Cycle of reactive maintenance - showcases the trickle down effects of reactive maintenance on an industry
Industry Specific Insights

Shifting From Reactive to Preventive Maintenance

Ryan Chan

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Key Takeaways

  • Reactive maintenance culture creates problems with maintenance optimization, costs, and asset reliability
  • Switching to preventive maintenance improves reliability of equipment and creates a more effectively-managed maintenance team
  • It’s important to communicate value to stakeholders and start with small preventive maintenance examples before trying to switch the whole facility 
  • It’s an uphill battle to change maintenance cultures, but worth it for all employees involved


Reactive maintenance is a fact of life for any facility with a maintenance team. There will always be unexpected breakdowns or emergency scenarios. However, a facility that relies on reactive maintenance for all of its maintenance activities can cost the organization money and lower asset reliability, leading to an overall less effective process. 

The problem with reactive maintenance

There are two primary issues with a culture of reactive maintenance:

  • Costs: A reactive maintenance culture is costly because reactive maintenance requires spending on problems as they happen in real-time. These costs can be significantly higher than money that would go towards planned maintenance tasks. Often, this is because a large portion of reactive maintenance tasks are either emergency events (like broken equipment) or downtime events (like faults and machine crashes). When maintenance is only performed when a piece of equipment crashes, the asset’s overall lifespan deteriorates rapidly. 
  • Planning: Because reactive maintenance tasks occur in response to machine faults and crashes, there’s no planning involved. A lack of time management could result in unequally distributed maintenance hours. When maintenance tasks are planned, it’s far easier to allocate the correct number of technicians and maintenance hours. 

Reactive Maintenance causes a snowball effect of challenges for a facility. A piece of equipment that breaks down causes a cycle of effects that snowball into bigger issues for a facility. Missing a procedure has a cycle of effects that impacts business.

Instead, a maintenance planner should switch a workplace culture to a preventive maintenance approach. Asset reliability would increase due to regular preventive maintenance. Additionally, a maintenance planner could more easily balance a budget for their team because every task is planned and scheduled. 

How to shift a maintenance culture from reactive to preventive

Start with an example asset

It’s difficult to get management on board with shifting an entire facility to a preventive maintenance plan because change takes time. 

Like with CMMS implementation, it’s helpful to start with one asset that has specific problems that can be solved with a PM program. A maintenance planner can minimize cost by focusing on one problem area. Additionally, you have more flexibility to prove that the preventive maintenance shift really works.  

Sit down with the asset information and plan out what PMs would need to be done. Log them in your CMMS and perform them for a week or a month and bring the new reliability data to management. A maintenance planner can create a preventive maintenance culture shift through using this test data. 

Reactive maintenance and preventive maintenance

Reactive maintenance has the highest repair cost and preventive maintenance has the lowest overall cost (where the two lines meet)

Get group buy-in 

In order for a preventive maintenance program to work, all stakeholders need to be on the same page. 

The person who leads the change should involve all managers, as well as technicians and maintenance personnel.  In order for a maintenance plan to be implemented, a maintenance team should agree with it. 

To achieve group buy-in, it is important to keep lines of communication open for feedback and critique on the maintenance plan. Hold group meetings with both managers and the maintenance team. Additionally, one should keep plans flexible, depending on employee reception of the program. 

Analyze where the biggest impact could be

It’s important to think about and plan for the potential impact your PM plan will have. A maintenance planner needs to figure out where the biggest impact could be in a facility.

As an example, a facility has two parts of their manufacturing process. The first part generally uses condition-based maintenance, such as using sensors to monitor temperature. The second involves a reactive maintenance culture, such as responding to equipment as it breaks down. In this scenario, it makes no sense to try and implement a PM program in the first part because you’re changing from one solid maintenance approach to another. Once you’ve identified the second area as a reactive maintenance culture, you could make a massive impact by shifting to a preventive maintenance culture.

Realize the road ahead (and prepare)

Any time you want to change the entire culture and mindset of a facility, you must realize first that you’re undertaking a fairly monumental task. 

People aren’t taking part in this reactive maintenance culture because they love doing reactive maintenance – it’s most likely because that’s all they know how to do. Maybe every facility they’ve ever worked at has been that way so it seems like the right way to do things. Changimng a maintenance culture is a constant uphill battle that requires diligence. 

But here’s what you can do: you can prove value at every step of the process. If you can show people how a preventive maintenance program improves their job, if you can prove to managers that reactive maintenance wastes money, if you can demonstrate to technicians that their job becomes simpler with scheduled maintenance tasks, you can change the culture. 

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