In this paper, a model is developed to evaluate the reliability and optimise the inspection schedule for a multi-defect component. The model uses a non-homogeneous Poisson process (NHPP) method in conjunction with a delay time approach. The inspections are designed to detect any defects in the component, however it can be imperfect. The defect is a definable state before a functional failure happens to the component. Occurrences of defects are assumed to follow an NHPP and a defect will be minimally repaired if it is identified during an inspection. It is shown that the failures occurring in an interval of inspection will also follow an NHPP. The situation of imperfect inspections and non-constant inspection intervals are considered. An algorithm is presented to optimise the intervals of inspections in order to maximise the reliability of the component, and the properties of the algorithm are shown. A numerical example with parametric study is given to show the performance of the model and the algorithm. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.