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Preventive Maintenance vs. Reactive Maintenance

Maintenance worker with clipboard

Discover this comparative analysis of preventive vs. reactive maintenance, choosing the right strategy, and their synergy for optimal asset management.


Asset and equipment maintenance is critical to any facility’s operation. Proper maintenance can lead to favorable outcomes, such as reduced downtime and increased productivity, but balancing maintenance and production can be tricky. A good maintenance plan helps find and maintain that balance between reactive maintenance and preventive maintenance, enabling your organization to enjoy long-lasting productivity and operational efficiency.

ServiceChannel provides excellent resources to help you better understand the keys to a successful preventive maintenance plan and what reactive maintenance is for deeper insights into the roles these maintenance styles play within facility operations.

Introduction to Maintenance Strategies

Effective maintenance strategies make a tremendous difference in maintaining smooth operations and minimizing operating costs. By constructing a blueprint for maintenance teams, everyone knows their role and the processes involved in maintenance tasks ahead of time, reducing unwelcome surprises and maintenance costs.

Preventive Maintenance: Proactive Planning

Preventive maintenance and reactive maintenance are almost completely opposite approaches to maintenance planning. Preventive maintenance is a proactive approach to asset and equipment upkeep. The main benefit of preventive maintenance is that it can prevent potential equipment failure and lost production time by performing routine inspections, service, and equipment repairs. Facilities often employ these types of preventive maintenance.

ServiceChannel’s guide to planned maintenance is another excellent resource for further exploring strategies and methods for preventative maintenance.

Time-Based Maintenance

Time-based preventative maintenance tasks are scheduled based on predetermined time intervals. Asset maintenance schedules are often monthly, quarterly, or annually. Equipment with more delicate parts may call for daily inspections to ensure everything is operational.

Usage-Based Maintenance

Equipment usage hours are what trigger usage-based preventative maintenance tasks. Machines that run consistently are more likely to see more wear and tear in less time than other equipment. Shutting everything down for a few hours after 50, 100, or 1,000 hours of operation to inspect and repair equipment can prevent several hours of unplanned downtime in the future.

Condition-Based Maintenance

A condition-based approach involves performing maintenance tasks to respond to noticeable changes in the condition or performance of assets and equipment. This strategy might share some space with reactive maintenance approaches, except it addresses potential issues before they become problematic. Software-based condition monitoring tools help better track asset statuses, often catching details imperceptible to even the most observant maintenance team member.

Reactive Maintenance: Addressing Issues as They Arise

Unlike a preventive maintenance program, which seeks to proactively head off potential problems, a reactive maintenance strategy addresses equipment issues as they arise. This approach works best with equipment that’s easy to repair or replace, so operators won’t experience extended machine downtime while maintenance teams do their job. Reactive maintenance can take various forms, depending on the necessary response to an issue.

Corrective Maintenance

Corrective maintenance is the task of servicing equipment issues once they’re detected but before a total failure occurs. Compared to other reactive maintenance strategies, this approach offers the best likelihood of preventing unexpected breakdowns of machinery and assets.

Run-to-Failure (RTF) Maintenance

The RTF reactive maintenance approach is more dicey than other reactive maintenance strategies. This method allows the equipment to operate fully until it fails before performing any corrective maintenance tasks or repairs. This can lead to more costly repairs, equipment breaks, and extended operational downtime. In extreme cases, you might have to replace the equipment entirely.

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is less of a maintenance strategy and more of a reactive maintenance response to critical failures that pose an immediate threat to safety, operations, or property. Even with the most effective preventative maintenance plans and predictive maintenance tools, issues still occur, and emergency maintenance is necessary.

Preventive vs. Reactive Maintenance

Organizations must know the major differences between proactive vs. reactive maintenance. Effective asset management relies on making outcomes as predictable as possible, and a clear understanding of the various types of maintenance gives companies an advantage when laying out a maintenance plan. 

Timing and Frequency

Preventive Maintenance

With a preventive maintenance strategy, the maintenance team performs scheduled upkeep at regular intervals based on time, usage, or asset condition.

Reactive Maintenance

Maintenance tasks are performed only once a failure occurs, or a malfunction is detected.

