What is Preventive Maintenance? Types, Benefits, Cost, and Examples

Tools on a woolboard

Preventive maintenance is an undeniably critical competent to any maintenance strategy. It’s key to lowering maintenance costs, reducing equipment downtime, improving asset lifespan and efficiency, and increasing workplace safety.

In an era where more than 80% of companies have experienced an unexpected outage in the last three years, having a clear, defined, and well thought-out maintenance plan is a crucial first step for setting up a business for long-term success.

Preventive maintenance is crucial to any business looking to reduce maintenance costs and the number of reactive maintenance issues. But … what exactly is preventive maintenance?

In this post, we’ll be exploring exactly what preventive maintenance is, and how you can use it to benefit your business and stay ahead of issues before they arise.

What Is Preventive Maintenance?

Preventive maintenance involves taking the necessary precautions and actions to prevent accidents or equipment failures from occurring before they happen. For example: performing regular business and equipment inspections, cleaning and lubricating essential equipment, and tidying your business’s grounds are all examples of preventive maintenance.

The goal of preventive maintenance is to prevent equipment failure before it occurs, and to reduce the risk of accidents. Ultimately, taking certain precautions to ensure minimal risk to your business means that you and your staff can focus on improving what already works, instead of having to repair what is broken.

Any type of maintenance that is not reactive (i.e. a response to a problem, malfunctioning equipment, technology, etc.) is preventive, and there are many different types of preventive maintenance that pertain to different areas of a business, or specific timing. We’ll explore these in detail in the next section, but a few types include time-based maintenance, usage-based maintenance, predictive maintenance, and prescriptive maintenance.

In short, as long as you’re a business owner or manager, you’ll face a certain amount of risk when it comes to customer and employee safety, equipment operations and safety, and property upkeep, among other areas. Taking regular preventive maintenance measures will ensure that you and your business are protected from substantial risks and accidents, keeping your business goals and safety goals intact.

Now, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of preventive maintenance, what each entails, and how they might benefit your business.

Types of Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance isn’t a blanket term. Here are some of the most common different types:

Time-based maintenance

It can be helpful to create a monthly or annual maintenance schedule that complies with manufacturer recommendations for inspecting and cleaning equipment to keep you on track. Even outside of these recommendations, you should keep in mind that the most essential equipment to your business should be checked regularly to ensure the best possible operations.

Examples of calendar-based maintenance might include servicing your air conditioning a month or two out from summer, replenishing salt for soft water systems, and cleaning vents to comply with health standards at least twice per year.

When creating a time-based preventive maintenance plan, or deciding what to add to it, consider the major utilities, equipment, tools, and technology that your business depends upon for success. These should be checked on a regular basis to ensure that your business continues to thrive. The last thing you’ll want to do is close for several days due to a problem that could’ve been prevented with a bit of planning.

To support time-based maintenance, it’s also a good idea to keep detailed notes about previous breakdowns and problems with tools and equipment, so you’ll have a better idea of which systems and equipment might need a bit of extra care.

Usage-based maintenance

If your business uses certain machinery or equipment every single day, it’s a good idea to track usage (i.e. equipment monitors, operating hours, production cycles), especially if the equipment doesn’t automatically produce tickets or notifications when a certain number of operating hours have been reached. This is referred to as usage-based maintenance.

Whether it’s a vehicle oil change, or an essential piece of machinery that has reached X number of hours, staying on top of proper care and maintenance will ensure long-lasting use of important equipment.

Predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance relies on sensors to capture information about equipment (i.e. temperature sensors, or vibration sensors), and is generally specific to technology that can trigger work orders if a machine or appliance is in need of an inspection or upgrade. Predictive maintenance entails monitoring the condition of essential machinery to track performance, and to detect possible defects that could result in a system crash.

This type of preventive maintenance might be especially relevant for manufacturing,  food production plants, power and energy industry where the information gleaned from predictive maintenance will allow for maintenance managers to predict when system downtimes may occur based on previous patterns, and to schedule maintenance tasks to reduce crashes on critical operational equipment.

