May 24, 2006 | Ken Reed

To RCFA or not to RCFA…

Recently, there has been some debate as to the priority of conducting a root cause failure analysis of equipment failures, as compared to implementing a Reliability Centered Maintenance program. Which one gives you the most bang for the buck? If you only have money and resources to do one of the two, which one should you choose?

First of all, I don’t believe you can completely separate an RCM system from an RCFA system. One of the cornerstones of the RCM process is determining what PM’s can be modified or disposed of by analyzing what your past equipment performance indicates is required. However, this approach requires that the past failures conform to an analysis which can assume that the equipment is operating as it is designed. Unfortunately, most failures (over 80% by most conservative estimates) are not due to end of life, equipment design criteria, but due to “unknown” or “random” failures. In terms of the RCM process, these definitions may fit, but in reality, they are only unknown or random because we haven’t conducted an effective RCFA to determine what caused the failure.

Opposing this, however, is the need to determine what needs an RCFA conducted. If an asset does not have the right maintenance program (and most maintenance programs do not meet the minimum standard required by RCM), the result is a significant number of failures caused by the wrong or no preventive maintenance. This mass of failures tends to mask those that are real defects or human error. Remember, a significant portion of the failures are a direct result of the preventive maintenance you are performing in the first place.

So what do you do? As an overview:

1. One of the first things to do is quickly rationalize and review your PM program to get rid of most of the “poor maintenance practice” failures. Shoot for getting you PM program up to snuff as quickly as you can.

2. This will now allow you to focus on RCFA when the human-related defects are more visible. Again, these failures can account for a significant number of your failures.
** As a side note, it seems to be assumed by many experts that an RCFA is not used to determine problems or issues with the maintenance process itself. However, this is exactly where the RCFA process can be used to determine what caused the failure, whether it was due to improper machinery operation (human error) or an unnecessary PM (ALSO human error!)**

3. Once this is done, you can again shift back to a reasonable analysis of your PM system and implement a workable RCM strategy that is based on inherent equipment reliability and its relationship to preventive maintenance. Otherwise, your RCM system will end up being based on human-error failures rather than equipment-related design or PM failures.

Give these steps a try if you are trying to figure out where to start your RCM implementation. Remember, defect elimination or RCA work accounts for twice the business benefit of implementing improved maintenance strategies by themselves.

Root Cause Analysis
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