Podcast RCA 101 – When, how, and how often you should conduct root cause analysis

Podcast: RCA 101 – When, how, and how often you should conduct root cause analysis

June 6, 2024
In this episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, Shon Isenhour and Brian Hronchek from Eruditio explore the importance and function of root cause analysis.

Root cause analysis helps engineers analyze asset performance and identify the source of machine failure. But how many RCAs are enough for your maintenance program, and how can you use them to change behaviors instead of just fixing the assets? Shon Isenhour and Brian Hronchek of Eruditio join us for a discussion on how to optimize your time spent doing RCAs so they have maximum positive effect on your plant.

Below is an excerpt from the podcast:

PS: This podcast is a follow up to a previous series of podcasts done with Brian on FMEAs. We thought we would take on a new topic that's related to FMEAs – root cause analysis, or RCA. What I’d like to talk about today is, what is its primary function when it comes to building on a maintenance strategy, and then talk about some of the tricks of getting through it? Some of the pain points, some of the things that you have seen in the field where people either stumble when they're doing it or that they've learned over time, how to finesse those issues.

BH: Thanks Tom, and you remember we talked the last time about the purpose for some of these tools, right? Some of them are very similar, where we're measuring risk. But the question is, what are we measuring risk for? Why are we measuring risk, or why we're measuring loss? 

So remember criticality, it's that theoretical importance of an asset to the business. We're not necessarily focused so much on performance, we're focused on “what if.” What if something happens? And if that “what if” is bad enough, we're going to use a FMEA or FMECA to further evaluate that risk and come up with a good maintenance plan. But that maintenance plan won't be perfect, and we're going to have failure. 

So, at some point, we use root cause analysis to analyze the actual performance, to come back with a plan to improve the maintenance plan. Then we go back into the FMEA or we go back into our asset strategy and we add just what we found during the RCA and make it a permanent part of how we maintain the assets. So maybe that puts it in context or ties all the tools together.

PS: It does, it does. How often would you perform an RCA on a single asset? Is it an annual thing, or is as-needed?

SI: That's where I think it's a little different than the FMEA, where we may want to go in and update it on a reoccurring basis. We're typically going to use that RCA where we've experienced a failure. So where we've run into a downtime issue that meets certain triggers, or a loss of quality or a loss of throughput.

PS: When it comes to RCAs, an RCA will be useful on assets of a same asset class, but in different plants. So, you couldn't go to an RCA library exactly to pull down some of the results from one plant and compare it to another, or could you? 

SI: You actually can, there's a lot of times that I'll go back and look at RCAs that we've done in other facilities to think about what's possible, what might have happened. You do have to be kind of careful because if you take an RCA from one plant and you bring it to another, it's not in the same operating context. It may not even be experiencing the same kind of problem. So you don't want it to steer too far off to one side of the other. You really want to make sure that that you're using it to supplement, not to build.

BH: Yeah, I'd say that's probably one of our biggest misses in industry, is that we don't necessarily share. So to Shon's point, that doesn't mean that you have to adopt the solution that comes out of an RCA on a similar asset from a different plant. But if you don't take the time to review it, you could end up with the same failure in the future, having had the opportunity to fix it before it ever happened. So it's always great to share those results, share the information across like assets in other plants, that you at least have the opportunity to determine is this a risk for us or is it not? Should we adopt this or should we just leave it?

PS: Well, for those to whom RCAs are new or relatively new, Brian, you blocked out for me the functional elements of the RCA. Could you run through those real quick for us?

BH: Shon has a video about this on YouTube, but when you know you traditionally look at RCA, root cause analysis, and we start with the foundation, which is the Five Whys, it's the most basic tool you can ask: Why did that happen? Well, why did that happen? And you keep thinking why? And what you can do if you do that is you can lead yourself in circles and never get any deeper into solving the problem. 

But if you put some sort of structure to the purpose for asking that question, you can get deeper. So say there is an effect, a motor failed. Why? Well, there's a physical cause. There was a lack of grease. OK. Well, why? There was a human cause, because someone didn't grease it. And you ask why again? Well, Bob didn't grease it because there was no PM created for that, which is the systemic cause. And then you ask why again? Well, the reason we didn't create a PM is because leadership doesn't believe in proactive maintenance. So you get finally to the lowest, the deepest root, which is the latent cause or the leadership responsibility for why that did or didn't happen.

Asking “why” is to get as deep as you can into that structure, because the deeper you solve it, the more problems it solves. If I just grease that bearing, I prevent that bearing from failing next time. But if I go to leadership and train them on the importance of a lubrication program, I've fixed it for all of my assets.

SI: The only struggle is, it is typically harder to implement solutions in those systemic and latent levels, those lower levels, because they truly change people, and the people change side obviously becomes the harder part in a lot of cases.

PS: That makes sense, we heard some about that this morning from the keynote where he talked about the trick is getting engagement and buy in from these teams to solve the deeper problems. Would that be the number one tip to look at when it comes to doing RCAs, is to understand what the rollover effects would be, once you get deep down into the analysis?

SI: I think probably one of the first tips I would start with is doing the right amount of RCA. I think a lot of people hear about root cause analysis as a way to solve problems, and then they go back and they ask for a root cause on everything. 

The problem is it takes time, and that's probably the second issue. A lot of folks think that you can complete an RCA overnight and have it for the next morning's meeting. Um, you don't have the evidence, you don't have the data. All you're doing is jumping to conclusions and trying your best to support them so that you can make that statement in the morning meeting. And once you make that statement, no one cares anymore. They're not going to ask again. 

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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