A Complete Guide to the Pros and Cons of Reactive Maintenance

CMMS Software / March 2023

Reactive maintenance is an approach deployed by businesses to ensure the regular maintenance of equipment and machinery. In asset-heavy industries such as manufacturing and engineering, the reliability and availability of assets are critical. This is why organisations require an effective maintenance schedule to keep machines and assets in constant working order. As well as meet production demands, keep up with competitors, and sustain growth.

With advancements in technology, such as IoT-enabled devices and Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), organisations are deploying more reliable and cost-effective maintenance strategies that suit them best.

Several maintenance strategies are suited to different operations. Each offers its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. One of which is reactive maintenance.

What Is Reactive Maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is the strategy of repairing equipment to normal operating conditions only when it has failed. This means no regular maintenance or repairs are planned in a bid to reduce breakdowns. It can also be referred to as breakdown maintenance or corrective maintenance.

Reactive maintenance can be a good strategic approach under the right circumstances. For instance, you may have an asset that has a low repair cost and isn’t essential to operations. Or, you may have already planned for a machine to be replaced once it has failed, rendering any proactive maintenance unnecessary.

Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance

With minimal maintenance personnel needed and fewer repair costs to budget for, reactive maintenance is a cost-efficient approach. But, it shouldn’t be used as your long-term strategy. It can lead to excessive repair costs, unplanned downtime, delays in production, and lost revenue. It is recommended that only 10% of your entire asset inventory should be allocated to reactive maintenance.

When Should Reactive Maintenance Be Deployed?

Although the downsides of reactive maintenance can outweigh the benefits when compared to a proactive approach, there are instances where it shouldn’t be disregarded. For example, you should consider reactive maintenance if your equipment:

  • Doesn’t directly affect the production process
  • Isn’t subject to high installation costs
  • Doesn’t incur huge repair costs

As many factors can be beyond your control, deploying a reactive maintenance mindset amongst your maintenance team can be a good strategy. Unexpected equipment breakdown can occur at any time, even after a planned service has been carried out.

For instance, extreme weather conditions such as floods and snow-fall can affect or damage large infrastructure. Meaning technicians and in-field workers need to be on hand to provide maintenance and repair. Having the ability to react to situations such as this also means you and your team have the initiative to recover quickly in an emergency.

What Are the Different Types of Reactive Maintenance?

As well as having a variety of maintenance strategies to choose from, asset-heavy organisations also have an option of which strategic approach to take within that strategy. For example, Preventive Maintenance (PM) and Condition-based Maintenance (CBM) are forms of a proactive maintenance strategy.

In the case of reactive maintenance, this is an umbrella term that incorporates the following types of maintenance:

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is carried out on a piece of equipment or a machine that plays a vital role in your production. This type of reactive maintenance is never planned for and is usually a last-minute response to an immediate breakdown. Emergency maintenance is also prioritised above other business processes, which can then result in an unplanned schedule delay.

Breakdown Maintenance

Similar to an emergency strategy, breakdown maintenance is an unplanned event. It refers to an asset suddenly breaking down and requiring extensive repair work. This can result in high repair costs and technician call-out charges, as well as costly unplanned downtime. Running equipment to the point of failure can cost businesses up to 10 times as much as regular maintenance would cost.

Corrective Maintenance

Corrective maintenance is a form of maintenance that is carried out before an asset has a complete breakdown. For example, a machine defect may be noticed while in production. Instead of waiting for the inevitable machine failure, this part is repaired straight away. By responding to an issue before it escalates, Corrective maintenance is the closest form of preventive maintenance under a reactive strategy.


As opposed to an unplanned breakdown maintenance approach, run-to-failure maintenance is a planned strategy. This is performed when an asset is deliberately instructed to run until it breaks down. This allows for a plan to be in place to repair the equipment without causing too much delay to production. Or, in some cases, a replacement would already have been purchased to replace the ageing equipment once it has failed.

What Are the Advantages of Reactive Maintenance?

Although a reactive maintenance approach may not prove beneficial for some, there are always advantages to the type of maintenance strategy that an organisation chooses to deploy. Benefits of reactive maintenance include:

  • No startup fees and low upfront costs when compared to proactive maintenance
  • No planning of maintenance schedules and services are needed
  • With no weekly inspections or planned services, fewer maintenance staff are required

What Are the Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance?

As opposed to deploying a proactive approach or using a CMMS solution, reactive maintenance is typically viewed as a strategy that causes more problems than it solves. Disadvantages of a reactive maintenance strategy include:

  • Unplanned downtime of essential equipment causes manufacturers to face an unprecedented loss of up to $260,000 per hour
  • Emergency repair and equipment replacement costs create an unpredictable budget
  • A lack of spare parts available causes a delay in repairs
  • Without routine procedures in place, the pressure to quickly repair equipment makes the process unsafe for workers
  • Expensive repair costs and engineer call-out charges mean reactive maintenance has a 40% higher cost expectancy than Predictive Maintenance (PdM)
  • Without a strategy to keep equipment in optimal working order, assets have a shorter life expectancy and a higher turnover rate

Step-By-Step Guide to Reduce Reactive Maintenance With CMMS Software

The steps you take and the order in which you take them depends entirely on the standard procedures you have in place. This includes any other changes you aim to introduce to achieve your goal of reducing reactive maintenance.

