What is reactive maintenance?
Reactive maintenance refers to the process of repairing assets and restoring them to normal operating conditions after a breakdown or observances of unusual performance.
Reactive maintenance workflow
Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While this law actually relates to how forces interact in relation to their motion, one can argue that it can abstractly apply to some everyday experiences as well. It is part of human nature to react to a stimulus and change course of action as required.
Fixing a piece of equipment because it’s broken seems like a simple and intuitive reaction to a stimulus and reactive maintenance is exactly that: a maintenance procedure that aims to address problems as they arise.
The idea is that reactive maintenance activities are initiated by some event. In extreme cases the event can be equipment failure, requiring repair or restoration.
Types of reactive maintenance
Reactive maintenance can be used as a general term to refer to any maintenance activity done as a response. Varying situations that require maintenance activities may result in various types of reactive maintenance.
Emergency maintenance, for example, is immediate maintenance activity that is required to keep an asset operational. Emergency maintenance can be a response to urgent safety requirements that need to be addressed. These types of maintenance are usually prioritized over usual activities, therefore potentially causing serious downtime and setbacks to schedules.
When an asset ceases to work due to failure then a reactive type of breakdown maintenance might be required. Equipment that is deemed non-operational but still repairable is the usual candidate for breakdown maintenance.
There are cases where extreme disruptions of performance have not occurred yet, but some faulty parts were noticed during related or non-related maintenance procedures. An opportunity to fix issues, discovered while performing other procedures, can be within the scope of corrective maintenance.
Maintenance activities that are usually unexpected or unplanned—and done as a response to some initial cause—can be identified as a reactive type of maintenance.
Example of reactive maintenance
As reactive maintenance can apply to a broad range of equipment and devices, it might be useful to look at a couple of examples that demonstrate how an average person encounters activities resembling reactive maintenance. Two simple examples follow.
Changing a light bulb
It has happened at least once: a light bulb giving out suddenly. In some luckier scenarios, some flickering might occur first before the bulb eventually dies out or is simply unusable. Regardless of the gravity of the case, the fix is simple and specific: change the defective light bulb.
Say that your car won’t start because the battery is all used up. It is obvious that the solution would be to change out your battery, which is a form of reactive maintenance. However, as you may have experienced, there might be opportunities to catch battery trouble or any other car trouble at an earlier time. If you routinely get your oil changed (which is a form of preventive maintenance) then you might consider performing corrective maintenance on other car parts that your technician might recommend to be serviced.
Fixing things as they break down are normal reactions to situations and incidents. Reactive maintenance might be performed because of a general direction that you or your plant is taking, or it can be done as identified by preventive maintenance procedures you already have in place.
Pros and cons of reactive maintenance
Reactive maintenance usually incurs lesser initial costs and requires lower staffing needs compared to proactive forms of maintenance. Activities are limited to fixing identified issues and unnecessary preventive activities won’t be necessary. Reactive maintenance does make sense for particular equipment and probably even some operations, best illustrated by the light bulb example earlier.
However, as the stakes get higher with more intricate machinery that may require more time to repair and have greater impact to production and performance, reactive maintenance may have risks that outweigh the benefits.
A typical plant might have some key equipment on which production and performance heavily rely on. Unplanned breakdowns can cause serious production and safety issues that would cost more to fix compared to investing time and resources on preventive precautions.
Reactive maintenance is a maintenance approach that addresses problems as they arise. It generally has little initial cost required and can be applicable to some scenarios. However, when concerning plants that require continuously reliable operations, reactive maintenance approaches will have their limitations in preventing breakdowns.