What is preventive maintenance and how to use it effectively

Preventive maintenance (or preventative maintenance) is maintenance that is regularly and routinely performed on physical assets to reduce the chances of equipment failure and unplanned machine downtime that can be very costly for maintenance teams and facility managers. Effective preventive maintenance is planned and scheduled based on real-time data insights, often using software like a CMMS. A preventive maintenance task is performed while the equipment is still working to prevent unexpected break downs. A preventive maintenance strategy is a commonly used approach that falls between reactive maintenance (or run-to-failure) and predictive maintenance.

Build your own preventive maintenance schedule with this template

Preventive vs. preventative maintenance

Preventive and preventative maintenance are two terms that are thrown around a lot in maintenance and are sometimes used interchangeably. The two terms essentially mean the same thing. Both preventive and preventative are used to describe maintenance tasks that are intended to prevent something negative from happening.

How is predictive maintenance different from preventive (preventative) maintenance?

Unlike preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance is only done when needed. Predictive maintenance is a technique that uses data analysis tools and techniques to detect anomalies in your operation and possible defects in equipment and processes so you can fix them before they result in failure.

Preventive maintenance is like having a benchmark, like changing the tires on your car every 50,000 miles. Predictive maintenance is like having software that would tell you to change your tires at exactly 43,005 miles, taking into account past and future driving conditions. With predictive maintenance, this number could change based on changes in the data.

Ideally, predictive maintenance allows the maintenance frequency to be as low as possible to prevent unplanned reactive maintenance without incurring costs associated with doing too much preventive maintenance.

Why is preventive maintenance important?

Preventive maintenance is important because it lays the foundation for successful facility management. Preventive maintenance keeps equipment and assets running efficiently, maintains a high safety level for your employees, and helps you avoid large and costly repairs down the road. Overall, a properly functioning preventive maintenance program ensures operational disruptions are kept to a minimum.

Why do you need a preventive maintenance schedule?

A preventive maintenance schedule helps you organize and prioritize your maintenance tasks so that a maintenance technician is able to create the best working condition and life span for the equipment. By conducting regular preventive maintenance, you can ensure your equipment continues to operate efficiently and safely.

Maintaining a preventive maintenance schedule can be very complex when dealing with a lot of equipment, so maintenance personnel often use preventive maintenance software to organize their preventive maintenance tasks.

Use this template to build your own preventive maintenance schedule

Types of preventive maintenance

There are three main types of preventive maintenance: Time, usage, and condition-based triggers. A variation of these types of preventive maintenance should ideally be scheduled and performed on all items of equipment to prevent unplanned failure. Manufacturers often provide recommendations on how best to maintain equipment. Along with real-time data insights, your maintenance team can schedule preventive maintenance using the appropriate type of preventive maintenance. Below are examples of each type of preventive maintenance.

Time-based preventive maintenance

A time-based approach schedules a preventive maintenance task using a set time interval, such as every 10 days. Other examples include triggering preventive maintenance (like a regular inspection of critical) on the first day of every month or once in a three-month period.

Usage-based preventive maintenance

Usage-based preventive maintenance triggers a maintenance action when asset usage hits a certain benchmark. This can include after a certain number of kilometres, hours, or production cycles. An example of this trigger is routine maintenance being scheduled on a motor vehicle every 10,000km.

Condition based preventive maintenance

Condition based maintenance is a form of proactive maintenance. It's a maintenance strategy that monitors the actual condition of an asset to determine what maintenance task needs to be done. Condition based maintenance dictates that maintenance should only be performed when certain indicators show signs of decreasing performance or upcoming failure. For example, preventive maintenance will be scheduled when vibration on a certain component reaches a certain threshold, indicating that it should be replaced or lubricated.

When should I use preventive maintenance?

The exact timing of when you should use preventive maintenance will vary depending on the equipment and the operation it is performing. You can follow the manufacturer guidelines to help determine preventive maintenance schedules and inspection so that assets do not run to failure. Creating a preventive maintenance schedule will help ensure proactive maintenance rather than resorting to costly reactive maintenance if the equipment starts to fail unexpectedly.

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Suitable preventive maintenance applications

Assets suitable for preventive maintenance include those that:

  • Have failure modes that can be prevented (and not increased) with regular maintenance
  • Have a likelihood of failure that increases with time or use
  • Are critical to production, operations, or health and safety
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Unsuitable preventive maintenance applications

Assets that are unsuitable for preventive maintenance include those that:

  • Have random failures that are unrelated to maintenance (such as circuit boards)
  • Do not serve a critical function
  • Require costly repairs that are more expensive than running it to failure

Preventive maintenance examples

Common examples of preventive maintenance tasks are the regular cleaning, lubrication, replacing of parts, and equipment repairs. Preventive maintenance scheduling requirements differ depending on the equipment being maintained.

Specific examples of preventive maintenance within a manufacturing facility include ensuring equipment in the production line is working efficiently. Other examples include checking that your HVAC, heating, ventilation, or air conditioning systems are inspected, cleaned, and repaired if necessary, and your water, sanitation, and electrical systems are functioning properly within safety and compliance levels.

How to create a preventive maintenance plan

Planning more preventive maintenance or corrective maintenance isn't always better. Doing preventive maintenance just to increase your planned maintenance percentage can be costly, a poor use of time, and lead to post-maintenance breakdowns.

Creating a good preventive maintenance plan is all about fine-tuning the frequency of maintenance so that you schedule a preventive maintenance task only when it's necessary. It's crucial to find the right balance between doing a scheduled maintenance task too often (expensive and risky) and not often enough (you're likely to miss failures between inspections).

