The Rise of Reliability-Centered Maintenance

Maintenance, or more specifically – reactive maintenance, is something that has existed since the dawn of time.

If something broke, someone would fix it.

If fixing it cost too much or was too timely – it would get replaced, with the broken item being thrown out or perhaps stripped for reusable parts.

I like to think back to the advent of the wheel.

invention of the wheel

Yes, I’m sure everyone can picture that primitive man rolling a misshapen disc with his hand or stick.  Right around the time man discovered fire.

And while I can’t certify it, I do believe that if and when that wheel broke down, it would be fixed and thus the first act of reactive maintenance would have been completed.

You see, reactive maintenance has been around since there have been items (assets) worth repairing and it is still being used today, sometimes even as the primary source of maintenance.

For advanced organizations to still be relying on reactive maintenance as their primary maintenance method some thousands of years after it was first used might not be the best strategy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and it probably has something to do with the saying of “don’t try to re-invent the wheel”, right?

And I think to some point I would tend to agree – just because it’s an old way of doing things, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad way of doing things.

But just like the wheel has evolved over time, so too has maintenance.

No longer does an organization need to rely only on reactive maintenance.

More and more, maintenance organizations are shifting towards preventive and predictive maintenance strategies.

With innovations in maintenance technologies and the advancements in data analysis, companies are becoming much more reliable in being able to better understand their assets and the health of those assets.

In fact, Reliability and Maintenance have come together to create a culture of Reliability-centered Maintenance, which has grown into quite a movement among asset-intensive industries.

But back to reliability-centered maintenance…

What is Reliability-Centered Maintenance?

Reliability-centered Maintenance, or RCM as it is commonly referred to, is…

  • the process of determining the most effective maintenance approach.


  • a process to ensure that systems continue to do what their user require in their present operating context.


  • a corporate-level maintenance strategy that is implemented to optimize the maintenance program of a company or facility.


  • a process used to determine what must be done to ensure that physical assets continue operating as designed or required.


  • a structured process that identifies problems which when solved increases the productivity of your equipment and assets while reducing maintenance costs.


  • a scheduled-maintenance program designed to realize the inherent reliability capabilities of equipment.

      – Nowlan & Heap, 1978

There are a lot of different definitions of what RCM is, but there are commonalities among them, such as:

  1. RCM is a process. And with all processes, there are many areas that must interact with another in order for the process to move as it is meant to.
  2. Ensuring that assets continue to operate to their optimal levels. This is essentially the essence of RCM.
  3. Determining effective or optimized maintenance methods. So, when to do reactive, preventive, and predictive maintenance and how to move toward the predictive realm.

No matter how you define RCM, the overarching purpose of the RCM movement is to allow companies to become more reliable in their asset management procedures by better understanding when and why assets are likely to fail.

This allows for efficient planning and scheduling, which when done properly can severely cut maintenance costs, ultimately propping up the bottom-line.

Choosing the right RCM approach, however, is a post in of itself and one I will leave to the experts over at

The Rise of Reliability-Centered Maintenance

Reliability-centered maintenance is not a new concept.

It actually dates back to the 1960s and originated in the Airline Industry.

In Nowlan and Heap’s 1978 Report titled, “Reliability-centered Maintenance”, it states that by the late 1950s, the cost of Maintenance activities in the industry had become high enough to warrant a special investigation into the effectiveness of those activities. Accordingly, in 1960, a task force was formed consisting of representatives of both the airlines and the FAA to investigate the capabilities of preventive maintenance. The establishment of this task force subsequently led to the development of a series of guidelines for airlines and aircraft manufacturers to use, when establishing maintenance schedules for their aircraft.

The report is actually quite interesting to read when you have a chance to skim through 520 pages. You can access it here.

Fast forward to the 21st century and RCM has spread far beyond just the Aviation Industry.

“Hundreds of organizations around the world have demonstrated that Reliability-centered Maintenance (RCM) is consistently capable of significantly increasing asset performance.” (

The basis of reliability-centered maintenance began with 3 questions that were often overlooked:

  1. How does failure occur? - Initially, failures were thought to occur simply on the basis of the age of the equipment (asset). Therefore, maintenance was scheduled at shorter intervals to try to avoid failures.  This method proved ineffective and thus began the inquiry into other modes of failure.
  2. What are its consequences? - "The driving element in all maintenance decisions is not the failure of a given item, but the consequences of that failure for the equipment as a whole.” (Nowlan et. al) This essentially boils down to economics and justifying the cost of a failure versus the cost of repair/maintenance. Determining the consequence of failure by specific asset allows companies to schedule maintenance appropriately based on the criticality of the asset.  For more on asset criticality, refer to our White Paper.
  3. What good can preventive maintenance do? - Does the good outweigh the bad? Meaning, which assets are worth performing preventive maintenance tasks on?  In what instance will preventive maintenance save an organization money and in what instance will the cost of the maintenance outweigh the performance of the asset?

These 3 questions provided the basis of what is known today as the four basic principles of genuine Reliability-Centered Maintenance:

  1. The analysis is scoped and structured to preserve system function.
  2. The analysis identifies how functions are defeated (failure modes).
  3. The analysis addresses failure modes by importance.
  4. For important failure modes, the analysis defines applicable maintenance task candidates and selects the most effective one.

In order to meet the principles above, a company must fully diverse itself into an RCM culture.

Reliability-centered Maintenance is not something that will happen overnight.

It is something that must be practiced in all areas of a maintenance organization and bought-in to by management as well.

A good place to begin is by reading’s, Reliability Centered Maintenance Project Manager’s Guide.

While RCM has been around for quite some time, it continues to advance with new research, advanced technologies, and further use cases.

It is also a great practice for companies looking to become ISO55000 certified as many of the guiding principles are similar.

Reliability-Centered Maintenance and ISO 55000

In Tim Allen’s post on he points out that ISO5501 requires an organization to determine “actions to address risks and opportunities associated with managing assets – taking into account how these risks and opportunities can change with time by establishing processes for:

  • identification of risks and opportunities
  • assessment of risks and opportunities;
  • determining the significance of assets in:
  • achieving asset management objectives; and
  • implementation of the appropriate treatment
  • and monitoring of risks and opportunities.

In order to comply with the above standard, any company that has already employed a Reliability-centered Maintenance strategy would be well on their way to meeting these requirements.

reliability centered maintenance

Reliability-Centered Maintenance and Maintenance Scheduling

Reliability-centered maintenance began as a “scheduled-maintenance program designed to realize the inherent reliability capabilities of equipment” (Nowlan et al.) back in the 1960s.

Since then, it has evolved into a philosophy.

A methodology of identifying which maintenance methods will work best on each piece of equipment in order to comply with safety regulations and maximize the output of each asset while minimizing maintenance costs along the way.

This information is invaluable when talking about maintenance scheduling.

With the successful implementation and adoption of a Reliability-centered Maintenance program, maintenance Schedulers will be able to use the information gathered by failures to better understand why they happened and when future failures may occur.

Also, the consequence identification of each failure will allow Schedulers to schedule maintenance based on asset criticality and importance.  

This enables the Scheduler to become much more accurate with scheduling the right work at the right time and on the right asset, which in turn will lead to decreased maintenance costs.

Prometheus Planning & Scheduling was built with the RCM framework in mind in order to improve failure notification and alerts, schedule maintenance based on asset criticality assignments, and to provide the scheduler with detailed historic failure information for future use.

Planning & Scheduling works with the rest of the Prometheus Platform, which can help with your pursuit of Reliability-centered Maintenance and can move your organization towards predictive maintenance rather than reactive maintenance.