Reliability-Centered Maintenance: What It Is And How It Can Benefit Your Business

What Is Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM)? I

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a maintenance strategy that strives to optimize a company’s or facility’s maintenance program. RCM entails examining each asset and designing a customized maintenance strategy based on features such as criticality, operational environment, and estimated lifespan. The goal is to keep maintenance activities as cost-effective as possible while maintaining plant production. RCM usually entails a combination of maintenance approaches, such as preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance, and condition monitoring. Companies can reduce maintenance costs, minimize downtime, and improve the reliability of their

Table Of Contents

Productivity Tips

Honda TestimonialExploring the Core Principles of Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) Program


The four basic principles of a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) program are as follows:

System Function: Understanding the system or asset being maintained, its functions, performance standards, and operating contexts.

Failure Modes: Identifying all possible failure modes that can occur within the system by examining each component of the system and determining the various ways in which it can fail.

Maintenance Tasks: Determining the maintenance tasks required to mitigate each identified failure mode by selecting the appropriate maintenance task for each failure mode and deciding on the optimal interval for performing that task.

Optimization: Optimizing the maintenance tasks so that they are both cost-effective and productive, which may involve adjusting the maintenance interval, changing the maintenance task, or even changing the system design to reduce the likelihood of failure.

Depending on the specific needs of the system or asset being maintained, there are some additional principles that can also be integrated. These principles may consist of:

The consequence of Failure: Understanding the consequences of failure of each system or asset and prioritizing maintenance tasks accordingly.

Proactive Maintenance: Emphasizing proactive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance to minimize downtime and improve reliability.

Continuous Improvement: Continually refining maintenance strategies and processes to identify areas for improvement and optimize asset performance.

Breaking Down the Differences Between RCM and Standard Maintenance Programs


Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) and standard maintenance programs are two distinct approaches to maintenance management. While both aim to ensure equipment and facilities operate effectively, there are key differences between the two. Standard maintenance programs are typically time-based, with maintenance tasks scheduled at predetermined intervals, regardless of the equipment’s condition. In contrast, RCM is a proactive approach that involves analyzing each asset’s unique characteristics and identifying the optimal maintenance approach to ensure reliable and cost-effective performance.

RCM involves a structured process that includes phases such as data gathering, functional analysis, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), task analysis, and maintenance plan development. This process aims to determine the most effective maintenance approach for each asset, taking into account factors such as criticality, operating environment, and expected lifespan. By contrast, standard maintenance programs are often based on manufacturers’ recommendations or industry best practices and involve scheduled maintenance tasks such as lubrication, filter replacement, and inspections. While standard maintenance programs are generally effective, they may result in unnecessary maintenance tasks or missed critical maintenance needs, which can lead to equipment failure and downtime.

Who Uses Reliability-Centered Maintenance?


RCM is utilized by many sectors and organizations that rely on complex and expensive assets to maintain their operations. These include industries such as manufacturing, aviation, energy, transportation, and healthcare, as well as government agencies and military organizations

Any organization that values optimal asset performance, reduced maintenance costs, and increased safety and reliability can benefit from implementing an RCM program. By using RCM principles and techniques, organizations can identify and prioritize maintenance activities based on the criticality of their assets and the potential consequences of failure, leading to more efficient and effective maintenance strategies. 

Steps To Implement A Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) Program


A Reliability Centered Maintenance program consists of three phases and encompasses seven steps to guarantee its complete implementation. These phases are referred to as Decision, Analysis, and Act.

Phase 1: Decision

Step 1: Initial Data Gathering: This step involves collecting information about the system or asset being maintained, including its design, operating parameters, performance standards, and maintenance history.

Step 2: Functional Analysis: In this step, the functions of the system are identified and defined, along with their required performance standards.

Phase 2: Analysis

Step 3: Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA): This step involves identifying all possible failure modes and their effects on the system, along with their likelihood and consequences.

Step 4: Identify The Root Causes Of The Failure Modes: Based on the results of the FMEA, the appropriate maintenance tasks are identified and selected to mitigate each failure mode.

In the event of a failure, safety concerns and poor business performance may arise, as well as the possibility of impacting other equipment. To address this, a collaborative effort among plant operators, equipment experts, and technicians is necessary to identify the underlying causes of each asset failure. By doing so, the team can prioritize tasks and develop a plan to address the issues.

You can effectively organize this process using various methods, including the following:

Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA): This method evaluates the impact of potential failures by identifying where and how a process might fail. For example, it can help determine what factors may cause the conveyor belt to slow down or stop working.

Failure, Mode, Effect, and Criticality Analysis (FMECA): This method is similar to FMEA but takes an additional step to establish connections between failure modes, effects, and causes of failure.

Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOPS): This is a systematic examination of processes to identify issues that could lead to risks for personnel and assets. In most cases, it guides the review of standard operating procedures.

Fault Tree Analysis (FTA): This graphic tool helps to examine the cause of system-level failures. It utilizes a top-down deductive analysis of failure to identify potential points of failure.

