What is reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance (also known as “breakdown maintenance”) focuses on restoring equipment to its normal operating condition after it’s already broken. The broken-down equipment is returned to working within service specifications by replacing or repairing faulty parts and components.
Emergency repairs cost 3 to 9 times more than planned repairs, so maintenance plans that rely on reactive maintenance are generally the most expensive. This kind of maintenance approach is so expensive because shutdowns happen during production runs (instead of pre-scheduled maintenance shutdowns during downtimes), because expedited shipping for spare parts costs much more than regular shipping, and because maintenance staff is often forced to work overtime to repair machinery.
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
Reactive maintenance is unpredictable, which means there are a number of disadvantages:
- Difficult to control budgets– Equipment failures are unpredictable, so labour and spare parts may not be readily available and organizations may end up paying a premium for emergency parts shipping, travel time, and after-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 and 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. Factors like time to diagnose, travel time, time to pull parts from stores or emergency order, and time to pull correct manuals and schematics, all impact how long it takes you to get back up and running.
- Sporadic equipment downtime– Planned maintenance can be written into the production schedule whereas unplanned repairs can happen anytime.
- 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 turn into a major system repair. If your engine is low on oil, it could result in a completely seized engine.
- 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.
- Repeat issues– Reactive maintenance does the bare minimum to get the system up and running again. This can lead to recurring issues and eventually cause more downtime.
- Higher energy costs– 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 up to 15%.
When should I use reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance should only be used on components that are inexpensive, easy to replace, where the failure does not cause collateral damage in the system or where the cost of reactive maintenance is not greater than preventive maintenance.
Reactive maintenance is also ideal for business that cannot plan work due to the nature of the industry. Satellite communications for instance—it is too costly to send technicians into space to perform regular preventive maintenance, so it’s just expected that these assets are maintained as needed.
And unless you’re clairvoyant, there’s bound to be some reactive maintenance in your strategy, because you just can’t predict all equipment failures. The rule of thumb is that you should aim for 20% of your time to be devoted to reactive maintenance, which gives you the bulk of your time to implement a preventive maintenance strategy.