December 13, 2023 By Bruce D Baron 4 min read

There are many articles on equipment failure patterns that infer that a majority of all equipment fails at random, regardless of how much preventive maintenance was done. This claim is often used to encourage asset-intensive industries to evolve their maintenance strategies, invest in instrument equipment and leverage analytics to adopt predictive maintenance approaches.

Predictive maintenance measures asset performance then correlates data anomalies or creates analogies with similar performance data to determine the best approaches for inspections and maintenance. That learning is then applied at defined intervals or when an event (anomaly) or trend signifies impending failure. Predictive maintenance can be extremely cost effective and can help reduce maintenance costs, decrease breakdowns and improve response times for breakdowns.

One of the limitations of a predictive maintenance strategy, where they monitor equipment to identify “when” it will fail, is that it frequently does not get to the root cause of the failure. This means it often does not build an understanding of “how” or “why” a piece of equipment failed, or its impact on overall operations. Imagine you could also capture the “why” and create strategies to predict and prevent the root causes of failure. That is the goal of reliability-centered maintenance (RCM): to extend your management, monitoring and maintenance efforts with more context and to make maintenance optimization strategies more effective, more predictive and more risk based.

The application of RCM revolves around three key activities: evaluating the criticality of assets, understanding the root causes (or failure modes) of those assets and creating a specific strategy for each asset to perform as expected. Layering RCM on top of existing maintenance strategies, allows for companies to build more effective operations and maintenance programs.

10 areas that can benefit from applying RCM within your organization

1. Better planning and analysis: Much research focuses on the premise that failures are due to unknown causes (even in organizations full of skilled technicians), which shows how difficult it is to monitor asset operations. Unless critical risk factors, histories, material analogies and data on every failure are known, blind spots will stump the experts every time. That is why RCM builds from knowledge at every phase of the lifecycle, contextualizes the effects of failure against production goals and deeply analyzes the root causes at an asset level.

2. First time fix rates: It’s critical to enable technicians to reach over 90% on first time fix rates. But to do that, technicians need to be able to understand what the issue is before heading out to the job. With incomplete data, technicians can’t guarantee they’ll have the right tooling, inventory and associated materials to fix it. The only way to improve first time fix rates is to optimize tools inventory and repair job plans based on an understanding of failure modes.

3. Backlog management: Deferred maintenance is necessary, but backlogs must be managed. Like any issue that is allowed to fester, it could continue to worsen, potentially driving up the cost of tackling the issue down the line. Delaying maintenance can also increase safety and compliance risk. RCM helps you manage backlogs based on criticality, failure potential and cost data for every request in the backlog. Practitioners have found that they can remove a large percentage of backlog items with a low risk of failure and low impact to operations.

4. Reduced preventative maintenance (PM): Many companies will attest to the fact that they don’t know if their maintenance efforts are helping improve the life cycle of their assets. Study after study has shown that most companies find it hard to optimize their preventive maintenance schedules, which leads to wasted costs for nonessential maintenance.).

5. Job plan optimization: Most technicians are only as good as the asset records, log files, files and photos that drive their job plans. Technicians use this information to plan and execute their days, and to design schedules, estimates, inventories and more. Without governance and data to drive prescriptive approaches, a company can end up with multiple procedures that are overgeneralized for broad asset classes, resulting in job plans that do not help technicians execute their roles. To capitalize on the knowledge of the company, technicians must be able to contextualize asset records, log files and analytics approaches in easy-to-use ways.

6. Inventory optimization: When you know which assets have the highest probability of failure and will require expedited service, you know what inventory of parts and tools you should have in your storeroom. Reliability analysis and tested failure modes allow you to reduce expensive, nonessential inventories, while keeping critical inventory in stock.

7. Skills transfer: With so much legacy knowledge leaving industrial businesses, it’s important that logical and structured information be presented regarding the nature of assets, the type of work that is done and what to analyze in the context of ensuring operational performance. RCM provides that logical flow of information between operational expectations, common issues and how to approach repairs and preventive maintenance tasks. Having information codified into a CMS or EMS system allows technicians to understand the method and focus on fixing things right the first time. 

8. Response time: It’s important that operations and maintenance achieve high levels of productivity, which means high levels of utilization. But often companies prioritize assets that are non-critical, creating urgent capacity and scheduling issues when a critical asset goes down. When you can dynamically adjust schedules and work order flow around criticality and propensity to fail, you are already ahead of the game when it comes to ensuring operational flow.

9. Optimized monitoring: Leadership often receives an alert from a monitored asset, and upon inspection the asset seems to be operating fine—only to fail soon after. Just as maintenance planners and technicians learn from the process of RCM and the application of failure modes, so can computer algorithms that are intended to identify potential failures or operating issues. One of the benefits of RCM, is that its learnings are shared across the asset lifecycle, with all systems associated with asset performance.

10. Return on investment: There are many articles and case studies online that highlight how RCM can reduce maintenance costs and improve productivity while reducing unplanned downtime. This RCM implementation guide from NASA explains how RCM can cut maintenance costs compared to standard preventive approaches.

Streamline your maintenance strategy

Because RCM can extend the mission and vision of today’s asset managers, IBM® launched Reliability Strategies and our Reliability Strategies Library. By combining an expansive library of 50,000 failure modes, asset detail for over 800 classes and 5,000 optimized preventive maintenance schedules with an application that shortcuts the process of doing a RCM study, we have put RCM within easy reach of asset management and operations professionals. It is available as a complementary add-on to our core asset management solution, IBM Maximo® Manage.

Learn how to optimize your RCM Book a live demo with an expert
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