Everything You Didn’t Know That You Didn’t Know About the RCM Process

Asset reliability

Did you know that when you take a commercial flight, the airplane you are riding on is probably old enough to be in high school? The average commercial airplane is about 14 years old. In fact, a couple airplanes that are in the Delta/Northwest fleet were actually built in the 1960s!

The point of this article is not to shake your faith in the commercial airplanes that fly us all over the world. In fact, we want your faith in the commercial airline industry to grow through reading this. If every car on the road was as old the airplanes in the sky, there would be far more breakdowns sitting on the side of the road waiting for a tow every day. Yet, airplane failures are very few and far between. How is that possible?

Well girls and boys, this is where we would like to introduce the RCM process to you. The RCM process is short for “Reliability Centered Maintenance” and is the science of the most cost effective way to get the longest lifespan out of an asset.

A Brief History of How the RCM Process Came to Be
Basically, in the 1960s, the people who ran the commercial airlines looked at how much each of their airplanes cost and how much money and effort they poured into asset reliability and asset integrity. In order to keep the planes safe and reliable, while reducing costs, they formed a team of incredibly intelligent people to make some guidelines on how and when to sink money into maintenance and when to replace. Thus created the RCM process. The RCM design that the airline industry created was so effective that eventually it was used as the golden rule for asset integrity support in other industries.

What Exactly is the RCM Process

The RCM process is basically based on this framework:

  1. Functionality-focused. RCM focuses on preserving the longevity of the asset, as long as it is cost-effective. The more redundant a system is, the more reliable the functionality is. However, redundancy also increases operations costs. RCM finds the balance of cost and reliability.

  2. System-focused. RCM looks at the big picture of how all of the assets work together to find the most efficient maintenance framework, rather than a single asset in the system.
  3. Design-focused. The purpose of RCM is to increase the longevity of the asset, not overcome its design limitations. However, RCM can identify design changes that would improve an asset; the “Age Exploration” piece of RCM ensures there is a circle-back to make improvements on the next model.

  4. Safety-focused. When you are dealing with assets that impact the lives of hundreds of people at a time (such as airplanes), there is no cost that is too much to ensure safety. RCM puts safety first, and then considers cost-effectiveness.
  5. Failure-focused. The idea behind RCM is that every drop of functionality is squeezed out of the asset before it is retired (this principle is known as “Run to Failure”), however, “failure” means that the asset doesn’t perform satisfactorily, not actual failure. An asset could be capable of performing its function for a long time, but when it is no longer cost effective to invest in maintenance, it reaches the “Failure” part of its life-cycle.

  6. Process-focused. Although RCM was created for the airlines, the process easily translates into other industries because it is process-driven. When determining the maintenance to invest in an asset, reliability management firms follow a established logic tree that evaluates the safety and critical role that the asset plays in operations (or the system).

  7. Task-focused. The idea of effective maintenance planning is only useful if it converts into organized actions that actually keep the asset running smoothly and safely. RCM involves creating a series of actionalble tasks that are both applicable and effective at keeping the asset functioning. The tasks are either time-driven (planned maintenance), condition-driven (when the condition of the asset indicated it is needed), or inspection-driven (identifying issues before they lead to breakdowns).

In Conclusion…
The RCM process keeps flights affordable by keeping maintenance costs and airplane replacements to a minimum. The same concept easily translates into every other industry.

Do you have questions about RCM? Please share them in the comment section below.

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