Root cause analysis (RCA) is a comprehensive problem-solving approach used to determine the underlining causes of non-desired performance. The “root cause” in RCA is the source for a particular failure or process breakdown. An analogy would be the common cold. While headaches and coughs are symptoms of catching a cold, the virus is the root cause. Root cause failure analysis (RCFA) is often used interchangeably with RCA but is usually referenced specifically for mechanical or equipment failure.

Why perform a Root Cause Analysis

Chronic issues are a major cost source in manufacturing. Critical equipment failures, unplanned downtime, and the manhours spent fixing recurring failures are all forms of waste that can be identified through root cause analysis. Unfortunately, organizations often work to address the symptoms of failure without tackling the underlining causes for said symptoms. This approach puts you in the firefighting mentality: you are constantly putting out fires without addressing the causes of the fires.

Implemented correctly, root cause analysis identifies the defect, categorizes the major variable causes, and uncovers cause and effect relationships between root causes and symptoms of the end failure. In other words, it pulls the problem out by the root so it can be addressed and prevented or mitigated in the future.

When to conduct a RCA

A root cause analysis can be time-consuming; thus, it is not advised for every failure or unplanned incident. For failures where effects are minor or non-existent or they are unlikely to reoccur due to unique conditions, root cause analysis will not be beneficial. Managing a failure immediately following an incident and executing corrective action is also a different process than RCA. Only after the situation is resolved and personnel are safe should an RCA be performed. So when should you conduct an RCA? Failures that are recurring, systemic, and critical are the best fit for the in-depth problem-solving method used in root cause analysis. Below are some examples.

Conclusion

RCA is effective at identifying failure causes and developing steps to prevent particular failures from reemerging, but only when done effectively. Brainstorming tools, such as the Ishikawa diagram, are useful to come up with possible causes, but can easily become overly complex and lead to ineffective follow-up. At MaxGrip, we help global companies prevent failure through our standardized root cause analysis approach. By standardizing RCA studies and conducting cross-departmental workshops to find all possible failure causes, we help organizations prevent their next future failure.

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