What is Preventive Maintenance? Types and Benefits Explained

By Lexi Wood • Updated on August 10th, 2022
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Whatever your line of business, unexpected equipment breakdowns or machine failure can lead to expensive complications. What if you could stop a costly problem before it happens? Fortunately, a preventive maintenance system can help you stay on top of critical asset upkeep.

What is Preventive Maintenance?

As the name suggests, preventive maintenance is the performing of regular checkups and tuneups on assets, such as assembly line equipment and computerized machinery, to prevent breakdown or failure. While there are many different types of preventive maintenance practices, they are all aimed at preserving the lifespan of assets for as long as possible.

In most industries, proactive maintenance begins with analyzing performance trends of equipment based on a mixture of historical and real-time data. This information makes it possible to alert the appropriate staff of any potential issues as they occur in the workflow. In short, your maintenance team tracks machine or equipment degradation over time against potential cost savings to determine when planned maintenance is absolutely necessary.

Examples of preventive maintenance may include:

  • Regular maintenance on machinery
  • Oiling or lubricating equipment between production cycles
  • Software updates on computers
  • Scheduled performance audits

A preventive maintenance strategy or PM program is often a core part of computerized maintenance management systems, which automate maintenance scheduling to reduce equipment failure and increase uptimes. Effective preventive maintenance programs use everything from online calendars to automated notifications to ensure maintenance is performed on time.

Note: The terms preventive and preventative maintenance may be used interchangeably, depending on local usage.

Manager Stopping Chain Reaction
Preventive maintenance can prevent a chain reaction of future failures.

Types of Preventive Maintenance

There are several different types of preventive maintenance which can be customized to fit your business needs:

Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance uses asset data and reporting to determine when maintenance is most likely needed. In many companies, tasks like updates, tuneups, and parts replacement are scheduled as close to the potential failure point as possible to keep machines running. This method requires significantly more data in order to work correctly without causing more strain on production cycles.

Imagine a company which keeps detailed records on the output level of each individual machine. For example, one piece of manufacturing equipment might complete an average of 100 units per shift. Over time, the maintenance team will be able to spot changing performance patterns, particularly those which may indicate a problem. In this instance, perhaps the equipment output suddenly drops to 90 units per shift. After the team investigates the cause and implements a fix, such as removing a broken piece to replace with a spare part, they can note the solution for future use. Then, should production drop again in a similar way, the data-backed observations can predict when maintenance is necessary and what needs to be done. Additionally, they can preorder critical equipment in advance based on these predictions.

Prescriptive Maintenance

Similar to predictive maintenance, prescriptive maintenance practices determine when maintenance is needed and, more importantly, why. The goal here isn’t just to make timely repairs, it’s to improve the overall process to reduce failure. This is done by studying data on production to find commonalities before, during, and after problems in order to identify solutions.

Correctly utilizing the prescriptive type of maintenance can reduce overall maintenance costs by minimizing the need for repairs and replacements in the first place. By anticipating issues, you can keep operating without interruption.

For example, a company might have an HVAC system to keep the machines running at the correct temperature. Buildup on filters can overwork the system, leading to overheating. A preventive maintenance plan can schedule monthly, quarterly, or annual filter cleanings or replacements.

Time-Based Preventive Maintenance

Time-based preventive maintenance uses a calendar to schedule maintenance far out in advance, regardless of whether it is needed. Keeping a shared calendar of preventive maintenance tasks can help maintenance technicians coordinate and streamline work in advance. For example, a company which specializes in seasonal products might know there will be a convenient time to schedule maintenance in the off-season. Critical assets can be ordered in advance, ensuring the necessary spare parts arrive right as work winds down and scheduled maintenance is set to begin.

By sticking to a strict maintenance schedule, time-based preventive maintenance can boost productivity by planning for minimal downtime in advance. Instead of surprise breakdowns impacting output for an unknown amount of time, you can plan ahead for short outages timed exactly for how long repair and improvement tasks should take. Servicing a piece of equipment on a set schedule can also make it easier to audit operations and fine tune performance changes.

