Reactive Maintenance

Everything you ever needed to know about reactive maintenance.

(Free Guide) Switch from Reactive to Preventive Maintenance

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.

On some occasions, it will make sense to purposely let an asset run to failure – with a plan in mind on how you will deal with the failure. That is called run-to-failure maintenance. Here are five scenarios in which you might want to let your asset run to failure.

Pros and cons of reactive maintenance strategy

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 
  • Assets will not be utilized properly and their useful life will be reduced
  • The maintenance costs and budget will be extremely difficult to control and forecast

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.

5 Examples of reactive maintenance challenges

Here are 5 examples of temporary fixes that address typical challenges faced during reactive maintenance situations, mitigating the most severe effects on asset availability, safety, and cost – these solutions keep you stable until you’re prepared to adopt a more proactive approach.

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.

How can Limble CMMS help

Using integrations such as Limble’s vendor management features, maintenance managers can easily track and manage service contracts and contractors. You can associate assets with vendors that are responsible for maintaining them:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

This valuable tool empowers staff to activate pre-agreed actions without senior management involvement, reducing mean time to repair (MTTR) and shortening equipment downtime.

How can Limble CMMS help

Limble CMMS assists staff in developing, updating, and storing standardized maintenance procedures, providing a digital, interactive, and integrated system designed to streamline and automate your internal processes.

Creating checklists and procedures in Limble CMMS

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. 

This is where failure analyses like FMECA come into play. A failure mode effects and criticality (FMECA) study is a formal qualitative method of carrying out a what-if analysis on your assets and ranking those failure modes by criticality.

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.

Having this data is extra useful if you ever plan to run advanced maintenance strategies like predictive or prescriptive maintenance.

How can Limble CMMS help

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. 

Alongside predefined fields, we allow our users to define as many custom variables as they want. All of those variables can be used to build maintenance reports of varying complexity

Limble’s custom report builder

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.

Want to see Limble in action? Get started for free today!

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:

The transition to proactive maintenance is much easier with capable CMMS software. If you’re interested in Limble CMMS, you can start a free 30-day trial here, request a demo, or even try out our online self-demo.

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