What Is Preventive Maintenance? The Beginner’s Guide to Running PMs
May 3, 2022MAINTENANCE
What Is Preventive Maintenance? The Beginner’s Guide to Running PMs
Equipment failures cannot be eliminated—they will happen.
However, preventive maintenance programs have been proven to reduce breakdowns, keep workers safe, and save big bucks in unnecessary expenses.
Preventive Maintenance (PM) is planned maintenance that prolongs the lifespan of company assets, equipment, and infrastructure. Preventative maintenance includes adjustments, cleaning, lubrication, repairs, and replacements.
In this guide, you will learn how preventive maintenance can save money, decrease downtime, and enhance safety for businesses of all sizes and types.
We’ll also cover how to create a preventive maintenance plan, determine which type of PM system is right for your facility, and evaluate computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) for streamlined automation.
What Is Preventive Maintenance? The Beginner’s Guide to Running PMs
Big problems are often caused by small oversights.
Disorganized maintenance programs can cause a facility’s most devastating accidents, operational losses, and production setbacks.
As reported by Pumps & Systems, one of its 700-horsepower condensate pumps experienced multiple failures over a 30-year period. During this time, in-house technicians became proficient at replacing one of the pump’s parts.
However, as seasoned employees began to resign, the plant lost information on how to properly fix the pump over time. Regrettably, the plant lost $13 million due to a crumbling sub-base that caused a chain of avoidable equipment failures.
Obviously, not every maintenance error involves such high stakes. However, even low-stakes errors translate into unnecessary financial loss, decreased productivity, and frustration. As already mentioned, the title of this guide is the solution.
1. What Is Preventive / Preventative Maintenance?
Preventive maintenance means fixing small problems before they become big ones. The primary goals of preventive maintenance programs are to a) maximize an asset’s useful life and b) avoid unplanned downtimes.
Downtime is the amount of time a system, machine, or piece of equipment remains inoperable. Thus, condition monitoring is a key component of preventive maintenance programs. Condition monitoring is the evaluation of specific machine behavioral indications—temperatures, vibrations, oil levels—to check for impending failure.
For example, technicians must replace machine bearings after so many hours because they aren’t designed to last forever. The following three characteristics define the scope of PM tasks across industries.
The 3 Elements of Preventative Maintenance:
- Performed routinely
- Aimed at reducing or minimizing failures
For example, say you neglect to change the oil in your vehicle every 5,000 miles. It probably won’t last very long. Breaking down on the side of the highway isn’t just inconvenient—it’s dangerous!
Obviously, large enterprises have more to lose when it comes to ignoring manufacturer recommendations for maintenance. Replacing 200 fleet vehicles five years earlier than necessary wouldn’t just be inconvenient; it would be expensive and dangerous!
Organizations can maximize their investments by slowing down excess asset depreciation, deterioration, and malfunction.
2. Preventive Maintenance vs. Reactive Maintenance
Alternatively, maintenance that is not conducted proactively or at routine intervals is called reactive maintenance.
Reactive maintenance entails waiting for small problems to become big problems—before doing anything about them. Often called run-to-failure maintenance, reactive maintenance means never inspecting an asset until it breaks down or you notice a particular part malfunction.
According to the Schneider Electric Report, “Predictive Maintenance Strategy for Building Operations: A Better Approach,” 55 percent of U.S. companies exclusively practice reactive maintenance.
A 2019 survey conducted by Plant Engineering echoes these findings: more than half of respondents still exclusively practice reactive maintenance. And only one-third of the facility managers surveyed practiced preventive maintenance for 30+ hours weekly.
Why Isn’t Everyone Practicing Preventive Maintenance?
Considering its proven benefits, you may wonder: why aren’t more organizations prioritizing preventive maintenance programs?
Based on our research, maintenance departments don’t always have good asset management systems in place. This makes it difficult to not only perform routine maintenance but also to make informed decisions based on asset history.
It’s true—starting a preventive maintenance program from scratch can be intimidating! Many maintenance teams find themselves so overwhelmed with reactive maintenance, that they can’t imagine finding time for preventative maintenance.
Depending on the number of assets at hand and the number of workers available, performing all manufacturer-recommended maintenance may seem impossible.
