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Successful RCM Application – Lessons Learned

We will begin our discussion on RCM Lessons Learned by more fully developing the organizational factors that have an influence on beginning a World Class journey in maintenance. From there, we'll touch on what we feel is the proper composition of the RCM team, present some thoughts on how to effectively schedule your RCM activities, touch on the importance of training everyone and not just the RCM team, and finishing with what we feel are the key factors in the successful and not-so-successful RCM programs.

Organizational Factors

In the maintenance world, there is a continuing debate over organizational structure at both the corporate and the plant level that never seems to reach a satisfactory resolution. We refer here to a structure where maintenance and production are separate and equal organizations versus a structure where maintenance reports to production. We have been involved with clients in both camps, and have even worked with clients who have switched from one to the other in midstream of a successful RCM program.

Here is our view on this issue. We see two important factors that should influence the choice:

a. Externally, meeting customer requirements (delivery, quality, cost).

b. Internally, achieving team play and efficient use of resources.

We believe that this can best be achieved when maintenance and production are peers - i.e., separate organizations. When maintenance reports to production, team play tends to take a back seat to production's authoritative approach. More bluntly, production loses sight of the vital role that maintenance plays in its success; egos and turf battles tend to replace team play. And from an RCM point of view, initiating and implementing an RCM program is easier to accomplish when the two organizations are separate since the decision chain is shorter, straightforward, and more willing to undertake innovations that make the job more efficient. Ultimately, reduction in team play and efficiency will detrimentally impact one or more of the parameters that affect customer satisfaction.

The Decision Factor

In the corporate structure, our interests usually reside with the Vice President of Maintenance, and also possibly a key technical director who oversees process improvement. And even though the organizations are separate, it is prudent to include the Production Vice President in some of the "Selling" discussions because the RCM process ultimately requires the cooperation of Production's equipment operators in optimizing the PM tasks. The important thing is to understand just who the essential decision-makers may be; failure to include all of the right people in the selling process could doom your efforts before you even reach first base.

In the plant-level structure, our interest deal with the plant General Manager as well as the superintendents of operations, maintenance, and technical support. Of course, even to get the plant's attention, we might have first required a positive endorsement from corporate management. Without this endorsement, we may get nothing more than a polite hearing from plant personnel, if that. Notice also, that when dealing with the plant, operations and technical support will play a role that could be just as important as the maintenance role in initiating and achieving a successful RCM program. If the plant manager happens to be a "power center" on the organization chart, it could be that your sales job begins and ends there. We have seen such cases, but they are infrequent. A good plant manager, however, can be a very strong ally for your cause if he introduces and endorses your idea at the corporate level. In either event, it may sometimes be prudent to start at the plant level although the real decision authority probably resides at the corporate level.

The Financial Factor

Funding for new initiatives like an RCM program either comes from a corporate budget, or at the very least may require a corporate-level approval of develop- ment expenditures that are resident in a plant budget. You may also find that everyone is apparently positive about the introduction of RCM, but no one is willing to pay for it. We have all too often heard responses to the effect that "we can't afford it". The job then becomes one of convincing the decision-makers that they "can't afford not to have it". How is this done?

There are several parameters that influence a credible answer to this question, but the answer in a nutshell is ROI - Return On Investment. What will it cost, and what will e the payback? Let's examine the ROI question more closely.

There is a need to focus our PM resources (costs) on decreasing the CM incidents (costs) and increasing output (profit) by reducing forced outages (i.e., downtime). This latter factor is by far the big swinger in this financial picture. A brief downtime analysis, based on a very conservative estimate, will place ROI quickly into perspective. We find that all of our clients measure a one-day loss of output in the $100,000 per day range and up - a nuclear plant, for example, must purchase about $800,000 of replacement electricity when it goes unexpectedly off-line for one day. We suggest that a saving of just one day of downtime essentially represents the breakeven point for implementing a comprehensive RCM-based PM program. More realistically, our clients have measured the following benefits (ROI):

  • Downtime reductions of 40 percent and up.
  • CM cost reductions of 30-50 percent.
  • Items of Interest (IOI) paybacks of $100,000 and up.
  • All of these benefits are annual paybacks. If you agree with these values (or if you wish, only one-half of these values), how can you afford not to implement an RCM program!?

The Buy-In Factor

Buy-in is the process whereby an individual or a group, responsible for carrying out some new procedures or actions, has been a party to the development and planning for those actions, and has agreed that this new modus operandi is good for all concerned, and therefore will support its use. When buy-in is successfully accomplished, the people involved have usually made a direct or supporting contribution to the action plan and, implicitly, have accepted the plan as well as assumed some level of ownership in the plan. With RCM, this process occurs almost entirely at the plant level of the organization. Without the essential ingredients of acceptance and ownership it is highly improbable that a plant staff will feel motivated and compelled to implement anything - and that especially includes the recommended PM tasks from an RCM program.