Calendar with Maintenance Scheduled
Using a set schedule for maintenance can prevent equipment failure.

Usage-Based Preventive Maintenance

Usage-based preventive maintenance initiates maintenance only after an asset has achieved some sort of predetermined benchmark. Occasionally, this may include maintenance after a scheduled inspection or audit has revealed a need for it. Or maintenance technicians on an assembly line might schedule equipment downtime based on manufacturer recommendations.

This type of preventive maintenance is primarily aimed at extending asset life as much as possible. This can lead to long-term savings by preserving existing assets instead of regularly buying brand-new replacements. Further, facilitating large repairs is time consuming, so usage-based maintenance can keep costs down by allowing for smaller repairs over time rather than big projects with unplanned downtime.

Preventive Maintenance Checklist

Most preventive maintenance systems use a checklist to ensure the same process is followed each and every time. For example, a manufacturer might use a checklist like this one to ensure they are operating as efficiently and safely as possible:

  • Run tests of equipment
  • Check oil or lubrication levels
  • Replenish fluids
  • Replace batteries
  • Check and/or replace filters

The exact order and number of preventive maintenance tasks may vary depending on what assets are being maintained and your preferred maintenance type. However, these are the main features to include on your maintenance checklist:

Real-time Condition Monitoring

To enjoy the full benefits of preventive maintenance, the first step is to monitor or audit all your assets operating condition on a regular, preferably real-time basis. This may include running tests on performance or making visual observations at set intervals. Gathering accurate information can make it easier to predict when future maintenance will be needed.

Review the internal data collected by various pieces of equipment to see if there are any changes in performance. This can reveal the need for asset upkeep through a wide variety of maintenance activities. For example, if a fleet of trucks are no longer getting good gas mileage on familiar delivery routes, oil changes might be in order.

Performance Analytics and FMEA

Performance analytics is often aided by Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), which is used to determine how reliable your current machines are by analyzing the frequency of failure. For instance, FMEA may show a certain type of robotic picker used to sort products off the assembly line tends to encounter mobility issues after two years of operation; you can schedule maintenance just ahead of the two year mark to prevent downtime.

Preventive vs Reactive Maintenance

While there are many types of preemptive maintenance, it should not be mistaken for reactive maintenance practices. As the names suggest, reactive maintenance comes after something has broken while preventive attempts to prevent. While it might seem best to prevent equipment failure, there are some situations where reactive maintenance plans are best.

Ideally, the goal of an independent preventive maintenance platform is to automate the routine maintenance services before any problems have occurred. This is opposed to reactive maintenance, which only occurs after equipment or assets have broken down. The key benefit of using preventive maintenance software is cutting down on lost uptime and expenses related to repair services.

In contrast, reactive or corrective maintenance is all about performing repairs or replacing parts after a breakdown has occurred. This “run-to-fail” model is to maximize uptime as much as possible, even at the expense of asset performance and longevity. Unfortunately, this can lead to unexpected and expensive downtime as repairs are made. Reactive maintenance is useful in industries where repairs can be made easily or replacement parts are affordable.

Preventive Maintenance by Industry

All industries need some form of planned maintenance to keep assets in working condition, yet several depend on the benefits offered by preventive methods more than others in order to remain compliant with strict safety regulations. These industries using preventive maintenance include:

  • Aircraft and aerospace
  • Food and beverage
  • Healthcare and medical
  • IT and tech services
  • Oil and gas
  • Power and energy

Each of these industries need to meet safety standards with the chance of audits at any time. For example, a machine failure at a food processing plant can lead to health issues for consumers, such as a bolt or screw falling off a worn-down machine and into a food product. Real-time condition monitoring can allow for potential problems to be caught early, without risking the safety of the general public. As such, preventive maintenance systems help these industries keep everything in safe working order.

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