Risk-based Inspection (RBI): RBI is a decision-making process that optimizes inspection plans. It is primarily used to examine industrial equipment such as piping, pressure vessels, and heat exchangers.

Step 5: Develop A Maintenance Strategy For Every Failure Mode.: In this step, the optimal maintenance task is selected for each failure mode, based on criteria such as cost-effectiveness, practicality, and reliability.

Step 6: Maintenance Plan Development: Using the results of the task selection process, a detailed maintenance plan is developed, outlining the maintenance tasks to be performed, their frequency, and the personnel responsible for their execution.

Phase 3: Act

Step 7: Implementation: This step involves putting the maintenance plan into action, and executing the maintenance tasks according to the defined schedule.

At this stage, failure mode information can help determine the most suitable maintenance action. Failure management techniques can be broadly classified into two categories:

Proactive Tasks: These involve preventive and predictive maintenance techniques to prevent equipment or system failure. Preventive maintenance is calendar or usage based and reduces the likelihood of failure, while predictive maintenance can detect potential failures before they occur. Predictive maintenance is also known as condition monitoring.

Default Actions: Reactive maintenance, also known as firefighting mode, deals with failures after they have occurred. Run-to-failure maintenance is a tactic in which equipment is operated until it fails, after which repairs are performed. A classic example of a component that is frequently run to failure is a lightbulb.

The RCM process is an ongoing process of continuous improvement, which involves monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the maintenance plan, and making adjustments as necessary to optimize system reliability and minimize maintenance costs.

Benefits Of Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) Program


Improved Equipment Reliability: RCM focuses on identifying the critical assets and determining the maintenance requirements, which helps in optimizing the maintenance activities and increasing the reliability of the equipment.

Reduced Downtime: By implementing RCM, maintenance activities can be planned and scheduled, leading to a reduction in unplanned downtime and minimizing the impact of equipment failures on production.

Extended Asset Life: With RCM, the equipment is maintained in a way that maximizes its useful life, leading to a reduction in replacement costs and increased return on investment.

Increased safety: RCM includes identifying the safety-critical components and maintenance tasks required to ensure the safe operation of equipment, thus reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.

Reduced Maintenance Costs: By identifying and addressing the root causes of equipment failures, RCM can help to reduce maintenance costs over time. RCM also helps to optimize maintenance schedules and procedures, reducing unnecessary maintenance activities and associated costs.

Increased Safety & Compliance: RCM helps to identify potential safety hazards and risks associated with equipment failures, which can help organizations to comply with safety regulations and avoid accidents.

Data-Driven Decision-Making: RCM relies on data and analytics to identify equipment failure modes and develop maintenance strategies. This data-driven approach enables organizations to make informed decisions about maintenance activities and asset management.

Improved Team Productivity: RCM can help to improve team productivity by reducing reactive maintenance activities and increasing the effectiveness of planned maintenance activities. This can free up maintenance teams to focus on other critical tasks and projects.

Enhanced Customer Satisfaction: By improving asset reliability and availability, RCM can help to ensure that products and services are delivered on time and at the expected level of quality, enhancing customer satisfaction.

Disadvantages Of Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM)


Time-Consuming: The RCM process requires significant time and resources to identify critical assets, analyze failure modes, and develop maintenance strategies. This can be a challenge for organizations with limited time and budget.

Complexity: The RCM process can be complex, especially when dealing with multiple assets, complex systems, and diverse stakeholders. This complexity can lead to confusion and mistakes if not managed properly.

Limited Applicability: RCM may not be suitable for all types of equipment or systems. It is typically used for critical assets in high-risk industries such as aviation, defense, and nuclear power, and may not be necessary for less complex systems.

Resistance To Change: Implementing RCM requires buy-in from leadership and effective communication and education for employees. Some organizations may face resistance to change or struggle to gain support for RCM implementation.

Cost: Implementing RCM can be costly, especially if significant changes to maintenance processes or systems are required. Organizations must weigh the benefits of RCM against the costs of implementation to determine if it is the right approach for their needs.

Conquering Obstacles: Avoiding Common Mistakes


The Pitfalls Of Analyzing Too Many Assets

It’s common to feel enthusiastic about the advantages of reliability-centered maintenance and want to analyze all assets. However, evaluating too many assets can lead to cost overruns and resource depletion, resulting in premature project termination.

RCM aims to identify the most cost-effective ways to manage system failure by prioritizing critical assets with significant maintenance costs. Focusing on these systems or subsystems can yield the most significant benefits, allowing you to move on to the next critical asset as benefits accumulate.

Overburdening and diverting the RCM team’s attention can impede success rather than promote it.

Improper Baseline Of Equipment Performance

RCM is a change initiative with an expected return on investment. Performance can be evaluated through financial, quality, safety, or environmental metrics, which can demonstrate a clear improvement from pre- to post-RCM. However, without establishing a baseline of system performance, it is impossible to accurately compare the results of improvement actions.

