Maintenance strategy can be complicated. Most people agree on what types of maintenance strategies exist, but that’s where the consensus ends. It’s rare to see eye-to-eye on what those strategies look like in the field. That’s no surprise considering the number of factors that impact the debate: Cost, staff size, geography—the list goes on and on. But figuring out which strategy is best for an asset is not a nice-to-have, it’s essential. So we dove into this tangled mess of strategies to sort it out.
Step 1: Know the different types of maintenance strategies
Finding the right type of maintenance strategy for an asset starts with speaking the same language. We don’t need to agree on every little detail of what each strategy means, but we do need to be starting from the same spot.
Reactive maintenance/No maintenance strategy
Reactive maintenance is the mad scramble to fix a machine after it breaks down. It’s like firefighters rushing to put out a fire, only there’s no truck. Or hose. Or water. It’s also called emergency maintenance, breakdown maintenance or simply, having no maintenance strategy.
Run to fail maintenance
Run to fail maintenance (RTF) is a deliberate choice to let an asset fail before repairing it. A plan is in place ahead of time so the asset can be fixed or replaced without causing extra delays or costs. It’s like letting a light bulb burn out while having a dozen spares and a ladder ready to fix it right away.
Corrective maintenance is any task that corrects a problem with an asset. We’re reserving this type of maintenance for smaller, non-invasive tasks that happen before a machine reaches full failure, like making a fix during a routine inspection. Imagine changing the oil in your car and noticing the tires look a little flat. Pumping up the tires is classic corrective maintenance.
Routine maintenance is any task done on a planned and ongoing basis to identify and prevent problems. Routine maintenance rarely requires specialized training, skills, or equipment. The daily safety checklists many machine operators complete is an example of routine maintenance.
- Time-based preventive maintenance is when tasks are scheduled on an asset at a certain time interval, such as the first of every month or every seven days.
- Usage-based preventive maintenance is when work is scheduled based on the operation of equipment, such as after 1,000 miles or 10 production cycles.
In condition-based maintenance (CBM), the performance of an asset is monitored to determine when maintenance needs to be done. CBM uses certain indicators, like increased vibration or heat, to catch the point when failure begins, but before it leads to a breakdown.
Predictive maintenance (PdM) uses condition-monitoring tools and techniques to track the performance of equipment, identify defects, and help you fix them before failure.
The difference between predictive maintenance and condition-based maintenance lies in measurement and timing. CBM uses real-time performance data to point out a problem after a machine begins to fail. On the other hand, PdM takes all information into account (past, present, and future) and offers an ideal time for maintenance before any failure, however small, occurs.
Prescriptive maintenance (RxM) takes predictive maintenance to the next level. It uses condition monitoring and machine learning tools to predict when to do maintenance, but it also lays out exactly what kind of maintenance to do to help that piece of equipment perform better for longer.
Maintenance strategies in action on a variable speed transfer conveyor
|The conveyor breaks down with no plan in place to fix it
|Run to fail maintenance
|The conveyor is allowed to run until it breaks down with a plan to fix it
|A technicians notices that a part on the conveyor is misaligned during their weekly inspection and realigns it
|A machine operator inspects the conveyor before their shift to ensure it’s safe and free from obvious defects
|Preventive maintenance (Time)
|The conveyor is inspected for potential failure every 10 days
|Preventive maintenance (Usage)
|The conveyor is inspected for potential failure every five production cycles
|Maintenance is scheduled on the conveyor when vibration crosses a certain threshold
|Software says that failure-level vibration on the conveyor belt will occur in 30 days
|Software says that failure-level vibration on the conveyor belt will occur in 30 days and repairing it will require swapping out a certain part
Planned maintenance vs. scheduled maintenance
Scheduled maintenance is any work that’s put in the calendar, given a deadline, and assigned to a technician, whether that’s done a day or a year in advance. It’s the who and when of a task. Planned maintenance is the what, where, why, and how of a task. It doesn’t always establish the exact date and time of work, but you know how to execute the work when the time comes.
