Reactive maintenance (also known as “breakdown maintenance”) are repairs that are done when equipment has already broken down. Reactive maintenance focuses on restoring the equipment to its normal operating condition. The broken-down equipment is returned to working within service specifications by replacing or repairing faulty parts and components.
Emergency repairs cost 3 to 9 times more than planned repairs, so maintenance plans that rely on on reactive maintenance are generally the most expensive. Breakdown maintenance is so expensive because shutdowns happen during production runs (instead of pre-scheduled maintenance shutdowns during downtimes); because expedited shipping for spare parts costs much more than regular shipping; and because maintenance staff is often forced to work overtime to repair machinery.
Advantages of Reactive Maintenance
Lower initial costs – As your systems are new, they require little maintenance so you save on parts and emergency labour.
Requires fewer staff – Complex repairs tend to be outsourced reducing the need for internal staff.
No planning needed – Technicians repair equipment when it fails. As fails are unpredictable, no time is spent planning the repairs.
Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance
Due to the unpredictable nature of reactive maintenance, there are a number of disadvantages:
Difficult to control budgets – As equipment failures can be unpredictable, labour and spare parts may not be readily available so organizations may end up paying a premium for emergency parts shipping, travel time and out of hours support.
Shorter life expectancy of assets – Reactive maintenance does not keep the systems running in optimal “as new” condition. Over time, systems that have been maintained deteriorate faster so 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 as they are under pressure to get systems running without delay.
Time consuming – Reactive repairs tend to take longer due to a number of factors including time to diagnose, travel time, time to pull parts from stores or emergency order, time to pull correct manuals and schematics etc.
Sporadic equipment downtime – planned maintenance can be written into the production schedule whereas unplanned repairs can happen anytime. Also, there is the uncertainty around the length of delay due to the repair.
Inefficient use of resources – Technicians spend time running around looking for the correct manuals and schematics, ordering the right parts etc trying to diagnose and fix the issue.
Interferes with planned work – Emergency repairs are usually prioritized at the expense of planned work. Planned work may be pushed or cancelled completely.
Collateral Damage – A minor issue could quickly into a major system repair. If your engine is low on oil, it could result in a completely seized engine. I personally had a water leak that spilt onto an electronics cabinet, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damaged electronic boards.
Indirect costs – Unplanned downtime can lead to late orders if equipment cannot be returned to production in time. This can damage reputations and impact revenues.
Repeat issues – Reactive maintenance does the bare minimum to get the system up and running again. If not repaired correctly, the issue could reoccur and cause more downtime.
Higher energy costs – If you don’t service your car, it burns more fuel! 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%.
When Should Reactive Maintenance Be Used?
Reactive maintenance should only be performed on components that are inexpensive, easy to replace, where the failure does not cause collateral damage in the system or where the cost of reactive maintenance is not greater than preventative maintenance. Reactive maintenance is also ideal for business that cannot plan work due to the nature of the industry. An example would be satellite communications. It is too costly to send technicians into space to perform regular preventive maintenance.
Reactive maintenance is present in all maintenance strategies because equipment failure can’t be perfectly predicted. Two industry “rules of thumb” say that you should aim for only 20% of your maintenance time to be devoted to reactive maintenance, and that in reality teams spend about 45% of their time doing reactive maintenance. A 2008 maintenance study out of the University of Tennessee paints a rosier picture: out of 217 North American companies, the average company spent only 34% of its maintenance time doing reactive maintenance.