Reliability Tips: The layers of root cause

Torbjörn Idhammar
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How often is the phrase “The ROOT Cause of the problem” used at your plant/mill? This phrase is a bit symptomatic of how Root Cause Analysis is thought of.

The phrase implies that there is only one “cause” to the problem. Rarely is there a single root cause to any given problem. Usually, there are several reasons; to be sure there are several “technical causes” that interact to create a breakdown/failure.

We often forget to uncover the deeper layers of a root cause investigation.

When we define “root cause(s),” we typically define in several “layers.”

1. The technical causes – technical causes of the problem, often components and/or manufacturing process.

2. The human – The human causes of the problem

3. The system – The systematic causes of the root causes

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For example, a technical root cause could be that a bearing failed due to misalignment, the human cause for the same problem could be that the person aligning the shafts because he/she didn’t have enough time to do it right, the system cause could be that we don’t plan and schedule our shutdowns well, particularly to allow time for alignment.

It’s important to uncover the human and systematic root causes and not only the technical root causes in an investigation.

In your next investigation, practice uncovering the human and systematic root causes.

Do you need to learn a method for uncovering these layers of Root Cause?

IDCON’s Root Cause Problem Elimination Training is a good place to start.

TOR IdhammarThe Author:

Tor Idhammar is the president & CEO of IDCON, INC. 
He has a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a B.S in Industrial Engineering.  Tor has worked with more than 60 organizations in 20 different countries. 
He is the author of 4 books, co-editor for TAPPI 360, blogger at and now here at Paper Advance.

About IDCON:
IDCON is a reliability and maintenance management consulting firm. IDCON help organizations find and implement their true reliability potential through improved work management, preventive maintenance, spare parts management, root cause and more.

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