What is reactive maintenance?
Reactive, emergency or breakdown maintenance is performed when equipment fails, and is the process of restoring its intended function by replacing or repairing faulty parts and components. It is well documented that the costs of reactive maintenance are high due to unplanned production downtime, damaged machinery, overtime, callout fees, caused by the uncertain timing and nature of failures. Ideally, reactive maintenance should only be performed on components that are inexpensive, easy to replace or whose failure does not cause collateral damage in the system. There is one exception. Reactive maintenance is ideal for business that cannot plan work due to the nature of the industry, for example, satellite communications. It is too costly to send technicians into space to perform regular preventive maintenance.
Relying on a reactive maintenance is like flying blind, however, reactive maintenance is still the predominant way of working in North America. Approximately 55% of maintenance activities in the average facility are still reactive. Many organizations baulk at preventive maintenance and rely exclusively on reactive maintenance as their only form. Why so? The principle reason for this phenomenon is lack of budget. This in turn leads leads to less planning, less oversight and fewer technicians. Maintenance is perceived in many organizations as a cost center whereas it should be seen as an asset to the business. It can be the difference between meeting those orders on time or failing miserably.
Advantages of reactive maintenance
- Lower initial costs – As your systems are new, they require little maintenance so you save on parts and emergency labour.
- Requires fewer staff – Complex repairs tend to be outsourced reducing the need for internal staff.
- No planning needed – Technicians repair equipment when it fails. As fails are unpredictable, no time is spent planning the repairs.
Disadvantages of reactive maintenance
Due to the unpredictable nature of reactive maintenance, there are a bigger number of disadvantages:
- Difficult to control budgets – As equipment failures can be unpredictable, labour and spare parts may not be readily available so organizations may end up paying a premium for emergency parts shipping, travel time and out of hours support.
- Shorter life expectancy of assets – Reactive maintenance does not keep the systems running in optimal “as new” condition. Over time, systems that have been maintained deteriorate faster so don’t maximize their initial capital cost investment.
- Safety issues – When work is scheduled, technicians have time to review the standard procedures and safety requirements to complete the job correctly. Technicians tend to take more risks when maintenance work is reactive as they are under pressure to get systems running without delay.
- Time consuming – Reactive repairs tend to take longer due to a number of factors including time to diagnose, travel time, time to pull parts from stores or emergency order, time to pull correct manuals and schematics… etc
- Sporadic equipment downtime – planned maintenance can be written into the production schedule whereas unplanned repairs can happen anytime. Also, there is the uncertainty around the length of delay due to the repair.
- Inefficient use of resources – Technicians spend time running around looking for the correct manuals and schematics, ordering the right parts etc trying to diagnose and fix the issue.
- Interferes with planned work – Emergency repairs are usually prioritized at the expense of planned work. Planned work may be pushed or cancelled completely.
- Collateral Damage – A minor issue could quickly into a major system repair. If your engine is low on oil, it could result in a completely seized engine. I personally had a water leak that spilt onto an electronics cabinet, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damaged electronic boards.
- Indirect costs – Unplanned downtime can lead to late orders if equipment cannot be returned to production in time. This can damage reputations and impact revenues. I previously wrote about how it can affect the customer’s perception. Read more here.
- Repeat issues – Reactive maintenance does the bare minimum to get the system up and running again. If not repaired correctly, the issue could reoccur and cause more downtime.
- Higher energy costs – If you don’t service your car, it burns more fuel! When equipment is not properly maintained, it uses more energy. Doing simple things like greasing moving parts or changing filters can reduce energy consumption by 15%.
Reactive maintenance is a fact of life
Fixing damaged equipment quickly is important to minimize downtime but relying on a reactive maintenance strategy is a costly way to operate. Emergency repairs cost 3 to 9 times more than planned repairs so they can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Planned maintenance leads an increase in system availability, better reporting, efficiency improvements and a reduction in maintenance costs….all due to fewer emergency repairs, vendor call-outs spare parts and productivity losses. However, there is a point where the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Continually increasing planned maintenance on equipment eventually hits the point where it becomes too costly. And even with a first-class planned maintenance strategy, it is impossible to avoid the occasional emergency repair. Humans build machines so they tend to break!
But we don’t have a choice!
Reactive maintenance is present in all maintenance strategies, because sometimes equipment breaks down and needs to be repaired but it should be part of a maintenance strategy, not the maintenance strategy itself unless you’re in certain industries like mentioned above. If you choose to rely heavily on a reactive maintenance as your asset management strategy, then you need to ensure the failure event has minimal impact on the business. You can reduce the impact of unplanned failures further by running parallel production lines, stocking a full set of spare parts, documenting emergency procedures, training your staff on how to respond to emergency repairs and kitting them out with the tools and skills needed to complete any repair.
Even if your day is spent fighting fires, you can still reap the benefits from employing a CMMS like Maintenance Assistant in your organization. You can record repairs as they happen so technicans can reference them in the future; load your parts into the inventory module so technicians can check stores in realtime; run reports so maintenance managers can see how they’re spending their hours; preload safety checklists into every work order; pull manuals, schedulatics and SOP’s from the asset record toolside. The list goes on!
What is the best case scenario?
The ideal maintenance strategy is an 80/20 ratio of planned to reactive maintenance and using a CMMS system like Maintenance Assistant can help you get there. It helps maintenance managers plan and execute preventive inspections and maintenance to minimize reactive repairs. In a previous blogpost, I outlined 3 ways to get preventive maintenance under control using the 80/20 rule and those ideas could be adopted here. One further recommendation would be to split the team into preventive and reactive crews to handle the different repairs. This means the team focused on preventive maintenance can stay focused on preventive maintenance and try isolate those issues before they occur. In time you’ll see reactive maintenance and associated costs plummet. Don’t forget to rotate the 2 crews so they maintain their skills and competencies.