For example, a small property management team might have 200 assets requiring routine maintenance, whereas a large manufacturing facility might have 20,000 assets! The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines provide a starting point for maintaining standard equipment.
However, most organizations can’t successfully catalog the sheer volume of asset data without a CMMS. Unfortunately, many organizations reject existing CMMS solutions because of complex interfaces, lack of functionality, and high price tags.
Which Type of Maintenance Should You Perform?
Reactive maintenance isn’t cost-effective as an all-in-one strategy. The inconsistent nature of equipment downtime often results in unplanned expenses.
Reactive facilities don’t just lose money on faulty equipment—they waste capital on costs associated with lost productivity, overtime labor, and spare parts purchasing. However, that’s not to say technicians should perform preventive maintenance on every asset.
The costs of performing PM should always be less than the cost of failure. For example, say the cost of downtime for a particular asset is $500, and its PM cost is $800. In this instance, PM would be a waste of time and money.
The company could save $300 by running to failure. Conversely, PM will translate to financial savings for many critical assets. Here’s an example: hotel staff turn mattresses each week to extend their lifespans. This small PM procedure results in millions of dollars in savings for hotels globally.
The bottom line: organizations that adopt overall preventive maintenance philosophies save more money than those that don’t.
As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the unplanned downtime cost for industrial manufacturers may be more than $50 billion per year. Let’s look closer at the advantages and disadvantages of both maintenance methods.
3. The Pros and Cons of Preventive Maintenance
|1. Enhanced Safety||1. Budgetary Constraints|
|2. Longer Equipment Lifespan||2. More Resources Required|
|3. Increased Productivity||3. Time-Consuming|
|4. Reduced Costs||4. Tricky to Organize|
|5. Less Energy Consumption|
Managers must consider several factors when evaluating preventive maintenance vs. reactive maintenance for individual assets. While one method isn’t better than the other, it’s essential to understand the differences when forming department-wide strategies.
Below are factors to consider when planning a preventive maintenance program:
1. Enhanced Safety
The more often assets are checked, the less likely dangerous problems occur. Following preventive maintenance schedules reduces the risk of unexpected breakdowns, health hazards, and liability lawsuits.
2. Longer Equipment Lifespan
PM schedules ensure business assets are running according to manufacturer and consumer guidelines. As poorly performing parts are updated, assets perform at a steady level of productivity throughout the year. This reduces the frequency of capital expenditures needed to purchase new equipment.
3. Increased Productivity
As reported by Deloitte, inadequate maintenance strategies can reduce an organization’s production capacity by 20 percent. Modern preventive maintenance solutions allow operational managers to digitize essential equipment details, assign recurring work orders, and review asset history from the convenience of their smartphones.
4. Reduced Costs
Reactive maintenance downtime contributes to costly repairs. Using equipment to the point of failure may cost 10X more than performing periodic maintenance. Sometimes, internal employees can accomplish those repairs quickly.
Other times, organizations must wait on outsourced professionals to get the job done. Companies that adopt PM experience fewer breakdowns, which translates to greater output.. According to Jones Lang LaSalle’s “Determining the Value of Preventive Maintenance,” a telecommunications company experienced a 545 percent ROI when implementing a preventive maintenance plan.
5. Less Energy Consumption
Poorly maintained electrical assets often consume more energy than those operating in normal conditions. PM allows energy-robbing issues to be addressed quickly, resulting in smaller utility bills. The more energy your business saves, the higher your profits will be.
Alternatively, commonly voiced disadvantages to PM programs include:
1. Budgetary Constraints
Traditionally, the cost of implementing advanced digital maintenance solutions has been out of reach for smaller businesses. From high-priced software solutions to allocating man-hours to perform the tasks, PM is often considered a luxury. However, in recent years, a handful of providers have made this goal more obtainable.
2. More Resources Required
With more procedures to complete throughout the year, your organization may now need more personnel, more parts, and more monthly capital. Depending on the complexity of your organization, you may have to prioritize PM for essential assets only.
3. Time Consuming
Companies that switch to preventive maintenance philosophies sometimes feel like they’re doing more work. The reality is that they are! Taking the time to inspect complicated assets, involving several parts, can be tedious. Even businesses without complex machinery may, initially, feel resistant to taking on more routine tasks.
