Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)

Reliability Centered Maintenance Explained & How to Successfully Perform RCM

Answered November 05 2019

Each maintenance strategy has its merits, and while some are technically more cost-efficient than others, it’s often best not to stick with one single strategy. The process of choosing the best strategy for each piece of equipment is the core of reliability-centered maintenance.

What is reliability-centered maintenance (RCM)?

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) is a maintenance strategy that involves using the most optimal methods to keep equipment running. It’s essentially a thorough analysis of what’s needed to help company assets function reliably while keeping costs down. That analysis involves assessing the causes of equipment failures, what parts are needed, the criticality of each asset, and other factors.

Over 80% of equipment failures occur at random, making time-based strategies suboptimal, if not completely useless.

78% of companies who use CMMS software to manage assets see improvements in equipment life, making their facilities more reliable.

RCM vs. preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance and reliability-centered maintenance are often mistaken for being the same thing. While preventive maintenance has a number of advantages including increased equipment life, reduced energy usage, and fewer unexpected failures, it can run up maintenance costs when applied to every asset in a facility. Because PM isn’t selective like RCM, it can be very inefficient.

Reliability centered maintenance reduces inefficiencies by assigning unique maintenance activities to individual assets. Each asset is “put under the microscope” and is carefully considered before a type of maintenance is assigned. In some cases, this may happen to be preventive maintenance.

Where RCM fits in with predictive & preventive maintenance

While RCM isn’t the same as preventive or predictive maintenance, RCM will likely make use of PM and PdM strategies. Remember that RCM is the process of analyzing the reasons behind equipment failure and what strategies would work best to solve them. Often, the best solution for a given type of equipment failure involves preventive or predictive maintenance tasks—the point of RCM is to discover that fact and put it into action.

It’s worth noting that PM or PdM aren’t always called for, such as if the asset is low-risk, or if it’s too old for regular monitoring and inspections to be cost-efficient. In those cases, other maintenance strategies might be a better fit.

How poor maintenance reliability impacts businesses

Ultimately, the goal of RCM is to make sure maintenance tasks are both efficient and effective. The goal is to keep costs down, while maintaining equipment reliability. If maintenance is handled poorly, the following issues may arise:

Increased downtime

The less reliable your machines are, the more  downtime you’re likely to have. This may result from more frequent breakdowns, but it can also involve increased time spent on repairs and routine tasks. If maintenance planning is handled poorly, regularly scheduled tasks may cause more downtime than necessary.

Lost profits

Companies that can’t operate at maximum capacity lose profits due to decreased productivity. The more often equipment breaks down, the lower equipment availability will be, and that ultimately diminishes revenue. In addition, profits may also be lost on increased maintenance costs as expensive repairs become more common and PMs become less efficient.

Unsafe work environments

Machinery that doesn’t work at peak performance not only costs more to keep running, but it can also pose a safety hazard. Sudden faults or failures in heavy equipment can threaten the safety of employees working nearby. In addition, if maintenance isn’t planned properly, it can make repairs or PM tasks more dangerous to perform.

Quickly depreciated assets

Poorly maintained equipment tends to wear out sooner, diminishing its overall life expectancy. This leads to rapid depreciation and increased costs since assets have to be replaced more frequently.

Slow production times

Poor reliability means lower production. Equipment fails more frequently, maintenance tasks take longer, and while machines might technically function, they may not operate at maximum capacity.

Evaluation criteria for RCM

Reliability centered maintenance involves a thorough analysis of each asset’s failure modes, criticality, impact, and so forth. This analysis often involves answering important questions about the equipment’s purpose, performance requirements, and impact on the system as a whole.

Tip: Useful criteria for RCM analysis can be found in  SAE’s Evaluation Criteria for Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) Processes.

9 common RCM questions to ask

Answering the following questions should give you a clear idea of what types of maintenance you should implement for each of your assets.

  1. What is the item’s purpose (main action) and performance standards?
  2. What are the ways it can fail to perform its main action?
  3. What events cause each failure?
  4. What events result from each failure?
  5. How does each failure impact the system as a whole?
  6. What is the probability of each failure occurring?
  7. What task can be performed proactively to prevent, or lessen the impact of, the failure?
  8. How would the cost of preventive actions impact profitability?
  9. What actions must be taken if a preventive task can’t be found?

The 6 steps in performing RCM

Performing RCM is a multi-step process, and not one that you want to rush. The following steps will help you implement reliability centered maintenance in your facility.

