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Enterprise Asset Management

What is Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)? Your Complete Guide

What is Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)? Your Complete Guide

“If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.” This old adage makes a lot of sense when we’re talking about a hand-me-down car or a coffee maker that miraculously keeps brewing year after year. But when it comes to your company’s most critical assets, this laissez faire attitude won’t cut it.

Asset-intensive organizations rely on consistently getting the most out of each and every piece of equipment they own. They must develop a maintenance approach that’s cost effective while maximizing uptime and performance. By embracing a flexible, reliability centered maintenance strategy, organizations can keep downtime to a minimum without incurring unnecessary costs.

What is reliability centered maintenance (RCM)?

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) involves assessing assets individually and adopting a maintenance approach informed by and tailored to the requirements and importance of each asset. Successful RCM keeps the cost of maintenance low and asset performance high.

Maintenance strategies employed by RCM differ from asset to asset based on several factors. These include how costly and disruptive unplanned downtime would be, the importance of the asset to your organization, and the impact of asset failure on the environment and safety. Whether it’s a crucial piece of machinery that would benefit from constant monitoring and predictive maintenance, or easily-replaceable equipment that you can safely run to failure, your organization can use RCM to evaluate and develop tailored maintenance strategies for every asset.

Why implement reliability centered maintenance?

Reliability centered maintenance aims to maximize asset performance while avoiding unnecessary costs and downtime. Here are just some of the benefits that can come with implementing RCM.

Asset utilization

RCM cuts down on asset downtime by identifying how an asset might fail and addressing those potential failure modes by importance. This data-driven approach is the key to focusing your limited maintenance resources where they’ll make the most impact, as well as performing required maintenance without resorting to unnecessary scheduled downtime.

Cost optimization

Unscheduled breakdowns result in a heavy impact to your organization’s bottom line due to lost production time and expensive repairs. And attempts to avoid unanticipated repairs can easily result in over-maintaining assets, wasting funds that could be better spent elsewhere. With RCM, you can intelligently keep assets performant with maintenance strategies that deliver the results you need at the lowest cost possible.

Capital allocation

Organizations can effectively distribute and invest their financial resources only when they have an accurate read on expenses, including those associated with maintenance. RCM gives organizations a detailed plan for maintaining their assets and allocating costs, so leadership can make financial decisions based on data rather than guesswork.

ESG & compliance

Reliability centered maintenance also gives companies the chance to revisit environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors and guidelines. Complying with all relevant regulations, maximizing worker safety, and boosting sustainability are all concerns that receive due consideration during the RCM process.

Digital operations

RCM meshes perfectly with digitized maintenance solutions that support work from anywhere. This allows for capturing and accessing data in real time, utilizing digital twin technologies that produce detailed virtual representations of physical assets, and contributing to a Smart Digital Reality that seamlessly integrates the real and digital worlds.

3 steps to effective RCM — and 7 questions to ask

There are three main steps to effective RCM: decision, analysis, and action. Let’s break down each step in turn and cover some helpful questions to guide you through the RCM process with each of your organization’s assets.


Phase 1: Evaluation

This phase involves evaluating each of your company’s assets to determine the intended functionality of each and the ways they might fail.

1. How is the asset supposed to function?

Begin by determining exactly how the asset in question is meant to function. This question is intended to get at how the asset meets the needs of your organization and its customers, directly or indirectly, while complying with relevant regulations and standards. You should reference manufacturer documentation in this step to note applicable limits, safety considerations, and any manufacturer-recommended maintenance timelines.

2. What are the ways the asset can fail?

Once you understand an asset’s primary and secondary functions, it’s time to document the ways it may fail, also known as failure modes. Historical data is key here, as some of these failure modes may have, unfortunately, already occurred, but others may be purely hypothetical. Review all possibilities in specific detail and consider whether the failure involves the entire asset or only one part. If the latter, you should also determine whether the failure of that part would cause a breakdown of the entire system.

