What is Preventive Maintenance and How to Get the Most Value Out of It
Ever find yourself on the receiving end of unwanted advice? Plan ahead, they say. Be an early bird, they say. Add preventive maintenance to your maintenance strategy, they say. The problem is, even if you know it is good advice to get ahead of issues before they happen, that doesn’t always make it easy.
In this post, we will tell you everything you need to know to jumpstart preventive maintenance where you work. You will learn:
What preventive maintenance is
The pros and cons of preventive maintenance
How to get buy-in across your organization
All the steps and considerations for getting started
Putting this information to use might just earn you your next promotion like this guy did! So read on.
What is preventive maintenance?
Preventive maintenance refers to maintenance work done at regular time frames to fix signs of wear before they lead to breakdowns. (You will also see it called “preventative maintenance” or just “PM.”)
Innovative organizations choose this approach because it:
Saves time and money with fewer equipment breakdowns and replacements.
Reduces delays, safety risks, and the damage to your company’s good name that comes with breakdowns.
Improves employee satisfaction.
Is great for any size organization and can be adjusted to your needs.
Over the years, preventative maintenance has proven to be an effective remedy that can be applied in virtually any industry. While it sees more use in asset-heavy fields like manufacturing, aviation, and construction, it is regularly applied in both industrial maintenance and facility management.
Where does PM fall on the spectrum of maintenance strategies?
To sell your organization on transitioning to a preventive maintenance mindset, let’s get you ready to talk about where PM falls along the spectrum of maintenance strategies:
With reactive maintenance, you spend most of your time fixing equipment that has already broken down. Also called “breakdown maintenance” or “run-to-failure maintenance,” it is the exact opposite of PM. Instead of getting ahead, reactive maintenance leaves you forever chasing the latest breakdown or malfunction. (Sounds like your job?)
Reactive maintenance appears to be a good method because Finance can argue it lets you keep the smallest possible maintenance team and uses the least spare parts. But when you think about the risks — and reality — of large-scale downtime, you lose money in the end.
With proactive maintenance, most of your work is focused on keeping your critical assets in tip-top shape. In other words, most of the maintenance work is done before they break down.
As you can see in the image above, preventative maintenance is just one of many proactive maintenance strategies. Actually, it is the simplest proactive strategy you can run!
If you think your managers are hesitant to give you the budget to implement preventive maintenance, start by telling them you want to move toward predictive maintenance. Since it is far more complex and expensive, you can “let” them negotiate you down to a PM routine, instead.
Very few companies have the resources for more advanced approaches like predictive maintenance. You need a big budget to buy the sensors and software, and an extra team member to install and service them.
If those barriers made you scratch predictive maintenance off your list, you are not alone. Many choose preventive over predictive because it is easier to adapt to your limited resources.
As we mentioned earlier, preventative maintenance is performed at regular intervals. Naturally, those intervals are not decided willy-nilly. You can’t just arbitrarily decide that Thursday is the day for visual inspections or that oil changes are to be performed only on Friday the 13th.
Based on how we define those intervals, we can differentiate between two types of preventative maintenance: time-based and usage-based maintenance.
Maintenance is done every so many years, months, weeks, days, hours, or minutes. It is scheduled regardless of the condition or usage of the equipment.
The time intervals can be set based on the guidelines provided by the equipment manufacturer and the maintenance tech’s personal experience, as well as on company and state regulations.
Here are a few examples of time-based maintenance:
Changing a filter every couple of months.
Changing oil every three weeks.
Monthly visual inspection of the conveyor belt.
Testing the fire protection system every six months.
Lubricating pumps every other week.
The main downside is the risk of overdoing it. There is an infinite amount of preventive work that could be done. When things are running smoothly, how much is too much? Fortunately, high-end computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) like Limble offer tools that make it easy to find the right balance.
As the name suggests, this is when routine maintenance is due after a specific amount of use. It is done regardless of the condition or time passed since the last service.
Here are some examples of usage-based maintenance:
Changing a vehicle’s oil after X miles/kilometers.
Servicing an asset after X number of working hours.
Performing maintenance every X production cycles.
Of course, this introduces a new — and sometimes intimidating — task: Keeping track of the usage of all your assets.
That is why Limble CMMS prompts your maintenance personnel and machine operators to record usage like mileage on your fleet vehicles. Once the number they enter exceeds the limit you set, Limble automatically creates and assigns a preventive maintenance task, complete with a checklist.
