Reactive Maintenance Explained: Common challenges and solutions
You get it. You understand that proactively maintaining assets is better than relying on reactive maintenance. Nobody needs another article that explains why being reactive sucks.
We know that you know that. What we also know, from talking with our customers, is that getting the green light to implement proactive maintenance strategies is easier said than done.
While you chip away at the “we don’t have money to invest into maintenance” shield Finance and Management like to hold so tight, here are some temporary solutions to common problems that come with a reactive approach to maintenance.
First, what is reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance is the simplest form of physical asset management that requires little to no planning. Operators run assets until they malfunction or completely break down. Only then are maintenance technicians called in to fix the issue.
If the issue is minor, a technician can perform a quick corrective maintenance action to bring the asset back to the required operational standard. This often happens in the case of a partial failure. The asset can still be used, but operating conditions are sub-optimal: the asset’s output is reduced in terms of volume or quality until the malfunction is resolved.
Equipment failure due to a complete breakdown is a whole other beast. When technicians are fixing a broken asset, we say that they are performing breakdown maintenance. It is a term that is often used as a synonym for reactive maintenance. Sounds simple enough.
Now, if the repair is performed on a critical asset that needs to be back in action as soon as possible, maintenance planners/coordinators will create a high priority Work Order and trigger emergency maintenance. This is a type of all-hands-on-deck situation that we all dread and try to avoid.
At any point in time, if the maintenance team doesn’t have enough resources to perform the repair (tools, spare parts, or labor), the task has to be delayed and put on a deferred maintenance backlog.
Below is an obligatory outline of the pros and cons associated with running a reactive maintenance department. If you are intimately familiar with the common benefits and disadvantages, feel free to skip this section.
Arguments for reactive maintenance:
Implementation costs are minimal
Reduced permanent staff numbers and costs
No stoppages for periodic inspections
Little to no planning required
Negative consequences of running reactive maintenance:
Unplanned stoppages will occur at inconvenient times
Costly downtimes will be prolonged due to spares or technician unavailability
Equipment breakdowns can compromise personnel safety
It will be very challenging to manage inventory
Repairs can be costly due to part deterioration beyond economical repair
Machine efficiency will drop for extended periods before stoppage
Preventative maintenance strategies reduce costs three to ten times. However, while reactive maintenance drawbacks outweigh the benefits, businesses continue to utilize this approach.
Why? There are plenty of reasons:
Top management doesn’t support the transition to proactive maintenance
The organization currently lacks the needed resources to start the transition and cover the initial cost
Maintenance managers are afraid that the transition might be unsuccessful – and that they might get blamed for it
People simply don’t know where to start
We are not here to sugarcoat anything. Proactive maintenance is vastly superior and way more cost-effective in the long run. You should push for it every chance you get.
However, you still have to keep the organization afloat while you’re doing that.
The following band-aid solutions provide ways of dealing with common challenges encountered during reactive maintenance scenarios, blunting the worst impacts on asset availability, safety, and cost – keeping you afloat until you are ready to start being more proactive.
Challenge #1: Keeping spare parts inventory in check
Inventory management is difficult with reactive maintenance. What spares should be held in stock? How many of each? What are the turnaround times on repairables?
Without reliable data, businesses find themselves holding excess inventory, tying up capital and reducing cash flow, or – with insufficient spares – prolonging asset downtime and incurring emergency purchase costs.
Solution: Simple inventory management software
Modern asset inventory management systems (AIMS) comprise modules to guide and support maintenance decisions, collecting and analyzing asset data while providing tools to assist spare holding decisions.
Businesses utilizing reactive maintenance can use such software to monitor historical spare utilization, repair cost, and turnaround time to identify optimum reorder points and economic order quantities (EOQ). Holding and acquisition costs will reduce while increasing asset availability.
While employing software is the most straightforward solution, it requires some upfront investment. Beside building custom spreadsheets, you don’t have many other options. Whatever your mode of inventory tracking, it is going to be much easier if you follow best spare parts management practices and develop standard operating procedures everyone should follow while picking up and returning items to the warehouse/storage room.
How can Limble CMMS help
Limble’s parts management module optimizes stock levels through purchase prompts based on current inventory while providing disposal advice when parts remain unused. It does that by utilizing automatic usage tracking, inventory holdings management, traceability, and real-time reporting.
Parts list view inside Limble CMMS
When technicians close a Work Order, Limble asks them to enter the spare parts used during the repair. Alongside barcode and QR tracking, it is the best way to keep the spare parts inventory database up-to-date.
Challenge #2: Managing technician scheduling and workload spikes
One benefit of reactive maintenance comes in the form of reduced maintenance staffing requirements. On the flipside, stoppages and breakdowns will often necessitate after-hours call-outs at penalty rates, as well as plenty of task reassignments that will mess with the current schedules.
When you don’t know your maintenance needs, it’s hard to schedule and allocate resources. As with inventory, you’ll usually have too many or too few.
Solution: Outsourcing select maintenance work
Opting for a long-term maintenance contract with specialized service providers removes the initial cost and the management workflow of having full-time staff. It shifts the administrative burden to the contractor, and – if drafted with care – the risk of personnel unavailability as well.
Such a contract should contain a service-level agreement (SLA) specifying maximum response times, minimum technician supply, expected safety standards, and agreements on rework costs.
Using historical asset performance as a baseline, you can agree on KPIs and metrics which will be used to reward or penalize the contractor should variations occur. A monthly fee should be agreed upon to smoothen monthly maintenance costs, with an uplift for maintenance work that exceeds the agreed figure.
Work Orders from Limble CMMS can be shared directly with your Vendor with one of your team able to oversee and approve the Vendor’s work.
