What Is Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)?

A maintenance manager’s job is to ensure that infrastructure maintenance is as efficient as possible. Not exactly rocket science, but there is a lot more scope for confusion and interpretation than you may think. There really is no one way to do it. Each manager can implement as much or as little as they want of measures that are geared to focusing on each component’s functionality or to choose reliability-centered maintenance.

The focus of today’s article will be on the latter, reliability-centered maintenance (RCM). Put simply, RCM is a type of maintenance that focuses on the reliability of a system or module, and not on its functionality. The end goal is to make customised maintenance plans, to ensure that all assets are available at any given time and to build a better cost-efficiency ratio.

In other words, instead of planning your maintenance based on each asset working properly (i.e. does your pool filter water properly?), RCM tries to work out how reliable each machine is (i.e. how often does the filtration system stop?). The higher the percentage of availability to perform its job, the more reliable a machine is.

How can you prepare reliability centered maintenance?

If only life were so simple… to answer this question you need to ask yourself 7 more. This article will talk you through these questions and provide you with some simple answers.

Question 1 – What is the role of each asset and what is its desired performance?

For every asset that you own, you should aim to define its role as well as its desired performance, or availability. If we take the example of a lift, the minimum we expect is for it to be available 100% of the time.

Question 2 – How could each asset fail to fulfill its role?

To word it in a different way, when is the asset not fulfilling its purpose? In the case of our lift, it fails when it stops moving people between floors.

Question 3 – What are the failure modes for each functional breakdown?

Define failure modes — breakdowns aren’t all the same and their consequences, which could range from unavailability, damage and security risks, aren’t either. Returning to our lift example, the most serious modes of failure would be if it were to fall several floors or to get stuck with people inside it. You need to plan for worst case scenarios but also for smaller operational failures. 

Question 4 – What are the causes of each failure mode?

Each failure has an explanation. You need to establish what could have caused each category of failure. For example, for most of the problems that could happen in our imaginary lift, the majority will be to do with a mechanical or electric malfunction. 

Question 5 – What are the consequences of each failure mode?

Determine each breakdown’s effect and what the potential consequences could be for your clients. A serious breakdown in a lift may even result in tragedy — if it falls from a height, people are likely to get hurt and may even die. If it gets stuck, it’s certainly not pleasant, but surely less life-threatening. If a hotel’s lift working over several days, guests may need to use the lift in another wing of the building to get to the breakfast room and to all other hotel facilities, for example. 

Question 6 – What can and or should be done to predict or prevent each failure?

Select maintenance tasks. Set maintenance techniques to predict and prevent failures. The greater the risk associated with failure, the more you should invest in preventing it. In the case of a lift, for example, not being level with the floor would be one of the first warning signs. Remember that prevention should always be carried out by experts.

Question 7 – What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be determined?

Prepare whatever you can for a failure! If a failure does occur, you should use it as an opportunity to review your maintenance plan. If your maintenance is failing, then change it. Everything can be improved.