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


Eccentric Gears

Typical Symptoms: 1x radial (in Vertical and Horizontal directions)

Like eccentric pulleys, Eccentric gears generate strong 1x radial components, especially in the direction parallel to the gear.

They would also generate sidebands of the running speed of the eccentric gear around the GMF (gear mesh frequency). However, harmonics of GMF may also be generated (depends on the severity of the problem). Natural frequency might also be excited.

Time waveform: The waveform will have combination of 1x running speed of input and output shafts plus strong gear mesh vibration modulated by the running speed of the shaft having the eccentric gear.

Phase: Not applicable.

Improving Inherent Reliability of a System

The inherent reliability of a system is determined by the system’s design. It means that the design of the system would determine the upper limit of reliability the system exhibits during operation. Suppose, for example, a system, with the best possible maintenance is able to achieve availability of say 90% we can say that this is the upper limit of the system’s capability that is determined by its design. A good “preventive maintenance” plan can never improve a systems inherent reliability. In other words, preventive maintenance, contrary to what many believe, cannot make a system “better”. It may, at best, only help realise the inherent reliability as determined by the physical design.

Hence the suggested process to “improve” the inherent reliability of a system, may be framed as follows: –

Understand the dynamics through tools like vibration analysis
Monitor changes and rate of change
Eliminate unnecessary maintenance tasks
Change the design of the system interactions to eliminate inherent “imperfections” and revise the maintenance plan.

In most cases, this would be the general approach.

Until we can effectively undertake some design changes (Design Out Maintenance – DOM) or take measures to eliminate inappropriate maintenance actions (Review of Equipment Maintenance – REM) it would not be possible to go beyond inherent reliability of an equipment, specially if it is undesirable in the business context. For example, a vertical pump of a power plant kept failing very frequently or had had to be stopped quite often when vibration shot beyond the trip limits. This behaviour of the system is determined by the design of the system. Unless the design (specifically the interactions between components) is corrected for improvement; the system (vertical pump) would continue to behave in that manner for all times. Likewise if the MTBF of a machine is say 90 days, it would not be possible to considerably improve the MTBF way beyond 90 days unless some undesirable interactions (which I call system “imperfections”) are corrected for improvement and a proper review of existing maintenance system is carried out. 

Such “imperfections” can be both physical and non-physical. Design features, most importantly, the interactions between physical/non-physical components are arguably the most important characteristic of a system that determine a system’s inherent reliability.

In addition, there are many physical design features that influence reliability like redundancy, component selection and the overall integration of various pieces of the system.

In the context of RCM, design extends far beyond the physical makeup of the system. There are a number of non-physical design features that can affect, sometimes profoundly, the inherent reliability of a system. Among these are operating procedures, errors in manufacturing, training and technical documentation. When a proper RCM analysis is conducted on a system or sub-system, there’s a good chance that the resulting maintenance actions will enable the system to achieve its inherent reliability as determined by its physical design features. However, if the inherent reliability is below user’s expectation or need then the design features are to be improved to achieve the desired level of inherent reliability.

Moreover, if unwarranted maintenance tasks are eliminated as it will greatly reduce the risk of suffering the Waddington Effect. There is also a good chance that if operating procedures, training, technical documentation and so forth are found to negatively impact inherent reliability, these issues will be identified and corrected. As evidenced by the Waddington Effect. In virtually every case, less than optimal, non-physical design features almost always have a negative impact on inherent reliability. Therefore, in RCM analysis a through review of existing maintenance plan (REM) along with DOM is necessary to improve inherent reliability of a system.

In brief, right amount of Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) tasks, Scheduled Inspections (which is a part of CBM activity) REM and DOM would not only help us realise the inherent reliability as determined by the physical design but also improve it, if the original inherent reliability is below business expectation.


Dibyendu De

Eccentric rotor

Symptom: Pole pass sidebands around 1x N (N=running speed) and 2xLf (Lf = line frequency)

Eccentric rotors will produce a rotating variable air gap between the rotor and the stator which induces a pulsating source of vibration. We would see 2xLf. However, there will also be pole pass sidebands around the 2xLv and 1xN peaks. 1xN is expected to be high.

Note: Pole pass frequency is the slip frequency times the number of poles. The slip frequency is the difference (in terms of frequency) between the actual RPM and the synchronous speed.

Presence of pole pass sidebands around 1N and 2Lf is the key indicator of this fault. One needs sufficient resolution to see those sidebands. Else we would either miss them altogether or mistake them for resonance (a broadening of the base of the peak).

Waveform: Time waveform that covers many seconds of time will reveal the pole pass frequency modulation. Due to lack of impacting the waveform will smooth and will be a combination of the 1N and 2Lf frequencies of vibration.

Phase: Not applicable for this fault unless eccentric forces are high in magnitude.


Dibyendu De