Reactive maintenance

Everything you need to know about reactive maintenance

What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance (also known as breakdown maintenance) refers to repairs that are done when equipment has already broken down, in order to restore the equipment to its normal operating condition.

While reactive maintenance can have a place in a well-rounded maintenance strategy, it shouldn’t be your go-to for all repairs.

Advantages of reactive maintenance

Generally speaking, it takes less time and money to do nothing than it does to do something, and this holds true when it comes to reactive maintenance. There is no initial cost associated with reactive maintenance, and it requires far less planning than preventive maintenance, for instance. But this is a very shortsighted approach, and relying exclusively on reactive maintenance in your facility is not sustainable for the long term.

Disadvantages of reactive maintenance

Under the TPM philosophy, everyone from top-level management to equipment operators should participate in maintenance.

More expensive
Unexpected downtime during production runs can result in late orders, damaged reputations and impacted revenue. On top of that, the unpredictable nature of reactive maintenance means that labour and spare parts may not be readily available so organizations can end up paying a premium for emergency parts shipping, travel time, and after-hours support.
Shorter asset life expectancy
Reactive maintenance does not keep systems running in optimal “as new” condition. In a lot of cases, you’re doing just enough to get a machine up and running again, and over time, systems that have been patched again and again 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 because they’re under pressure to get systems running without delay.
Inefficient use of time
While planned maintenance can be included in a production schedule, reactive maintenance tends to catch you unawares, and technicians spend time running around looking for the correct manuals and schematics, ordering the right parts and trying to diagnose and fix the issue.
Bad for backlog
Emergency repairs are usually prioritized at the expense of planned work, which may be pushed or cancelled completely. This can lead to maintenance backlog which is really hard to get on top of once it starts to pile up.
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 15%.

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Is there a right time and place for reactive maintenance?

Short answer. Yes.

Long answer:
As we mentioned above, there’s space for reactive maintenance in a solid maintenance strategy. Most teams will encounter reactive maintenance periodically because equipment failure just can’t be perfectly predicted. The industry rule of thumb says to aim for only 20% of your maintenance time to be devoted to reactive maintenance. In reality, teams spend somewhere between 34-45% of their time on reactive maintenance.

There are exceptions, of course. Some industries that rely on remote assets (like satellites, for instance) will always be a bit more reactive, because the cost of running preventive maintenance is just too high. But generally speaking, reactive maintenance should be reserved for components that are inexpensive, easy to replace, and where failure does not cause collateral damage in the system.

Interested in other maintenance strategies? Check out these related pages:

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