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

Tools on a woolboard

If you fail to prevent, you’re preempting failure. Let’s face it, nobody likes unexpected breakdowns or costly repairs. Picture this: angry tenants yelling on the phone complaining about their malfunctioning HVAC system, only to receive an unexpected invoice for repairs totaling $15,000. It’s the stuff of nightmares for any property manager or business owner.

This scenario is a stark reminder of what happens when you don’t have a preventive maintenance strategy in place. Without proactive measures to maintain your equipment, you’re left vulnerable to costly surprises, disgruntled customers, and financial strain.

In this post, we’ll walk through what preventive maintenance is, the advantages of preventive maintenance and how you can use it to prevent equipment failure in your maintenance operations

What Is Preventive Maintenance?

Preventive maintenance is the proactive approach of regularly inspecting, servicing, and maintaining equipment, machinery, or facilities to prevent unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs.

Instead of waiting for something to go wrong and reacting to it, preventive maintenance involves scheduling routine checks, and regular maintenance activities like lubrication, adjustments, and replacements to keep assets in optimal working condition.

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

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 relate to different areas of a business, or specific timing. Time-based maintenance, usage-based maintenance, predictive maintenance, and prescriptive maintenance are all different preventive maintenance methods

Types of Preventive Maintenance

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

Time-based maintenance

Time-based maintenance, also known as interval based maintenance, is a maintenance strategy where maintenance tasks are scheduled based on predetermined time intervals. In this approach, critical equipment or machinery undergo maintenance activities at regular intervals regardless of the asset’s usage or condition.

Examples of interval based maintenance includes servicing the 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.

Preventive maintenance tasks are performed regularly to minimize the risk of unexpected failures and maintain equipment reliability and increase uptime. 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.

Usage-based maintenance

Usage-based maintenance is where maintenance tasks are carried out based on the usage of the asset or machinery. For instance, maintenance tasks are scheduled for a hydraulic system when fluid contamination levels reach a critical point.

Whether it’s a vehicle oil change, or an essential piece of machinery that has reached a certain 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 industries 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

Prescriptive maintenance uses advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to generate predictions about maintenance, and also act on them. 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!

Benefits of Preventive Maintenance

One of the most obvious benefits of implementing preventive maintenance is that you’re pre-empting issues before they occur. Here are some of the other benefits:

  • Reduced business disruptions and less closures: Minimized unexpected equipment failures reduces the likelihood of business disruptions and closures by ensuring that machinery operates smoothly and reliably.
  • Increase asset’s lifecycle: When you regularly service your machinery and equipment, you increase the equipment’s life expectancy, bringing you great cost savings. You won’t need to replace equipment often.
  • Controlled labor costs: Carrying out regular maintenance reduces the risk of out of hour breakdowns. Maintenance technicians will work only during scheduled hours, eliminating unexpected labor costs as you won’t have to make any emergency callouts and make upfront payments.
  • Eliminate potential safety risks: When you proactively identify and address equipment issues promptly, such as an equipment in failure mode, there’s a lower chance of issues escalating into hazards, which eliminates any potential safety risks.

Disadvantages of Preventive Maintenance

You might be wondering, How could there possibly be a downside to staying prepared? But, there are a few drawbacks to regular preventive maintenance including:

  • Time-consuming to carry out regular inspections: It can be time consuming to carry out inspections across all your assets, especially if you have a lot of assets. But with a preventive maintenance schedule, you can space out your inspections.
  • Requires extensive planning: Let’s face it, there’s more planning and preparation involved when you’re trying to make sure your assets do not run to failure, but with a well crafted preventive maintenance program in place, you’ll be able to carry out maintenance efficiently.
  • Overkill of preventive maintenance: “Over maintenance” is a real thing. It occurs when you excessively maintain your assets under the impression that you’re preventing breakdowns, whereas in actuality, you’re accidentally causing them.

How to Avoid Too Much Preventive Maintenance

You can avoid over maintenance by creating a preventive maintenance program. Your preventive maintenance program should include your preventive maintenance schedule which will ensure that your planned maintenance is conducted at the right intervals, which will minimize the risk of overmaintenance.

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. 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?

The cost boils down to labor costs (for large facilities and maintenance teams, and ultimately to the number of machines and utilities you need improved or protected).

It’s important not to exceed your maintenance budget. 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.

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 keep 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 remove most of the administrative tasks of 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 streamline the preventive maintenance process. 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 spare 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 it’s true 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

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 your 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 consists of 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

Let’s briefly touch 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 Critical 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.

Switch from reactive to proactive maintenance with Coast

Switching from reactive to proactive maintenance will not only prevent failure, but also enhance the reliability and efficiency of your maintenance operations. With Coast, a comprehensive maintenance solution, you can prevent failures before they occur. Create your first preventive maintenance task today.

This article was originally published in August 2020. The most recent update, with contribution from Megan Johnson, was in March 2024.

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