Breaking Through The Sound Barrier, The Glass Ceiling And The Concrete Wall of RCM!

EP Editorial Staff | September 19, 2012


By John Shue, Director of Operations, IPR-GDG SUEZ North America
& Neil Bloom, Author of “RCM – Implementation Made Simple”

What IPR-GDF SUEZ North America recently accomplished is certainly a monumental achievement, successfully completing a challenge that has seldom, if ever, been done before. They completed a comprehensive total plant Conventional RCM analysis in only 8 weeks! For those of you who are familiar with RCM, that achievement is nothing short of a sensation!  Its parent company, GDF Suez is one of the largest providers of electrical generation in the world with more than 15,000 MW of capacity in operation or under construction in North America.

John Shue, a Director of Operations for IPR-GDF SUEZ North America, wanted to ensure his plants would remain safe and reliable and could be counted on to supply reserve power to other major utilities on demand.

IPR-GDF SUEZ North America is a very successful organization and their plants run at a 98+% capacity when needed.  However, even though they had no significant capacity problems at the present time they were not convinced that they had addressed all potential plant vulnerabilities, especially as their plants aged.


Although the company was performing preventive maintenance, there was no technical basis to ensure they were performing the “right maintenance.”  Moreover, they wanted to know if they were performing the “right maintenance” at the “right time” and not on equipment that could be run-to-failure.  Even more importantly, they wanted to ensure they were NOT missing something in their PM program that they should be doing.

They purchased a 540 megawatt combined cycle power plant in Astoria, New York, several years ago and determined that because of its ability to provide 100% capacity on demand the plant would be a major contributor to their bottom line corporate profits and an integral part of their entire North American Operations. 

The companyknew about RCM and was seeking a partner with proven credentials who they could work with to bring an RCM program to fruition with them.  They selected Neil Bloom who is the author of “Reliability Centered Maintenance – Implementation Made Simple” published by McGraw-Hill and who works with major corporations to implement RCM programs for their respective asset reliability initiatives. 

The company was also aware of the many attempted failures of implementing an RCM program and they chose to work with Mr. Bloom because of his philosophy.  Mr. Bloom does NOT bring in a cadre of people to one’s site to perform the analysis for them; instead he spends only 3 days training the company’s own in-house people on how to complete their own analysis.

Neil discussed with John the unlikelihood of a successful outcome if an organization did not take total responsibility for its own destiny.  IPR-GDF Suez North America realized that Mr. Bloom’s philosophy was in total concert with their objectives of retaining full ownership for performing their RCM analysis and taking control of its implementation and subsequent management.  Having had previous experience with RCM, Shue was very much aware of how drawn out and costly aspects of undertaking such a program could arise.

As mentioned before, IPR-GDF SUEZ North America was performing preventive maintenance but they wanted to know if it was being done on equipment that could be run-to-failure.  Even more importantly, they wanted to know if they were NOT performing maintenance on equipment that they “should” be concerned about. They also wanted to know if they had optimized their PM periodicities accordingly.

Although Company managementwas eager to explore enhanced initiatives to reduce costs, Shue was also keenly aware of the importance of “cost avoidance.”  They truly understood, as delineated in Neil Bloom’s aforementioned book that…..

“In addition to the typical known problem areas, plant safety and reliability is directly related to the existing vulnerabilities that have NOT yet been identified because the failure consequences surrounding those vulnerabilities have not yet occurred.  These vulnerabilities will ‘lie in wait’ until an unwanted event occurs.  “RCM-Implementation Made Simple” is all about finding those vulnerabilities BEFORE they can occur and result in a most unwanted consequence of failure.”    

Oftentimes, a shortsighted emphasis of only incorporating easily achieved betterment items (the ‘low hanging’ fruit) such as changing a time directed overhaul to a condition monitoring task, for example, overshadows the farsighted vision of ensuring the asset protection of the entire corporation.  In fact, the company learned all such betterment initiatives were already embedded within Neil Bloom’s overarching RCM methodology they were planning to perform. 

It is the relative unknown failure consequence that can cause a plant to shut down for extended periods of time or even cause its closure forever.  Finding those vulnerabilities is what RCM should be all about but unfortunately real life experience has shown that approximately 90+% of all attempted RCM efforts end up in failure or only marginal success.

