To the Armed Forces failure is not an option. This means a continuous quest for improved capability. However, improvements in capability are often achieved by the introduction of more complex equipment into service. In order to maximise the availability of such equipment and at the same time control support costs many Armed Forces use Reliability Centred Maintenance (RCM).
Originally developed as a tool for the design and review of aircraft maintenance schedules, RCM is a highly structured process used to determine the maintenance requirements of complex equipment. RCM incorporates a number of important features, in particular the process:
- recognises that maintenance tasks cannot improve the inherent reliability of an item for this is determined by its design, choice of materials, manufacturing methods etc.
- recognises that the maintenance requirements of an item will depend upon its operating context.
- considers how items might fail as well as drawing upon historical information about failures. Importantly a failure does not have to occur for preventive maintenance tasks to be implemented, as is the case with the “post mortem” approach
- uses consequences of failure to determine the need for maintenance.
Maintenance programmes resulting from the RCM process often include early failure detection techniques, such as the monitoring of fluids, vibration, performance etc because they are able to provide warnings before a failure occurs.
The provision of early warnings gives the maximum amount of time to take action and thus avoid the consequences of failure, although this usually requires the detection of relatively small changes in parameter values. It may also require the integration of several early failure detection techniques in order to confirm that a particular failure process has commenced.
Quite often early failure detection techniques fail to live up to expectations when applied to military applications. This is because it is difficult to achieve high levels of data quality within the military environment. It is also difficult to obtain and then verify feedback from the frontline.
Condition Based Asset Management has been developed to overcome the problems associated with military operations where failure is not an option. It provides a unique support infrastructure combining the practical experience of time-served military engineers with a robust expert decision support technology base and secure communications. This powerful combination ensures that the use of early failure detection techniques by the Armed Forces delivers real benefits.