Root cause failure analysis also plays an important role in times of major disasters. NASA's Failure Analysis and Materials Evaluation Branch analyzed more than 85,000 pieces of debris to find out the chain of events that led to the shuttle Columbia's disintegration at an altitude of 185,000 meters. RCFA is also extremely useful in the chemical industry and petroleum sector, where critical disasters can have devastating consequences.
Though RCFA is not a new invention or a discovery, engineers often turn to it because of superfluous reasons, such as lack of a budget or lack of time. Therefore what RCFA needs is not a traditional approach to find out who was behind the incident, but a novel approach to dig to the bottom of the problem and discover the real cause.
Engineering firms face both routine as well as chronic breakdowns. Most engineering firms typically devote nearly 80% of their engineering budgets to tackle equipment or device breakdown. Rather than spending the entire budget on superficial problems, it is best to put an effective RCFA plan in place.
What prevents RCFA from realizing its true potential is that people often take delight in wanting to know who did it, rather than why it happened. There are many reasons why people avoid RCFA, causing this highly effective tool to be less prevalent. Therefore, despite its obvious advantages, it has not achieved its true potential due to a variety of reasons.
Many engineering firms run on tight schedules and are constantly busy achieving targets and meeting order commitments. Hence, any engineering breakdown involves just a few quick fixes, and things proceed as if nothing serious happened. In many instances, RCFA is implemented as a "who did it" game rather than as a means to understanding the symptoms of the problem. Many times, RCFA involves compiling and filing a set of standard forms and procedures, treating it as an open-and-shut case. Often, engineers present a plethora of excuses, which boil down to examples such as:
- No time to do root analysis
- No supporting manuals documentation to enable commencing with RCFA
- Managerial vacillation—dillydallying and the use of deviational tactics
- The choice between doing either routine maintenance or following RCFA
- an aptly defined system of roles and relationships
- appropriate training
- a situation that warrants initiation of RCFA action
- managerial and expert support for the RCFA program