The company also wanted a documented basis to capture the reasons for the work that needed to be done.  They were aware of the normal progression of personnel changes that occur and they did not want to “reinvent the wheel” each time they had a change in the workforce.

Bloom and Shue spoke at length to develop a plan of action to go forward.  Perhaps the most important ingredient to ensure the success of this effort was the commitment that Shue and IPR-GDF SUEZ North America made to totally support the endeavor.  Neil discussed that in order to have a successful outcome, the mix of the RCM “team members” was of paramount importance.  The company therefore included representatives from Operations, Maintenance, and Engineering, and selected craft to comprise the “team.”  This included a team of 4-6 people who knew the plant like they knew the back of their hand.  All of the team members were RCM Facilitator Qualified after 3 days of training by Neil.

To their credit, the employees at Astoria were totally dedicated and committed to doing what was right in their preventive maintenance program.  IPR-GDF SUEZ North America also wanted to upgrade their CMMS system but realized that populating their scheduling system with inaccurate information was a losing proposition and that they needed an accurate PM technical basis to begin their journey.

Brian Heinbaugh, the Astoria Plant Manager, felt comfortable that the work they were already performing was adequate to maintain the plant.  However, he was eager to ensure that this was the correct work and he also wanted to document the technical basis for doing so.  Brian and John realized that a “seat of the pants” PM program needed to be brought in line with modern day expectations.

As Neil explained…….“if a Maintenance craft worker does not understand why a certain PM is in existence or why it is scheduled when it is, or if Operations personnel do not understand why they are required to take a certain piece of equipment out of service for maintenance, or if Engineering personnel do not comprehend the difficulties of Maintenance and Operations to accomplish the work, a “disconnect” will exist and any attempt at establishing a synergistic working relationship with the involved stakeholders will prove to be elusive.”    

In the second week of January 2010, Bloom commenced training the team for 3 days to inculcate the methodology for successfully completing an RCM analysis by the team itself.  He then spent 1 day as a facilitator for the team to go over examples of the Astoria plant P&ID’s using his methodology and to answer any questions to ensure the team could function on its own.  The team identified 43 systems that would comprise all plant equipment I.D.’s.

The following week the team commenced implementation of its own RCM program, one system at a time.  To ensure that the team would not be distracted and subject to daily plant issues, Shue and Heinbaugh provided additional temporary staff augmentation to fulfill the functions of the team members while they were performing the analyses.  By the second week of March 2010, the team had completed the analysis on 100% of the equipment at the Astoria plant.  Although there was a total of approximately 10,000 equipment I.D.’s in the Master Equipment List database, it took the company only 8 weeks to complete this entire effort!

IPR-GDF SUEZ North America has several plants with identical designs so that the completion of one RCM analysis could be used as the technical basis for other similar plants.  Shue said that they plan on using the methodology developed by Neil as a model for their other plants.  John and Brian wanted to monitor the progress of their program to ensure they obtained the results they were seeking.  Therefore, Neil, John, and Brian laid out a plan for a comprehensive monitoring and trending program to capture the aggregate of underlying problem areas to address them proactively rather than reactively.

Since IPR-GDF SUEZ North America has already achieved such a high standard of plant readiness, there was not much more room for any immediate capacity factor improvement.  However, according to Shue, what they have created is the technical basis for doing the “right” work at the “right” time and identifying hidden plant vulnerabilities that they would have otherwise been unaware of.  As part of the RCM analysis, the team also identified numerous pieces of equipment where a recommended design change was in order.

In summary, Shue and Heinbaugh took the necessary steps and made the correct decisions to ensure their success.  They set up a team of their own experts, gave them the training they needed, gave them total support for their endeavors by assigning them the task of implementing an RCM program, and set the senior management expectations along with the necessary support for a successful outcome.

Neil Bloom is the author of “RCM-Implementation Made Simple” published by McGraw-Hill.  He is an instructor at several universities and he works with all types of corporations, i.e.. the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, NASA, Water Districts, PUC’s, Power Generation Suppliers, Production and Manufacturing facilities, etc, to train their own in-house staff with a 3 day RCM Seminar/Workshop. His website is  He can be reached via email at or 949-466-1871.     




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