Overcoming Reactive Maintenance Challenges

Reactive maintenance is a form of physical asset management in which maintenance is only performed on equipment or machinery when it malfunctions or fails entirely. Sometimes referred to as run-to-failure maintenance or breakdown maintenance, reactive maintenance strategies provide the most basic level of asset maintenance and offer a minimum threshold of stability until your organization is prepared to take preventive approach to maintenance. The primary advantages of reactive maintenance are that it is a cost-effective and uncomplicated way to get the most output from assets before they fail. Though it can minimize long-term costs, preventive maintenance presents upfront costs of its own that some organizations cannot manage. 

These upfront costs aren’t always worth paying. Reactive maintenance may be your best option under the following conditions:

  • The cost of routine maintenance tasks would be higher than the cost of replacement.
  • The cost to maintain an aging piece of equipment would be greater than the cost of asset failure and replacement.
  • Equipment is uncritical and its failure would not impact productivity or create downtime. 

For more critical assets, a preventive approach to maintenance is typically best for maintaining operating conditions

Reactive maintenance management vs. preventive maintenance management

Reactive or corrective maintenance differs from preventive maintenance in a number of key ways. 

With a reactive maintenance workflow, maintenance is only performed after a malfunction or failure has already occurred. This minimizes initial costs and simplifies maintenance requirements while the parts or equipment in question are running. However, with reactive maintenance, little is done to prevent the occurrence of breakdown or failure. As a result, malfunctions often lead to significant downtime.

By contrast, preventive maintenance strategies, which fall under the umbrella of proactive maintenance, use monitoring and data analysis to plan, schedule, or trigger maintenance activities. These activities are performed proactively as a way to prevent malfunction or failure, minimize the downtown resulting from these events, and extend the lifespan of your equipment.

Reactive maintenance challenges

Even under optimal conditions, reactive maintenance presents specific challenges in areas like inventory management, operational continuity, and workplace safety. Preventive maintenance strategies can help mitigate these challenges. 

Below are five common reactive maintenance challenges as well as tips on how a more proactive approach can help. 

1. Managing spare parts inventory

Using a reactive maintenance strategy can complicate inventory management. When you forego routine inspections or maintenance, it can be difficult to anticipate which spare parts you should hold in stock and in what quantity. Businesses using a reactive maintenance approach risk carrying excess inventory or falling short when critical spares are needed. Either condition can have negative consequences. 

When you hold excess inventory, you risk tying up precious capital and reducing cash flow. Conversely, when you carry insufficient stock, you risk prolonging asset downtime and overpaying for emergency replacement parts. 

How can preventive maintenance help? 

You can mitigate these risks by incorporating preventive maintenance tools into your inventory management strategy. For instance, a parts management module can help you optimize spare stock levels by providing purchase prompts based on current inventory as well as disposal advice for parts that remain unused. 

This usage-based maintenance strategy can serve as a backstop to prevent excess inventory or a critical shortfall of parts. With a preventive maintenance strategy, you can deploy features like automatic usage tracking, inventory holdings management, traceability, and real-time reporting in order to keep your spare parts inventory database up to date.

2. Optimizing technician workloads

A reactive maintenance strategy may reduce your maintenance staffing needs while your equipment is functional. When malfunctions and breakdowns occur, however, your maintenance team’s plans may be thrown into disarray.

Malfunctioning equipment can cause work stoppages, disrupt project schedules, and demand task reassignment. One of the greatest disadvantages of reactive maintenance is that these events are hard to predict. This, in turn, makes it difficult to predict how and when your staffing outlook may be disrupted or when you may need to enlist the services of a third-party maintenance vendor. With reactive maintenance, you may not always be prepared to redistribute personnel and tasks to prevent lost productivity. 

How can preventive maintenance help? 

You can prepare for shifting technician workloads by integrating smart vendor management software into your maintenance program. An effective vendor management application should allow you to easily track and manage service contracts and contractors and oversee work order management

You’ll be able to control your spend, streamline communication with service providers, and ultimately connect assets with vendors that are responsible for maintaining them. This puts you in a position to swiftly deploy maintenance, repairs, and task reallocation when equipment failures and other maintenance issues occur. You may also be able to optimize your technician workloads by taking advantage of the calendar-based maintenance services that are often included in your service contract. 

3. Handling operational disruptions

Sudden and unforeseen breakdowns disrupt the work of machine operators, draw technicians away from routine tasks, and demand the attention and coordination of managers. In other words, this emergency maintenance approach can cause major operational disruptions throughout your organization.

Reactive maintenance produces variability in when, how, and why equipment fails. The result is an uneven and scattered approach to initiating maintenance work and resuming normal operation. 

How can preventive maintenance help? 

Some of this inconsistency can be mitigated with a well-planned failure maintenance program. A failure maintenance program can also help you counterbalance some of the heavier costs of reactive maintenance such as the reduced life expectancy of your equipment or the prolonging of unplanned downtime

Reliable CMMS software assists staff in developing, updating, and storing standardized maintenance procedures so that your team is ready with a clearly delineated plan for minimizing downtime and keeping repair costs low when equipment fails

4. Keeping the workplace safe

Aging equipment can lead to heightened safety risks. This is especially true of machinery which is poorly monitored and maintained. 

Whether your equipment relies on high-pressure hydraulics and spinning rotors or high-speed blades and abrasive chemicals, malfunctions can cause injuries to operators and pose an environmental hazard. Here, a reactive maintenance policy may be unsafe, and can even expose you to legal liability.

How can preventive maintenance help? 

Evaluate the potential of your assets to fail, the likely causes of failure, and the impacts on workplace safety by conducting a failure mode effects and criticality (FMECA) study. The FMECA is a formal qualitative method of carrying out a what-if analysis on your assets and tracking failures to their root causes.

In the absence of a full preventive maintenance plan, an FMECA study could help you identify failure modes that pose serious safety risks so you can coordinate maintenance-related work. In essence, this study lets you rank failure risks by their criticality so that you can detect, prevent, and/or reduce the severity of failure.

5. Lack of insights into asset performance and failure modes

Reactive maintenance strategies do not include measurements for failure modes, mean time between failures (MTBF), or total cost of ownership (TCO). 

Reactive maintenance simply doesn’t allow data-driven insight into asset performance, condition, or health. Business owners who take this approach place their productivity and profitability at the mercy of their equipment. 

How can preventive maintenance help? 

Maintenance software like a CMMS provides real-time access performance to enable process improvements and empower a transition to more predictive maintenance. This data is invaluable for making proactive decisions regarding maintenance and repairs while supporting the transformation of your maintenance program as a whole. 

More reasons to implement a preventive maintenance program

Despite their short-term benefits, purely reactive maintenance programs are actually very costly, inefficient, and potentially even hazardous. By contrast, preventive maintenance strategies are proven to: 

  • Eliminate the work stoppage and lost productivity caused by equipment downtime.
  • Reduce the frequency, cost, and labor hours dedicated to emergency repairs.
  • Improve maintenance operations and extend the lifespan of your assets.

Ready to transition from reactive to preventive maintenance

Adopting a preventive maintenance strategy can save your organization thousands or millions in maintenance costs, spare parts spend, lost productivity, and more. If you’re ready to make the switch, learn more with a look at our comprehensive guide on evolving from reactive to preventive maintenance.

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