Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA)

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If you’re a manager, maintenance technician, or lubrication technician, then you must understand what root cause failure analysis (RCFA) is and how it can help your team achieve better outcomes. RCFA is a problem-solving approach that helps identify and fix the root cause of failures instead of just addressing the symptoms. RCFA is often used in businesses, manufacturing, and engineering contexts, where it can be used to improve process stability and reliability. The goal of RCFA is to find and correct the underlying causes of failures so that they cannot reoccur. This can be a complex process, but by using the proper tools and techniques, you can successfully identify and address the root causes of your problems. By using RCFA, your team can prevent recurring failures and improve overall equipment reliability.

What is Root Cause Failure Analysis?

Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) is the process of identifying the root cause(s) of a given failure to determine what corrective action(s) must be taken to mitigate or lessen the likelihood that the issue will repeat due to the same root cause(s). Anything from a product or procedure to a service could be the root cause of the failure. Understanding the distinctions between symptoms and causes is crucial before beginning RCFA. To truly solve your problem, you must identify and address the actual root cause of failure rather than just its symptom. Let’s define these two phrases:

  • Symptom – Indication, consequence, or manifestation of a problem or failure.
  • Root cause – The deeper reason behind a problem or failure.

Root Cause Failure Analysis (RCFA) vs. Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

RCFA focuses on finding the root cause of the failure, whereas RCA identifies the contributing factors. In both processes, you collect and analyze data to determine the root cause, as well as make a plan for corrective action. Due to its heavy reliance on data during the collection phase, RCFA typically involves fewer steps than RCA. In this case, it is typically not necessary to perform any additional testing to validate your results. Additionally, RCFA is less resource-intensive than RCA since it does not need to recreate the failure conditions.

The Benefits of RCFA

Reduce Rework and Production Losses

When your product or process fails, it’s likely to result in non-conformances, requiring rework or scrap. Identifying, understanding, and resolving the root cause of failure minimizes non-conformance occurrences.

Improve Profitability

Reworking or scrapping an item, as well as stopping the production line, incurs a cost that negatively affects your financial performance. You are less likely to face a significant financial impact if you carry out RCFA correctly and diligently.

Increase Customer Satisfaction and Business Reputation

Failures do happen, and sometimes they occur when your product or service is in front of your customer. To rebuild customer confidence, you must get to the root cause of the failure, and implement the appropriate corrective measures.

When to Use Root Cause Failure Analysis

RCFA is often referred to as reactive since it is frequently conducted following a critical failure. However, RCFA can be a proactive method for preventing future failures when used effectively. An initial RCFA cause map can be useful during equipment rebuilding or disassembly following a malfunction. RCFA data collection can be crucial during this phase. In addition, it can provide insight into what caused the initial failure, enabling corrective action before rebuilding to avoid future problems.

The RCFA Process

Root cause failure analysis typically consists of three phases: collection, analysis, and solution.

Phase 1: Collection

Data is vital to investigate the failure and identify the problem. Defining the problem should be brief and easy to understand. Often, insufficient resolutions result from overly complex or solution-biased problem statements. In most cases, you can gather a fair amount of data in the form of failed components, reports, or staff testimony.

Phase 2: Analysis

Analysis focuses on the failure cause and effect chain that ultimately leads to root cause identification. The cause-and-effect methodology and a “fishbone” diagram are perfect for more complex systems. These two methods help with the integration of cross-functional impacts and understanding the failure from an overall perspective.

Phase 3: Solution

It’s now time to come up with a solution. Your goal is to break the cause-and-effect chain uncovered in the analysis phase. Therefore, the potential to break the causal chain increases as the chain becomes more developed. Solutions typically consist of both corrective and preventive measures, along with steps to evaluate their effectiveness.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Root Cause Failure Analysis

It’s tempting and far easier to treat symptoms than it is to identify the root cause of a failure. Treating the symptom means you get back to work faster, but it puts you in a vicious cycle of constant repair leading to a catastrophic failure. While it requires some work, root cause failure analysis is a tried-and-true method to break that cycle. But, don’t undervalue the time and resources needed either. In RCFA, a lack of dedicated resources is frequently the reason you don’t get to the real root or your corrective action isn’t effective. Alternatively, don’t overlook the improved profitability that results from addressing the root causes you identify, though, when considering the cost of RCFA. Failure is inevitable, and when it happens, RCFA is the crucial process to minimize and prevent it from happening again.

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