Achieving an appropriate level of buy-in to an RCM program is dependent upon several factors that deal with how the plant staff is integrated into the RCM systems analysis process and the expected benefits to be realized. First of all, there must be a clear and visible endorsement for the RCM program from top management - usually at the Maintenance Vice Presidential level. However, do not be lulled into believing that the sales and education job starts there; it does not! If you success in obtaining top management endorsement, your job has really just begun because you now must do the same job, only better, with the plant staff. The approach to buy-in from the plant staff is multifaceted, and requires not only training seminars and one-on-one tutorials but, more importantly, the involvement of experienced and respected craft personnel in the systems analysis process who can explain the methodology and benefits to their peers, and motivate a broad base of acceptance.

For sustained success, an RCM "champion" must emerge who can provide leadership to the buy-in process.


Resources Allocation

Where will the personnel to staff the Systems Analysis Process and Task Packing efforts come from? This has all too frequently been a monumental issue which has led to delays in initiating an approved RCM program - delays that in a few instances have literally spanned several years. The nature of the difficulty with this issue involves the unfortunate fact that the most logical place to staff and conduct the RCM program, the plant itself, usually does not have sufficient availability of experienced personnel to do the job. The issue of plant on-site staffing is, however, a realistic issue since most plants have had or continue to conduct staff reductions to make them "lean and mean". The plant, without doubt, is the logical first choice for the selection of team members when we consider both the role that buy-in plays in assuring a successful program and the absolute necessity to establish a knowledgeable equipment and operations "database" for the systems analysis process. There are four possible solutions to this issue, each of which has been employed at one time or another to overcome the staffing dilemma.

  1. Bite the bullet and assign appropriate on-site plant personnel to the RCM team by giving it top priority over other activities. The problem with this solution is that the top-priority assignment frequently goes by the wayside when there is any sort of hiccup in the plant availability status. Personnel are continually pulled away from their RCM team assignments "for just a few days to handle the crisis" with the net effect that a smooth and continuous RCM program is difficult to maintain.
  2. A variation on this theme is to authorize an increase in plant staffing specifically to assume the normal workload of the RCM team members. With this approach, some (one or two) key personnel from the existing staff might be placed in lead positions to help orient and integrate the new personnel into the plant community. The use of "retirees" has proven quite effective in performing this "fill-in" assignment since they are already familiar with the plant and its equipment.
  3. A third possibility is to staff and conduct the RCM program through the technical support group at corporate headquarters. This is often considered to be the best solution from a staffing point of view, but it also turns out to be a poor solution in terms of the required buy-in at the plant.
  4. A fourth approach is to bring in an outside contractor to execute the entire RCM program. This approach not only creates a major buy-in problem at the plant, but it may also create some technical deficiencies in the systems analysis process, since the contractor personnel will not have the in-depth systems and equipment knowledge required to thoroughly perform this process.

In summary, it is the authors' view that approach #1, augmented during the early program phases by an expect outside consultant, offers the highest probability of RCM program success. We would discourage any consideration of approach 3 or 4 - both of which have a high probably that a successful and comprehensive RCM program will never be achieved.

Team Makeup

The team should comprise no more than 4 to 5 people plus a facilitator. Larger numbers definitely fulfill the old adage that "too many cooks spoil the broth". At a minimum, the team must contain an operator, a mechanical technician (machinist), and an electrical/I&C technician. The well-balanced RCM team is mostly composed of craft personnel representing both operations and maintenance. The maintenance technicians know the equipment inside and out and how the equipment degrades and even fails, while the operators know how the plant systems interact and functionally behave. Historically, teams that do not have craft personnel as members have not achieved a successful RCM analysis.

Facilitator Role

The Facilitator needs to provide the necessary guidance to help in achieving Buy-In during the early stages of the project. In an extreme case, where a team member consistently takes a negative posture, it might be best to replace him or her.

A successful RCM project depends on the capture of the team's past operations and maintenance knowledge and experience into the structured format used in the RCM and ECM process. However, the Facilitator must be on guard to assure that this experience does not dominate the process to the extent that few, if any, "new" ideas are introduced. This is especially crucial where the team is required to specify candidate Applicable PM tasks for the critical failure modes. Promote innovation and new ideas, even if they go against the traditional way of doing things. In fact, a good Facilitator will go out of his or her way to encourage the introduction of new and innovative methods and techniques. RCM recommendations present strong and defensible Business Cases for new or improved cost-effective PM tasks, especially CD tasks.

On occasion, a team member is reluctant to speak out - especially if the team discussion revolved about some controversial issue. It is important that the Facilitator recognizes this, and tries to use his influence to persuade this member to "open up" and contribute his or her expertise more fully.

On a pilot RCM project, an experienced Facilitator can spell the difference between success and failure.

Scheduling Considerations

Successful RCM teams are always composed of personnel who are known to be among the "best" from the available candidate list. For the RCM team, that is the good news. The bad news is that these very same people are in demand, and represent key resources to management with limited availability for peripheral assignments. This has been a common problem with all RCM projects.

