. This is predictive maintenance because you’re repairing the equipment only when it needs a repair vs. relying on timing or usage through a preventive maintenance plan.

Steps to implement Predictive Maintenance:

Predictive maintenance requires hardware and software. In our above example, a thermal imaging camera and thermal imaging software would be required to determine whether the circuit boards need to be repaired. Often, investments in these hardware and software can be expensive. Luckily, predictive maintenance companies have sprouted up across the country and are quite affordable.

If you are prepared to make the necessary hardware and software investment, get a list of equipment that you’d like to implement predictive maintenance on. After that, do some research online or by contacting the manufacturer to find out what you need to employ predictive maintenance for that piece of equipment.

Additionally, setting up sensors on your equipment and syncing them with your CMMS can greatly reduce overall costs although the initial investment still tends to be large.

If your CMMS has the right integrations, it will be able to communicate with the sensors and let you know when and how often you need to perform these predictive maintenance tasks.

In conclusion
Reliability Centered Maintenance can help you make the most informed decisions about maintenance for your assets. This proven method of analysis will help your company save time, money, and resources, which will, in turn, improve your profits.

If you’re interested in improving your maintenance operations, then check out Limble CMMS to learn how we can help.

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  • Edward J Turk September 9, 2018, 5:09 pm

    Compare RCM with predictive maintenance for me.

    Thanks Ed

    • David September 20, 2018, 1:55 pm

      Predictive maintenance is a structured process or method in which RCM employs to accomplish its theory of increasing productivity ones equipment and assets. Its like comparing turning at an intersection and comparing it to driving.

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