Cost Considerations

Preventive Maintenance

Preventative maintenance usually involves upfront maintenance costs for keeping materials and other necessary resources on hand to perform maintenance.

Reactive Maintenance

This approach usually involves unplanned — and often emergency — maintenance. This can lead to higher costs for things such as rush shipments for needed materials and the opportunity costs and losses associated with unplanned downtime.

Equipment Lifespan

Preventive Maintenance

A preventive maintenance approach extends asset lifecycles by addressing the wear and tear before they become an issue.

Reactive Maintenance

Reactive maintenance is delaying or ignoring signs of failure before they happen. This can lead to premature asset failure and may require costly replacement equipment.

Downtime and Productivity

Preventive Maintenance

The preventive maintenance approach plans the shutdown of normal operation ahead of time, which minimizes impact on production.

Reactive Maintenance

Unplanned maintenance often takes longer to address, extending downtime during equipment failures and unnecessarily costing the business money.

Reliability and Safety

Preventive Maintenance

Regular preventive maintenance can increase reliability and extend the useful life of equipment and assets. Maintenance teams can prevent workplace accidents and injuries by addressing possible hazards in advance.

Reactive Maintenance

Foregoing preventive maintenance may lead to increased breakdowns and reduce the reliability of equipment and assets over time. Depending on the equipment involved, delaying maintenance can also lead to potential safety risks for personnel.

How to Choose the Right Maintenance Strategies

When choosing between reactive vs. preventive maintenance systems, consider several factors before deciding on an approach for each asset. Take these key elements into account when making your choice. 

1. Assess the Cost of Equipment Failure

Consider the potential costs involved if a piece of equipment fails. Assess the impact on production time loss, personnel safety, and business finances.

2. Evaluate the Ease of Monitoring

Consider the cost of monitoring equipment and the ease with which maintenance teams can identify potential issues early. A predictive maintenance software solution is a splendid way to easily track the condition and productivity of equipment, catching signs of possible issues before they become problems and preventing costly breakdowns.

3. Conduct a Critical Analysis

Perform analysis to determine which assets are most critical. A data-driven, analytical approach helps to more accurately evaluate the potential costs associated with equipment failure and enables you to prioritize maintenance efforts more effectively.

4. Utilize Maintenance Software

A powerful software solution with strong analytical and predictive maintenance capabilities, such as ServiceChannel, is an invaluable tool for constructing a maintenance plan, helping to reduce maintenance costs. Consider a predictive maintenance plan software to track and analyze real-time equipment data and anticipate issues.

Leveraging Preventive and Reactive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance may be the only way to go, and there’s no minimizing the importance of preventive maintenance. However, there are many instances where reactive maintenance is a perfectly acceptable route. Low-cost, low-impact assets don’t necessarily need the expense of regular, rigorous inspections and continued maintenance. Most successful maintenance organizations implement a blend of both strategies. In closing, here are some final thoughts to consider.

Predictive Maintenance

This data-driven approach analyzes historical and real-time data to anticipate maintenance needs and help avoid potential problems. Blended with a preventive maintenance strategy, a predictive maintenance plan is the wave of the future for maintenance organizations.

Holistic Culture

By recognizing the interconnectivity of all assets and equipment and understanding how each piece affects the others, you can better analyze which assets need the most attention and resources.

Real-world Examples

In 2010, a worker transferred chemicals from a containment cylinder to a processing vessel. The hose he employed had been deteriorating for some time and should have been inspected and changed long before he used it. The hose burst, spraying the worker in the face with hazardous chemicals, ultimately resulting in the most dire of consequences. Proper preventive maintenance would have caught this deficiency in such a critical piece and could have prevented such an outcome.

Industry-specific Applications

Industry-specific preventive maintenance practices include the pre-driving inspection of trucks in the trucking industry. In the pharmaceutical industry, processing equipment regularly receives a thorough inspection between batch runs. Operators tighten loose parts and replace damaged parts, sending the items to the maintenance team for repair.

Optimize Asset Management with ServiceChannel

A powerful software platform like ServiceChannel is the perfect tool for maximizing the effectiveness of your business’s asset management processes and maintenance plans. Get your organization’s reactive and preventive maintenance program on track today — contact ServiceChannel.

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