Reliability-centered maintenance

Russ Kratowicz, P.E., executive editor, delves into reliability-centered maintenance on the Web.

By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., executive editor

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Management theory is chock-full of buzzwords. You hear them. You read them. You may even find someone who can explain them. Somehow, they are supposed to help improve our business operations. Yet everyone seems to have slightly different definitions. We need to make sure we're speaking the same language and achieve some common ground. So, we delved into the idea of reliability-centered maintenance to see what's to be found. And we found a lot.

Reliability-centered maintenance

Let's start at the top. RCM is a sensible concept. Analyze the consequences of something going awry. If it's no big deal, then spend your maintenance dollars elsewhere, where a mechanical failure surely would make a mess of things in a hurry.

Aladon LLC, Asheville, N.C., gives a rather comprehensive overview of the RCM concept in Reliability-Centered Maintenance: An Introduction, a paper posted at The 13-page document provides much food for thought and serves as a starting point for what's to follow.

Indeed, RCM is a nice idea, but the devil is in the details. In his article, The RCM trap, Christer Idhammar, president and CEO of IDCON Inc., Raleigh, N.C., argues that rushing into a full-blown RCM initiative might not be such a good idea. The payoff, he says, is in being able to do the basics well before complicating matters. You can read his rationale at

NASA certainly is aware of the RCM concept. In a six-page paper centered on the space shuttle orbiter titled Preventive Maintenance Strategies Using Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), it provides a good grounding in the basic features and benefits of RCM. The paper is, to some extent and considering this audience, preaching to the choir when it argues the virtues of effective maintenance practices. If you're interested, go to for the details.

The Manage Mentor Web site offers advice on what should be done to make your RCM program successful. The article "Reliability — Centered Maintenance" gives a broad view of the topic by defining two failure types and offering a five-step approach to keep you on track. Read all about it at

Root cause analysis

Art Schneiderman, an independent consultant on the management of processes, makes a compelling argument for performing rigorous root cause analyses. The mathematics underlying the concept favor those practitioners who use creative brainstorming to unearth every possible cause for failure with a higher probability of success. For example, Schneiderman says that selecting five possible causes still leaves you with a 33 percent chance that none of them are the genuine root cause. Use that mouse of yours to root you way over to to get the explanation.

Benchmarking RCA

Several times a year, people phone to ask about maintenance and operations benchmarks they can use for a new assignment. In May 1997, this column highlighted Web resources about benchmarking. Then, as now, this column's reason for being is to provide you with relevant, zero-cost, meaty, registration-free Web resources. By that yardstick, we hit gold with the next Web citation.

The Plant Maintenance Resource Center, Winthrop, Wash., wondered what industry was doing about root cause analysis, how it was used, why it was used, its success rates and other such musings. The outcome, 2001 "Root Cause Analysis" Survey Results, is an eight-page document based on 146 valid responses. It chops, slices, dices and reassembles the numbers to yield a variety of interesting relationships. Go to to see how you folks compare to the survey respondents.

The same Web site also posts links to articles about failure analysis. This material is found at

Sample RCA worksheets are available at The sample is aimed at a sentinal event, which is a major problem in a hospital, but it's adaptable to the needs of the plant professional.

Failure modes and effects analysis

FMEA is a structured way to think about and analyze what can go wrong with mechanical and electrical hardware and systems. It seeks to identify every possible point of failure, not just the one you happen to favor at the moment.

To get a general idea of what this means, visit to read Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), an article by Kenneth Crow, DRM Associates, Palos Verdes , Calif. The four-page article describes the types of FMEA, where they're used, the benefits and more.

You also should examine what The U.S. Coast Guard has to say about the matter in its complete, three-volume e-book, Risk-Based Decision Making Guidelines, which is available for you to use in improving the operations in your plant. To find the section on FMEA, use your dead-reckoning skills and pilot your trusty mouse to After the page loads, float down to Volume 3, the link to which is found in the left frame. Then, cruise to Chapter 9: Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA). Before you get too involved and sink the initiative, read about FMEA's limitations.

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