Reliability Insights

What is Reliability Centered Maintenance?

Have you ever wondered how efficient can we get with our preventive maintenance? Is there some sort of maximum efficiency that only the Gods of maintenance know of?   


But for mortals like us, there is what I call, a gold standard, that we can strive for. It’s called Reliability Centered Maintenance, or RCM for short. As maintenance professionals, you’ve probably seen it in action in your organisation, or in some other plant. And you’ve probably heard of the praises that RCM gets. But what is it really about? 

What is RCM? 

There are plenty of definitions out there, including many poor ones. To save us time, I’ve taken the definition from various reputable sources such as Weibull, Aladon, John Moubray, and Anthony ‘Mac’ Smith. And mixing in my personal experience with RCM, I’ve summarised what RCM is: 

RCM is NOT a tool or a piece of software.  

It is an internationally defined, structured decision-making process.  

We use it to define or optimize our PM program, focusing on preventing system failures rather than preserving equipment.  

When done well, RCM will deliver highly effective and efficient preventive maintenance programs. 

Like I said, it is the gold standard when it comes to optimizing our PM programs. When it comes to developing & improving PM programs, RCM is the most robust, most standardised process that is proven to yield exceptional results when done well. However, RCM does have a few drawbacks. 

Drawbacks of RCM 

A successful implementation of RCM requires two things: 

  1. Deep knowledge and experience of both the RCM process, as well as the plant and equipment that is being analyzed 
  1. Significant resources and effort to yield results. 

Because of this, you need to be wise about when, where, and how you deploy RCM. You don’t want to implement it everywhere in your organisation. If you don’t pick the right situation, and you deploy it when it is not the most appropriate, you’ll spend so much money without getting the results you’re looking for. Many organisations don’t realise this and try to implement RCM everywhere. And when they fail, or see that RCM is too expensive, that’s when they say things like— 

“Enough of this RCM nonsense, it’s too expensive” 

And that brings me to another definition of RCM that often maintenance practitioners have in their minds: 

Resource Consuming Monster. 

And as funny as it may seem, it’s actually quite tragic. Because RCM is one of the most valuable and most powerful tools we have in our arsenal when it comes to optimizing our preventive maintenance programs. 

RCM’s Bad Reputation 

RCM is so badly understood, so badly implemented in so many places around the world, that it has gotten a bad reputation. And that poor reputation is the result of inexperienced people. Whether they are staff, contractors, or expensive consultants… they lead RCM projects, whilst they—  

1. don’t fully understand the RCM process,  

2. do not have the resources to successfully implement it,  

3. they don’t have the ability to effectively lead the implementation.  

And the result is poorly executed projects where a lot of time and money has been spent for relatively very little gains. (No wonder many people end up giving it a bad name) But when executed by a team of experienced and knowledgeable professionals, RCM will give you the best possible output. 

International Standards: SAE Standard, JA1011 

To ensure that our RCM is actually RCM, we have to adhere to a standard. Yes, our gold standard has a standard to adhere to as well. And the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) have developed two widely accepted international standards to define what RCM is and how to apply it.  

  1. The SAE standard. JA1011 titled Evaluation Criteria for Reliability Centered Maintenance Processes – outlines, what criteria process must meet before it can be deemed an RCM process  
  1. And SAE standard, JA1012 titled, A Guide to The Reliability Centered Maintenance Standard – provides a lot more background and explanation to help you understand the first standard.  

Let’s look at the SAE standard, JA1011. 

The JA1011 outlines the requirements a process must adhere to if it’s allowed to call itself an RCM process. And really, it all boils down to answering seven questions. 

The Seven Questions 

The most fundamental requirement of any RCM process is that it must adequately and completely answer the following seven questions: 

  1. What are the functions and associated design performance standards for the asset in its current operating context? 
  1. In what way can the asset fail to fulfill its functions?  
  1. What causes each possible functional failure?  
  1. What happens when each function of failure occurs.  
  1. In what way does each failure matter? 
  1. What should we do to predict or prevent each failure? 
  1. What should we do if a suitable proactive task cannot be found? 

These seven questions form the backbone of your RCM methodology. And they’re relatively straightforward and easy to understand. But, when you start looking at what is required around these seven questions, you’ll see that the standard JA1011 does actually add in a lot of additional requirements that you need to meet to do an RCM analysis. Now, those additional requirements are too detailed to discuss in one blogpost. So, I summarised it all in this chart. 

I discuss each point in greater detail inside my course. But for now, it’s enough that you understand the high-level view of what an RCM process is. 


If you really need to use RCM, then here are a few recommendations to get you started on the right track. 

  1. RCM should only be used for a small number of your equipment— the most troublesome, most expensive, or most impactful. 
  1. Make sure the person leading the implementation is really an expert at RCM. Ideally, you go find a proficient RCM facilitator to help you.  If you can’t afford that, then don’t bother doing it yourself. Because you’re going to waste time and you won’t get the results you’re looking for. You’re better off trying different approaches. 
  1. Be careful when looking for people to help you with RCM. There are many service providers that say “Yeah we can do RCM”, but really they can’t. They lack the experience, expertise, knowledge.  

By knowing about RCM yourself, you’ll know what kind of questions to ask when looking for your RCM facilitator. Yes, RCM is the gold standard. But it does carry a steep price. So make sure that you are well informed of what it entails before investing huge amounts of resources in it. 


How do you implement RCM in your organization?

Let us know in the comments.

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