Neil Bloom's RCM Philosophy

EP Editorial Staff | September 20, 2012




What is Reliability Centered Maintenance or RCM as it is more commonly known as? It is without a doubt, the most effective means to develop a new or validate an existing PM program.  Unfortunately and even unwittingly, RCM has become an overly complex and obfuscated process.  It was never intended to be that way.  It was supposed to be a very undemanding straightforward process to be mastered even by the simplest layperson.  Instead it has become like a huge elephant that is for the most part, out of control. 

On the surface, RCM seems to be a simple process, easy to master. However, a reality check is probably the best place to start in understanding what has happened.  For a process that has been around for over 30 years, RCM is still saddled with the following FACT:  Over 90% of all attempted RCM programs result in failure!  Laypeople around the world have experienced this unfortunate outcome.    

How could a process that was supposed to be so simple, become so complex. Perhaps a better way to describe what has happened to RCM is to compare it with the weight-loss industry.

There are millions of dollars spent each year by laypersons to figure out some precise magic formula for how to lose weight.  There are dozens upon dozens of national and international weight-loss clinics and hundreds of books and other articles that have you do everything from exercising to counting points to measuring precise ratios of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, etc.  It is a million dollar industry that can be whittled down to its very basic DNA explained as follows:  If you burn more calories on a daily basis than you consume, you will lose weight!  How much more simple could it be. 

Of course there are the random RCM success stories and there are numerous well known and well qualified companies and consultants involved in reliability initiatives and they should be commended for their efforts. More specifically, people like John Moubray who was a colleague of mine for many years should always be remembered and recognized for his contribution in helping to bring RCM into the mainstream limelight. 

Without the efforts of people like Moubray and industry organizations such as the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), RCM would have languished solely within commercial aviation where it first originated.  Even with all the potential benefits that an RCM program can offer, all of its good intentions cannot compensate for its obscure and ambiguous understanding.

It is clearly evident to anyoneafter reading random international blogs and other significant forums and articles pertaining to RCM, and from personally listening to many of those that are recognized as reliability professionals, that there is a common, yet convoluted thought process relative to the basic fundamentals of RCM.  There is definitely a universal difficulty in understanding the differences between functional failures and failure modes; between failure modes and failure causes; between hidden failures and run-to-failure equipment; between equipment and system functions; between probabilities and periodicities; between boundaries and interfaces; between the integration of preventive and corrective maintenance; between aircraft and ATA Codes, etc, etc.  These issues are elementary to RCM and should not even be topics for heated discussions or debate.  

Why is RCM still trying to prove its universal acceptance and usefulness?  It is not because the reliability community wants to complicate matters…. it is primarily because they do not fully comprehend what Stanley Nowlan and Howard Heap, the grandfathers of RCM, intended.  The treatise that Nowlan and Heap wrote for the Department of Commerce back in the 1970’s was written for aircraft, in aircraft language, and with an underlying assumption of a certain familiarity and appreciation relating their RCM model to real-life aircraft reliability issues. There are significant nuances and other aspects in their document that are primarily applicable only to commercial aircraft.

The unfortunate part is that the reliability community has tried to take Nowlan and Heap’s work and translate it directly to other industries such as power generation whether it be nuclear, hydro, fossil, natural gas, wind, or solar, manned spacecraft, manufacturing and production facilities, water treatment plants, all forms of transportation, military installations, assembly lines and just about any other industry or entity where a preventive maintenance program is a requirement.

Guess what? It can’t readily be done because of certain salient idiosyncrasies pertinent primarily only to commercial aircraft.

Myriad people try to force feed Nowlan and Heap’s work into virtually every other industry and that is the very reason for the following FACT as previously noted:  Over 90% of all attempted RCM programs result in failure!  Notwithstanding the handful of RCM success stories, it cannot be denied that success is the exception rather than the rule.  Isn’t it obvious by now that “something” must be wrong?  That is why the following comments are so ubiquitous from laypeople around the world relative to their experience with RCM:

   “We didn’t get our money’s worth”………

   “We tried RCM several times and failed each time” …….

   “No one knows what is in all those analysis books”……

“The people that helped us with our RCM analysis are gone and we don’t have a  

  clue what to do next”……

            “The whole RCM effort turned out to be a waste of time and resources”……..

There must be some reason for the 90+% RCM FAILURE RATE!  There is and all the current day guidance in the world will not change that. 

There are so many facets to Nowlan and Heap’s treatise that must be “inherently” understood, not “superficially” understood before their document can be used in the outside world.  

How do I know this?  It is not because I am some kind of genius…. I am very far away from that definition.  It is more due to a “stroke of luck” because I was fortunate to begin my Engineering career in the commercial aviation industry.  Commercial aviation is where MSG Logic, the forerunner to RCM, originated.  I was also fortunate because I understood that much of the RCM work of Nowlan and Heap as delineated in their document, assumed a certain inherent amount of pre-requisite fundamental knowledge and experience as to what they were trying to accomplish in regard to aircraft reliability.

When you really think about it, RCM has been around for over 30 years.  Why then has a successful path to implementation been so elusive? 

