What Comes First: RCFA or Preventive Maintenance?

I often receive the question: what do we improve first? Do we start with Root Cause Problem Elimination (RCPE) or do we start with Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling?

I use the term RCPE instead of RCFA because it is a waste of good initiatives and time to only find the root cause of a problem, but not fixing it.

I like to use the word problem; a more common terminology is Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA), instead of failure because the word failure often leads to a focus on equipment and maintenance.

The word problem includes all operational, quality, speed, high costs and other losses. To eliminate problems is a joint responsibility between operations, maintenance and engineering.

Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling might be two or three different reliability and maintenance processes but one can not be effective without the other, so here I bundle these processes into one.

damage to outer ring of bearing in an rcfa investigation
good rcfa investigations include collecting any components that may be damaged and caused the problem

RCFA cannot be effective without strong PM and Planning and Scheduling execution

The proponents often argue that it will solve most problems thus this activity always must come first. I am an advocate for both RCPE and Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling, so I see myself as objective when answering this question.

My viewpoint is that one activity does not exclude the other, but if you do not do your Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling well, the results of a majority of RCPE work will show the fact that the root cause of many problems is the lack of Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling.

You can always do investigations on select repetitive and costly problems, but if you want to become as good as you can be in this area, you need to free up time so that your frontline leadership, operators and maintainers acquire necessary skills and have time to solve problems as part of their daily work.

I believe that up to 30% of all maintenance hours should be devoted to root cause problem elimination. This will be possible if the basic operations and maintenance processes including Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling are executed very well. Then you’ll gradually be able to move more effort hours to investigations is the next step in very good manufacturing organizations.

To clearly communicate this as a strategy will remove the threat of becoming more efficient and the perceived negative consequences this can have for a maintenance crew.

You will change from a doing organization, to a thinking and doing organization.

In summary, you need to start with improving Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling and gradually move more efforts into RCPE at the same time as you do RCPE on major problems.

What triggers a Root Cause investigation?

To decide which problems will be the subject of RCPE you need to set up some triggers to initiate this activity. In many maintenance organization the following triggers are often used:

  • High risk for personal injury and/or environmental damage.
  • Production loss in time, quality or speed equivalent to more than 3 hours production loss in prime tons.
  • Cost in excess of $25,000.

When any of these triggers occur, a problem owner is assigned and a first RCPE report is due within 96 hours.

Recently I had a follow up meeting with three different paper mills that had followed this advice.

Two of the mills mentioned that to be able to solve any problems at all, they had to raise the trigger from a level of three hours of equivalent production loss in prime tons, to the equivalent of eight hours prime tons production loss.

It is important to be realistic and start on the right trigger level and then lower this level gradually as you become better in executing your Preventive Maintenance and Planning and Scheduling.

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Christer Idhammar

Christer Idhammar

Founder, IDCON INC Reliability and Maintenance Management Guru

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