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We are a global management consultancy that delivers exceptional outcomes and sustainable change


Operational Excellence

Avoid breakdowns, increase profits: Preventive or reactive maintenance?


At a Glance

  • Maintenance is a critical aspect of asset management, aimed at maintaining the optimum performance and functionality of machinery, equipment, and infrastructure.
  • Businesses may skip routine maintenance to save money now, but preventive maintenance can save money and increase production in the long run.
  • Designing and implementing a preventive maintenance plan requires equipment knowledge and experience. Effective preventive maintenance also requires behavioural change skills.

The reliability of key equipment is an essential aspect in the pursuit of operational excellence. Knowing that equipment is ready for use and operating at peak efficiency when required is essential to meeting and maintaining production standards.  

However, many businesses may be inclined to prioritise immediate cost savings by skipping routine maintenance, without realising the long-term savings and increased production capacity that preventive maintenance can provide.  

In this article, we look at the importance of maintenance, and discuss only preventive and reactive maintenance, looking at how a shift from reactive to preventive maintenance can save operating costs and reduce equipment failure.  

Why bother with maintenance?  

Maintenance is a critical aspect of asset management, aimed at maintaining the optimum performance and functionality of machinery, equipment, and infrastructure. It plays a key role for organisations because the deterioration or failure of these assets can result in lost revenue, increased production costs, supply chain disruptions, quality issues, reduced productivity, and contribute to operational inefficiencies.  

Preventive versus reactive maintenance 

There are different types of maintenance strategies, and the two main approaches are preventive and reactive, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.  

Reactive maintenance  

Reactive maintenance, as the name suggests, refers to a maintenance mode that follows the principle of “run it till it breaks.” In this mode, repairs are only carried out when equipment has already failed.   

This approach may appear to be cost effective in the short term, but it often proves to be detrimental to businesses in the long term. The benefits of reactive maintenance include lower overall maintenance costs, reduced manpower requirements, and lower spare parts inventories.  

However, these advantages are often outweighed by disadvantages, such as:  

  • Increased production costs due to unplanned downtime. 
  • Need for standby or secondary equipment to mitigate production uncertainties.  
  • High mean time to repair. 
  • High repair costs, especially if external labour is required. 

In fact, running equipment until it breaks down can cost up to ten times more than following a routine maintenance schedule. Reactive maintenance can be costly in the long run, particularly for businesses that rely on a large number of machines and equipment.  

Preventive maintenance 

Preventive maintenance involves actions taken on a predetermined schedule, whether time-based or machine-based, to detect, prevent, or mitigate component or system degradation. It is based on the assumption that equipment failures follow a predictable pattern, and that regular inspection or maintenance can prevent or delay these failures.  

A preventive maintenance schedule is an effective tool for periodic maintenance, specifying the frequency for each asset. It has many benefits, including maintaining and improving equipment reliability, extending service life, preventing catastrophic failures, and reducing the mean time between failures, leading to increased overall operational efficiency.  

Despite its benefits, this mode has its drawbacks, such as:  

  • Requires equipment to be idle during maintenance, reducing overall equipment run time. 
  • Higher maintenance costs.

Spotlight: Improving berth productivity in the port industry 

A prominent port operator in the Pearl River Delta region, with its flagship port in Hong Kong, managing over 10 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) annually, was facing challenges such as regional competition and resource constraints.

In an effort to improve operational efficiency and customer satisfaction, the operator partnered with Renoir, to conduct an analysis of their vessel turnaround time. The analysis identified significant factors impacting berth productivity, including sub-optimal firefighting practices, a lack of standardisation, and inadequate preventive maintenance.

To address these issues and improve resource utilisation, the operator embarked on an improvement journey. Renoir introduced and implemented several initiatives to improve efficiency:

  • Advanced management control system (MCS). The existing MCS was upgraded to facilitate fact-based decision-making and reporting mechanisms.
  • Fault analysis and planned maintenance. The focus was on fault analysis and improving the effectiveness of planned maintenance. This included reviewing the content of preventive maintenance, minimizing unplanned work, implementing more sustainable corrective maintenance practices, and controlling the use of spare parts.
  • Labour productivity. Efforts were directed towards optimising labour productivity. This included reviewing workshop layouts, introducing pre-prepared work-packs for predictive maintenance tasks, and reducing the time spent on regular unscheduled maintenance through strategic measures.

The results of these efforts were remarkable. The port operator achieved a 10.7% increase in berth productivity. Equipment breakdowns and malfunctions were reduced by 15%, contributing to a more reliable and resilient operating environment.

Effective preventive maintenance requires behavioural change

The case study demonstrated the transformative power of strategic analysis and preventive maintenance. However, designing and implementing a preventive maintenance schedule requires extensive equipment knowledge and experience. Failure to do so can result in higher failure rates and increased costs. In addition, effective preventive maintenance is difficult to achieve without the skills to drive behavioural change.

Renoir has over 25 years’ experience of taking projects to full adoption using our behavioural and cultural change methodologies. Our approach leaves your organisation and people with the ability to continue to add value long after the project has been completed.

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