Prescriptive maintenance

Similar to the patterns that predictive maintenance analyzes, prescriptive maintenance uses advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to generate predictions about maintenance, and also act on them. What does this mean? Basically, prescriptive maintenance makes recommendations to improve system operations, and also follows up on its own to produce a work order and oversee the entire process.

Sound advanced? That’s because it probably is for most businesses. As long as you’re manually checking your essential equipment, and staying on top of manufacturer recommendations and inspection procedures, you’re already well on your way to effective preventive maintenance—no prescriptive maintenance required!

Now that you understand more about the different types of preventive maintenance, we’ll dive into the benefits and potential pitfalls of standard preventive maintenance practices.

Benefits of Preventive Maintenance

Of course, one of the most obvious benefit of implementing preventive maintenance is that you’re more likely to stay ahead of problems before they occur. That’s the whole point, right? But if you’re still not convinced, there are a few specific advantages you may want to consider:

  • Preventive maintenance will decrease business downtime and closures due to unexpected equipment failures;
  • Preventive maintenance will increase equipment life expectancy, so you’ll spend fewer dollars in the long run;
  • Preventive maintenance will ensure all equipment and employees work only during scheduled hours, eliminating the need for paying overtime due to unexpected machinery breakdowns, etc.
  • Preventive maintenance will significantly reduce safety risks for employees and customers, thereby reducing the costly risk of lawsuits and workers’ comp.
  • Preventive maintenance means less energy consumption for your assets and equipment due to high levels of operational efficiency, which will reduce your utility bills.

These are only a few of the specific benefits that accompany regular preventive maintenance. Even if you own a small retail shop or food stand and don’t work with heavy machinery or equipment, preventive maintenance as it applies to your business will go a long way toward reducing costly accidents and damage.

Disadvantages of Preventive Maintenance

You might be wondering, How could there possibly be a downside to staying prepared? Nevertheless, there are a few drawbacks to regular preventive maintenance that you may want to consider before going investing, including:

  • Budget constraints and considerations, which may not be able to support all relevant preventive maintenance procedures and inspections that ideally need implementation;
  • Time-consuming scheduling and inspections, which may not be feasible given the volume of customers, responsibilities, etc. on any given day;
  • Staff time and resources, which may mean that certain employees work overtime, or are taken away from their daily duties in order to focus on preventive maintenance practices;
  • Overkill of preventive maintenance, which can lead to unnecessary money spent on precautions that aren’t needed.
  • Requires planning, especially if you’re just starting out with a brand new preventive maintenance program and there are no preexisting statistics and records to work with. Proper planning is crucial to implement an effective preventive maintenance program, which will ultimately take time.

While all of these can wreak havoc on your business, you should be the most leery of overspending on preventive maintenance. Unnecessary spending can hurt, more than help, your business, so it’s important to know which methods of preventive maintenance will be worth the associated costs.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can avoid too much investment in preventive maintenance.

How to Avoid Too Much Preventive Maintenance

You’ll definitely want to avoid overdoing it when it comes to preventive maintenance. Thus, there are a few markers you can use to determine whether a preventive action or measure is necessary.

For one, how long has it been since a piece of equipment or technology has been tested, updated, or improved (if new parts are applicable)? If possible, always check the work history on the item in question before scheduling a maintenance activity, or keep a log of recent malfunctions and upgrades.

In addition, be careful not to overdo it with simple preventive measures, such as over-salting parking lots in the winter, over-lubricating machinery, or over-scheduling the number of safety walks your employees must take, for example. Such actions will result in lost time, and in other cases, unintentional and preventable damage where there previously was none.

Always carefully consider whether a preventive action really needs to be performed. A good rule of thumb is: if you go past the optimum point of repairs and inspections on a particular piece of equipment, you’re doing too much preventive maintenance and wasting money.

Preventive maintenance is truly a matter of common sense, depending on factors like weather conditions, record, recommendations, and timing, among others. If you haven’t yet taken any preventive maintenance measures, start by targeting your business’s most essential equipment, and inspect these items to ensure optimal conditions and functionality.

Only take preventive maintenance actions when the benefits of doing so will outweigh the risks and costs.

Preventive Maintenance Graph

How Much Does Preventive Maintenance Cost to Implement?