It is similar to someone being familiar with the U.S. Constitution who then takes only that document into a courtroom to commence deliberating a legal case before a judge.  It takes a little more than having verbatim knowledge of a document to try and fit that square document into a round hole.  Another analogy would be a pharmaceutical company who has developed a wonder drug to cure cancer.  It works great on mice but unfortunately the same results cannot be duplicated on humans.

The Nowlan and Heap Document is unquestionably the greatest single document ever written about RCM and I have never met anyone, who is familiar with RCM, that doesn’t believe the Nowlan and Heap document is the universal RCM “bible”.  It is undeniably close to that definition but it is not 100% readily interpretable for industries other than commercial aviation. Nowlan and Heap’s document is not wrong for industries other than commercial aviation.  It is just incredibly difficult to implement it the way it was written.

If, after 30 years, people still have difficulty translating that “bible” into successful implementation of an RCM program, does that not make you think why? Could it be an “Old Testament” is still being used when there could be a “New Testament” available? Why has a successful path to implementation been so elusive? For over 30 years? Why is the industry still struggling to get it right in its application to the real world? 

It cannot be explained in only a few pages as towhy the Nowlan and Heap document cannot be simply transposed and interpreted at face value to any type of plant or facility or other entity.  In fact, the reason I wrote my book was to go beyond the work of Nowlan and Heap to take conventional RCM (not streamlined RCM) to the next plateau.  It has been my goal to provide the layperson with the “beyond Nowlan and Heap” requisite knowledge and understanding of how to implement a successful conventional RCM program at facilities and industries OTHER than commercial aviation.

Even SAE Document JA1011, in and of itself, is not all inclusive enough to entirely describe an RCM program.

As I mentioned previously, RCM as it exists today is not wrong or incorrect in any manner. Rather, it has been shown that RCM, in its present status, is just not simple enough to make its success universal. Perhaps, quite possibly, and maybe there is a better way.

I have been told by a few people within the reliability community and even more specific within the RCM community that my RCM methodology is controversial, which it is.  I enthusiastically agree with that comment, especially when my methodology is compared to other RCM processes that result in failure 90+% of the time.  I have also been told I am an RCM outlier, which I am.  I also enthusiastically agree with that comment when my methodology is compared to other RCM processes that result in failure 90+% of the time.

Many in the RCM community have said the RCM methodology I developed is a stroke of genius, and brilliance; however, those two adjectives are incorrect.  Neither of these aforementioned descriptions fit me.  Perhaps, a definition such as “a simple minded engineer whose mission is to pioneer Modern Day RCM” would be more appropriate.

What can’t be disputed is the 100% success rate experienced by every client I have ever worked who was able to commence a successful RCM program on their own with their own in-house resources after only three days of training. 

There are many qualified RCM consulting companies and there are many corporate clients that prefer to hire an outside firm to develop and manage their reliability efforts.  However, what I have found is that there are also an overwhelming number of industries, corporations, and individuals that prefer, and would rather accomplish, their own reliability initiatives on their own using their own in-house resources.  It is this latter population that I reach out to and focus on.     

RCM is NOT rocket science. RCM is NOT difficult to comprehend.  RCM is NOT difficult to implement. RCM does NOT need to be facilitated by experts. Rigorous facilitator training is NOT necessary.  In fact, it is quite the contrary.

To better understand where I am coming from, consider the following discussions for example; 

In speaking with one particular RCM authority, he mentioned that he had just finished working with a client to establish an RCM program.  When I asked specifically what and how he accomplished this effort, his reply was “we changed all time-directed PM tasks into condition-directed tasks!” While that is certainly a facet of RCM, that facet by itself does NOT constitute an RCM program!

Another recognized RCM expert mentioned that a large company spent quite a lot money and effort into defining hundreds of different failure modes for their various pieces of equipment.  That too, is NOT RCM! In reality there are only a handful of such failure modes. There are, however, hundreds of failure causes!

All too often the RCM salesman approach takes hold using the old fashioned argument that establishing an RCM program will undoubtedly reduce company costs.  That is certainly a noble goal of RCM, but what if a plant has a very weak and almost skeletal PM program existing, and is just doing the bare essentials to get by?  What if implementing an RCM program identifies that new PM’s are necessary because they were not being done and should have been?  Then RCM may add costs to the budget.  Should the plans for RCM then be scrapped?  What if RCM finds that additional manning is needed? Should that too be disregarded?

The point I am making is that RCM IS NOT A COST REDUCTION PROGRAM!  Of course RCM has the tremendous potential to reduce costs, however, first and foremost, RCM IS A SAFETY AND RELIABILITY PROGRAM! 

In summary, a successful conventional RCM program is quite easy to implement if it is well understood how to accomplish that implementation. “Modern Day,” non-aircraft RCM, is not difficult, or expensive, and it does not take years to accomplish.  For most plants and facilities a 100% comprehensive RCM program can be achieved in only a matter of weeks.  More important, it does not require RCM experts to become involved with a company’s effort to implement an RCM program.  To the contrary, the only “experts” required are the clients’ own in-house engineers, planners, maintenance foremen, operations supervisors, QA/QC personnel and perhaps most significant of all, those at the craftsman level.   

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, and government agencies, 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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