4. Tricky to Organize
As previously mentioned, developing a PM program without an organizational system can be a disaster. With hundreds, let alone thousands, of assets to maintain, no management team can rely on memory or whiteboards alone.
Binders busting at the seams with paper checklists make it difficult to find what you need when you need it. And traditional CMMS solutions can feel overwhelming with a dizzying array of steps. With that said, modern platforms like MaintainX require zero to little training for immediate use upon installation.
Which Option Is Better?
There are advantages and disadvantages to running a preventive maintenance-centric department. However, thanks to modern technology, the pros outweigh the cons for most organizations.
The right CMMS platform can eliminate Inefficient workflows, poor organizational systems, and poor communication issues.
Before we delve into our PM program improvement tips, let’s review the industries that can most benefit from PM programs.
4. Industries That Benefit from Preventive Maintenance Programs
Any organization with assets to maintain can benefit from preventive maintenance schedules. Here are some of the industries MaintainX has helped streamline maintenance operations:
Have you ever wondered when and why industries first began practicing preventive maintenance? If so, keep reading! If not, scroll through to the next section about the four primary types of preventive maintenance.
5. Stats on Preventive Maintenance
Gathering useful preventive maintenance statistics can be challenging when studies are mostly conducted every few years by consulting firms and software providers.
You might also wonder if the success one industry experiences with PM will transfer to your own. As such, it’s best to take all claims of outrageous success with a grain of salt and pay the most attention to more pragmatic gains:
- Preventative maintenance is the top priority for 80 percent of maintenance personnel (2018 Maintenance Survey).
- Unplanned downtime cost to industrial manufacturers is estimated to be over $50 billion each year (WSJ).
- Aging equipment is the no. 1 reason for unplanned downtime, as reported by 50% of maintenance personnel (2016 Maintenance Study).
- Businesses save up to 12-18 percent when they invest in preventative maintenance instead of corrective maintenance. (EERE).
- Using equipment to the point of failure costs 10x more than a regular maintenance program (Buildings).
As you can see, investing in the right maintenance program will nearly always increase productivity and reduce costs in the long run.
6. The History of Preventive Maintenance
Where It All Began
During the WWII era, the concept of productivity took on renewed importance for manufacturers around the world. Though buyers enjoyed more purchasing power than ever before, many factory workers were deployed for wartime duty.
The inverse relationship between product demand and available labor catalyzed an unprecedented level of mechanical productivity, innovation, and invention. Manufacturing facilities around the world began relying on complex machines to accomplish what was previously done by humans. This led to the observation that equipment failure could be mitigated with preventive maintenance.
During the late 1950s, U.S. airlines were at a crossroads; what was once a thrilling adventure was now a mundane necessity. As the number of commercial flyers began to steadily increase so too did airplane maintenance requirements. Consequently, the industry’s skyrocketing maintenance costs precipitated a combined investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airline representatives. The task force produced a series of preventive maintenance guidelines for both airlines and aircraft manufacturers to use when establishing maintenance schedules.
Over the years, the recommendations evolved to include maintenance procedures for several major aircraft, including the Boeing 747. The massive plane required 66,000 labor hours on major structural inspections before a major heavy inspection at 20,000 operating hours. In 1974, the U.S.Department of Defense commissioned United Airlines to write a report on maintenance processes used in the civil aviation industry. In 1978, maintenance experts Stan Nowlan and Howard Heap published “Reliability Centered Maintenance.” This report triggered a cataclysmic shift in the world of operations.
For the remainder of the century, nearly every industry around the world borrowed from the report’s holistic maintenance framework. Simultaneously, the chemical, transportation, and energy sectors became increasingly aware of the benefits PM had on employee safety. Across the Atlantic, European operational leaders also began to implement industrial maintenance norms.
Additionally, the technological era ushered in drastic changes in purchasing, communications, production, and quality. All of these developments combined, ultimately, led to the creation of the world’s first official technician training programs. Translation: The maintenance industry had finally arrived!
Where We Are Now
As previously mentioned, nearly half of the world’s companies now practice some form of preventive maintenance. Recent CMMS technologies have catapulted the possibilities of streamlining complex asset databases and preventive maintenance schedules from exclusively being in the hands of premier companies to SMBs today.
