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Author's profile photo Vimal Gaba

Approaches to Improve Asset Performance: Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) vs. Root Cause Analysis(RCA)

A simple headache or body ache and reason unknown. There is impact on quality of life ,happiness,  efficiency etc. You end up spending money on medicines etc. but finally how do we solve this? Are we treating the symptom or the cause? Do we find the cause when it happens or take proactive measures to avoid this?  Simple cause-effect relationship but two different approaches possible. One approach is to analyze all possible reasons like stress, eyesight etc proactively and take the actions to prevent  this or wait for it to happen and then try to find and eliminate the cause (or symptom at times).


Same is true with failures related to huge assets with Mill products and Mining Companies. Do organizations proactively avoid failures of critical equipment by putting right maintenance strategies in place or analyze once the failure happens and then address the causes for failure.


The first approach is RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) and second one is RCA (Root Cause Analysis). RCM uses cause effect relations to identify potential failures and helps in selecting best maintenance intervention or strategy so that an asset continues to do what it is supposed to. The RCM story started with airlines where the industry could not wait for failures and then do a cause analysis and needed a proactive methodology to prevent failures with reliability as the lives of people were at risk. RCA on the other side aims at understanding the problem, its causes and actions to prevent occurrence of the problem. Both these terms somehow look so near yet so far as improvement initiatives. Some even perceive both approaches doing more or less the same thing and use this interchangeably. But the fact is that there is a very basic difference between RCM and RCA. Both have slightly different  purpose but at the end are also complimentary.


RCM approach addresses the basic question of what ‘could’ potentially happen compared to RCA which analyses what already ‘did’ happen. The main difference to remember in RCM methodology is that it identifies various ways in which equipment could fail compared to RCA which does identify as to why the equipment failed. So RCM is more proactive approach while RCA is rather a reactive approach.


For Asset performance improvement in Mill products and Mining both these complement each other but RCM is clearly a more holistic and process mature approach. While it could also be debated that why then RCA is needed as it is reactive and failures would stop with proactive measures. But even after being proactive some failures do happen though they become less frequent and significant as the RCM approach comes in place. Hence the need for RCA slowly reduces (as failures will reduce with RCM) but is never eliminated as there will be newer incidents which would need some RCA.  The inputs of RCA would anyway also help a RCM program in proactively taking measures for failure avoidance. At the end both proactive and reactive approaches are needed for maximum value to an organization…but the proactive RCM is a larger and holistic improvement approach on the journey to continuous asset performance improvement. So if you are debating which one to start as an improvement program consider using RCM program as the umbrella approach with automation and enablement of related processes .

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      Author's profile photo Ashish Trivedi
      Ashish Trivedi

      Very nice explanation..