A less-expensive RCM technique

There is a tremendous amount of time and training — which translates to cost — required to conduct a full RCM analysis, especially if you insist that each participant be trained and certified in RCM techniques. Learn about another less-rigorous method.

By Tom Dabbs, CMRP

I’ve always believed that reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a logical, effective way to approach a reliability program’s development, continuous analysis and effectiveness.

Also, I’m aware of the tremendous amount of time and training — which translates to cost — required to conduct a full RCM analysis, especially if you insist that each participant be trained and certified in RCM techniques. If the cost of loss or the consequences of failure warrants an exhaustive analysis, by all means, get on with the program. If not, I’d like to introduce you to a simple, practical style of RCM that can deliver much of the value of the more rigorous approach.

“Hillbilly RCM” is a concept I first heard from Ron Moore during one of his Reliability Leadership workshops. Ron’s intentions were to have the workshop participants embrace the principles of RCM and apply them on a daily basis in a practical way as opposed to only applying them on a formal basis. When a piece of equipment doesn’t perform to specification or fails catastrophically, the basic Hillbilly RCM questions that you must answer to start developing a root cause analysis culture are:

  1. What’s the equipment supposed to do?
  2. What isn’t it doing?
  3. How much pain is it causing?
  4. What are you going to do about it?

If these simple questions were posed and answered each time a failure occurred, many failures would be solved and your reliability program and bottom-line results would improve. Let’s examine the Hillbilly methodology.

What’s it supposed to do?

This question is answered simply by having people on the floor determine the equipment’s primary function that supports the process. The answer to this question is fundamental to the RCM process. It provides insight into the relative importance or criticality of the specific piece of equipment in question.

What isn’t it doing?

Understanding the function that’s no longer being performed helps to understand the possible causes for the failure and to zero in on the specific failure that caused the breakdown. The risk in this approach is that casual root cause determination might result in identifying a symptom and not the ultimate root cause.

How much pain is it causing?

Any failure’s total financial impact is generally much greater than most people think. It’s naïve to consider only the labor and material associated with the repair while ignoring the loss of production. Depending on the specific process, lost production revenues can be from 1.5 times to 10 times the cost of the repair work. This analysis, even at a gross level, gives us the basis for justifying how much to spend in mitigating the failure’s root cause.

What are you going to do about it?

Other than making the repair, consider the actions you’ll need to take to prevent this failure from recurring. Simply stated, the three broad failure categories to consider are:

  1. The equipment wasn’t operated correctly.
  2. The equipment wasn’t maintained properly.
  3. The equipment isn’t capable by virtue of its design.

Be careful in making your determination. Too many times the search for the culprit clouds an objective analysis. I don’t mean to suggest this as the only approach to achieve improved reliability in your plant or facility, or as a replacement for having sound work processes and technology. But, using it will change the way you think and behave, which is really what you want to accomplish if you’re operating in a reactive or high-cost environment.

A new or different way of thinking and behaving — a culture change — is exactly what you need to accomplish. Tools, technology and well-defined work processes are certainly important, but applying technology alone in a reactive environment accomplishes very little. In fact, a study MIT conducted suggests that technology maturity without culture and business process maturity yields a negative return. Only when we combine technology with culture and business processes do we see significant positive returns.

Unfortunately, the Hillbilly RCM method doesn’t address the more fundamental issues of true RCM analysis. For example, it skips over failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), the most effective way to determine the optimum maintenance strategy including preventive and condition-monitoring routines to generate the data required to effectively prevent or predict failure. Many of the attempts to shortcut the FMEA process over the years focus on achieving the most value of the analysis with the least effort and, just as important to most plants and facilities, the least cost.

Traditional FMEA methodology requires developing an optimized failure mitigation strategy from scratch that considers every possible failure mode. It takes into account the effect these failure modes have on equipment performance, every possible failure mitigation strategy, and a financial risk analysis that compares mitigation cost to the cost of failure.

Another successful methodology is Simplified Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (SFMEA). It examines existing preventive and condition-monitoring routines to determine if they’re deployed effectively to prevent or identify a failure mode. Developing an appropriate maintenance strategy for your equipment requires a rigorous analysis. If a preventive or condition-monitoring routine isn’t aimed directly at eliminating or identifying a specific failure mode, the effort and cost of performing the tasks are a waste of time, money and effort.

In our experience with thousands of reliability programs in multiple industries, we find that many are merely “feel good” routines. They’re simply replacement or rebuild routines recommended by vendors in the business of selling parts or benefiting from failures. These activities are either worthless or produce more problems than they solve, as only 10% to 12% of failures are age-related.

The staff at Allied Reliability, Inc. shared some interesting statistics resulting from an analysis of hundreds of reliability programs that rely heavily on traditional time-based preventive maintenance routines. Allied discovered:

  • Approximately 30% of preventive maintenance activities could be eliminated and have no effect on equipment reliability.
  • Another 30% could be replaced with condition monitoring.
  • The next 30% are useful, but could be drastically improved by using the SFMEA process.
  • The remaining 10% can remain intact as-is.

If domestic manufacturers could capture even a small portion of the total dollars wasted on ineffective preventive maintenance programs, it would eliminate the national debt in short order.

Embrace the principles of RCM. Start with four simple Hillbilly questions. Implement your answers on a daily basis in a practical manner. You’ll begin to reap the rewards of reduced failures and, therefore, costs. And, you’ll increase your facility’s reliability.

Tom Dabbs, CMRP, is Vice President of Maintenance Strategies at Life Cycle Engineering, Charleston, S.C. Contact him at Tomd@LCE.com and (843) 744-7110.

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