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Can you truly justify RCM?

What do you think about RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance)? Some people are very positive about RCM, and some are not at all positive. I would like to get your honest feedback, so after you have read this column, please contact me at the email address below.

I recently participated in a meeting to design a reliability and maintenance conference. Attendees included 27 people, mostly from plant maintenance and operations. On the first day we brainstormed potential topics for the conference. The subjects included planning and scheduling, preventive maintenance, root cause problem elimination, shut down management, spare parts management, etc. Then someone mentioned RCM.

After a period of silence, an operations manager asked cautiously if people still believed that RCM programs are effective. In his plant, teams had been trained in RCM and then did analyses that produced only obvious and already practiced preventive operations and maintenance tasks. Several other attendees had the same experience, and RCM was not included in the conference program.


To me, this was very encouraging. RCM has always reminded me of the parable "The Emperor's New Clothes," by Hans Christian Andersen. Sooner or later someone will ask for substantial results from RCM that have not been delivered. In many previous articles, I have written that there is a place for RCM in early equipment design and for very complex manufacturing systems. However, it has been proven many times that, for more than 95% of manufacturing systems, applying RCM cannot be justified because other known standards can be applied to most equipment components. For examples of these studies, go to store.

One part of RCM I have used for over 30 years is the theory of failure distribution and the time required for failures to develop into breakdowns. I never knew it was RCM--I always thought of it as plain common sense.

I recently evaluated results from an ongoing RCM initiative in a European plant. The organization was proud of its accomplishments. Teams of 8 to 11 employees worked an average of 600 person hours on each analysis. The initiative included a comprehensive report with recommended actions to improve reliability, including those in Figure 1. The actions are quite obvious. Also, the frequencies are wrong and time required to do the jobs is far too long. For example, vibration analysis on a critical bearing should be done every two weeks--not every three months. Also, it does not take more than five minutes, not four hours. The recommended oil testing frequency is realistic, but it does not take two hours. Gear couplings do not need to be disassembled once a year--they can be tested on the run with a stroboscope and an IR gun in less than five minutes. The thermograph test of the motor and starter should be done more frequently because the failure developing period is shorter than one year.

I visited the PM group and asked what had changed. They shook their heads and said that if they followed the recommendations of the RCM teams, "things would fall apart. We do all these things already, but we know the right frequencies."

I was very upset about what was going on at this mill. How could management fall into this trap and be blinded by the fancy reports and the often faulty recommendations? Instead of wasting money on RCM, this organization could have upgraded its existing systems, technologies, and skills. They could have involved and trained their operators to do basic equipment inspections.

RCM remains controversial and I would like to hear your comments. Email me at:, attn. Christer Idhammar.


Christer Idhammar is president and founder of IDCON INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. IDCON is a consulting company providing worldwide education, training and implementation of better operations and maintenance practices. For more information, go to:


Equipment Time
identification Skill Frequency Action required

353-001 Brine pump PdM/Va 3 months Vibration Analysis 4 Hrs
353-002 Brine Pump PdM/Va 3 months Vibration Analysis 4 Hrs
546-048 Gear Box PdM/OA 4 weeks Oil testing Wear 2 Hrs
 Particle Analysis
546-048 Gear Couplings Mech. 1 year Disassemble and 2X8 Hrs
 inspect for wear
546-048 Motor El. 1 year Insulation Test 1 Hour
546-048 Starter PdM/IR 1 year Thermograph test 2 Hours
 of starters

Figure 1: Recommendations from an RCM analysis.
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Author:Idhammar, Christer
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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