1. Valuable machinery/equipment is identified

First, pinpoint which pieces of equipment are most important to maintain. This may involve performing  criticality analysis on each asset to compare the seriousness of equipment failure with that failure’s frequency. From there, assets can be prioritized based on risk and overall impact on your processes.

2. Reasons for system failure are identified

Once you’ve prioritized assets, outline the ways each asset might fail along with the causes of each failure. Looking at past data or performing  root cause analysis (RCA) can help you pin down the typical failure modes for each piece of equipment.

Tip: Using a  CMMS system can help you with this step by automatically logging work orders, reports, and asset data for each piece of equipment at your facility.

3. Those failure components are recorded

Once you’ve pinpointed each type of failure and its root causes, record them for planning purposes. Having them written down or logged into a database—perhaps as notes attached to the asset in your CMMS—will help you when conducting the next step.

4. Engineers/maintenance teams work to find an optimal solution

Once you know how each piece of equipment can fail, it’s time to start working on the best solution for each cause of failure. This involves selecting the right type of maintenance for each asset. Some examples of maintenance strategies include:

The type of maintenance and the way it should be conducted are hashed out, and a plan is created for each asset.

5. Optimal solution is put in place

Once the best solution for each asset is selected, it’s time to put it into action.  Maintenance planners outline the timeframes, required equipment (such as sensors), MRO inventory stock items, and other details for each asset’s maintenance plan. Once complete, the plan is put into effect.

Tip: When adopting new maintenance strategies, it’s often best to implement one asset at a time. That way, you can acclimate your team to new strategies without having to face a sudden shift in workplace culture or massive upfront costs.

6. Results are monitored over time for improvement

Over time, you should record and track the results of your RCM tasks. As you gather data on each asset’s performance and the impact of your maintenance plans, you’ll be able to make adjustments to improve your results and streamline future costs.


You can use reliability-centered maintenance to decrease maintenance costs while upholding compliance by applying the right types of maintenance to individual assets. Instead of applying a single maintenance type facility-wide, you can use RCM to make maintenance more targeted, individualized, and efficient. This is a maintenance strategy that requires significant resources upfront, but has the ability to turn your maintenance program into a world-class operation.

FAQs about reliability centered maintenance

1.  What are the best KPIs to track the performance of my maintenance team?

The best KPIs to track your maintenance program’s performance include PMP, response time for repairs and work orders, reactive maintenance tasks per machine, schedule compliance, maintenance backlog, and maintenance overtime.

2.  What are some tips for balancing maintenance workload at my facility?

When trying to balance your maintenance workload, it helps to take a close look at your scheduling practices, coordinate with staff members, and evaluate your staffing needs as a whole. Taking a holistic approach will help you make informed decisions about how you assign work.

3.  What are the major trends in facility management?

Current trends in facility management include IoT with smart technology, data-driven decisions, AI and automation, and increased mobility. New tech provides facility managers with tons of data, making FM more precise and agile than ever before.

4.  What are the biggest mistakes facility managers make?

The biggest mistakes facility managers often make include an unhealthy focus on budget, failing to listen to employees, and mismanaging inventory. These issues can be solved by focusing on efficient spending, team collaboration, and solid inventory management practices.

5.  Am I spending too much (or too little) on maintenance activities?

One of many ways to tell whether you’re spending the right amount on maintenance is to take your total maintenance costs and compare them to the cost to replace all assets in your plant (called Plant Replacement Value). Best-in-class estimates are about 2-3%.

6.  What are the 8 kinds of waste in Lean Six Sigma?

The eight kinds of waste set forth in Lean Six Sigma are outlined by the acronym DOWNTIME:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Non-utilized talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory
  • Motion
  • Extra processing

7.  What kind of career advancement is available to maintenance technicians?

Maintenance technicians can advance to maintenance supervisors. To increase their odds of promotion, they can earn certifications and take on apprenticeships to learn new skills.

8.  How can you reduce spending on preventive maintenance while sustaining equipment efficiency?

It’s possible to make preventive maintenance more efficient by optimizing schedules, tracking KPIs, monitoring equipment, training staff members, and implementing different maintenance strategies.

9.  What are some common mistakes made with preventive maintenance?

The most common mistakes made in PM programs revolve around planning, schedule compliance, and poor rollout of new methods/technologies, such as a CMMS.

10.  What are the most common failures in CMMS implementation?

The most common mistakes in CMMS implementation include poor planning, issues with rollout, inadequate training, and using garbage data.

11. How do I Determine the ROI of Reliability?



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