What Is Reactive Maintenance: A Complete Guide

“Why fix what isn’t broken?”. These are just five words that sum up reactive maintenance.

The thinking behind reactive maintenance is to save time and money. Instead of tracking run cycles, production timing, and equipment age to create a planned maintenance approach, maintenance engineers will perform fixes, repairs, or replace spare parts only once something fails.

Yes, reactive maintenance is costly (yielding 30-40% more costs than predictive maintenance) and is synonymous with unplanned downtime. Yet, 60% of manufacturers still deploy it. While a third of CMMS Software buyers who used Comparesoft actively undertake reactive maintenance activities.

What is Reactive Maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is a strategy for repairing machinery and equipment only when a malfunction or breakdown occurs. Because of this approach, reactive maintenance is referred to as breakdown or corrective maintenance.

What is a Reactive Maintenance workflow

Reactive maintenance is one of the oldest and most widely adopted strategies among organisations, particularly manufacturers. It can be used as a primary maintenance approach or alongside planned and preventive maintenance types.

Maintenance personnel that advocate for a reactive approach to maintenance fixate on its low initial costs and longer operating hours (as the need for planned downtime is irrelevant).

A company’s reactive maintenance percentage can even be measured (put forward by John Cray of Life Cycle Engineering):

(Total labour hours spent on emergency/urgent work / Total craft labour hours) × 100

Although considered a negative performance metric, this measurement displays where companies can find opportunities for improvement.

Use our sophisticated software comparison tool to find a maintenance management system that manages your reactive and planned maintenance jobs.

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Reactive Maintenance Types (With Examples)

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is carried out on equipment that is vital to operations. 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, and is deployed if there is a significant risk to worker health and safety.

Example: In an office facility, an elevator unexpectedly fails and stops mid-journey with people inside. Emergency personnel are called to rescue the trapped occupants and repair the elevator immediately.

Breakdown Maintenance

Similar to an emergency strategy, breakdown maintenance is an unplanned event. It refers to equipment suddenly breaking down and requiring extensive repair work. This can result in high repair costs and unplanned downtime (manufacturers alone lose up to $26,000 per hour because of unplanned downtime).

Example: A conveyor belt in a large manufacturing plant suddenly breaks down without warning. This halts production as maintenance engineers rush to diagnose and fix the issue. The downtime of this conveyor belt leads to significant production delays and financial loss.

Corrective Maintenance

Corrective maintenance is carried out before an asset has a total breakdown. By responding to an issue before it escalates, corrective maintenance is the closest form of preventive maintenance under a reactive strategy. A corrective maintenance workflow looks like this:

Corrective Maintenance workflow

Example: During a CNC machine’s run cycle, sensors detect a decrease in revolutions per minute (RPM). Maintenance engineers have noted a drop in lubricant level as the cause and intend to address the issue once the cycle finishes.

Run-to-Failure Maintenance

Run-to-failure (RTF) maintenance is a planned strategy. It is performed when equipment is deliberately instructed to run until it breaks down. This allows for repairs or replacements without causing significant delays to production. RTF is typically deployed on equipment that has low criticality to operations.

Example: The halogen light bulbs used in a factory workshop have been left to run to fail. This is because LED light bulbs have already been purchased, which are more cost and energy-efficient. Once the halogen light bulbs fail, a plan is in place to reactively replace them with LED bulbs.

Reactive Maintenance vs. Planned/Preventive Maintenance

Striping back all available maintenance types, there are two approaches to maintenance; reactive and proactive. Proactive maintenance can then be split into two segments; preventive and predictive.

Planned and preventive maintenance strategies incorporate regular maintenance checks and services based on analytical data and predetermined schedules. Reactive maintenance is only performed at the interval of an asset failing.

78% of companies that deployed preventive maintenance noted improvements in equipment life and reduced unplanned downtime. Running equipment to the point of failure, which is the intent of reactive maintenance, can cost businesses up to 10 times more than carrying out routine maintenance.


Reactive Maintenance

Proactive Maintenance


Repair/Fix issues when they occur

Prevent issues before they occur

Equipment Life Expectancy

Low: Recurring failures and parts are run to failure

High: Regular maintenance and spare parts updates

Costs to Deploy

Low: No maintenance planning equipment is required

High: Implementing maintenance management systems and sensors, and hiring staff to track operations and data

Maintenance/Repair Costs

High: Emergency call-out costs, ordering spare parts, and production being halted

Low: Regular upkeep means less breakdowns and expensive fixes

Maintenance Planning

Minimal: Issues addressed when they occur

High: Regular tracking, planning, and scheduling


High: Risks of unexpected failures and disruption to operations

Low: Regular service, inspections, and maintenance lowers the risk of production failure

Disadvantages of Reactive Maintenance

  • 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.
  • High Emergency Repair Costs: Reactive maintenance has a 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.
  • 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.
  • Risk to Worker Safety: With equipment and machinery not being routinely serviced, workers’ safety is at risk. For example, without proactively lubricating or cleaning machinery, it has a higher chance of sudden failure.
  • Underperforming Assets: Continuous operations without routine maintenance work can take a toll on equipment. The stress put on assets to perform means they’re unlikely to perform at optimal performance for longer.
  • Higher Energy Consumption: As asset performance drops, so does its energy efficiency, meaning more energy will be consumed resulting in higher energy bills.

Advantages of Reactive Maintenance Activities

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.
  • Less 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.

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What Type of Assets Are You Looking to Maintain?

How Reactive Maintenance Compares to Other Maintenance Strategies




Total Productive


Predict failures before they occur

Identify performance declines through data and correct

Plan maintenance on risk and reliability data

Maximise overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) through team collaboration.

Costs to Deploy

High: Purchasing sensors and analytic tools

Medium: High initial costs for monitoring tools but low operational costs

Medium: High initial costs for analytical tools and time spent monitoring but low operational costs

Medium: High initial costs for staff training but low operational costs


Low: Failures are predicted and addressed

Low: Maintenance is performed as soon as performance declines

Low: Address potential risks before operations are engaged

Low: Proactive maintenance approach through staff involvement

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.

Switch From Reactive to Planned Maintenance Using 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