Here’s an example of another PM checklist in Limble — monthly HVAC servicing:
As you probably noticed, maintenance based on usage is more precise than relying on a calendar. It would be great to use this level of detail with all of your assets, but not all equipment can track its own mileage, cycles, etc. That is why you will likely end up using a mix of both usage- and calendar-based triggers when designing your PM strategy.
The argument for preventive maintenance
Here are all the arguments you can use if Management resists transitioning to a preventive strategy:
With a well-oiled (see what we did there?) PM program, you could find yourself replacing your most expensive equipment half as often. That doubles your asset life cycle! It is also about as cost-effective as it gets.
Reduce spare parts inventory costs
When you do a lot of unplanned work, you need a lot of spare parts on hand. Otherwise, you end up paying for expensive emergency shipping. With a predictable preventive maintenance schedule, you know precisely which spare parts you will need and when you will need them. Inventory management becomes a science instead of a guessing game.
As you will see below, a good CMMS like Limble will track your stock of spare parts for you. Then, it will predict when to order more based on historical data and your preferred thresholds. It can even make the ordering process more manageable.
Reduce labor costs
Relying on time-consuming reactive fixes can easily lead to overtime work which increases your labor costs.
A good preventive maintenance program helps you avoid that.
Reduce energy consumption
Assets kept in peak operating condition tend to require less energy to run. Some estimates show HVAC systems that are properly cared for can use up to 20% less energy than those that are not.
Improve compliance and safety
Some assets have a high risk of safety issues and accidents. As a result, government regulations require them to be tested regularly. By adding this compliance to your PM schedule — and actually doing it — your organization is at a much lower risk of costly lawsuits.
Takes down your downtime
We know that the moment a piece of equipment breaks down, the clock starts ticking, and the lost productivity (and revenue) begins to pile up. All the while, your maintenance team is in the hot seat.
Unscheduled downtime is not a direct hit to your budget, so it sometimes does not get considered. But, it does have a huge impact on your reputation.
Just like eating your full servings of fruits and vegetables every day (OK, or just taking your vitamins), it is the small steps you take that count for staying in good working order. Oil changes must be done regularly. Belts must be checked for strength and flexibility to keep working well. Preventive maintenance builds in these essential activities to make sure they get done.
Similarly, as with our physical health, the health of our critical equipment will still need attention at some point. And finding what needs fixing early can make all the difference.
Parts will wear out in unexpected ways. A good preventive maintenance plan ensures regular inspections by a maintenance technician. As a result, they are more likely to notice issues or signs of wear before they cause a breakdown. And when they do, you get to make careful decisions about how and when to resolve them rather than waiting until you have no choice.
Boosts your uptime
A breakdown can range from a minor annoyance to a major crisis. All it takes is one piece of equipment to bring down an entire production line. Even a broken HVAC in the middle of the summer can reduce productivity in your office.
Reliable equipment means that staff can stay on task. Underperforming assets can lead to idle time. And idle time is a waste of THE most important and expensive asset a company has — its staff.
Also, the team that plays together (safely, with well-functioning equipment) stays together.
Staff and management need to trust that their equipment is safe and will keep them at their most productive. Beyond that, your maintenance staff needs to feel like their sanity matters to the company. When you have a culture of prevention, they get to be ahead of the curve rather than players in a very un-fun game of whac-a-mole.
Beyond the basics: Where preventive maintenance can go wrong
You probably knew everything we just covered, so let’s dive into some meatier topics.
Risk of “excessive maintenance”
The most likely of all the drawbacks is that you may do maintenance that is not needed. No one wants to lose human-hours on visual inspections that are not needed or throw away parts that could endure additional wear and tear. It is easy for that to happen if you do not keep track.
Optimising the cost of maintenance. Source: Risktec
To stay in the optimal maintenance zone, just use control measures like those baked into Limble. Limble tracks parts usage to ensure that you are stocking only the items you actually use. It also has productivity metrics that can tell you with impressive accuracy when a failure may occur.
With these tools, you can be sure you are doing enough — but not too much — to keep things running smoothly.
More time up-front
Yes, it can take time to research and examine your equipment and develop a PM schedule. But many organizations have used Limble to manage their PM and are now seeing 70% less reactive maintenance work orders.
One customer saved over 3,000 human-hours in just the first few months. So is it a heavy lift? A little. Does it take a forklift? No. Is it totally worth it? Totally indeed.
More complexity up-front
Planning, communication, and tracking are required for a PM plan to work well. You will have to adjust some of your existing maintenance procedures when switching from reactive to preventive maintenance.
