What Is Reactive Maintenance: Pros, Cons & Alternative Methods to Combat Downtime

CMMS Software / April 2023

Reactive maintenance is a strategy that initiates maintenance and repairs only when equipment or machinery fails. It is an approach synonymous with manual maintenance methods with just 3% of organisations claiming a reactive maintenance plan reduced the probability of future asset failure.

The definition of reactive maintenance is to take an immediate – or reactive – response to a maintenance issue with equipment. It is also referred to as run-to-failure maintenance, corrective maintenance, or breakdown maintenance.

Only servicing or repairing an asset once it has failed can have significant drawbacks, such as:

  • An extended period of unplanned downtime
  • High emergency repair costs
  • A loss in productive output

Reactive maintenance differs from a more planned or preventive strategy, where businesses will deploy regular maintenance schedules and activities with the use of a CMMS to avoid asset failure and prolong equipment availability.

Comparing Reactive Maintenance with other maintenance strategies

Source: researchgate.net

Although a reactive approach to maintenance is deemed ineffective, 60% of manufacturing companies still deploy it. This suggests two theories; Organisations don’t have the budget and knowledge to implement proactive maintenance strategies or are unsure of the difference between reactive and preventive maintenance.

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What Type of Assets Are You Looking to Maintain?

When Is Reactive Maintenance the Right Strategy to Deploy?

Although the disadvantages of reactive maintenance outweigh the benefits, there are instances where it is considered the right option. This is the case if an asset:

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

As many factors can be beyond the control of a maintenance manager, deploying a reactive maintenance mindset can be a good strategy. Unexpected breakdowns can occur at any time, even after a planned service has been carried out.

For instance, extreme weather conditions such as floods and heavy snowfall 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 provides personnel with the initiative to recover quickly in an emergency.

The Benefits of Deploying Reactive Maintenance Methods

Reactive maintenance can be an effective strategic approach under the right circumstances. It is best deployed for assets that have low repair costs and aren’t immediately essential to the success of operations. Benefits of reactive maintenance include:

Low Initial Maintenance Costs

With no need for Maintenance Management Software, there are no upfront costs to budget for.

More Time Working, Less Time Planning

Repair work is only actioned once an asset fails, meaning there is no time spent on strategising or planning for maintenance during working hours.

Fewer Staff Required

A PPM strategy will consist of hiring professionals to perform weekly or monthly equipment checks. But, that’s not the case with a reactive approach.

Build a Knowledgeable Workforce

In-house engineers and machine operators will know how an asset works, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it.

The Drawbacks of a Reactive Maintenance Approach

Although there are some beneficial aspects to reactive maintenance, they’re outnumbered by the disadvantages. Considering industry type, business size, and asset inventory, there are six standout disadvantages of reactive maintenance:

1. Increased Unplanned Downtime

The biggest issue with reactive maintenance is unplanned or unscheduled downtime, which results in equipment suddenly being unavailable and halting production. Mechanical failure (20%) and ageing equipment (34%) are the two leading causes of unplanned downtime for businesses.

2. High Emergency Repair Costs

Reactive maintenance has a 30-40% higher cost expectancy than predictive maintenance due to high emergency repair costs. That includes out-of-working hours and weekend call-out charges for skilled engineers.

3. Delays Sourcing Spare Parts

With no plan in place for breakdowns, that typically means no spare parts are stocked on-site. So, when an asset does break down and needs a spare part, repair work is delayed until the part is made available.

4. Risk to Worker Safety

With equipment and machinery not being routinely serviced, workers’ safety is at risk. For example, without proactivley lubricating or cleaning machinery, it has a higher chase a sudden failure.

5. Underperforming Assets

Continuous operations without routine maintenance work can have a toll on equipment. The stress put on assets to perform means they’re unlikely to perform at optimal performance for longer.

6. Higher Energy Consumption

As asset performance drops, so does its energy efficiency, meaning more energy will be consumed resulting in higher energy bills.

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What Type of Assets Are You Looking to Maintain?

