What is Reactive Maintenance?

Reactive maintenance (also commonly referred to as corrective maintenance) is the technical activity carried out after a failure has occurred. Its purpose is to restore an asset to a condition in which it can perform its intended function, either by repairing or replacing it.

This does not mean that reactive maintenance is only to be implemented by itself. It can be used as part of a wider strategy to plan your maintenance.

What is Reactive Maintenance used for?

Reactive Maintenance Workflow (1)

If reactive maintenance is used on its own, it is often nicknamed the run-to-failure maintenance. No precautionary actions are performed on piece of equipment which is deliberately left running until it breaks down. Only afterwards is it repaired or replaced.

This “into the ground” approach is actually ideal for low-priority equipment, without which the company’s operations can continue running normally. It is also a viable approach for assets of lower value where consistent monitoring or maintenance may ultimately prove more expensive than reparations or substitutions when malfunctions occur.

However, when applied to high-priority equipment, it may eventually lead to downtime since normal operations will need to be halted as technicians work. It can also lead to very high long-term expenses if applied to assets of higher value.

Types of Reactive Maintenance

There are two main categories of reactive maintenance strategies:

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency Maintenance Workflow (1)

Emergency maintenance refers to immediate actions taken to restore the operational capacity of an asset. It is often prompted by urgent safety requirements or the need to prevent extended shutdowns and potential losses. Factors like the availability of replacement parts and the scope of repairs can impact the execution of emergency maintenance.

Corrective Maintenance

Corrective Maintenance Workflow (1)

Corrective maintenance applies when issues with assets have not yet escalated into complete failure. For example, if a piece of equipment shows signs of rusting but production disruption has not yet occurred, maintenance is performed to restore the asset to its optimal condition.

Although some argue that this falls under proactive maintenance since failure hasn’t happened yet, any maintenance activity that reacts to a situation or cause falls under reactive maintenance. Corrective maintenance can be conducted immediately upon detection or scheduled for a later time, allowing the company to allocate resources effectively.

Emergency maintenance is typically more costly than corrective maintenance due to the urgency involved, which often necessitates outsourcing maintenance services and paying additional fees for expedited delivery of replacement parts.

Examples of Reactive Maintenance

Imagine a manufacturing facility where a critical machine suddenly breaks down, causing a complete halt in production. In response to this emergency situation, the maintenance team is immediately called upon to address the issue. They quickly diagnose the problem, procure the necessary replacement parts on an expedited basis, and work diligently to restore the machine’s functionality as soon as possible. This emergency maintenance is essential to minimise downtime, prevent financial losses, and ensure the continuity of production.

Here’s another example: a commercial building where the air conditioning system starts to exhibit signs of reduced cooling efficiency. Although the system hasn’t completely failed yet, the maintenance team recognises the early warning signs and takes corrective action. They schedule a maintenance session to clean the system, replace any worn-out components, and optimise its performance.

By proactively addressing the issue before it worsens, the maintenance team effectively performs corrective maintenance to prevent a potential breakdown and maintain optimal functionality.

Reactive Maintenance vs. Proactive Maintenance

Even with comprehensive preventive maintenance or predictive maintenance plans in place, reactive maintenance can (and should) be employed.

As useful as these plans can be in some circumstances, these proactive maintenance strategies are not 100% effective. There will always be unexpected failures, albeit fewer, with preventive or predictive maintenance. Reactive measures will often need to be taken to fix unplanned failures and so it is well worthwhile training your team to understand them.

Typically, experts suggest that you observe the 80/20 rule. That is to say that only 20% of maintenance should constitute corrective actions, whilst the remaining 80% should be directed towards proactive maintenance. In reality, teams spend somewhere between 34-45% of their time on reactive maintenance.

Here’s an example of a planned maintenance workflow:

Planned Maintenance Workflow

📌  Advantages of Reactive Maintenance

Many professionals do not consider the advantages of corrective maintenance, but it is important to recognise that in certain cases, it is not only advisable but actually important.

In the event that an asset of limited importance becomes faulty, the costs involved in simply ‘repairing’ it will be considerably lower than trying to conduct a full investigation using a preventive methodology. For equipment that is not crucial to the running of your operations, a more direct, reactionary approach may be better. Let’s see:

  • Lower short-term costs: Due to it’s reactive nature, there are very few administrative or financial costs involved until something goes wrong. If everything remains functional, you don’t pay anything!
  • Minimal planning required: Reactive maintenance consists of very targeted action on specific components of installations or devices that are faulty. It requires very limited complex planning.
  • Simpler process: The process is easy to understand, since you only need to take action when some kind of problem occurs.
  • Best solution in some cases: There will be times when the amount of time and money invested in preventive maintenance planning and strategy will be a lot more than the simple ‘stop and repair costs’ of reactive maintenance.