In other words, it’s never been easier to make PM work for you—no matter the size of your organization. Next, we’ll take a closer look at preventive maintenance subcategories before delving into some tactical tips:
7. Types of Preventive Maintenance
PM tasks are completed to anticipate and prevent equipment breakdown. These precautionary tasks should be performed on all parts and components with age-related failure patterns.
It’s important to recognize that no one type of preventive maintenance is better than the other. Stick with manual and manufacturer recommendations when determining the type of PM your equipment needs. With that said, preventive maintenance falls into four primary categories.
We’ve included simplified explanations in the paragraphs below.
Also known as time-based maintenance, periodic maintenance is performed at scheduled intervals (i.e., annually, quarterly, monthly, or weekly). Managers should read equipment manuals to determine recommended maintenance schedules. Most manufacturers indicate how often to inspect assets and the average life of each part.
Example: Every 6 months, I must change my oil.
Also called performance-based PM, and meter-based PM, this type of preventive maintenance dictates action based on equipment-usage variables. Any piece of equipment that requires usage-based maintenance will also come with a meter/counter to assess hours running, production milestones, etc.
Example: Every 5,000 miles, I must change my oil.
Predictive maintenance (PdM) is an advanced form of preventative maintenance aimed at reducing the number of necessary planned tasks. PdM analyzes data to determine when very specific maintenance conditions have been met.
Companies gather data from experts, equipment readers, past experiences, and IoT before identifying optimal PM requirements. The more data you have, the more financially savvy decisions you can make. Unfortunately, data collection is complex, expensive, and time-consuming.
Example: Between the months of June and August, I change my oil every 3,000 miles because I go off-roading and my vehicle picks up more dust. During the rest of the year, I change my oil every 5,000 miles.
Similar to predictive maintenance, this newer type of maintenance makes decisions based on data. However, prescriptive maintenance (RxM) provides operations managers with the added benefit of machine learning software.
The smart software collects and analyzes equipment conditions before suggesting specific recommendations designed to reduce operational risks. The technology is driven by “prescriptive analytics” and is designed to hypothesize potential outcomes. Soon, we expect to see incredible developments that put RxM within reach of even the smallest-sized maintenance teams.
Example: My engine broke down due to a dusty filter after off-roading in the hot, summer months. However, another owner of the same vehicle, with similar hobbies, reported similar issues via Artificial Intelligence (AI). The person found he could get away with changing the oil every 4,000 miles as opposed to every 3,000 miles like I had been doing as a form of predictive maintenance.
Which Type of Preventive Maintenance Is Right for You?
Clearly, predictive maintenance is capable of finding that sweet spot between traditional preventive maintenance and reactive maintenance.
Companies wanting to invest more time in equipment data collection, analysis, and decision-making should pursue predictive maintenance. However, a combination of periodic and meter-based maintenance will get the job done just fine for most teams.
Here are the primary differences between traditional PM and predictive PM:
- Predictive maintenance is more complex; it involves using data from experts, equipment readers, past experiences, and IoT.
- Predictive maintenance has a higher setup cost and a higher variable cost, which incurs higher upfront expenses than the others.
- Periodic maintenance involves little or no risk, while predictive maintenance involves a higher possibility of initial errors.
- Predictive maintenance reduces the probability of replacing a part prematurely as opposed to periodic maintenance.
In summary, preventive maintenance is the best way to move forward for companies wanting to increase equipment life without any risk and high fixed and variable costs.
8. Examples of Preventive Maintenance in Action
While preventive maintenance tasks span nearly every industry, most people seem to associate it with changing oil, air vents, and other components of everyday items. Here are a couple of videos that detail some of the more advanced maintenance tasks manufacturing and industrial technicians can perform:
Next, let’s look at how to create a preventative maintenance plan.
9. How to Create a Preventative Maintenance Checklist
The preventive maintenance workflow is the cornerstone of every proactive operations organization. A successful workflow provides a roadmap of how and when to maintain assets. Unsurprisingly, there is no “right” way to begin.
Some organizations choose to catalog assets one by one and create individual checklists on the fly. More complex operational facilities often create extensive asset inventories before formulating maintenance guidelines into procedures and work orders.
