Five basics to make your Lean and RCM programs cooperate

Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is the most cost-effective method your plant can use to develop an appropriate maintenance strategy that will keep production on pace with takt time.


In life, we proactively watch our diet, exercise, and doctor visits. We keep our heart reliable to meet our demands. Manufacturing managers also must work proactively with their maintenance teams to keep equipment running.

Equipment reliability keeps takt time (in Lean parlance, the time at which a finished product must be completed to meet customer demand) just as a healthy heart keeps our pulse regular. Without reliable equipment, takt becomes just another number.

Five steps to success

Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is the most cost-effective method your plant can use to develop an appropriate maintenance strategy that will keep production on pace with takt time.Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is the most cost-effective method your plant can use to develop an appropriate maintenance strategy that will keep production on pace with takt time.

As you look to combine RCM with your Lean program, here are five things to keep in mind:

1. If you already have a robust RCM effort, begin a Lean program in production. If you are already getting Lean, take steps to get reliable with RCM, too. Form an internal team. Give them the time and authority to focus on these challenges. Consider outside support to structure and support the process.

2. Use your value stream maps to identify each step that includes a critical asset. Ask what steps are being taken right now to ensure that the intended value for which the asset was designed is being delivered to the customer and to the company (in terms of cost per widget, for example). Declaring an asset as “critical” is not an arbitrary label. Criticality can be determined through a formal process that takes out the inter-departmental squabbles over who’s equipment is more essential to the customer and the company.

3. The RCM program will require certain skills and tools that are dictated by the assets it protects. Have you identified them? Do you have them in-house? If not, have you found an outside source?

4. TPM and 5S(6S) support RCM as well as Lean. These disciplines require training and support from frontline supervision. Do you have a training plan? Is the necessary organizational support defined, trained, and on board?

5. Is top management engaged and fully committed to a program that truly integrates Lean and RCM? Does everyone understand how these methods will generate long term continuous improvemen, how they create value for the customer, and how they reduce costs?

Lean is to overall process health as RCM is to critical equipment availability and function. Lean and RCM are both mindsets that must become part of the culture, just as healthy behaviors must become regular habits. Both Lean and RCM define strategies and provide tools to eliminate waste. Lean addresses the process for adding value for the customer; RCM addresses the equipment used for adding value to the customer’s product.

Neither Lean nor RCM is a quick fix. They both require a steady progression of change so that the gains can be sustained with minimal backsliding. Both require absolute commitment from top management and an unwavering focus on the customer. 

Steve Mueller is director of commercial operations for Daniel Penn Associates LLC, a CFE Media content partner.

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