The solution that has worked successfully involves the use of a staggered calendar schedule for the RCM team - generally one week of effort on the RCM project and then a two- or three-week interval where the team personnel return to their normal job duties. This arrangement satisfies most concerns about conflicting priorities, allowing plant management to effectively schedule these "key" personnel. But it is imperative to secure a firm management and team commitment to the one-week intervals when the team personnel will, in fact, be available without interruption for the RCM project. Intervals shorter than one week at a time make it very difficult to complete the analysis work with a reasonable degree of continuity. RCM is a paradigm shift in attitude and philosophy and it takes time to get the ball rolling - especially with people who may not be used to sitting in a meeting all day - so anything that affects their effectiveness will just short-circuit the results. The team, especially the craft members, needs to be assured that they will be left alone so they can concentrate on their valuable task - improving the profitability of your maintenance program.

Facility "scheduled outages" tend to play havoc with the scheduling of the RCM team. Consideration of these scheduled events should be taken into account when the RCM tem meetings are planned. Far more disruptive are the unplanned and therefore unanticipated outages. These events drain available manpower to get the plant back up, and those individuals most valuable to plant restoration are the same people who were felt to have the "right stuff" and were assigned to the RCM team. From a practical point, these interruptions cannot altogether be avoided. It is hoped that the importance of completing the RCM assignments, thus improving the bottom line and decreasing the occurrence of these unanticipated outages, will be recognized. Hopefully, management will become sensitive to this problem, and take action to accommodate at least some of these perturbations in order to keep the RCM project schedule on track.

We have come to learn that the successful completion of the first (pilot) RCM project tends to reduce, if not eliminate, the concerns that first arose over the assignment of key plant technicians to the RCM team.


Not everyone needs to become an RCM expert in order to realize its benefits and support its introduction. However, it is critical that everyone, from the corporate level VP of Maintenance (or equivalent) down through all levels of plant management, and on to the craft technicians who will be asked to utilize the RCM recommendations, becomes aware of what RCM is and is not. Specifically, focused indoctrination training, about 4 to 8 hours, should be provided to all corporate and plant personnel who may be affected by or have an impact on the program.

It goes without saying that all RCM team members, and especially any new or replacement members, must be trained in the details of doing RCM. It is imperative that all team members have knowledge of the RCM process and how it is employed. This training includes:

  • Understanding that the current maintenance situation can be improved upon.
  • What RCM is.
  • How RCM will help plant management and craft alike to achieve a more
  • cost-effective PM program, and ultimately lead to more personnel satisfaction in their job.
  • A detailed explanation of the 7-step RCM process, i.e., how to do RCM.
  • What the team's roles will be during the analysis and implementation processes.

This extensive training for an RCM team is most effectively accomplished in a 2-step program: (1) classroom-type instruction for a 3- to 4-day period at the outset of each new RCM project, and (2) hands-on involvement in an actual RCM project under the guidance of a skilled RCM facilitator. This 2-step program should be continued whenever a "new" team is formulated to conduct an RCM analysis. Historically, classroom training alone has been tried, and has not worked. Hands-on experience under a skilled facilitator is needed to realistically qualify an individual as a RCM "expert".

Thus, the issue of training ranges from a broad-based indoctrination program to a focused and intensified program for those personnel directly participating on the RCM teams. Hands-on training via project participation (versus classroom-only training) is clearly the best, if not only, way to conduct a successful RCM program.

Key Facttors in Success - and Failure

We have attempted in this paper to condense many of the salient features that we have learned throughout our years of involvement about making RCM a success. The features, if recognized, planned for; and executed can provide a high probability of success; or, if ignored, will likely contribute to the program's failure.

In summary, we present our Key Features - Do's and Don'ts:

  • Do obtain Buy-In from all levels, especially the craft people and your peers.
  • Everyone wants to succeed, show them in real terms how it can happen and make them all a part of it.
  • Don't ignore the financial and budget groups. They have more influence than is generally recognized. So establish a strong relationship and gain concurrence on accepted business costs and ROI calculations.
  • Don't make RCM just another flavor of the day. The benefits are real and everyone should see that RCM is supported by the management team and is here to stay.
  • Do keep the feedback channels to management and those doing RCM open and active. Other important issues arise daily, but establishing and maintaining a presence for RCM is critical to its long-term success.
  • Do place the "best" craft people on the RCM teams. What you put into RCM determines what you get out.
  • Do implement RCM's recommendations as soon as possible, even the simplest change. The sooner you begin to implement, the sooner RCM will become ingrained in the daily plant activities and culture. Do not wait for the big push at the end - you may never have that opportunity!
  • Don't put your head in the sand and assume that all is well: look for the obstacles and the opportunities around the next corner and act accordingly.
  • Plan, plan, plan, and then plan some more!
  • Don't let an opportunity go by where you could have touted the improvements made by the program. We cannot emphasize enough that positive visibility is a major key to success.
  • Do assign a caretaker to all IOIs. IOIs are manna from heaven, they come free of charge, and together they contribute unimaginable wealth.
  • In summary, stay on top of the game, maintain visibility, and never assume that all is well.

Article submitted by Anthony M. (Mac) Smith, AMS Associates and Glenn R. Hinchcliffe, Asset Performance Technologies

Reference 1: "RCM - Gateway To World Class Maintenance", Anthony M. Smith and Glenn R. Hinchcliffe, Elsevier Butterworth - Heineman, 2004, ISBN 0-7506-7461-X.

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