The Vendor can receive instructions on exactly what to do, log what they did with comments and pictures, and finally attach their invoice straight to the Work Order.
Once the Vendor finishes working on your Work Order, notifications are automatically sent to your team to finalize the Work Order.
Sounds neat? That’s because it is. Here’s a video that shows this process in practice:
Challenge #3: Constant operational disruptions
Once a critical asset ceases operating to specification (or breaks down), the sole focus must be on returning the piece of equipment to operation.
Major breakdowns cause problems:
For machine operators as they are interrupted in their work
For technicians that have to leave what they are doing and run to a different location to perform more priority work
For managers that need to coordinate this unplanned work
In other words, equipment breakdowns can cause major operational disruptions throughout the organization.
Solution #3: Standardize procedures & plan for failure
Reactive maintenance produces variability in when, how, and why equipment fails. Rather than wait for a situation to occur and then implement inefficient fire-fighting behavior, plan your failure maintenance program ahead. It is the only way to sensibly mitigate the impacts of future failures – such as reducing the life expectancy for a piece of equipment or increasing unplanned downtime.
Set up a cross-functional team to develop a decision tree process, guiding personnel through the most effective actions in the event of a failure. Based on an if-then decision process, the variability of predicted failures can be included. The team can outline procedures and maintenance tasks that should be followed in all common failure scenarios.
A big advantage of having SOPs, maintenance checklists, and safety guidelines stored in a cloud-based platform like Limble is that you can access them on mobile devices regardless of your current location and the nearest desktop computer. A few taps on the screen and you’re ready to go.
Challenge #4: Compromised safety
Old equipment that is poorly maintained is bound to cause safety issues, especially when we are talking about heavy equipment and complex machinery.
Consider the simple case of a ruptured hydraulic hose. If you’re lucky, the spraying of high-pressure fluid will only cause a slip hazard. On a bad day though, the liquid is going to be sprayed over hot elements, causing a fire hazard, or it will find its way into an operator’s eye.
Similarly, failure of a high-speed grinding or cutting operation may eject abrasive or steel fragments at high velocity for a considerable distance.
In subsequent litigation, courts will be unimpressed by arguments for reactive maintenance.
Solution: Identify safety impacts from failure
As business owners and managers, we have a duty of care to all those affected by our operation. Understanding the potential of our assets to fail, how it might happen, and the impacts of such failure is a key plank in our execution of that duty.
Isolating the criticality of a specific failure empowers us to take action to reduce the severity of the failure, detect it early enough to prevent it, or modify the equipment to militate against that failure mode.
Even if you do not have the means to run a full-blown preventive maintenance plan, an FMECA study could help you identify failure modes that pose serious safety risks – so you can do something about it.
How can Limble CMMS help
Limble does not only provide the data to inform an FMECA study. It helps you coordinate maintenance-related work and resources to implement the necessary mitigation measures. Be that through more training, standardized procedures, PM plans, or something else.
Challenge #5: Lack of insight into failure and asset data
There is an old saying that ‘what gets measured gets managed.’ Reactive maintenance in its purest form does not measure failure modes, mean time between failures (MTBF), or total cost of ownership (TCO).
Without insight into asset performance, business owners abdicate the management of business profitability and success to their equipment.
Solution: Capture key performance data
Use a CMMS to capture asset cycles, calendar days, or hours of operation. Monitor failure modes, specific component performance, and equipment availability.
When you have access to historical performance and baseline data, it is way easier to spot problematic assets. Insight to frequent or costly failures permits tactical modifications to operations or equipment, minimizing maintenance costs and improving equipment uptime.
Limble gives you instant access to all of the maintenance data it captures over time, regardless of whether it is automatically captured data or something you or your technicians entered into the software.
Limble customers love to build custom reports. And then use them to set up a custom dashboard and project it on a nearby monitor or TV.
An example of a report dashboard setup inside Limble CMMS
Whenever someone closes a WO or makes other notable changes, the numbers are updated in real time.
Switching from reactive to proactive maintenance
While preventative maintenance reduces maintenance costs, improves asset utilization, and maximizes asset total economic life, some businesses still apply reactive maintenance principles to equipment. In those cases, it’s important to understand the potential for loss, inefficiency, and harm – so you can implement tactics to minimize those effects.
If you are ready to take your first steps towards preventive maintenance, we encourage you to go through the following resources:
"I can track my inventory and it sends me emails when I'm running low on an item. Also that I can track how much time I'm spending on certain jobs over an extended period of time."
— Cody Jensen
Very easy to use, access
"I like the price, the fact I can see it on my phone or the computer. I like that it is internet-based."
— Curt Waisath
Valley Salt LLC
It just works
"Honestly - the customer support has been fabulous. We had a minor feature request that was deployed within 24 hours - which is unheard of. Even better when you consider our business is located in a completely different time zone (somewhere in Australia). Limble is quite intuitive and I love the ability to have assets nested within each other."
— Ed Cronin
Great for smaller or larger facilities
"We haven't fully integrated Limble yet but we are already seeing improvements in our efficiency. As we fully integrate Limble we expect to see more benefits and increase our response and completion times. The customer support has been outstanding. The Limble team is very quick to respond to any questions and they are very open to suggestions."
— Mike Hill
Children's Home of Lubbock
Limble is the best thing to happen to this company
"Limble does such a good job at keeping track of what's been done and letting me know when and what I need to do next."
— Tom Jones
Little Giant Ladder Systems
Great product at a great price
"Terrific customer service, easy to use, and at a great value. Our old Maintenance software was very difficult to use and was very expensive."
— Brian Williams
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