9 Steps to Shift From Reactive to Proactive Maintenance With a CMMS

Step 1: Identify Workflow Failures

Including staff in the transition process can help to identify the root cause of maintenance issues. These are often the result of avoidable events such as a shortage of staff, spare parts, or 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: Choice a CMMS

Unplanned downtime is a significant byproduct of reactive maintenance, which can be reduced by implementing a CMMS. 51% of CMMS adopters believe the tool helps reduce downtime of valuable assets. There are various options with a wide range of standard and customisable features depending on the industry. Keep in mind that whichever CMMS you choose, it’s a tool that your staff must adapt to and learn to use.

Step 3: Plan the Transition Period

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

  • Having a dedicated IT team running the software on in-house servers
  • Hosting CMMS data in the cloud
  • Do staff require certain levels of training depending on their role and duties?

Step 4: Develop a Proactive Maintenance Plan

Whether you favour a preventative or predictive approach, have a core team of knowledgeable and experienced engineers to 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 an Asset Database

Creating an asset database 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. This allows engineers to scan and identify parts for triggering or fulfilling work orders.

Step 6: Record Maintenance and Breakdown Data

Have a process in place that allows engineers to record the results of their maintenance checks. These can be checklists on paper that are filled out in the field and keyed into a CMMS. 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 job planning process. They provide data that enables everyone to know what to do and how to do it safely. Once established, the process is implemented and enforced company-wide. Aspects to consider for specific maintenance jobs include:

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

Step 8: Use Asset Data to Identify Opportunities

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

Step 9: Set KPIs for Maintenance Teams

By collecting and analysing historical data, you can establish expectations and set key performance indicators (KPIs) for your maintenance team. KPIs 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

Different Types of Reactive Maintenance

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is carried out on equipment that plays a vital role in production. This type of maintenance is never planned for and is usually a last-minute response to an immediate breakdown. Emergency maintenance is prioritised above other business processes, which can result in an unplanned 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 (manufacturers alone lose up to $26,000 per hour because of unplanned downtime). Running equipment to the point of failure can cost businesses up to 10 times more than regular maintenance.

Corrective Maintenance

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


Run-to-failure maintenance is a planned strategy. It 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.

Alternative Maintenance Strategies to Consider

Types of Maintenance Strategies

Preventive/Preventative Maintenance

Preventive maintenance (PM) is the approach of scheduling routine maintenance and services to keep equipment running. By using tools like CMMS Software, maintenance is performed based on real-time running data.

Predictive Maintenance

Using IoT sensors and devices, a predictive maintenance (PdM) strategy estimates and prevents equipment failures through data analytics. These predictions are gathered by condition monitoring equipment to enable maintenance teams to analyse patterns and correlations. Operators can then process the current state of equipment and accurately predict failures.

Condition-Based Maintenance

Condition-based maintenance (CBM) sits under the umbrella of predictive maintenance, but, instead of using advanced statistical methods such as machine learning, CBM uses set thresholds and events to determine when maintenance is due. Using monitoring sensors, CBM programs can actively monitor moving parts in real-time.

Reliability-Centred Maintenance

Reliability-centred maintenance (RCM) aims to maximise the availability of assets. It does this by understanding the risks of each asset and creating a maintenance program that preserves the most important functions.

Total Productive Maintenance

Total productive maintenance (TPM) incorporates lean manufacturing techniques aimed at maximising overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). TPM is a method that relies on cross-functional teams – aligning with the Kaizen philosophy – to ensure no breakdowns, small stops, defects, or workplace accidents.


Is Reactive Maintenance an Effective Maintenance Strategy?

Yes and no. Reactive maintenance is synonymous with extended periods of unplanned downtime and high emergency repair costs when assets fail, which are typically not budgeted for. However, in the right circumstances, reactive maintenance can reduce time spent planning for maintenance and save on upfront costs associated with maintenance software tools.

What’s the Difference Between Reactive Maintenance & PPM?

Planned preventive maintenance (PPM) incorporates regular maintenance checks and services of equipment based on analytical data and predetermined schedules. Whereas reactive maintenance is only performed at the interval of an asset failing.