As Lao Tzu once said: the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Begin the process of organizing your preventive maintenance program today, and you will be that much closer to a drama-free work environment tomorrow.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Choose a Format
According to the Plant Engineering 2019 Maintenance Study, the top three methods for organizing maintenance systems are CMMS (58 percent), in-house spreadsheets/schedules (45 percent), and paper records (39 percent).
Your preventative maintenance workflow should answer questions like:
- What task should be performed first?
- Where is the equipment located?
- Which workers should be assigned?
- How often should the task happen?
- What parts or supplies are needed?
- How will we maintain accountability?
While spreadsheets may provide enough organization for smaller organizations, most companies could benefit from a user-friendly digital maintenance solution.
Put simply, it’s 2021! There is no reason for time-strapped maintenance teams to waste weekly hours cross-referencing paper checklists, email trails, and Excel files when more elegant solutions are available (more in a moment).
2. Drill Down
In a perfect world, your procedures would be so well defined that even Pete from payroll could change the forklift bearings by following your checklist.
Successful preventive maintenance workflows and scheduled maintenance communicate the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of each task—without overwhelming the reader. If your workflow is disorganized, workers may skip important steps or ignore tasks entirely, which will result in inconsistency throughout your operations.
But how can operational managers maintain simplicity when organizing dozens, if not hundreds, of maintenance steps? We recommend combining general workflows with detailed checklists.
Say you are creating a workflow on vehicle maintenance to monitor the operating condition. You might create a master workflow, instructing mechanics to inspect air filters, spark plugs, and brakes to extend the life of your critical assets. Don’t overwhelm workers by listing every single associated task.
Instead, create standard operating procedures that break down each inspection step by step. This process will reduce workers’ overwhelm, increase accountability, and help everyone stay more organized.
3. Set Clear Schedules
Next, ensure your workflow matches tasks with clear timeframes. If you have separate checklists based on time intervals—daily, weekly, monthly—a robust software program can ensure they automatically appear as planned.
Managers input how often checklists should be completed once and never have to worry about consulting user manuals, spreadsheets, or colleagues again for when to complete maintenance.
4. Stay Updated
Manufacturers periodically issue updates to recommended procedures and intervals as they receive customer feedback over time. Set a quarterly or biannual reminder on your calendar to review manufacturer guidelines for important assets.
Use existing data, asset age, equipment efficiency, and personal experience to fine-tune existing maintenance checklists. Beyond evaluating manufacturer recommendations, evaluate your team’s performance to find areas to improve. Be sure to amend any standard operating procedures with the new improvements.
For example, if one technician is completing the same task as another but much faster, determine if they are truly more efficient or actually skipping important steps.
5. Have a Purpose
Finally, no preventive maintenance system is successful without clearly defined goals for individual assets. Do you want to achieve 99 percent uptime for one machine? How about zero unplanned downtime over two years for another?
Discuss your objectives with your team so everyone can knowingly work toward the same goals. Not only does such transparency support organizational objectives, but it also motivates team members. Workers who feel aligned with company missions take pride in their work.
If your goal is to create a stress-free preventive maintenance system, these five tips will maximize your efforts. However, we’re going to share something most of your competitors don’t know about: organizations of all sizes can now create digital work orders for free. Software providers like MaintainX provide affordable all-in-one maintenance solutions that anyone with a smartphone can master in minutes.
MaintainX is a CMMS platform that handles maintenance, operations, safety, and training. We’re also the world’s first provider to include live chat, comments, and photo-sharing within the same digital maintenance platform.
With that said, MaintainX isn’t the only CMMS on the block. Let’s take a closer look at how to evaluate CMMS options:
10. How to Choose the Best CMMS Solution
A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a software platform that organizes information about a company’s maintenance operations and helps manage asset history.
CMMS is supposed to make life easier for everyone on the team. Maintenance workers can quickly determine how to care for assets. And operational managers can prioritize maintenance based on a bird’s eye view.
Essentially, the entire team saves time and the company saves money by preventing premature equipment failure. Woohoo!
Unfortunately, reality often fails to meet expectations. Far too many organizations invest in CMMS systems that prove too complicated and time-consuming to deliver on their promises.