Here is the good news. This downside can be almost completely mitigated with the right software tool. Here is how it looks in Limble:
How Limble saves you time when implementing and running preventive maintenance
Is a preventive maintenance strategy right for you?
Every facility features a broad range of assets. Some are critical to production, some are kinda important, and some are on the chopping block. Different maintenance strategies incur different implementation and running costs.
We believe that the best approach to maintenance involves a mix of different maintenance strategies. For example:
use run-to-failure maintenance for low-priority, non-repairable, and soon-to-be-replaced assets
use preventive maintenance for medium to high-priority assets
use predictive maintenance for critical assets responsible for core business processes and/or very expensive to repair or replace
There can’t be one maintenance strategy that acts as a one-size-fits-all solution. That being said, preventative maintenance is the closest to it. So if you want to focus on a single strategy and your budget is limited, the choice is cut out for you.
5 steps to implement a preventive maintenance strategy
Have you ever lobbied for a major shift in the way you manage your work? If not, it can feel daunting. If so, you know how daunting it actually is.
We are here to help. Below, we break it down into manageable chunks — five straightforward steps — that will take you from start to (almost) finish.
Step 1: Get buy-in from relevant parties
This is the most crucial part. If you do not find a way to get people to want the change, they will never do it. The rest of your efforts will be a waste.
The stakeholders (people who care about and are impacted by your work) will vary from organization to organization. Still, they will likely fall into three categories. Here we break down why and how to bring each one on board.
Management and finance leaders
Here is the reality: Over 60% of decision-makers think maintenance is simply a cost of doing business and a necessary evil. Plot twist: Use that to your benefit!
If you can show them a way to increase efficiency, reduce costly downtime, and lower overall operating costs, they will be all-in. But the decision-makers in management and the friendly folks in Finance will need to be shown the benefits of preventive maintenance with actual data.
It takes 20 hours a month for a team member to process all the paperwork for purchasing. At $20 per hour, it adds up to $4,800 per year.
Limble would completely automate all that paperwork and would cost this organization $1,440.
By using Limble for the purchasing function, the cost savings for this organization was $3,600 each year.
In addition, it frees up that staff person who can now use their time filing for refunds on damaged or unused materials.
TOTAL BENEFIT after purchasing Limble: $3,600 per year plus any parts refunds.
That sounds like a no-brainer. Approved!
Production and operations leaders
The managers and supervisors on the floor can be important allies in making your case. They are just as invested in avoiding costly and disruptive breakdowns as you are. The more voices you have supporting this transition, the better.
In addition, Production will need to be on board with your new maintenance schedule as well. The operators will need to make equipment available for servicing. In some cases, you may even train the operators to do the simpler maintenance tasks themselves.
There are a lot of ways to earn this group’s support. If presenting in a big meeting is not your cup of tea, or if you feel you just will not get anywhere that route, here are some other suggestions:
Consider targeting them one at a time. One-on-one conversations can be very effective. You can root out what matters most to them and show how PM helps them get it. Personalize the message for each person this way.
Identify a recognizable term that you can repeat to remind others of the importance of what you are proposing. For example, the phrase “ahead of the curve” fits PM well. Use it in meetings where everyone can see management supports the concept. Then, if someone resistant to PM tries to give you extra tasks, you can say, “You’re right. Doing that is a priority. But I will not be able to do it until we get ahead of the curve.”
Maintenance technicians and tradesmen
Diligently following new schedules and using new software can be a big change, as can moving from a reactive to a preventive mindset.
The good news is, there is an easy way to get your team excited about the change: Include them in the process of developing your PM plan. They have hands-on experience with every piece of equipment. Ask them how they would like to see it cared for. Chances are that they have been telling you for years (in the form of complaints). Show them they have been heard. Before long, they will see it making their lives a whole lot easier.
Here is how your CMMS helps:
Checklists: With Limble, you can make it impossible to skip steps. We dive a little more into checklists later, but they are a great tool to reinforce best practices. For instance, to proceed with repairs, require a tech to upload a photo of lockout tagout equipment in place. You get both safety and good record keeping.
Dashboards: Each technician gets their own dashboard in Limble. They get to see a summary of all the tasks they have completed, both reactive and preventive. Your high performers finally start getting credit for all their amazing work. Underperformers have nowhere to hide. Teams have even been known to engage in a little friendly competition to outdo each other.
Step 2: Select your maintenance software
Every CMMS will have the standard modules/functions below. Make sure they are easy to use!