We knew you’d ask, but there’s no precise answer to this question. Instead, the cost of preventive maintenance will boil down to labor costs (for large facilities and staff), and ultimately to the number of machines and utilities you need improved or protected.

It’s important not to break your business’s budget just to implement preventive maintenance. Do what you can, where you can, to avoid future damages to your business caused by preventable accidents. This can be as simple and as budget-friendly as manually cleaning a ventilation system, increasing lubrication frequency on equipment, or spending one hour training staff to operate certain machinery safely and effectively.

To determine how much of your budget should be allocated to preventive maintenance, you should:

  1. Add up the total cost of your reactive maintenance for the past year;
  2. Consider the value of all your equipment.

This will give you a good idea of how much you can potentially save in the way of reactive maintenance, in addition to the savings you’ll enjoy from extending the life of your equipment.

No matter your cost restraints, there’s usually something you can do to better protect your business and your employees—and you won’t need to break the bank getting it done!

Designing a Preventive Maintenance Program

As you decide which areas of your business and equipment to target for preventive maintenance, you’ll go through a few steps before the process is completed.

The first thing you’ll need to do is designate your goals for preventive maintenance of each item. For example, if you’re targeting a particular machine, perhaps your goal is to experience zero lost time due to repairs on that machine over the next year. Be sure to specify these goals in a spreadsheet so that your entire staff can be on the same page and support the goal in whatever way they can.

Next, you’ll need to plan and schedule your maintenance, which will involve selecting the most convenient day for the repairs, upgrades, etc. Pick a day or time that is least likely to interfere with your business’s productivity.
Finally, if any of the preventive maintenance performed results in new processes or important information, train your staff to manage equipment and handle all machinery or technology effectively and safely. Taking the time to educate your staff will result in higher productivity and increased efficiency for your business.

These three steps establish a baseline for your preventive maintenance program. If reactive maintenance is still occurring at a high frequency, despite the fact that you’re investing in preventive maintenance, you’ll need to increase the amount of your preventive maintenance. Reevaluate your process after a set time to see if you’ll need to increase or decrease preventive maintenance, or maintain the same level.

One other note: there are some functions you’ll perform for and around your business that should not be classified as preventive maintenance but are rather defined as corrective maintenance, including changing a light bulb, repairing a delivery vehicle or a speaker system, etc. Once some form of machine failure has already occurred, the action taken is no longer preventive, but reactive.

How Can Preventive Maintenance Software Help?

Historically, maintenance has been recorded and tracked via pen and paper, or by spreadsheet creation, both of which are very manual and time-consuming and don’t always lead to an accurate analysis.

Preventive maintenance software are great tools for efficiently creating and scheduling work orders digitally for preventive maintenance. These helpful programs greatly reduce the time you’d otherwise spend tracking systems manually. Furthermore, many software providers are quite affordable, and keeps all your maintenance history in one place.

Using preventive maintenance software will greatly benefit your business, as preventive maintenance programs will enable you to create and submit digital work order forms in one streamlined system, and allow you to modify completed or in-process repairs and maintenance. In addition, many of these programs removes most of the administrative tasks off technicians, so they can focus on inspecting and maintaining equipment.

Preventive maintenance software will also allow technicians to easily access all of the preventive maintenance work orders they need to perform, and will send alerts and reminders about when the next inspection is due. Moreover, you’ll also have the ability to track work orders through their process from start to finish, and will receive access to data and trends that show operational downtime, repair costs, and even causes of issues.

How to Create a Preventive Maintenance Checklist

Creating a preventive maintenance checklist is part of the planning process, and is a good way to ensure you’re not focusing on too many items at one time (and risk spending more than you can afford).

A comprehensive checklist will help you remain on task, and will keep the preventive maintenance process streamlined. Rather than trying to retain a vague idea of what might need attention around your business, referencing a solid checklist will help you reach all of your preventive maintenance goals.

To create an effective preventive maintenance checklist, start by listing all of the assets around your business that could benefit from regular inspection. Next, gather original equipment manufacturer (OEM) manuals—if not all, then at least all of the manuals you have on hand that pertain to your assets and equipment. Finally, review the history of your assets. Have certain pieces of machinery had breakdowns in the past? Are you using non-original parts that might affect the machine’s utility (i.e. parts that have been ordered separately from the manufacturer)?

