Updated June 1st, 2020

Did you know that the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card grades the United States wastewater systems a D+? Much of the wastewater infrastructure we rely on today was installed after World War II, and the EPA estimates $271 billion will be needed over the next 25 years to bring aging wastewater infrastructure into compliance.

As a wastewater plant manager, you may not have been aware of the actual statistics, but aging wastewater infrastructure is not news to you. In fact, you probably deal with it on a daily basis—aging pipes, pumps, valves, tanks, and other critical components that can have catastrophic consequences if they fail. Implementing a Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) program can improve reliability, decrease downtime, and help prevent failure of both old and new equipment.

What is Reliability Centered Maintenance?

Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is a specific maintenance strategy that is implemented on each of the assets at your facility to improve reliability using cost-effective maintenance techniques. RCM delivers a set of reliability-based, proactive tasks, focused on sustaining the desired functionality of systems and equipment. It provides a structured framework for analyzing potential failures and helps determine what should be done to mitigate those failures based on the acceptable level of risk.

RCM and Maintenance Strategies

Many maintenance strategies are based on the incorrect belief that asset failure increases with age. Preventative Maintenance (PM) programs based on this belief can over maintain or underestimate equipment useful life in the interest of preventing potential failures. This can lead to unnecessary, early, or counterproductive maintenance. Repairing or discarding equipment too early can add significant expense to maintenance costs and increase the risk of human error or infant mortality failure.

Surprisingly, there is very little correlation between how long an asset has been in service and when it fails. In fact, according to John Moubray, a pioneer in the field of RCM and author of Reliability Maintenance and RCM II, the highest level of asset failure occurs soon after an asset has been brought into use. This idea is also supported by an analysis of standard failure patterns which show that premature failures occur approximately 68% or the time, while age-related failures account for only 11% of all failures. (Figure-1)

Failure Patterns

Implementing an RCM program at your facility will help you create a maintenance strategy that extends equipment useful life and brings more reliability and availability to your assets. RCM uses the identification of underlying failure modes as the starting point for developing your PM tasks so that the appropriate failure management strategies can be employed.

Likewise, implementing an effective RCM program also helps to minimize the amount of reactive and Corrective Maintenance performed at your facility. Unlike Preventative Maintenance, Corrective Maintenance strategies repair, replace, or rehabilitate equipment only after failure has occurred. Unplanned Corrective Maintenance can lead to loss of production, downtime, increased operating costs, and environmental or safety issues that may jeopardize your facility’s regulatory compliance. Reactive maintenance strategies can significantly increase maintenance costs and strain ever-shrinking maintenance budgets.

RCM Return on Investment

RCM ensures that that the right maintenance is done at the right time and that maintenance dollars are spent in the right places, thus reducing unnecessary maintenance costs. According to a research report written by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) titled Applicability of Reliability Centered Maintenance in the Water Industry, case studies from two facilities that implemented RCM showed “substantial cost savings in the order of 25-30%” with reduction of bth Preventative and Corrective Maintenance hours and improved equipment reliability and plant availability.

Operations & Maintenance Cost Savings from RCM

Less downtime

Reduction in energy consumption

Optimized chemical usage

Lower routine maintenance annual spend

In addition to the direct benefits of cost savings, implementing an effective RCM program also has considerable indirect benefits such as improved safety, lower risk, and increased environmental and regulatory compliance—all of which drive positive Returns on Investment (ROIs).

Aging infrastructure doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice reliability. By implementing a strategic RCM program, you can significantly improve reliability, reduce maintenance costs, and extend the useful life of your assets regardless of age.

Want to learn more about RCM?