A Movement towards RCM

29th December 2017, Kolkata

On 29th December 1978, F. Stanley Nowlan, Howard F. Heap, in their seminal work Reliability Centered Maintenance, revealed the fallacy of the two basic principles adopted by traditional PM (Preventive Maintenance) programs – a concept that started from World War II:

  •  A strong correlation exists between equipment age and failure rate. Older the equipment higher must be the failure rate.
  •  Individual component and equipment probability of failure can be determined statistically, and therefore components can be replaced or refurbished prior to failure.

However, the first person to reveal the fallacy was Waddington who conducted his research during World War II on British fighter planes. He found that failure rate of fighter planes always increased immediately upon time-based preventive maintenance, which for the fighter planes was scheduled after every 60 hours of operation or flying time.

By the 1980s, alternatives to traditional Preventive Maintenance (PM) programs began to migrate to the maintenance arena. While computer power first supported interval-based maintenance by specifying failure probabilities, continued advances in the 1990s began to change maintenance practices yet again. The development of affordable microprocessors and increased computer literacy in the workforce made it possible to improve upon interval-based maintenance techniques by distinguishing other equipment failure characteristics like a pattern of randomness exhibited by most failures. These included the precursors of failure, quantified equipment condition, and improved repair scheduling.

The emergence of new maintenance techniques called Condition Monitoring (CdM) or Condition-based Maintenance (CBM) supported the findings of Waddington, Nowlan and Heap.

Subsequently, industry emphasis on CBM increased, and the reliance upon PM decreased. However, CBM should not replace all time-based maintenance. Time-based or interval based maintenance is still appropriate for those failure cases, exhibiting a distinct time-based pattern (generally dominated by wear phenomena) where an abrasive, erosive, or corrosive wear takes place; or when material properties change due to fatigue, embrittlement, or similar processes. In short, PM (Time based or interval based maintenance) is still applicable when a clear correlation between age and functional reliability exists.

While many industrial organizations were expanding PM efforts to nearly all other assets, the airline industry, led by the efforts of Nowlan and Heap, took a different approach and developed a maintenance process based on system functions, the consequence of failure, and failure modes. Their work led to the development of Reliability-Centered Maintenance, first published on 29th December 1978 and sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs, and Logistics). Additional independent studies confirmed their findings.

In 1982 the United States Navy expanded the scope of RCM beyond aircraft and addressed more down-to-earth equipment. These studies noted a difference existed between the perceived and intrinsic design life for the majority of equipment and components. For example, the intrinsic design life of anti-friction bearings is taken to be five years or two years. But as perceived in industries life of anti-friction bearings usually exhibit randomness over a large range. In most cases, bearings exhibit a life which either greatly exceeded the perceived or stated design life or fall short of the stated design life. Clearly in such cases, doing time directed interval-based preventive maintenance is neither effective (initiating unnecessarily forced outage) nor cost-effective.

The process of determining the difference between perceived and intrinsic design life is known as Age Exploration (AE). AE was used by the U.S. Submarine Force in the early 1970s to extend the time between periodic overhauls and to replace time-based tasks with condition-based tasks. The initial program was limited to Fleet Ballistic Missile submarines. The use of AE was expanded continually until it included all submarines, aircraft carriers, other major combatants, and ships of the Military Sealift Command. The Navy stated the requirements of RCM and Condition-based Monitoring as part of the design specifications.

Continual development of relatively affordable test equipment and computerized maintenance management software (CMMS like MIMIC developed by WM Engineering of the University of Manchester) during the1990s till date has made it possible to:

  •  Determine the actual condition of equipment without relying on traditional techniques which base the probability of failure on age and appearance instead of the actual condition of an equipment or item.
  •  Track and analyze equipment history as a means of determining failure patterns and life-cycle cost.

    RCM has long been accepted by the aircraft industry, the spacecraft industry, the nuclear industry, and the Department of Defense (DoD), but is a relatively new way of approaching maintenance for the majority of facilities outside of these four areas. The benefits of an RCM approach far exceed those of any one type of maintenance program.

    Fortunately, RCM was applied in India for a few Indian manufacturing Industries from 1990 onwards with relatively great success. I am particularly happy to have been involved in development and application of RCM in Indian industries, which has continually evolved in terms of techniques and method of application to meet contextual industrial needs.

    I am also happy to report that RCM for industrial use has now reached a mature stage of its development, which can be replicated for any manufacturing industry.

    I am of the opinion that this maturity would provide the necessary stepping stone to develop Industry 4.0 and develop meaningful IOT applications for manufacturing industries.

    Wish RCM a very happy birthday!


    Dibyendu De