In the past, the best maintenance strategy for keeping assets running would require replacing parts following a strict time-based schedule. However, with the increasing popularity of reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), organizations now see that it is a better option for improving equipment reliability, reducing forced downtime, and increasing the time between one maintenance exercise and the next.
RCM and condition-based maintenance can deliver a more efficient solution than ever before. Monitoring assets to detect when failures are about to occur, and acting before they happen, is becoming the benchmark for maintenance.
Unfortunately, implementation appears to be a major challenge. According to a recent study, more than 60 percent of all RCM programs fail, and most of the other 40 percent end up performing superficially. Why are so many RCM projects failing and is there a way out? Following are five of the biggest obstacles to implementing RCM and how to overcome them.
Due to the obvious appeal of RCM, some organizations tend to jump into implementation hurriedly. This inadequate planning and rushed approach sabotages more RCM programs than any other single issue.
Typically, implementing RCM is a well-laid-out, seven-step process that starts with identifying the assets for analysis. However, there must be some groundwork and favorable conditions in place before arriving at this step.
For one thing, how much documentation is available for each asset? Has the organization identified assets that are mission-critical? Again, the plan must clearly address issues like unique work cultures, expected duration for implementation, due dates for every stage of implementation, potential obstacles, and so on.
After poor planning, inadequate resources also rank high among the reasons for the termination of many RCM projects. It's such a challenge that some companies have come to label RCM as a "resource-consuming monster." From their experience, RCM is complicated, time-consuming and expensive. This type of problem usually occurs when companies expect quick results or have too many assets on the plan.
RCM is a process-improvement methodology, and like other such tools, it requires some commitment upfront to see the process through to its conclusion. It can take up to one year or more of consistent follow-through to begin seeing results, especially when it comes to recovering the costs of implementation. An enterprise that is only concerned with immediate reduction in maintenance costs may find the commitment overwhelming and thus abandon the project.
A better approach would be to consider the improvements in maintenance rather than focusing on the initial expense. In this case, you can prove the program is gradually working by comparing trends (e.g., abnormal machine vibrations, downtime frequencies, etc.) before and after RCM. When this type of comparison is done right, some quick gains should be evident and help indicate that maintenance costs will begin dropping over time.
In addition, not all equipment should be selected for RCM analysis, just those assets that are critical to operations. The best candidates are those whose failure will lead to safety risks, have a major impact on operations and directly affect the bottom line.
Despite the many benefits of RCM, expecting it to work like a "silver bullet" that will fix all maintenance problems in an organization is unrealistic. RCM is not a stand-alone solution for deeper system problems like a heavy reliance on reactive maintenance, excessive downtime, a poor documentation culture, and an inefficient workforce. In fact, bringing RCM into such a setting may only complicate the problems already existing because this tool comes with its own set of demands and requirements. Imagine, for instance, trying to collect and review condition monitoring results when there is a glaring documentation problem that has not been addressed. If organizations have too many in-house obstacles, it may be best to employ the services of an experienced RCM professional to prepare and guide them through the process.
Managing the transition from a traditional time-based maintenance system to a condition-based one is a complete culture change that requires strong and confident leadership from within the organization. Not specifying a point person for managing the various steps of the transition is another common obstacle to success. Leaving this responsibility to a large group of people will not work. Instead, there must be someone who will be held accountable for tracking implementation progress, monitoring the timeline and assessing any feedback that can improve the process.
An RCM project is only as effective as those who will implement it. It's expected that there could be some initial resistance from the workforce to this new way of doing things. This is especially the case where the norm has been heavy dependence on reactive maintenance. On the other hand, the problem may be a case of management trying to use inexperienced employees for RCM implementation and expecting stellar results within a short time.
To manage these issues, it's essential to assess the readiness of personnel and be realistic about what to expect and how soon to expect it. Rather than rushing into implementation, focus more on getting staff buy-in and providing adequate training early in the process.
Ultimately, any organization that sets aside the resources for implementing RCM is looking to develop a proactive maintenance schedule for every critical asset it owns. However, before launching an RCM program, it is vital to ensure the exercise will be sustainable and that the process is not frustrated by any of the five obstacles mentioned above.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO at Limble, a mobile CMMS software designed to take the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their operations.