Download this free maintenance schedule template

One way to hone your preventive maintenance schedule is to follow the PDCA model:

  1. Plan: Create a baseline for PM frequencies by looking at recommended OEM guidelines, repair histories, criticality, usage patterns for equipment, and equipment failure
  2. Do: Follow your plan consistently for accurate results
  3. Check: Look at failure metrics for each asset to determine if your plan is working
  4. Act: Increase the frequency of PMs if an asset is breaking down between maintenance activity and reduce the frequency if you are not finding failures between PMs

Planning preventive maintenance without the help of a computerized maintenance management system or CMMS software can be a huge challenge. Since PMs are triggered after a certain amount of time or use, it's difficult (almost impossible) to track that data manually, especially if you're dealing with many pieces of critical equipment. Maintenance software allows you to set PMs according to the triggers that are appropriate for each piece of equipment. Once the trigger occurs, a work order will be created.

Preventive maintenance software also allows organizations to gather data on preventive maintenance work orders to report on or optimize those activities, and set maintenance KPIs to work towards. AI-powered work order software takes this analysis to the next level by combing through thousands of PMs to find the ones that are leading to breakdowns, delays, and other problems so you can fix them quickly.

Ditch reactive maintenance with this preventive maintenance checklist template

Advantages of preventive maintenance

There are two main advantages of using preventive maintenance as your main maintenance strategy: Being able to plan maintenance tasks, and not requiring condition-based monitoring.

A preventive maintenance program allows you to plan maintenance tasks that reduce your costs and increase your production in the long term. Facility managers are able to prevent incipient failures (equipment imperfections that can cause degradation or catastrophic failure if corrective action is not taken).

Unplanned and reactive maintenance has many overhead costs that can be avoided during the planning process. The cost of unplanned maintenance includes lost production, higher costs for parts and shipping, as well as time lost responding to emergencies and diagnosing faults while equipment is not working. Unplanned maintenance typically costs three to nine times more than planned maintenance.

When you have a maintenance plan, it's easy to reduce the maintenance cost of your program. Equipment can be shut down to coincide with production downtime. Prior to the shutdown, any required spare parts, supplies and personnel can be gathered to minimize the time taken for a repair. These proactive maintenance measures decrease the total cost of maintenance activities. Safety is also improved because equipment breaks down less often than in less complex strategies.

Additionally, a preventive maintenance program does not require condition based monitoring. This eliminates the need (and cost) to conduct and interpret condition monitoring data and act on the results of that interpretation. It also eliminates the need to own and use condition monitoring equipment.

Disadvantages of preventive maintenance

The disadvantages of preventive maintenance are that unlike reactive maintenance, preventive maintenance requires maintenance planning and you run the risk of conducting preventive maintenance too frequently.

Preventive maintenance planning requires an investment in time and resources that is not required with less complex maintenance strategies. Maintenance may occur too often with a preventive maintenance program. Unless, and until the maintenance frequencies are optimized for minimum maintenance, too much or too little preventive maintenance will occur.

Additionally, the frequency of preventive maintenance might be too high. Fortunately, the frequency can be lowered without sacrificing reliability when condition monitoring and data analysis are used. The decrease in maintenance frequency is offset by the additional costs associated with conducting condition monitoring.

What is preventive maintenance software?

Preventive maintenance software enables you to schedule maintenance, send alerts to the right people when a job is due, and increase resource access and allocation that make planned tasks quicker and more effective. As a result, you're able to streamline processes that help preventive maintenance flourish.

Types of preventive maintenance software

Preventive maintenance software comes in all shapes and sizes, from extremely specialized systems to giant platforms connecting maintenance to other business units. Below are the most common types of preventive maintenance software.

1) Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS)

CMMS software and maintenance apps help maintenance teams keep detailed and centralized records of all assets, equipment, and completed work. A CMMS allows facilities to plan, track, and optimize work order, inventory and everything else associated with maintenance.

The primary duties of a CMMS include:

A CMMS manages all the maintenance activities that take place during the operational part of an asset's life. At the same time, this type of preventive maintenance software works as a productive part of a facility.

All CMMS preventive maintenance software can be divided into two groups: Cloud-based CMMS software and on-premise CMMS software. For a closer look into the differences between the two types of CMMS, and the pros and cons of each system, download our comprehensive ebook here.

2) Enterprise asset management (EAM)

EAM software provides a holistic view of an organization's physical assets and infrastructure throughout its entire lifecycle, from design and procurement, to operation, maintenance, disposal, and replacement. EAM systems record asset information, manage work orders, coordinate inventory purchasing and usage, organize labour, track contracts, measure costs and spending, and calculate KPIs.

3) Enterprise resource planning (ERP)

Here's how ERP software works: every company has different business units that make it function, like accounting, human resources, and maintenance. ERP software takes everything these different departments do and connects them, so the entire organization has the same processes and information.

Because there is one, central place for all data, it means an accountant, a salesperson, a maintenance technician, and a CEO can all use the system for their day-to-day activities while relying on the same information to plan, assess, and complete those activities. By collecting transactional data from multiple sources, ERP systems eliminate data duplication, offers data integrity, and provides a single source of truth.

While it's not exactly maintenance software, ERP systems are part of the larger maintenance technology ecosystem. It's important for maintenance technology to be able to integrate with an ERP system to help keep accurate inventory levels, and keep your finance team in the loop.

There are a host of other preventive maintenance technologies used in asset-heavy, production and manufacturing facilities. We put together a comprehensive list here if you want to learn more about your options.

The bottom line: Preventive maintenance makes a big impact

Preventive maintenance, or PM, is regular, planned maintenance that is scheduled according to usage or time-based triggers. The purpose of PM is to lessen the likelihood of equipment breakdowns. There are many instances in which preventive is the best maintenance strategy to use, and it's much easier to carry out a PM strategy with the help of maintenance software, like CMMS software.

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