Unlike many CMMS, Limble offers different subscription options. This is a great way to get the mix of functions and modules that will work best for you. It also helps you avoid paying more for a system that offers bells and whistles you will not need or use.
Step 3: Pilot!
Once you have your CMMS software in place, think about how you will carry out your pilot. If you are using Limble, you have a couple of options here.
Option 1: Stand-alone project
Identify an upcoming project or specific asset that is a decent example of your overall workload. Use the software to guide you as you design its PM program. Invite only the relevant techs. Encourage them to talk up their good experience to the rest of the team.
Option 2: Build-as-you-go
Another way to approach a pilot is to hand Limble over to a couple of willing technicians. They begin by simply loading the next task that knocks on their door, regardless of the asset.
Get a call that the air-conditioning is not working? Open Limble and start your very first work order. This is one of the advantages of Limble in particular. It is ready to use right away. You do not have to load an entire plan for it to work. You quite literally just start using it.
If it is a more experienced technician, give them the time to enter all the steps they took to service the equipment/fix the break. Then, make that a standard operating procedure checklist to attach to tasks when it needs to be done again in the future.
Once you have decided on who and what will be involved, determine a timeframe for the pilot. Limble is so easy to use that you do not need to set aside much (or any) time for training. If anything, training might help staff feel supported in the change and ensure that everyone knows the expectations (more on expectations in our tips section below).
Step 4: Expand the program to other assets and team members
Gather feedback from the staff in your pilot on what worked and what did not. If you are using Limble, you can also call or message your rep, who would also love to hear this input to help you leverage the tool to its fullest.
If you took the standalone project approach and that worked well for you — and if you have the bandwidth — the next step will be a criticality assessment of all your assets.
As part of this process, make a note of:
which assets should be included in the Preventive Maintenance schedule
You will use this information to build out the remainder of your PM schedule, incorporating the schedule and learnings from the pilot.
On the other hand, if you took the build-as-you-go approach, you can simply expand the use of Limble to the remainder of your maintenance team. They can continue to build in each work order and project as they go.
Pat yourself on the back. You have a PM strategy in place!
Step 5: Done! Just kidding: Track and adjust
Here is a secret: Implementation is never actually over. Now that you have a solid PM program and a CMMS that facilitates and tracks how you are doing, you need to use all that valuable data. This is where it pays off.
The best preventive maintenance programs regularly review metrics provided by their CMMS and find ways to get even better. Here are some of the most valuable metrics:
work orders issued/completed (increases as preventive work assigned; common goal is 80% preventive, 20% reactive)
productivity (decrease in emergency labor hours)
decrease in total equipment downtime
equipment costs (initial increase when wasteful equipment is identified and replaced; decrease over time as PM takes effect)
Who gets which types of assignments (for auto-assigning)?
Who tracks the stats?
Think outside the box about roles
Do not limit yourself to your technicians and tradesmen. Limble checklists make some preventive maintenance tasks so simple, other staff can easily take them over.
For instance, give Limble accounts to printing press operators so Limble can prompt them to clean the printheads every three hours. This leads to fewer calls to technicians to resolve gummed-up parts.
When everyone does things their own way, it is tough to track tasks and know where to improve. It is tough to identify which part of a process is failing if it is not being carried out the same way every time.
Limble customers often tell their teams, “If it isn’t in Limble, it didn’t happen.” If a task is documented in Limble, that means your team followed the checklist — the same way, every time.
Monitor for follow-through
Use the metrics in your CMMS to:
Stay connected to your team.
Keep a close eye on the execution of your plan
Ensure techs are hitting deadlines
While all this happens, watch Limble build up a searchable work history on every asset. It’s a beautiful thing.
Use trusted leaders as champions
Sometimes, a trusted peer can be a lot more convincing than a boss. Identify the influential members of your team and let them bring the crew on board. If these individuals have both influence and skill, they may be your future maintenance managers.
Don’t dictate — motivate
While you want your team to be excited about this change, you also want to be realistic. If a team member has a hard time accepting checklists or other tools, help them understand the why. Emphasize that this will help everyone see how valuable their work is. Follow through on that promise by publicly acknowledging their contributions regularly.
Pay special attention to those who might be struggling
Garbage in, garbage out, so keep the garbage out! If you have added new CMMS software, make sure everyone is using it correctly. If work is not documented well, your metrics and reports will not be accurate. It is so important to spot and fix bad habits as early as possible.
The good news is that not only does Limble make it difficult to do things wrong, but it also makes mistakes easier to find. Your Limble rep will also keep tabs on your account and reach out if there appear to be anomalies.