3. What could cause each of these failure modes?

After determining how an asset can fail, you can move onto understanding the why. What needs to go wrong for each failure mode to occur? The answers may range from equipment fatigue, to human error, to environmental factors. Identifying the root causes of each failure mode helps identify the likelihood of each failure mode occurring and is a key part of crafting the appropriate maintenance solution.


Phase 2: Analysis

The next phase of RCM digs into the impact of asset failures before developing a maintenance strategy tailored to the needs and importance of each asset.

4. What takes place when a specific failure occurs?

The first stage of analysis focuses on the direct effects of asset failure. How does a failure affect overall costs, in terms of repair expenses, downtime, and more? Will it slow or halt production? What about potential product defects? Asking these and similar questions, with the answers informed by historical data, robust forecasting, and input from all relevant stakeholders, will leave your organization well-prepared for crafting an RCM program that limits downtime and keeps expenses down.

5. How does each failure impact your enterprise and its operations?

Next, use a broad lens to examine the effects of asset failure on your organization at a higher level than the previous stage of analysis. The concerns at play here include those related to safety, the environment, and the condition of the asset itself. Examining the knock-on impacts of asset failure beyond cost and production considerations provides a full picture of just what an asset means to your company.

6. What maintenance strategy can best prevent or reduce the impact of each failure?

Now that you understand the effects each asset failure would have on your company, you’re ready to hash out which maintenance strategies are best suited to prevent or reduce their impact. The type of strategy employed will depend upon the factors analyzed above, which should give your organization a clear picture of how critical the asset is to your company, together with the consequences and likelihood of its failure. Potential strategies include the following:

● Predictive maintenance, which employs monitoring equipment to anticipate and prevent breakdowns. This is generally the most cost-intensive approach, so, while effective, it’s not appropriate for every asset.

● Condition-based maintenance relies on regular asset inspections to inform when and how an asset should be maintained, but lacks the real-time data predictive maintenance employs.

● Preventive maintenance schedules maintenance at predetermined intervals to prevent downtime from occurring unexpectedly. It doesn’t require the monitoring devices predictive maintenance employs, but it’s also easy to over- or under-maintain assets in the absence of real time data.

● Finally, reactive maintenance is a run to failure approach that simply performs repairs or replaces an asset after it breaks down. This is most appropriate for inexpensive assets that aren’t critical to operations.

You may employ one of these strategies or a blend of them as part of the most appropriate and cost-effective maintenance approach for every asset.

Phase 3: Action

You’ve asked the important questions, gathered data, analyzed it, and built the best reliability centered maintenance plan you can. All that’s left is to implement it. As you put your maintenance program into practice, monitor performance and see if it conforms to expectations or if there’s cause to fine-tune your approach. And, for some assets, there’s a final question to ask at this stage.

7. What if there’s no good maintenance solution available?

Hopefully, this won’t be something your organization has to ask often, if ever. But for certain assets, a reactive maintenance strategy isn’t ideal, but none of the more proactive options are well-suited to an asset’s needs either. This may be due to cost considerations, the nature or age of an asset, or other rare circumstances, like newly-passed regulations. In this case, make the best of a bad situation by taking steps to minimize the impact on your company if and when the asset breaks down. This may involve reworking processes so the asset is eventually no longer needed, having a replacement asset on standby, or even modifying the asset to improve its lifespan or so it can be more easily maintained.

Realize the benefits of RCM at your organization

Reliability centered maintenance aims to keep a company's assets running at peak efficiency while eliminating any unnecessary repair costs and downtime. But it requires a comprehensive maintenance solution that centralizes your organization’s asset data and streamlines asset management. HxGN EAM does just that, enabling your company to accurately assess asset needs and develop an effective RCM strategy. It features an array of powerful, easy-to-use tools, that cover everything from scheduling to asset performance management to digitizing work.

If you’re ready to implement RCM at your company,contact us today and see how HxGN EAM can help.