Risk based maintenance (RBM) is the result of combining lean management philosophy with conventional risk management. You could also call it “smart maintenance” or “informed maintenance” since it relies heavily on data and planning. It has useful implications in both risk prevention and crisis management.

Overview: What is risk based maintenance?

Companies that employ a risk based maintenance approach deploy their maintenance assets according to the potential consequences of failure. This means that best practices for RBM depend heavily on industry, company processes and even individual circumstances. Before implementing this strategy, businesses need to know all the things that could go wrong with a process and what the consequences might be.

For example, failing to keep oil in a car engine can cause a complete breakdown, while failing to keep a water bottle in the cup holder only means you might get thirsty on the trip. In a risk based maintenance approach, you would spend much more time and money making sure the car is stocked with oil than you would water bottles.

3 benefits of RBM

More efficient and effective internal investments are the primary benefits of a successful risk based maintenance plan.

1. Better understanding risks

The first tangible benefit of RBM is a firm understanding and assessment of risk in a particular process. It’s important to recognize all of the things that can go wrong, why they might go wrong and what will happen when they do. Fewer surprises means less variance, which is the ultimate purpose of Six Sigma practices.

2. Crisis prevention

Since RBM focuses a large proportion of assets to the most serious problems, it is a direct benefit to preventative action and crisis management efforts. It offers potential for lean management principles alongside an increase in optimized maintenance coverage.

3. Cut down on waste

Risk based maintenance is another way of saying smart maintenance, which is focusing resources only where they are needed. This has the obvious effect of reducing waste, which is always a desirable goal for companies at any stage of process management.

Why is risk based maintenance important to understand?

A solid RBM plan and implementation can be a powerful tool, but the balancing act between minimal expense and maximum coverage can be tricky.

Information is king

As any seasoned lean management practitioner knows, you can’t apply any kind of data-driven solution without ample information at your disposal. This is particularly important when assessing and proactively addressing risk, because a single miscalculation could throw off the value of the entire program.

Consequences you can handle

Every decision and situation has consequences. A basic way to wrap your head around this dynamic is a “pros and cons” list, but serious business decisions are often too complex for that kind of comparison. However, it’s important for leaders to fully consider the consequences of the prevention as well as the problem before deciding on how to handle a particular risk.

Frequency versus severity

Even though RBM focuses on risks with severe consequences, you do need to achieve a balance with the likelihood of different outcomes. Many scenarios have different degrees of potential outcomes, but the levels of risk are not always the same.

An industry example of RBM

A commercial HVAC service provider installs, repairs and maintains large-scale heating and air systems for enterprise clients. Semi-annual inspections are a regular part of the maintenance plan for many clients due to the frequency of use and essential nature of the equipment.

Since the systems themselves can be vast and include complex machinery with dozens of components and hundreds of yards of duct-work, it’s practically impossible to check everything each time. That’s why the company applies risk based maintenance to spend most of their time checking things that matter most, including furnaces, fans and condensers.

Failure of any of these critical parts would cut operations completely, while a clogged vent or broken duct would only partially compromise efficiency. That’s why technicians only spend a few minutes checking ducts, but many on the comparatively small appliances.

3 best practices when thinking about risk based maintenance

It’s a good idea to refresh yourself on basic best practices for general maintenance programs, because they are just as applicable here.

1. Learn to adapt

Both lean management and risk management depend on your ability to pivot according to the evolving demands of the situation. RBM is a living and dynamic process that requires continuous improvement and application.

2. Set trial periods

If you know going in that you have a lot to learn and change, you can create a strategy with that expectation. Make the first few months of your RBM an onboarding and experimental period that maintains flexibility and attention to all incoming data.

3. Cost and consequence

Ultimately, the only way to truly compare different risks in different processes is to assess their impact on the overall output of the operation. This usually takes the form of a product or service delivered to a customer, but can also be analyzed according to direct financial impact.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about RBM

What are the basic approaches to maintenance?

Risk-based maintenance is only one of several archetypal strategies. Other strategies include corrective maintenance, preventative maintenance and condition-based maintenance.

How is risk-based maintenance used in trades?

RBM is a popular concept in HVAC and related industries due to the nature of system maintenance needs. Consumer economy is always a leading priority, which compels constant evaluation of potential risk and efficient solutions.

What is condition-based maintenance?

Condition-based maintenance is a “live” counterpart to RBM. This strategy focuses on monitoring vital metrics, like a tire pressure gauge in a car, so they can react immediately if things go outside of acceptable boundaries.

There is always risk

Every process has risks, including the process of doing absolutely nothing. You can’t eliminate risk and you can’t always control it, but you can learn how to manage your exposure and relationship with it. Risk based maintenance is a sensible and effective strategy in many lean management programs that helps businesses develop ideal improvement targets.

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