CBM – Useless – Why? Useful – How?


Condition Based Maintenance as the name implies is a tool and strategy to improve Maintenance. The basic philosophy is that we respond as per actual needs and not carry out activities as per a given plan or idea that forms in our heads. It does not depend on abstractions of any sort.

No doubt it is a fantastic concept.  I hesitate to call it a tool to solve our problems. What is the minimum it might achieve when used properly? It is known to reduce maintenance downtime by 50% (since we can plan the activity) and reduce surprise failures by 25% from a previous level of maintenance when CBM is not taken up as a strategy.


This is not a mean achievement. This is the minimum CBM can do. Properly utilized it has the potential to do much more. But as I look around I see industries after industries failing to achieve this minimum level of benefit.


Why does it not Work?


Naturally, it is time that we ask why?


First reason that comes to my mind is the level of difficulty to master the different techniques of CBM, which are becoming more complicated by the day. Whether there is a need for such complication is not known to me. But it takes time and effort to master the most valuable techniques we have and most industries aren’t quite willing to spare the time, effort and costs in order to achieve that mastery. The point is we master the techniques or the functioning and design of the machines. Obviously, it must be both. Without a clear understanding of the laws by which machines move it is not possible to make any headway through the use of techniques. Mastering techniques is more of mastering information. There is lot of information. But information alone can’t help us. Bits of information must be stitched together to weave a story. It is story that makes meaning and the story can only be told if the machine or the system is understood better. Unfortunately, machines do follow the laws of nature and the problem is we have till date understood a small and rather insignificant part of the inner working or Nature.


The second reason is improper understanding of the word ‘problem’. Most practitioners aim at finding problems. Is there something called a problem? Most fail to realize that the word problem is an ‘abstraction’ of the mind. It is rather funny that we even give names to different problems. We say mechanical problems, electrical problems, quality problems, operation problems etc. We don’t stop at that. Then we further classify the problems as bearing problems, coupling problem, unbalance problem, etc. That makes it pretty useless. Why? We are always looking at a part of the system and never the entire system as a whole. All problems are systemic. There is no such thing as a problem. The machine does not know of one. Nature does not know of one. How come we know of problems? And that is precisely the problem. And more we trying to qualify and define a problem more complicated it becomes, which itself becomes problematic.  


The third important reason is the application of the concept. To start with we buy some equipment. We then buy some software to go along with it. Have a list of ways we can detect possible problems. And lastly pick up some young boys & girls who have very little experience with machines and operations. Then we start with rotating machines. And then we tell that the objective is to find when a bearing would fail. It simply does not work. Why? This is simply because the ‘map is not the territory’. Having the infrastructure in the form of instruments, software, and people forms the ‘map’. The territory is improving Reliability of the system, Availability of the System and the Overall Performance of the System. Or in other words improving the system is the territory to be won. That is not what actually happens. The work design is grossly wrong leading to unacceptable results.


How Useful is it?


What happens when we correctly apply the deep conceptual understanding of CBM in a proper way? I would like to highlight three important cases from the real world. I would show you examples from process industries like steel, cement and chemical because in these industries the concept of ‘territory’ is vital for the survival of the industry. .


Case 1 – Chemical Industry


In a chemical factory, they were having 24 breakdowns a month. Obviously this was a pain. Pain was not only in trying to restore the system back but the pain was in loss of costly material and the time it took to restart the system. This was making them uncompetitive.


When they applied CBM in the proper way the results were amazing.


  1. Breakdowns reduced from 24 failures a month to 1 (one) failure a year.
  2. The annual consumption of spares reduced by 50%
  3. Productivity improved by 30%
  4. Profitability improved by 20%


Case 2 – Cement Industry


One of the well known Cement factories in India had a full fledged sophisticated CBM system in place. In addition, they were the first plant in India to have achieved the coveted Japanese TPM award.


But even after all these they were having around 57 breakdowns a year. After proper implementation of the CBM concept, the results were more than wonderful.

  1. Number of breakdowns reduced to 1 in a year.
  2. Longest kiln run hours in India
  3. Maintenance costs reduced by 2/3
  4. Profitability up by 15%


In fact they still win the international prize for the best overall maintenance performance amongst cement industries in the world. This is the 10th consecutive year they won the prize. That is not a mean achievement.


Case 3 – Steel Industry


In a Steel Industry their profitability was affected by the consistently poor performance of their equipment. The Availability stood at a maximum of 88%. Breakdowns were heavy and frequent. Their Yield was no better than 92%, 5% short of the best international standards. The Reliability was as poor as 33%.

After proper implementation the results were astounding.


  1. Availability went up from 88% to 99%
  2. Yield improved from 92% to 99.7% (presently the world standard)
  3. Reliability went up from 33% to 96%
  4. Profitability went up by 6%


The important thing is that they have been maintaining these standards for the last 6 years with the minimum of investment in CBM.




  1. Techniques & sophistication are secondary. The concept is primary.
  2. Take time to learn the methods of knowing and reading reality.
  3. There is no such thing as a problem
  4. The map is not the territory.
  5. Understand the ‘whole’ and not try to improve the system by parts.
  6. Design the work system correctly to achieve the end.
  7. To gain results invest in talent and less on techniques.
  8. Solve all problems in one go to get ongoing benefits for years to come.
  9. Learn from failures.
  10. Induct people who learn from failures and have good idea of machines and systems.
  11. Monitor what is going right not what is going wrong.
  12. Aim at improving the Reliability Availability and Performance of the System to maximize your gains.


It is most interesting to find that the same concept of CBM can be applied to almost anything an organization does or any issue an organization is faced with.  The effectiveness of the concepts of other strategies for organizational improvement fade in comparison to the improvement concept embedded in CBM concept. Why? Because it is based on how Nature behaves not what we think the way it must behave. That is a natural advantage.


Should we go for it?


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