2: Define and track relevant metrics
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. You are implementing preventive maintenance for a reason. Do you want to reduce maintenance operational costs? Lower your inventory costs? Reduce the number of unexpected breakdowns? Improve productivity?
Define your maintenance KPIs and then see which maintenance metrics you can use to track your progress towards those goals. If your records are a mess, you might need to run your CMMS for a couple of months to first see what your starting point is. After that, you can work on defining your maintenance goals.
Tracking important metrics is vastly simplified if you are using a CMMS. The software can automatically calculate a wide array of metrics like MTBF, MTTR, maintenance costs, planned vs unplanned work, are PMs getting completed on time, etc. Here is a screenshot from Limble’s custom dashboard that illustrates this in practice:
With a deeper insight into these metrics, it is much easier to identify what is preventing you from reaching your goals, as well as where you have the most room for improvement.
3: Lean into checklists
In Limble, you can create PM templates with as many (or as few) steps as you like. The more detail you provide, the faster the work gets done. Checklists speed up processes and keep a consistent quality of work. They are simple and easy to use and take any guesswork out of the day-to-day maintenance operations. Limble automatically attaches those PM checklists and diagrams to work orders, making consistency and communication the norm.
We mentioned this in the first tip, but it bears repeating. Start by developing realistic PM schedules that you know your team can achieve with the resources it has. If your initial PM schedule is unrealistic, you are set up for failure before you even begin.
With Limble, I can track all of our supplies that come in, how they are getting used, look at the usage rates, and then also be able to forecast budgets for next year. It has dropped my budget tremendously; I was actually able to hire another guy because of what we were able to save.
– Benjamin Scott, Facilities Supervisor, Intercontinental Hotels Group
5: Minimize excessive maintenance
The scariest risk of PM is as easy to avoid as one-two-three:
First: Adjust your PM schedule based on usage and working conditions
It may seem obvious that less maintenance is needed on an asset that is used less. Still, it is often not possible for manufacturer recommendations to take usage into account. Use those generic recommendations as a starting point. From there, also consider how much the equipment gets used and under what conditions. Adjust your schedule to account.
Second: Review assets you spend a lot of time on
Do you have a piece of equipment that you consider to be a problem child? A squeaky wheel (literally)? You know the one. If something takes up a lot of maintenance time, it is time to reinvent that (squeaky) wheel.
If you have multiple of that make/model, try a new PM routine on just one. If that resolves the issue, then voila. You have your solution. If not, keep testing out different approaches until you find one that works.
Third: Double-check your diagnosis
Most organizations will have a few stressful assets that never work right, no matter how much preventive attention they get. Excluding poor design and defective products, there are two common reasons why this may happen:
Fixes address the wrong problem (for example, doing too much lubrication instead of cleaning the gears).
The asset is misused (for instance, the equipment is not used correctly, or parts have been installed wrong).
Start by managing your maintenance. You cannot manage inventory well if you are not managing maintenance work well in the first place.
Standardize maintenance procedures. If you do the same work the same way every time, you will need the same parts at the same intervals.
Track and categorize spare parts.
Luckily, Limble was built to steer you right into these best practices without ever having to think about it. It’s like cruise control for best practices.
7: Automate it all with your CMMS
When fulfilling a work order, you are way more effective if you have the right tool for the job. The same is true for your PM strategy.
When implementing preventive maintenance, the CMMS you choose (or just using one at all) is the one choice that can make or break the transition. The right CMMS will address many potential drawbacks while incorporating all these tips and best practices.
CMMS is the ultimate preventive maintenance software
Throughout the article, we tried to showcase how a modern CMMS is indispensable for running an efficient and effective preventative maintenance program. We pointed to many different ways in which it supports the preventative maintenance process.
If you are not ready but are curious, try our free task ticketing system based on Google Sheets. It is a great way to see how automation through technology like Limble can help streamline what you do.
Be a success story
There are hundreds of success stories out there of organizations taking steps towards prevention. They all have one thing in common: they regret not doing it sooner.
There is not much else to say. Congratulations on mastering the theory behind preventive maintenance! We want to see you put it into action and reap the rewards. Show your organization your commitment to excellence and your ability to execute, you clever devil! Great things are in store for you.
"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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Take the management stress away from preventative maintenance.
Cheat-sheet to better productivity and reliability
Steps we've learned over years working with thousands of customers
Important tips to help you avoid common costly pitfalls when creating your PM plan