Understanding Reactive Maintenance

12 October 2023     Daniel Malton

You can take different approaches to maintenance. It’s a matter of finding the best one that works for you. What are your priorities? Is it lowering short-term costs? Or is it minimising disruptions and downtime to your business? It’s really a case of selecting a maintenance strategy that matches your essential needs. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into all aspects of reactive maintenance, including defining what it is. We’ll give an example of reactive maintenance and show the advantages of reactive maintenance. On top of that, we’ll compare its pros and cons to other workable approaches, such as corrective maintenance vs reactive maintenance, and reactive maintenance vs preventive maintenance.

What is Reactive Maintenance?

So, what is reactive maintenance? A good explanation of reactive maintenance is found in the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Reactive maintenance – also known as “run-to-failure” or breakdown maintenance – is the process of fixing equipment after it has broken down or malfunctioned and restoring it to its normal operating condition. What is the proportion of reactive maintenance work in many companies’ overall maintenance strategy these days? Well, it’s still relatively high. A 2021 survey by Plant Engineering found that 51% of industrial facilities follow a reactive maintenance (run-to-failure) method as part of their strategy.

Types of Reactive Maintenance

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance refers to repairing an asset on an emergency basis to make it operational again. It is a type of reactive maintenance and could be in response to an unexpected problem or an emergency situation that threatens health and safety. Some examples of emergency maintenance are:

  • When there is flooding of the plant or equipment.
  • Any electrical failure that could cause downtime or be a safety hazard.
  • Whenever a water or sewer pipe bursts, it requires immediate attention.
  • When an essential piece of equipment breaks down, its repair is given a higher priority than usual activities to avoid any setbacks to production schedules.

 Corrective Maintenance

This type of reactive maintenance occurs when an asset, system or equipment starts to show signs of deterioration or malfunction. Corrective maintenance is classified as reactive because the action is taken in response to a problem, even though it might not be urgent. As it isn’t an emergency, this maintenance can be scheduled for later, which allows for parts to be shipped in and labour resources to be better organised. The advantage of corrective maintenance is that the defect can be “nipped in the bud” before it becomes a significant problem, which might cause shutdowns and financial losses.

Benefits of Reactive Maintenance

The advantages of reactive maintenance are pretty straightforward. There are no complex schedules to follow because you simply run the asset until a problem or breakdown occurs. This results in lower initial costs, requires less staff and doesn’t require any planning before a breakdown occurs. Let’s look at these benefits in detail:

Low Upfront Cost

Because you’re not taking a proactive (acting before anything bad happens) approach, you can save a lot of money by eliminating periodic inspections and maintenance of the asset. This represents an upfront saving on labour costs and replacement parts. On the flip side, it should be noted that the long-term costs might be higher because emergency repairs are often more expensive due to their urgent nature.

Fewer Staff Members Required

With reactive maintenance, you’ll need less staff because you won’t be engaging in activities to prevent breakdowns before they occur. When you take a proactive approach, you will require extra employees to do weekly and monthly inspections to spot early warning signs and identify potential problems. Not only will your reactive strategy need less staff, you can also outsource those complex repairs whenever a breakdown occurs, allowing your workforce to remain on their usual activities.

 No Planning Time Needed

A preventive or proactive maintenance approach requires you to schedule work based on time or usage (similar to how a car might need a service every six months or 10,000 km). This requires careful planning of employee hours for inspection, maintenance and part replacement. With reactive maintenance, there’s no need for any advance planning because action is only taken when the asset breaks or malfunctions.

Reactive Maintenance vs Proactive Maintenance

The essential difference is that reactive maintenance only occurs after a malfunction or breakdown, while proactive maintenance anticipates and fixes problems before anything goes wrong.

Which one should you use? It usually depends on how critical the component or asset is. If the part is inexpensive and easy to replace (like replacing a burnt-out light globe in your home), adopting a reactive strategy would make more sense. If the asset is critical to your ongoing operations or if its failure would be catastrophic, you should employ proactive maintenance. To apply proactive maintenance effectively, you need to investigate and figure out the likely causes of eventual failure. Then, you need to implement strategies to fix these potential failure points – before they even get a chance to occur – and keep the component in a state of optimum operation.

 Corrective Maintenance vs Reactive Maintenance

This is actually a trick question!

Short answer: Corrective maintenance is a type of reactive maintenance. It’s one of the tools, along with emergency maintenance, for getting reactive maintenance done.

Full answer: The definition of reactive is “acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it”. In other words, you just let things run until something bad happens. And only then do you take action. But your response depends on how urgent the situation is. If it’s endangering health and safety or causing production to grind to a halt and creating financial distress, then emergency maintenance must be performed at once.

But what if it’s non-urgent? What if the asset starts to malfunction or shows signs of deterioration? This is when you use corrective maintenance. It’s still reactive because you’re responding after a problem has occurred. But in this case, you have more time to restore the asset to a fully operational condition. So you can order parts and schedule the labour in advance.

Contact Symmetry Commercial Today To Help With Reactive Maintenance

At Symmetry Commercial, we provide maintenance services to keep your industrial and commercial facilities and assets in top-notch condition. When you need reactive maintenance, there is nothing our team cannot solve. Available 24 hours, seven days a week, our qualified tradesmen are police checked, fully insured, and expertly scheduled by our in-house administration team to handle your emergency.

Contact us today to find out more about our reactive maintenance services.