Preventive vs. Predictive Maintenance: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated: January 24th, 2023
Researched and Written by: Lexi Wood

There are a lot of different maintenance programs out there, all made to protect your assets like machines and equipment. Two, preventive and predictive maintenance, are almost the same, though there are a few key differences to consider when adopting either of these proactive maintenance plans for your business.

What is Preventive Maintenance?

As the name suggests, preventive maintenance is the performing of scheduled maintenance on assets, to reduce the likelihood of breakdown or failure. With many different types of preventive maintenance practices, all PM programs are designed to extend the usefulness of assets for as long as possible in order to keep costs down and production up.

Preventive maintenance tends to begin with in-depth analysis of how a piece of equipment or machinery is performing over a period of time. Sometimes this data can come from manufacturer warranties or other sources. This helps create an ideal schedule for when various maintenance tasks should be performed to preserve assets and improve overall performance. A business using a preventive maintenance schedule might arrange large-scale maintenance activities even if assets are operating within acceptable parameters and do not appear to need any maintenance based on performance.

Effective PM programs use everything from shared calendars to automated notifications to ensure maintenance on critical assets is performed on time. Specific examples of this maintenance approach varies depending on the asset management necessary: computers might get new software, machines might have spare parts installed, gears might be oiled between production cycles.

Important note: The terms preventive and preventative maintenance genuinely are used interchangeably.

What is Predictive Maintenance?

Technically, predictive maintenance falls under the broader category of preventive maintenance. However, it places its primary focus on scheduling data-driven maintenance on an as-needed basis in order to reduce unplanned downtime as much as possible. In order to achieve this, predictive maintenance uses asset data and reporting to determine when maintenance is most likely needed. This usage-based method requires significantly more data from condition monitoring in order to work correctly without causing more strain on production cycles.

For instance, a company might arrange for weekly tests to measure asset conditions like output. As long as asset performance is within acceptable parameters, maintenance is deemed unnecessary. Once any variance is detected, a prediction is made on how effective the asset still is and when maintenance should be scheduled to avoid a full failure of operations.

In some companies, this results in maintenance tasks like updates, tuneups, and parts replacement being put off to the point of potential machine failure. This approach is riskier than scheduled maintenance, but it does keep equipment running as long as possible while still preparing for the possibility of breakdown.

Main Differences Between Preventive and Predictive

Predictive maintenance is similar to preventative maintenance, though there are important distinctions. Preventive tasks are scheduled regardless of usage or performance. While there may be some analytics to determine when parts should be replaced, there’s always the possibility a fully functional part is scheduled to undergo unnecessary maintenance. Predictive maintenance software uses data and observations to determine when work should be done.

The main difference between the two types of maintenance is when it is performed: preventive maintenance is generally scheduled based on calendar dates regardless of performance while predictive maintenance is arranged based on real-time condition-monitoring regardless of date.

With predictive maintenance, work is only done when it is deemed necessary based on data. Preventive work is done whether it needs to be done or not. Unfortunately, it can be hard to measure how much difference the preventive actions actually make on performance and longevity. Predictive fixes are easier to quantify since they may align with corrective maintenance, sometimes coming after a machine has broken down or is in obvious need or repair.

However, there are still significant overlaps between the two types of maintenance to consider:

Similarities in Proactive Maintenance

To start, both offer a proactive maintenance strategy for businesses across every industry. And as mentioned before, predictive maintenance is preventive. It’s no wonder so many people use the two interchangeably! Each is an alternative to reactive maintenance, which occurs after a machine or piece of equipment has failed.

Next, preventive maintenance can be usage-based, just like predictive maintenance, although it may not always be as detailed. For example, a company might perform maintenance based on conditions described in a manufacturer warranty (preventive), rather than their own observations and data analysis (predictive).

Both predictive and preventative maintenance applications can be part of larger computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) systems. However, each can be used separately in order to reduce implementation costs and ease of use. The software optimizes both predictive and preventive maintenance schedules through automated alerts and notifications indicating when technicians need to perform routine maintenance.

Preventive vs Predictive Maintenance for Business

Preventive and predictive maintenance both benefit businesses, though in slightly different ways. Which is best suited for your operations will depend on the exact type of maintenance your assets need. Your maintenance team might have a preference for one or the other, depending on variables like:

  • Cost of maintenance
  • Availability of spare parts
  • Material costs
  • Expected downtime
  • Ease of condition monitoring

For instance, a machine might have gears which need to be lubricated on a regular basis to operate at optimal conditions. Scheduling weekly oiling would be an example of preventive maintenance work. Another piece of equipment might be connected to a computer which records real-time data on performance. That information can allow the maintenance team to perform quick check-ups in a predictive maintenance plan.

Another way to look at it is to consider how costly and time-consuming an unplanned breakdown would be. Equipment failure and related maintenance costs can quickly add up to lost revenue over time. If you’re looking at thousands of dollars in lost revenue, then preventive maintenance at regular intervals would likely be beneficial as a “better safe than sorry” insurance policy. However, if repairs are genuinely minor, such as swapping out consumable spare parts, then you might be better suited by a cost-effective predictive maintenance system. Both of these proactive types of maintenance can lead to cost savings by keeping assets up and running.

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