MRO Magazine

Root Cause Analysis And Your CMMS

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and detailed equipment records in your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can help solve tough equipment and process problems.


November 1, 2008
By Peter Phillips

Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and detailed equipment records in your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can help solve tough equipment and process problems.

RCA of equipment and process problems is something that many companies struggle with. Many maintenance departments are so busy firefighting that they rarely have time to look for the root cause of an equipment breakdown or process failure.

What you often hear from the maintenance staff is ‘this machine’ or ‘that component’ is broken again, then off they go to repair it. Usually the problem has happened so many times that they know what to do and usually can fix it quickly. Seldom does anyone take the time — or have the time — to really look into the problem to see what’s going on.

Again and again the symptom of the problem is repaired without ever finding the real cause of it.

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Even though the parts are on hand and the repair is done quickly, these reoccurring stoppages are costly both in materials, manpower and production time.

Using RCA, you can take one more step towards moving from ‘Fix it for now maintenance’ to ‘Fix it forever reliability’.

RCA courses are available through colleges, universities and private consulting firms. Look for courses that use fundamental troubleshooting skills that enhance a person’s ability to solve problems. Every maintenance person has their own way to troubleshoot, however a RCA course that teaches a systematic way to analyze problems will build the skills of the maintenance staff.

Although there are different methods to perform RCA, generally there are 10 steps to rational troubleshooting.

10 steps

These problem-solving steps do not necessarily occur in the order described here. Often you may have to wait until time permits to find the root cause and the consequences. Other times the root cause must be found before work can continue, and yet at others times, urgent measures must be taken to control a situation. Step 1: Analyze the situation. How serious is the problem as seen?

Step 2: Take urgent measures deemed necessary to control the situation. Step 3: Diagnose probable causes of the problem.

Step 4: Verify the probable cause. Step 5: Make a repair or take the action required.

Step 6: Check the results of the repair or corrective action.

Step 7: Look for the root cause of the problem.

Step 8: Find all the consequences of the problem.

Step 9: Check similar pieces of equipment, products or processes.

Step 10: Document your findings and solutions.

Lets take a closer look at each step. 1. Analyzing the situation: Collect all the information on anything that seems related to the situation. There are generally four sources of information available for every problem analysis: People; Parts and Materials; Positions and Settings; and Papers and Documents.

2. Urgent measures: A number of measures may have been taken while the situation was being analyzed — i. e. before having found the cause. The purpose then is to protect the personnel, the machinery or the clients.

3. Look for the most probable cause: Consider all possible causes that can account for the symptoms of the problem.

4. Verify the most probable cause: Diagnosis makes it possible to say what is the most probable cause of the problem.

5. Make a repair or take the action required: In general, there are several methods of carrying out a repair; they all have advantages and disadvantages. It’s best to choose the one which best fulfils these criteria: cost, speed and reliability.

6. Check the results of the repair or corrective action: Good problem analysis must identify the cause of the problem and why it occurred. Consider the same or similar equipment and the possibility of the problem occurring there. Good problem analysis can prevent other problems from occurring.

7. Look for the root cause of the problem: Go up the causal chain of the problem as far as possible, right up to the root cause. Consider all the alternatives to eliminate the root cause (design, select a better replacement, get better operational instructions) to prevent the problem from recurring.

8. Find all the consequences of the problem: Go back down the causal chain, stopping at each step that represents an intermediate cause, and ask yourself: What are all the consequences; actual or potential, of this intermediate cause? Then take action to correct the actual consequences and prevent potential consequences.

9. Check similar pieces of equipment, products or processes: Think about equipment or processes that are identical or similar to the one that had the problem and ask yourself: Could the cause of the problem also affect this equipment or process?

10. Document your findings and solutions: Every department has its own way of recording information on breakdowns and process incidents. However, they all should agree that it is important to record the maximum possible amount of precise information in an easy-to-use form or with computer software.

How can a CMMS help you find the root cause of a problem? As mentioned earlier, there are many small repairs, failures, modifications, parts used and PMs (preventive maintenance tasks) performed on equipment and the process. If you use your CMMS to record these maintenance activities, then these records become a vital source of information in finding the root cause of the problem.

When I visit maintenance departments, I often find maintenance records are poorly kept. Many times, I find that the CMMS is used only to generate PM work orders. Repairs and modifications on equipment go without any records at all.

To me this is a major CMMS sin. The only way to increase your equipment and process reliability is with continuous improvement. Progressive maintenance departments look at each and every equipment and process problem and analyze it, find the root cause, implement a correction and continue to monitor the situation for further complications.

Of course, these activities require time and considerable effort, especially for the more difficult-to-solve problems. Here are some of the payoffs of investing this time and effort:

• Your maintenance crew will experience a deep sense of satisfaction when they solve long-standing problems.

• It builds their confidence and reenforces the systematic troubleshooting process.

• It’s a great team-building exercise.

• Every process or equipment problem costs money, no matter how small. Finding the solutions is cost-effective.

Indeed, Root Cause Analysis and impeccable CMMS records go hand-in- hand as one of the key elements to increase equipment reliability and to keep your customer (the production department) happy.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a CMMS consulting and training company based in Nova Scotia, offers RCM training programs of three to four days in length. He can be reached at 902-7983601 or by e-mail at peter@trailwalk.ca.


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