Step 1: Identify your workflow failures

Including staff in the transition process can help you identify the root cause of workflow failures. These are often the result of avoidable events such as shortage of staff, spare parts, and equipment. Identifying failure is an opportunity for those who’ve experienced the negative impact of reactive maintenance to point out when and where something might fail in the future.

Step 2: Decide which CMMS works for you

After identifying the workflow failures with the help of your workforce, you are better informed to judge which CMMS offers the most suitable solution for your company’s needs. There are many to choose from with a wide range of standard and customisable options depending on your industry. Keep in mind that whichever CMMS you choose, it’s a tool that your staff must adapt to and learn to use as a new proactive maintenance approach.

Step 3: Plan the transition period

The transitional period of a fully operational CMMS solution can take several weeks. This includes factors such as customising the software to fit within the company’s specific maintenance requirements. The amount of time taken to deploy a CMMS depends on the size and complexity of your maintenance operations. As well as the extent of any training required. To establish a realistic time frame of deployment, consider factors such as:

  • Do you have a dedicated IT team running the software on in-house servers?
  • Are you hosting your CMMS in the cloud?
  • Do staff require certain levels of training depending on their role and duties?

Step 4: Develop a maintenance plan

Whether you favour a preventative or predictive approach, have a core team of knowledgeable and experienced engineers build a maintenance plan. The engineers on the ground are in the best position to plan when assets should be serviced. As well as when to replace parts before they wear out.

Step 5: Tag equipment and create your asset database

Creating a database of all your assets is the foundation of a CMMS. Identify all equipment that requires regular maintenance and create an inventory management system for spare parts. Give each of the assets in your database a unique identifier such as RFID tags, QR codes, or NFC tags. This allows engineers to scan and identify assets for triggering or fulfilling work orders.

Step 6: Record maintenance, repair, and breakdown data

Have a process in place that allows engineers and technicians to record the results of their maintenance and repair checks. These can be checklists on paper that are filled out in the field and the data keyed into a CMMS later on. Or, you could arm field operatives with mobile devices to instantly update the CMMS remotely.

Step 7: Establish a job planning process

Your core team of engineers are an invaluable resource to establish a formal job planning process. They provide data that enables everyone to know what to do and how to do it safely. Once established, the process can then be implemented and enforced company-wide through your CMMS. Aspects to be considered for specific maintenance jobs might include:

  • Components and spare parts required
  • Tools and expertise required
  • Reference materials to be used
  • Permits and regulatory requirements
  • Risks and safety hazards

Step 8: Use asset data to identify improvements

As you record data from routine inspections and repairs, you start to understand the frequency of breakdowns and their causes. Seeing these trends visually helps to plan when equipment should be serviced to prevent failure.

Step 9: Set KPIs for maintenance teams

By collecting and analysing historical asset data, you can establish expectations and set key performance indicators (KPIs) for your maintenance team. Your KPIs might include incentives such as:

  • A reduction in machine breakdowns
  • Shorter asset service times
  • Longer asset life expectancy
  • Reduced repair costs
  • Fewer customer complaints
  • Increased productivity

What Roles Are Impacted With Reactive Maintenance?

A reactive maintenance strategy will not only affect production and the company’s bottom line, but it will also affect personnel throughout the organisation. Such as:

Field Technicians

Although workers in the field will need to be on-call 24/7 to repair damaged infrastructure no matter what maintenance strategy is deployed, they will be expected to be available more regularly both in-work and out-of-work hours.

Maintenance Managers & Production Line Managers

A production line or maintenance manager relies on the effectiveness of their team’s production. They require work orders to be completed in a certain time scale to grow revenue. Taking a reactive maintenance approach will see a delay in production and a rise in expenses as essential equipment is out-of-service and repaired.

Finance & Accounting Teams

Unexpected repair and maintenance costs will affect the accuracy of a company’s budget (either quarterly or yearly). This can later affect the planned acquisition of materials, resources, and staff.

What are Other Types of Maintenance Strategies to Consider?

Aside from reactive maintenance, there are several other maintenance management strategy types. Each one is unique and can be deployed in all kinds of business operations.

What are Other Types of Maintenance Strategies to Consider?

Preventive/Preventative Maintenance (PM)

Preventive Maintenance (also referred to as Preventative Maintenance) is the approach of scheduling routine maintenance and services to keep equipment running. By using tools such as a CMMS, maintenance is performed based on asset data such as predicted life expectancy.

Predictive Maintenance (PdM)

By using IoT sensors to constantly gather analytical data, a predictive maintenance strategy attempts to predict when an asset will fail. These predictions are based on monitoring equipment conditions and aim to highlight the need for maintenance before complete breakdown.

Reliability-Centred Maintenance (RCM)

Although RCM is similar in many ways to preventive maintenance, they’re not the same thing. An RCM approach aims to maximise the availability of mission-critical assets. It does this by understanding the risks of each asset and creating a maintenance program that preserves the most important functions.

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