Reliability centered maintenance (RCM)

Everything you need to know about reliability centered maintenance

Your RCM starter kit: Mastering the P-F curve

What is reliability centered maintenance (RCM)?

Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) is a corporate-level maintenance strategy that is implemented to optimize the maintenance program of a company or facility. The final result of an RCM program is the implementation of a specific maintenance strategy on each of the facility’s assets. The maintenance strategies are optimized so that the productivity of the plant is maintained using cost-effective maintenance techniques.

Teams implementing RCM use maintenance planning, asset condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and preventive maintenance to avoid costly equipment failure.

Where is reliability centered maintenance used?

Reliability centered maintenance began in the aviation industry where it still remains a prominent practice, and has become popular in other industries like:

  • Military equipment manufacturing
  • Nuclear power
  • Steel manufacturing
  • Aviation
  • Sanitation for food distribution
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing

RCM is always used where there are high consequences for failure. For example, a defect in a pharmaceutical drug can affect several thousands of people taking it-potentially causing harm, illness, or even death. This is why pharmaceutical manufacturers implement an RCM strategy.

There are four principles that are critical for a reliability centered maintenance program:

  1. The primary objective is to preserve system function
  2. Identify failure modes that can affect the system function
  3. Prioritize failure modes
  4. Select applicable and effective tasks to control the failure modes

Seven questions that need to be asked for reliability centered maintenance

An effective reliability centered maintenance implementation examines the facility as a series of functional systems, each of which has inputs and outputs contributing to the success of the facility. It is the reliability, rather than the functionality, of these systems that are considered. The SAE JA1011 has a set of minimum criteria before a maintenance strategy can be called RCM (Gulati). The seven questions that need to be asked for each asset are:

  1. What are the functions and desired performance standards of each asset?
  2. How can each asset fail to fulfill its functions?
  3. What are the failure modes for each functional failure?
  4. What causes each of the failure modes?
  5. What are the consequences of each failure?
  6. What can and/or should be done to predict or prevent each failure?
  7. What should be done if a suitable proactive task cannot be determined?

Find the answers to all 7 questions with this free FMEA template

Hit your targets with RCM

Reliability centered maintenance identifies the functions of the company that are most critical and then seeks to optimize its maintenance strategies to minimize system failures and ultimately increase equipment reliability and availability. The most critical assets are those that are likely to fail often or have large consequences of failure. With this maintenance strategy, possible failure modes and their consequences are identified; all while the function of the equipment is considered. Cost-effective maintenance techniques that minimize the possibility of failure can then be determined. The most effective techniques are then adopted to improve the reliability of the facility as a whole.

Advantages & disadvantages


Implementing RCM increases equipment availability and reduces maintenance and resource costs. Jardine and Tsang give an example of a utility company that reduced maintenance costs by up to 40%. Maintenance cost, injury risk, and potential failure are factors in the implementation of RCM for a facility.


RCM does not consider the total cost of owning and maintaining an asset. Additional costs of ownership, like those considered in evidence-based maintenance, are not taken into account, and are therefore not factored into the maintenance considerations.

How do you create a perfectly balanced maintenance strategy?

Find out

The RCM process: Seven steps to implement reliability centered maintenance

There are several different methods for implementing reliability centered maintenance that are summarized in the following seven steps.

Step 1: Selection of equipment for RCM analysis

The first step is to select the piece of equipment for reliability centered maintenance analysis. The equipment selected should be critical in terms of its effect on operations, its previous costs of repair, and previous costs of preventive maintenance.

Find the best equipment for RCM with this criticality analysis template

Step 2: Define the boundaries and function of the systems that contain the selected equipment

The equipment belongs to a system that performs a crucial function. The system can be large or small, but the function of the system, and its inputs and outputs, should be known. For example, the function of a conveyor belt system is to transport goods. Its inputs are the goods and mechanical energy powering the belt, while its outputs are the goods at the other end. In this case, the electric motor supplying the mechanical energy would be considered as part of a different system.

Step 3: Define the ways in which the system can fail (failure modes)

In step 3 the objective is to list all of the ways that the function of the system can fail. For example, the conveyor belt may fail by being unable to transport the goods from one end to the other, or perhaps it does not transport the goods quickly enough.

Step 4: Identify the root causes of the failure modes

With the help of operators, experienced technicians, RCM experts, and equipment experts, the root causes of each of the failure modes can be identified. Root causes for failure of the conveyor could include a lack of lubrication on the rollers, a failure of a bearing, or a loosened belt.

Use this template and stop spending hours doing a root cause analysis

Step 5: Assess the effects of failure

In this step, the effects of each failure mode are considered. Equipment failure may affect safety, operations, and other equipment. The criticality of each of these failure modes can also be considered.

There are various recommended techniques that are used to give this step a systematic approach. These include:

  1. Failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA)
  2. Failure, mode, effect and criticality analysis
  3. Hazard and operability studies (HAZOPS)
  4. Fault tree analysis (FTA)
  5. Risk-based inspection (RBI)

The most important failure modes will be determined at the conclusion of this systematic analysis. Ask yourself questions such as “Does this failure mode have safety implications?”, and “Does this failure mode result in a full or partial outage of operations?”. Your answer is the most important failure modes that should be prioritized for further analysis. Importantly, the failure modes that are retained include only those that have a real probability of occurring under realistic operating conditions.

Step 6: Select a maintenance tactic for each failure mode

At this step, the most appropriate maintenance tactic for each failure mode is determined. The maintenance tactic that is selected must be technically and economically feasible.

Condition-based maintenance is selected when it is technically and economically feasible to detect the onset of the failure mode.

Time or usage-based preventive maintenance is selected when it is technically and economically feasible to reduce the risk of failure using this method.

For failure modes that do not have satisfactory condition-based maintenance or preventive maintenance options, then a redesign of the system to eliminate or modify the failure mode should be considered.

Failure modes that were not identified as being critical in Step 6 may, at this stage, be identified as good candidates for a run-to-failure maintenance schedule.

Step 7: Implement and then regularly review the maintenance tactic selected

Importantly, the RCM methodology will only be useful if its maintenance recommendations are put into practice. When that has been done, it’s important that the recommendations are constantly reviewed and renewed as additional information is found.

The bottom line: the impact of reliability centered maintenance

Since the end product of a well-executed RCM analysis is that an appropriate maintenance strategy will be selected for each piece of equipment, the impact is an overall improvement of reliability. RCM aims to reduce costs, improve safety, and eliminate maintenance tasks that are not effective or appropriate for a given piece of machinery. Implementing RCM processes allows you to avoid a one-size-fits-all mindset that could waste valuable time and resources.

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