By Isidor Buchmann
Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) is a maintenance strategy that provides continuous system dependability with a minimal level of maintenance.
RCM started in the 1960s and was adopted by the airline industry in the 1970s. The military followed in the 1980s and in the 1990s the process spilled into civil users, such as nuclear power plants, oil & gas, subways, hospitals and more. Defined by the technical standard SAE JA1011, RCM provides risk awareness that improves reliability while reducing the need for invasive maintenance and lowering operational costs.
“Fix it when broken” worked with old machinery. With air travel, this method no longer applies and United Airlines was the first company to adopt RCM for safety reasons. The design of modern aircraft and new machinery now harmonize with RCM to streamline maintenance.
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RCM will also work to maintain batteries once dependable diagnostic methods become available to measure state-of-health (SoH). But technology is lagging due to complexity and volatility in analysis. Battery performance indicators change when fully charged, empty, agitated or put into storage. Batteries carry the “black box” syndrome and do not reveal their condition to the naked eye. A pack looks the same when fully charged or empty, new or in need of replacement. In comparison, a car tire distorts when low on air or indicates end-of-life when the treads are worn.
Batteries are often installed and forgotten. A new battery starts with a capacity of 100% and fading goes unnoticed at first. Similar to a mechanical part, batteries can also fail prematurely especially if unduly stressed. Considering the growing importance, batteries should receive the same treatment as a critical part in an aircraft or machine in which wear and tear falls under strict maintenance guidelines.
Regularity authorities are aware of battery shortcomings and this is especially apparent in healthcare. Unlike pharmaceutical products that are tightly regulated, batteries are not well controlled. A biomed technician said: “Batteries are the most abused components; staff cares little about them and only does the bare minimum.” The whistleblower goes on to say that: “References to battery maintenance are vague and hidden inside service manuals.”
AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) rates battery management as one of the top 10 challenges. An FDA survey reveals that up to 50% of issues in hospitals are battery related. FDA points to deficiency in battery quality assurance by device manufacturers, lack of understanding in battery systems integration, and not knowing the end of battery life.