If there are any unique considerations for a piece of equipment, your preventive maintenance plan should include steps that acknowledge those characteristics, in addition to what’s outlined in the OEM manual.

…If you don’t have the time to create your own checklist, or are unsure of where to begin, check out these preventive maintenance checklists to get started!

Industries That Benefit From Preventive Maintenance

While we can argue that any industry can benefit from preventive maintenance, here are a few that will really reap the rewards of taking preventive action:

Hospitality & Restaurant Industry

It never hurts to stay ahead of things in the hospitality and restaurant industry. Restaurants, in particular, tend to operate using a lot of high-value equipment, such as walk-in refrigerators and freezers, expensive ovens, etc. that can easily put the business out thousands of dollars if not inspected and treated regularly. Preventive maintenance can extend the life of top-dollar equipment, so the business can get the most bang for its buck.

Manufacturing Industry

The machines used in many factories and warehouses are usually very expensive, and often custom-made. If a single piece of equipment fails, this can lead to significant losses for the entire company. This makes preventive maintenance highly necessary and worthwhile for manufacturing businesses—the benefits of preventive maintenance are always worth the cost.

Fleet Management Industry

Fleet management entails the management of commercial motor vehicles, including cars, vans, trucks, forklifts, and more.

When these types of vehicles are integral to a company’s success, engine failure or other types of vehicle dysfunction can send small businesses and large corporations alike into a state of disarray. Many businesses depend on such vehicles to move equipment, deliver goods, and execute their services.

For these reasons, preventive maintenance is essential to this industry. Common preventive maintenance tasks include changing oil and filter, performing regular tune-ups, and lubricating chassis.

Oil & Gas

Preventive maintenance is perhaps most essential for the oil and gas industry, as one incident could wreak disastrous consequences on the environment and surrounding areas.

One benefit of preventive maintenance that’s exclusive to this industry is the ability to monitor the conditions of certain equipment remotely, which means less money spent on inspections and more data to help prevent dangerous accidents.

Examples of Preventive Maintenance

To conclude, let’s touch briefly on a few specific examples of preventive maintenance that may be applicable to your business:

Check Your HVAC System

Your heating, ventilating, and cooling system is integral to the success of your business. If your A/C goes bust at the height of summer, for instance, you can expect fewer customers and a negative impact on business. Ensure your HVAC system is routinely inspected (seasonally is a good rule of thumb) to avoid costly repairs in the event of future damage.

Check Essential Assets

Your business’s main assets will be the regularly-used equipment that contributes to your business’s success. For example, if you own a restaurant, a walk-in refrigerator is going to be one of your essential assets—your business can’t function without it. For regular refrigerator maintenance, it’s important to check door seals, defrost built-up ice, check the drip pan and drain hole, and clean the condenser coils every so often.

Frequency performing these tasks varies, but it’s safe to say that items such as these should be considered once per month when it comes to maintaining the optimum functionality of a major asset.

Inspect All Essential Business Vehicles

Be sure to have essential business vehicles inspected as frequently, or as often as recommended by the manufacturer. Failure to perform routine maintenance could result in breakdowns, engine failure, and dangerous driving conditions. If possible, set up service reminders via an app, or check your mileage to stay on top of vehicle inspections. This type of basic preventive maintenance will ensure that your vehicles perform optimally for your business’s success.

Complete Property Maintenance for Communities

For properties such as senior living communities or apartment complexes, it’s important to perform routine inspects to keep tenants safe, and preserve the health and value of the property.

Water damage, for instance, can be detrimental to community living, but is easily preventable with routine inspections and maintenance. A few things around the property to check regularly include roofs and gutters, bathroom plumbing (grout and caulking), appliances such as dishwashers and garbage disposals, and outdoor low spots (i.e. potholes and uneven concrete, which can pose tripping hazards or become icy in wintry weather).

Preventive maintenance can be as complicated, or as simple, as you make it. Remember to keep in mind that you should only focus on a handful of preventive maintenance actions at a time to keep the process manageable and affordable, and the little precautions you’re taking now will contribute to a safer, more successful business in the long run!

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