📌 Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance

  • Unpredictability: Relying on reactive maintenance can be problematic if the equipment is not monitored after purchase, leading to more failures that are highly unpredictable and whose cause is unknown.
  • Equipment not maximised: This approach doesn’t protect or look after the equipment and therefore reduces the lifetime of the assets. It simply fixes the asset on a short term basis.
  • Higher long-term costs: Reactive maintenance is applied when it is believed that the stop and repair costs in case of failure will be less than the investment required for planned maintenance. But this doesn’t always happen. When a more serious failure occurs, it can be an extremely costly and slow process to fix. Large periods of inactivity have negative effects on reputation, client satisfaction, safety and on the ability to run a business efficiently and productively.

How to reduce your Reactive Maintenance load

As we see, reactive maintenance is a perfectly appropriate choice in some scenarios. However, wherever possible, you’ll want to plan your interventions in advance (remember the 80/20 rule?).

To reduce the amount of reactive maintenance that you conduct, you could try to…

Provide the appropriate tools

All staff need to have access to a full set of working tools so that they can act quickly and effectively. Using maintenance management software might be a suitable solution as it can collate all manuals and documents relating to equipment into a single platform and grant everyone access to them.

It also brings together important reports, integration with other modules and advanced monitoring capabilities which can all help technicians do their job better.

Improve your team

You should try to join forces with qualified technicians that are trained to act quickly and efficiently in all types of equipment failures and malfunctions. As well as selecting the perfect team from the off, you can supplement the development of your team by providing them extra coaching or vocational training.

Given the nature of maintenance work, which requires competent communication at all times, it is especially important to have a well-motivated team that strives to maintain a good level of service.

Educate your staff

Any member of staff within the organisation should be able to carry out failure reporting.

Non-maintenance staff should be equally capable to detect potential maintenance issues and differentiate them. For example, all staff should be able to recognise that an unusual noise during machine operation may signal a potential failure. Staff can use maintenance software to solve this issue. It will also make it easier for managers to assign the most appropriate technician for particular problems.

Automate technician assignments

Depending on the nature of the failure, malfunctions should be automatically assigned to the most appropriate technician without too much administrative work. For example, when a failure occurs in an electrical circuit, it is preferable that the task is automatically and seamlessly assigned to one of your electricians. And if it is in the water system, it should be assigned to a plumber, and so on.

Optimise the team’s workload

A good solution to carrying out reactive maintenance is to schedule tasks based on the analysis of your work-order data. It will help you to prioritise your tasks and to ensure that your maintenance team are focusing their time on the most important jobs.

Check and organise failures

It is very useful for technicians and managers to be able to able to consult information regarding failures and their current status at any time from any place. Using an IMMP, staff can find out exactly what has been done and what tasks are still pending.

Maintain a good stock of equipment

Stockrooms should have a well-equipped reserve of diverse parts of equipment and materials. Technicians should not have to wait for long periods of time for simple items like bolts and screws!

Preserve assets

Equipment should be inspected whenever reactive maintenance is carried out. This will help to identify the reason for the failure and to allow for action to be taken to eliminate or reduce the frequency of similar failures. Maintenance management software, such as Infraspeak, can ease the work of technicians as it allows them to consult any tardy interventions or repeated failures.

📝 Download our free guide to learn about:

  • The most common causes for reactive maintenance (with data from multiple studies);
  • How to reduce your downtime, 8 different ways;
  • 5 tips to reduce your MTTR when breakdowns do happen.

How to avoid reactive maintenance

There are plenty of choices when it comes to maintenance strategies. The solution might be considering the pros and cons of each and select the ones that are most suitable for your company. One of our most valuable pieces of advice is that reactive maintenance is always used as something strategic, rather than catastrophic. This is the best way to define the proper work plan and allocations.

The main problems associated with corrective maintenance only become relevant in the event that they are not partnered with measures of preventive maintenance. Our experience, based largely on feedback from our clients, shows that the best results are achieved when both methods are employed together.

Did you know?

An Intelligent Maintenance Management Platform (IMMP) can help you to manage and evaluate your maintenance strategy. Infraspeak provides you with a multitude of features, including failure reporting, asset, work order management, cost management and more.