Here are questions to ask yourself before choosing a CMMS:
1. What Features Do We Really Need?
Knowing what features you need, and which ones you can do without, begins with clarifying your organizational goals. At a minimum, your CMMS should provide a clear overview of upcoming work orders and in-progress jobs. Managers should be able to quickly assign priorities, evaluate progress, and maintain accountability across their team.
Upper management should work together to set SMART objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Say your company has solely practiced reactive maintenance for the past 20 years. Your goal might be to reduce downtime by 20 percent in 6 months (a realistic goal for most of our customers).
Maybe you have identified a major cause of poorly executed work orders to be poor communication. Perhaps, workers run into unanticipated setbacks causing them to wait an hour for a phone call or email explaining what to do. In this case, you would want to prioritize a CMMS system with chat functionality.
This way, maintenance staff can text leadership, send equipment photographs, and troubleshoot setbacks in real-time. Communication is one of the most overlooked features by most CMMS shoppers today. Beyond your productivity and cost-saving goals, you must consider what features your particular industry requires. Most CMMS include a combination of the following features:
- Equipment Data Management
- Preventive Maintenance
- Predictive Maintenance
- Labor Costs
- Work Order System
- Vendor Management
- Inventory Control
- Asset Tracking
- Asset History
- Corrective Actions
- Escalation Protocols
In many ways, choosing a CMMS platform isn’t that different than choosing between a Kia or a BMW. Both cars perform the same primary functions, but the user experience feels very different. Sometimes it comes down to personal preference, while other times certain features are simply better designed.
This brings us to our next question:
2. How User Friendly Is the Interface?
The best tech tools are the ones that get used—often.
At MaintainX, we’ve met a surprising number of maintenance directors who invested in fancy software, only to be disappointed a few months later. In every case, the manager purchased a CMMS solution that was too complicated for their team to use on a daily basis.
Their workers found the software confusing, inconvenient, and unattractive. Consequently, the burden of inputting fulfilled work orders fell on the manager’s plate. The result? An inaccurate PM record that defeated the purpose of having adopted a preventive maintenance philosophy.
MaintainX is the only CMMS platform that handles maintenance, operations, safety, and training. We’re also the world’s first provider to include live chat, comments, and photo-sharing within the same digital maintenance platform.
3. How Good Is the Provider’s Customer Support?
Once you have narrowed down your options, compare levels of customer support. One of the coolest things about online shopping is how readily customers review products and services.
Not only should you evaluate both positive and negative comments, pay special attention to any mentioning of customer support: How difficult was it to contact the CMMS provider for troubleshooting? What was the average response time? What does the product onboarding process look like? These are also questions you can, and should, ask company sales reps.
4. Does the Software Include Chat Functionality?
Maintaining communication across your team is important. If you’re a small business, standard text messaging may meet your needs. However, even small teams sometimes become confused when discussing various tasks within a single message thread. For this reason, you may benefit from using a business messaging app.
MaintainX is the only app on the market with integrated chat. Alternatively, team members can also communicate directly inside individual work orders to keep conversations organized. As reported in MaintainX’s 2019 Year-In-Review Survey, “work order commenting” was voted the most popular feature by software customers.
5. Does the Software Include Cost Analysis?
Finally, determine if the CMMS includes cost analysis from both an equipment standpoint and a time standpoint. A robust reporting feature will help you answer questions like: How much time did Joe spend doing safety audits and inspections last month? Should we continue maintaining that machine (and buying new parts), or should we buy a new one? Are we understaffed or overstaffed (and inefficient)?
There are many factors worth considering when purchasing a CMMS solution. At the end of the day, the best work order system for one company might not work for another. Always perform your due diligence before making a decision.
Ready to Ditch the Paper Stacks?
The best way to evaluate anything is to “try before you buy.” Most legacy solutions require a sales conversation before taking a test drive.
But MaintainX is completely free to download from the app store, and all Premium Features are free for 30 days. Our platform includes everything you need to begin creating work orders, communicating with staff, and tracking assets today.
Click the button below to download MaintainX to your desktop, tablet, or mobile device:
Caroline Eisner, Content Writer at MaintainX, is a writer and editor with experience across the profit and nonprofit sectors, government, education, and financial organizations. She has held leadership positions in K16 institutions and has led large-scale digital projects, interactive websites, and a business writing consultancy.