Reactive Maintenance 

Reactive maintenance, also referred to as breakdown maintenance or run-to-fail maintenance, has been around longer than any other maintenance strategy in existence.  In fact, many decades ago, reactive maintenance was the only option to choose from.  However, as other strategies such as preventive maintenance and especially predictive maintenance were established, reactive maintenance fell out of favor as it tended to lead to loss of profit and lengthy unplanned downtime

The following article asks the question: does reactive maintenance still have a place in the modern manufacturing world? Should it be entirely replaced by predictive and preventive maintenance, or are there some situations in which choosing this maintenance strategy is still beneficial?

What is Reactive Maintenance?

The terms reactive, breakdown, and run-to-fail maintenance all refer to a strategy in which maintenance on equipment or machinery is not performed until failure has already occurred. When the machine is no longer able to fulfill its intended function at all, the necessary repairs are carried out. Typically, these involve the replacement of specific parts or, in some cases, the machine in its entirety. However, in some cases, the equipment may be restored to normal function via smaller tasks, such as a thorough cleaning or the removal of damaging irritants such as dust and dirt particles.

Smaller-scale reactive maintenance tasks, such as cleaning or replacing the batteries in a smaller piece of equipment such as a smoke detector, can be carried out by regular employees of the company or organization. However, reactive maintenance on larger machines, such as the replacement of key parts, often requires the hiring of an outside specialist

The Significant Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance

While the majority of maintenance strategies feature both advantages and disadvantages, reactive or breakdown maintenance for critical machines is primarily disadvantageous in nature.  First and foremost is that reactive maintenance nearly always results in significant amounts of unplanned downtime, during which the machine requiring maintenance is not functioning at all.  While preventive or predictive maintenance allow downtime to be regulated, scheduled or sometimes averted entirely, breakdown maintenance causes downtime to occur suddenly and often without warning.

The second major disadvantage of reactive maintenance is the cost with which it is often associated.  While some failed machines can be restored to normal function via thorough cleaning and the removal of grit or other debris, these cases are the exception rather than the rule.  Most failures treated with reactive maintenance require the replacement of parts or the entire machine itself.  These parts may be expensive to purchase; additional money is also spent if the hiring of an outside specialist to install them is required.  In addition, because the failure was unexpected and not prepared for, often the necessary part or parts are not in stock in their workspace. If the parts must be ordered, downtime is further extended – and attempting to minimize this via express shipping can often be prohibitively expensive.

Lastly, reactive maintenance is not known to extend the lifespan of machinery as preventive and especially predictive maintenance typically do.  The latter two maintenance strategies require regular observation of the machine and its function, either by human employees or by condition monitoring devices such as Tactix™ by ProAxion®. Through this observation, data is collected about which machines or parts of the machine degrade or slow down most frequently and which ones are most likely to break or fail.  This data is then used to facilitate improvements and upgrades in later versions of the equipment, making it less and less likely to fail as time goes on.  Reactive maintenance does not provide this data unless a thorough troubleshooting process is undergone every time each machine fails, which is highly inefficient as it further adds to the already lengthy period of necessary but costly downtime.

When Should Reactive Maintenance Be Used?

At this point, one might come to the conclusion that reactive maintenance is entirely unnecessary in today’s manufacturing world.  For the most critical machines, this conclusion is fairly correct. Predictive and preventive maintenance offer significant advantages while eliminating the downfalls of reactive maintenance entirely. In most regards, reactive maintenance is in limited use.

However, there are a few small, specific situations in which reactive maintenance remains the best choice. These are the cases of nonessential equipment, the failure of which:

  • can be addressed in a short amount of time, by in-house employees, without need for specialized training

  • does not pose any severe long-term health or safety risks to employees

  • does not affect the productivity or efficiency of the workplace in any significant manner

In essence, reactive maintenance should only be used on equipment that is so nonessential and quick to repair as to not justify the cost and time expenditure necessary to implement preventive or predictive maintenance strategies. A few of the most common examples of such equipment are listed below:

  • Lightbulbs

  • Handheld vacuum cleaners and other small cleaning equipment (Larger cleaning systems such as HVAC do not fall under this category)

  • Soap or hand sanitizer dispensers

  • Small fans (NOT larger air conditioning, heating or climate control systems)

  • Toilets and sinks, only if the workplace possesses a great enough number that employee access to them will not be limited or restricted by the failure of one

As this short list proves, the situations in which reactive maintenance has any applicability are extremely specific as well as few.  For larger, more critical machinery, ProAxion recommends employing the strategies of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring, discussed in greater detail here and here.

If you have been employing reactive maintenance techniques on your critical, high-risk equipment and want to learn more about cost- and time-efficient solution, contact ProAxion® today to learn more about their revolutionary Tactix™ vibration monitoring system and the advantages it provides.