Any successful business owner knows that having good products or services means very little without also having efficiently running equipment needed to produce them. Consider the impact of an unanticipated equipment failure that can range from a minor inconvenience to a major catastrophe. There is no argument that equipment malfunctions always cause some degree of disruption to production cycles and overall business operations. They not only affect the general course of business but they can also impact a company’s bottom line, especially when a company’s equipment is not routinely maintained.
Reliability Centered Maintenance Solution
As companies’ products and services rely more and more heavily on sophisticated equipment, the need for optimum efficiency has never been more important than it is today. Since time is money, margins are tight and competition is great, unexpected equipment malfunctions need to be avoided as much as possible. This is where Reliability Centered Maintenance comes into play. Simply put, RCM is designed to make sure that a company’s equipment performs as it is intended to do at all times and at the same time, safeguard the safety of the equipment tested. In order to identify or monitor flaws in equipment performance, RCM employs a number of maintenance task formats such as preventive maintenance (scheduled routine maintenance), predictive maintenance (maintenance based on past equipment repair history) as well as nondestructive equipment inspections (inspecting, testing, or evaluating equipment materials, components or assemblies for flaws without destroying its serviceability). When successfully implemented, RCM makes it possible for businesses to increase their overall efficiency and cost effectiveness by reducing operations downtimes and disruptions to its operations. RCM also provides business owners critical insights into the level of risk associated with the company they are managing.
The Development of Reliability Centered Maintenance
Reliability Centered Maintenance had its origins in the aviation industry. This is not surprising given the numerous parts and components that comprise aviation equipment, their heavy use and the most important, the high risks and potentially catastrophic consequences associated with aviation equipment failure. Since that time, the minimum criteria set out for RCM methods have been also implemented by a wide range of companies that have physical assets as well as a concern for their management. These RCM criteria are outlined in technical standard SAE JA1011 — Evaluation Criteria for Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) Processes. (1998).
Reliability Centered Maintenance Criteria Explained
The minimum criteria specified in SAEJA1011 establish a basis for determining if the methods being used by a company are consistent with RCM processes. The criteria are set out in the following questions:
What is the item suppose to do and its associated performance standards?
This relates to identifying the system or equipment maintenance functions. In other words, this relates to how the equipment performs as well as its ability to meet company needs within the parameters of environmental safety and government standards. This information is available through manufacturer documentation that outlines specific functions of the equipment in question. It will also relate the scope of the functions as well as its limitations and methods of use as they pertain to any safety and environmental precautions. For example, an industrial weigh scale may have a weight limit that when exceeded may not be accurate or it may affect its functioning. The documentation will also outline the methods of use to ensure the most accurate measurements and safe use. This may involve methods of placing or handling items being weighed as well as the appropriate placement of the scale itself.
In what ways can equipment fail to provide the required functions?
Simply put, this means being able to identify failure modes in a piece of equipment. In other words, it involves determining the nature of the equipment failure. For example, does the failure in question relate to one part or is it a systemic failure? The key is to identify exactly how a piece of equipment has failed, how often and does it involve the same equipment part. In companies with several pieces of the same types of equipment, it is important to determine if a particular failure is occurring systematically on all pieces or if the failure is limited to only one piece.
What are the events that cause each failure?
Further to identifying equipment failure modes, identifying the failure causes is also vital. It’s important to determine why, when and how equipment failures most typically present themselves. This is particularly true of heavy use equipment that may be subject to operating fatigue. As well, it is critical to identify at what point a piece of equipment may be most likely to fail and as above, in what way. By way of example, a water pump may be required to work 24/7. At some point, this piece of equipment will experience fatigue from constant use. Another common type of equipment stress or leading to failure is exposure to harsh environmental conditions such as heat, cold, water etc. Apart from these, there is also human error (i.e., improper use) and inherent design or manufacturing flaws that often cause equipment failure. Finding out the cause of the failure is important to understanding how to prevent or minimize it.
What happens when each failure occurs?
In order to improve operations, it’s not enough to simply identify equipment failures. It’s also important to know their effects. To begin, the effects of equipment failures presents in different ways; not just as a complete inability to function. For example, a failing piece of equipment may present as a decrease in its speed of operation or reduced quality of products. Ultimately, all forms of equipment failure impact productivity, operations and capital costs. They also lead to unplanned disruptions in production and high costs of repairs that may otherwise be avoided.
In what way does each failure matter?
This refers to identifying the consequences of failures. Apart from the financial and logistic consequences of equipment failure, the risks to safety for its operators as well as its environmental impact need to be considered. It also refers to how a failure impacts the integrity and condition of the piece of equipment as a whole. Maintenance technicians need to be aware of the potential risks associated with a “band aid” fix without careful consideration to the overall functioning of the equipment.
What systematic task can be performed proactively to prevent, or to diminish to a satisfactory degree, the consequence of the failure?
This is where preventive measures need to be considered. The challenge for maintenance staff is to determine what preventive measures can be put in place to prevent or lessen the possibility of equipment failure. By taking these steps, unanticipated work stoppages, reduced or impaired production and costly repairs can be avoided or minimized. Routine scheduled preventive maintenance can also extend the life cycle of equipment that would otherwise carry heavy capital costs when complete replacement is needed.
What must be done if a suitable preventive task cannot be found?
When there are times when routine maintenance can no longer preserve a piece of equipment, alternatives need to be considered. When this involves an early lifecycle stage failure, equipment modifications that fit the organization’s purposes should be contemplated. On the other hand, if it is found that an asset has reached the end of its lifecycle and it is no longer helpful or cost effective to continue with repairs or a design modification, then the focus should be shifted toward replacement options. In this instance, maintenance managers should explore new equipment that is best suited for the company’s production needs and schedule the retirement of the old equipment.
Implementing a Reliability Centered Maintenance program adds value to a wide range of companies. RCM makes it possible for business owners to maintain the integrity of their equipment and all their components, extend their assets’ lifespans, eliminate unplanned shutdowns, lessen safety and environmental risks and reduce overall maintenance costs. All things considered, RCM offers efficiency, safety and long term cost savings.
SAE JA1011 Evaluation Criteria for Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) Processes, Society of Automotive Engineers, 1998.