Let’s look at run to fail vs. reactive maintenance for an example. In both cases, you don’t know when maintenance is going to happen until a machine breaks down. They’re both unscheduled maintenance. However, RTF is a deliberate choice. You know failure won’t impact production. You’ve assembled the parts, people, and processes to fix the asset quickly and without spending too much. It’s planned. Reactive maintenance has none of that foresight, making it unplanned.
Here’s a handy way of remembering how to classify the types of maintenance strategies:
And here’s how much of each maintenance strategy is planned and how far in advance you can schedule them.
Step 2: Know your variables
Every facility is different, which is why it can be maddening to talk about maintenance strategies so generally. Every asset, technician, and business is unique, and what works for one maintenance team may not work for another. That’s why understanding what makes your facility tick is crucial.
Before you decide on maintenance strategies, take stock of a few key financial elements:
- What are you spending, all-up, on maintenance in general and for each asset?
- What’s the biggest maintenance cost for each asset? Is it downtime, parts, labour, or something else?
- How much would it cost to change the strategy you’re using on an asset?
Organizing your asset knowledge means it’s easier to analyze and share. There are a few useful questions that can help you build a 360-degree view of your assets:
- How would you rank your assets by criticality?
- Which assets are underperforming against key metrics?
- Which assets can you collect accurate data from?
- Which assets are important to safety and compliance?
A good maintenance strategy is only as good as people who execute it, which is why the people factor should be taken into account when building your asset maintenance strategy. There are a few questions that can help you assess the baseline of your staff:
- How can you get your team home safely every day?
- How many people do you have on your team and is there room for growth?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each person, and what training is necessary?
- How does your team spend their time?
Step 3: Choosing a type of maintenance strategy for your assets
Let’s clear the air right now:
“There’s no single best maintenance strategy,” says Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s senior manager of sales engineering.
“There is a ‘worst’ strategy and that’s reactive maintenance, but the best strategy is the one that helps equipment function at its best, safely, and without too many costs.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done. There are all those unique, colliding, and constantly changing factors for you to consider. But by looking at some major elements, such as costs, safety, and downtime, we can chart where each maintenance strategy falls and give you some tools for assessing the best maintenance strategy for each of your assets.
Cost to implement and manage vs. Instances of downtime
Every minute of uptime gained comes at a cost. The question is whether that cost is worth it. Our first chart can be a starting point for answering that question. It helps you measure your uptime goals against your budget and identify where resources can be used for better returns.
Cost to implement and manage vs. Asset criticality
A good dose of prescriptive or predictive maintenance is often enough to cure unnecessary downtime. But you know the catch: Those strategies require expensive training and technology to do well. That’s where asset criticality comes in. This chart helps visualize where to dedicate your time and money to ensure the most important machines are also the most reliable.
Planned percentage vs. Data requirements
Planned maintenance is like sleep to exhausted parents with a newborn: You can never have enough. But planning takes data to be effective and efficient. The chart below is a run-down of how much data is necessary for each maintenance strategy to be successful.
Planned percentage vs. Safety and compliance
Increased safety is often tied to planned work, because the more you know, the better you can avoid risks. This chart is all about how each strategy allows you to plan and identify risks early so you can reduce the likelihood of accidents or increase compliance on a group of assets.
Ideal asset profiles
|Run to fail
|PM (Time) PM (Usage)
|CBM, Predictive, Prescriptive
|None to low
|Moderate to high
|High to essential
|Cost to maintain asset
|Low to moderate
|Moderate to high
|Cost of downtime on asset
|Low to moderate
|Moderate to high
|Amount of data required from asset
|Moderate to high
|Safety risk and required compliance
|Low to moderate
Slow and steady wins the asset management race
Getting the right combination of maintenance strategies takes time. No one gets it perfect on the first try. No one goes from reactive to prescriptive maintenance in a single leap. Finding a formula that works is a journey. It could start with doing PMs on a handful of critical assets and lead to a well-balanced strategy that touches every machine. The in-between can last years. What will get you there are data-driven decisions. The result is a facility that runs with fewer interruptions, a healthier bottom line, and a more efficient maintenance team.