What Is Reactive Maintenance in Asset Management

You have probably heard of “reactive maintenance” before and may wonder how it fits into the maintenance category since it does not involve proactively maintaining an asset as the name “maintenance” implies.  

However, reactive maintenance is a term used to differentiate between reactive and proactive types of maintenance.  

Since most maintenance departments have to start somewhere, they will usually start with reactive maintenance and then progressively grow into more proactive measures.

In this article, we will cover what reactive maintenance is, different types of it, examples of it, its disadvantages, and steps to get out of a reactive state.

What is Reactive Maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is when maintenance technicians perform repairs on machines after issues occur. Assets with preventive maintenance plans may still have issues that occur that require reactive maintenance.  

The goal of preventive maintenance is to reduce the amount of reactive maintenance. World-class preventive maintenance levels are around 80% preventive and 20% reactive.  

As far as cost is concerned, reactive maintenance may seem like it would be cheaper, but it can cost you more in the short term and long run due to reduced asset lifespan, higher energy costs, and lost production time.  

When you are in a reactive maintenance state, parts for unplanned repairs will generally cost more because you will need to get expedited shipping to get parts sooner.  

4 Types of Reactive Maintenance

Not all types of reactive maintenance are equal. Some types of reactive maintenance are a result of a maintenance department with little resources, whereas others are done intentionally.  

1. Breakdown Maintenance

Breakdown maintenance occurs when a machine has completely broken down and stopped working. If the machine was responsible for production, production is postponed, and the technician repairs the machine to get it back in working order to help production resume quickly.

This type of maintenance is almost always unplanned and therefore can interfere with production and often requires quick repairs that can cause the lifespan of the asset to decrease.

2. Run-to-Failure Maintenance

Just as the name implies, run-to-failure maintenance involves running a piece of equipment to failure before repairing it. This type of maintenance is the unique intentional breakdown maintenance and will usually be done on a piece of equipment that does not directly impact production or pose a safety threat when it fails.

Usually, this type of maintenance is reserved for low-cost repairs that do not have much benefit in fixing proactively; e.g. changing the battery in a watch.

When this type of maintenance is performed on non-critical machines, it can provide more time to focus on assets with a higher criticality rating (Read our blog “How to Rate the Criticality of Your Equipment”). However, in most cases, it is beneficial to focus on preventive maintenance for all of your assets to prolong their service life.  

3. Corrective Maintenance

Corrective maintenance is maintenance done to solve issues on a currently functioning asset. This may be done to an asset while it is still operating, or only require a brief period of downtime.  

The technician will repair a part that does not necessarily cause the machine to break down completely, but could potentially cause other components to stop working or reduce production capacity.  

While this is one of the more proactive reactive approaches, it is still considered reactive. It is done in response to an issue, rather than done as a result of predictive analysis or a planned frequency.  

4. Emergency Maintenance

This type of maintenance is also just like the name implies. When a machine breaks down and poses a safety or health risk to employees, the repair of the machine is considered emergency maintenance.  

Machines that require this type of maintenance usually have a higher criticality rating. If you decide to do a hybrid of reactive and preventive maintenance, you should prioritize assets with higher criticality ratings in your preventive maintenance strategy.  

3 Examples of Reactive Maintenance

Reactive maintenance will look different across industries, but in most cases will usually lead to lost production, safety issues, or damaged assets. To give you an idea of what reactive maintenance looks like, we will cover three examples in unique industries.  

1. Reactive Maintenance on Paper Pulp Machine

A maintenance department at a pulp and paper plant noticed that their machine’s heat exchanger has stopped working. To repair the broken heating element, they must stop the machine and pause production.  

The breakdown decreased their production levels for that line and could have been prevented by routine maintenance tasks like regular cleaning, inspecting, and replacement of damaged components.  

2. Reactive Maintenance on University Plumbing

A facility manager at a university learns that there is a water leak in one of their buildings due to a burst pipe. To prevent further damage, water must be shut off, preventing students from using water in the building at that time.  

Since this needs to be addressed immediately, other maintenance tasks are put aside to make time for the repair. The damaged pipe was not noticed because this building was overdue for a plumbing inspection.  

3. Reactive Maintenance on City Roads

A city receives notice that there is a large pothole on one of the major roads that is causing damage to car tires. In order to fix the pothole, the city has to close off the affected lane with traffic cones and limit two-lane traffic to one lane.  

Since this road closure heavily impacts traffic, the crew prioritizes this job over other projects. The pothole became as large as it did because regular maintenance of the road was put off too long.  

Why Do Companies Perform Reactive Maintenance?

Companies will usually perform reactive maintenance for three reasons:  

  1. They do not have resources to implement preventive maintenance
  2. They do not perform any planning and scheduling of maintenance
  3. They do not account for any production downtime to perform inspections  

There are a few businesses that perform a mixture of reactive and preventive maintenance depending on the type of asset and its use. For instance, if the failure of a certain asset does not impact production, the safety of your employees, and it is not costly to replace, then proactive maintenance may not be as necessary.

However, while you may not need to perform preventive maintenance for some assets, reactive maintenance is usually not a sustainable option for all assets. You may save costs initially, but you will lose money and efficiency with reactive maintenance over time.  

Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance

When you are weighing the pros and cons of switching your maintenance strategy from reactive to proactive, you may be thinking to yourself “Do the benefits really outweigh the costs?”  

That is reasonable to wonder since switching to a more proactive method of maintenance can cost quite a bit on the front end. Although, there are some cons of sticking with a reactive maintenance strategy that are hard to ignore, including:  

  • Lower production levels
  • Reduced asset lifespan
  • More safety hazards
  • Increased maintenance backlog
  • Increased energy costs

All of these issues with reactive maintenance directly impact your company's costs and success. If production suddenly must come to a halt because an asset breaks down, it affects how quickly you can deliver your product to your customers.  

Additionally, the safety of your employees and your facility also impact your company’s success and reputation. If you have a major safety incident because you operate based on a reactive maintenance strategy, it could lead to tragic consequences that affect the future of your business.

How to Get Out of a Reactive Maintenance State

We’re not saying switching from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance is an easy feat by any means. Depending on your maintenance backlog and your current resources, it may require a lot of work. But it isn't impossible.  

Here are some steps to follow to get out of a reactive maintenance state:  

  1. Manage your spare parts inventory  
  2. Utilize contractors for increased workloads  
  3. Assess the criticality of your assets
  4. Create plans for failures and breakdowns
  5. Track maintenance KPI’s and analytics
  6. Set up and prioritize your PMs

Once you have gotten into a good cadence with your preventive maintenance, it won’t be the end of the world if you miss one PM job (whereas with reactive maintenance, you can’t skip any). If you continue to perform preventive maintenance, you will notice positive changes over time.

As you begin to get a handle on these five steps, you can gain control of your maintenance and transition it to a more proactive state.  

Manage Your Maintenance Effectively and Efficiently With Software

One of the quickest and simplest ways to get a handle on your maintenance is to implement a planning and scheduling tool.  

A solid planning and scheduling tool allows you to streamline things like planning, scheduling, work package management, task lists, BOMs, inventory management, and more.  

To learn how Prometheus Planning and Scheduling can increase your maintenance efficiency, feel free to request a free demo or reach out to us today.