Employee Engagement

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a significant shift in business practices, requiring careful planning and execution. Prior to implementation, it is crucial to take the following steps:

Communications: Communicate with and educate your employees about the benefits and goals of RCM. This includes both those directly involved in the process and those who may be indirectly affected by changes to maintenance procedures.

Training: Provide training and support to the team carrying out the RCM process. This will help them stay focused and on track, especially during a potentially distracting transition period.

Roadblocks: Identify potential roadblocks to success, such as resistance to change or lack of support from upper management. Address these issues proactively to minimize their impact on the project.

Implementation Plan: Develop a detailed implementation plan that outlines the steps and timeline for carrying out the RCM process. This plan should include metrics for measuring success and opportunities for continuous improvement over time.

Follow-up: Failing to follow up on RCM recommendations: Implementing RCM is a change initiative funded with an expectation of a return on the initial investment. To achieve this return, it is essential to follow up on RCM recommendations and continually monitor and improve the maintenance program.

Changes: Not adapting to changes in the system: As systems and assets change over time, it is important to continually adapt and update the RCM program to ensure its effectiveness.

Skills: Failure to involve the right people: RCM requires a multidisciplinary approach involving experts from different fields, including maintenance, operations, engineering, and management. Failure to involve the right people can result in poor decisions and failure to achieve the desired results.

Leadership Sponsorship: Lack of ownership and accountability: Without clear ownership and accountability, RCM initiatives are likely to fail. Every member of the team should understand their roles and responsibilities and be held accountable for their actions.



Implementing reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) requires leadership buy-in, effective communication, education, and proper planning. However, managing the RCM process can be challenging with complex systems, multiple assets, and diverse stakeholders. eWorkOrders CMMS offers a comprehensive solution for managing RCM, including identifying critical assets, determining maintenance requirements, establishing maintenance schedules, and monitoring performance. Our real-time analytics and reporting features help track metrics, identify trends, and make data-driven decisions. Mobile apps empower maintenance teams to access critical information from anywhere. Partnering with the right maintenance management software can optimize RCM, improve asset reliability, and reduce maintenance costs.

Frequently Asked Questions about Reliability-Centered Maintenance RCM

What is meant by reliability-centered maintenance?

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a forward-thinking approach that empowers organizations to fine-tune their maintenance strategies and elevate the reliability of their assets. Unlike reactive methods, RCM delves deep into each asset’s nuances, crafting tailored maintenance plans based on factors like importance, environment, and lifespan. The aim? To optimize maintenance costs while maximizing productivity and asset dependability. RCM blends various maintenance techniques, from preventive to predictive, ensuring a holistic approach to upkeep. With RCM in place, organizations slash maintenance expenses, dodge unexpected downtime, and witness a marked enhancement in asset performance and reliability.

What is the difference between RCM and preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance involves performing maintenance tasks at regular intervals, regardless of the asset’s condition. RCM, on the other hand, involves analyzing each asset’s unique characteristics and failure modes to determine the optimal maintenance approach. RCM focuses on identifying critical failure modes and implementing targeted maintenance tasks to prevent them, rather than performing blanket maintenance at set intervals. 

What are the key steps in an RCM analysis?

The key steps in an RCM analysis include:

  1. Defining system functions and performance standards

  2. Identifying failure modes and their causes

  3. Determining the consequences of each failure mode

  4. Selecting the optimal maintenance task for each failure mode

  5. Implementing and continuously improving the RCM program 

How do I get started with RCM?

To get started with RCM, it’s important to:

  1. Gain buy-in from leadership and communicate the benefits of RCM to the organization

  2. Assemble a cross-functional team with expertise in maintenance, operations, engineering, and management

  3. Prioritize critical assets and systems for analysis

  4. Gather data on asset performance, maintenance history, and operating conditions

  5. Conduct RCM analyses to identify failure modes and select appropriate maintenance tasks

  6. Implement the RCM program and continuously monitor and improve it over time 

What are the benefits of RCM?

Some of the key benefits of implementing an RCM program include:

  • Improved asset reliability and availability

  • Reduced maintenance costs and downtime

  • Extended asset life

  • Improved safety and compliance

  • Data-driven decision making

  • Enhanced team productivity and customer satisfaction 

How do I measure the success of an RCM program?

The success of an RCM program can be measured using a variety of metrics, such as:

  • Maintenance costs (total and per asset)

  • Unplanned downtime and lost production

  • Mean time between failures (MTBF)

  • Maintenance backlog

  • Safety incidents and compliance issues

  • Customer satisfaction scores 


GetApp Category Leader Award for CMMS, Preventive Maintenance, Fixed Asset Management, Work Order, Fleet Maintenance, and Facility Management      #1 Rated Maintenance System for CyberSecurity      Capterra Shortlist Award for CMMS, EAM, Asset Tracking, Fixed Asset Management, Fleet Maintenance, Facility Management, Field Service Management, and Preventive Maintenance