Pros, Cons, and How to Make the Switch

No organization would say that they reward failure.

It even sounds silly.

Ironically, with the kinds of maintenance approach that most organizations follow, that is effectively what they do when maintenance only occurs on a run-to-failure basis.

Operations have to stop or at least slow, damages need to be repaired, and safety must be restored in order for operations to get up and running again. Time and money are poured into the broken asset, effectively endorsing the system failure.

Many organizations have hundreds or even thousands of pieces of equipment to maintain, and while there’s no arguing with the fact that fixing something as soon as it breaks is important, what many may not realize is that there are high costs associated with working purely in a reactive mode.

Reactive maintenance, which is precipitated by failure, is what results from a lack of proactive maintenance.

However, used in the appropriate scenarios, these approaches can work together to create a balanced maintenance strategy. The ideal maintenance program uses a medley of different maintenance modes to ensure efficient and effective operations are maintained.

Unfortunately, the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude still permeates some parts of the maintenance management industry. However, industry developments such as computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software have become more robust and financially available to organizations of all types and sizes, making leadership look at maintenance in a whole new light.

This article will weigh the pros and cons of different types of maintenance approaches and walk you through developing your own optimized maintenance plan.

What is Reactive Maintenance?

Reactive maintenance occurs once a piece of machinery has already failed. As the name implies, work is only completed in reaction to a breakdown; no analysis, tracking, or anticipation is required to carry it out.

Being in a state of reactive maintenance is generally the result of not being able to anticipate failures rather than being a strategy the organization has actively decided on. This very hands-off approach to machine maintenance keeps routine maintenance costs low but can be costly in the long run.

Costs arise in a number of areas using this approach. When a machine fails without warning, it creates downtime within the plant, which can get quite expensive. This also drives up labour costs to get the apparatus back up and running, especially if a worker has to do overtime. The repair and replacement of equipment also cause issues, and in some cases, backup equipment is necessary to keep the plant running. Ultimately, this is an inefficient use of staff as it means that workers need to stop what they’re doing to attend to the problem.

Using a reactive strategy, potential root causes of failure, such as inadequate lubrication, improper cooling, or design flaws, are not considered because the inoperable equipment is replaced or repaired without further diagnosis or analysis.

What is Proactive Maintenance?

Rather than emphasizing the symptoms of failure, proactive maintenance differentiates itself by focusing on the factors contributing to equipment failure.

More than any other maintenance approach, it strives to extend equipment lifespans and minimize repetitive repairs, making unexpected equipment failure mostly a thing of the past.

In this way, proactive maintenance takes a more focused approach than reactive maintenance. It considers all data to determine when maintenance should occur. Such data can be sourced from a CMMS, condition-based monitoring, and machine sensor data.

Proactive maintenance would, however, include tracking known causes of part failure. The proactive philosophy also incorporates design improvements that minimize the impact of these contributing factors on the component or equipment lifespan.

Proactive maintenance provides additional benefits as a result of the data-centric, root-cause emphasis, which all contribute directly to bottom-line performance. Automated monitoring practices associated with proactive maintenance can further reduce the load on technical personnel by minimizing troubleshooting and inspection time.

The primary advantage of a proactive maintenance plan is cost-effectiveness when it comes to the most expensive maintenance processes. Furthermore, it can save on energy as the machines continue to operate at optimum efficiency. Proactive maintenance can extend the life cycle of a machine and prevent having to purchase larger and more expensive replacement parts. The predictability and asset visibility this approach offers ensures that equipment is only shut down before an unavoidable failure.  Such an approach can generate 12 to 18 percent in savings over reactive maintenance strategies, according to the EERE.


Proactive maintenance can be used as an encompassing term to include several different maintenance methods, as well as a subcategory itself. Below, we’ve broken down different proactive approaches that can be used and combined to make a best-fit plan for your unique corporate needs.

Planned Corrective Maintenance (CM): Maintenance that is required to restore an asset to optimum or operational condition but does not need to be performed immediately. Planned corrective maintenance occurs when a maintenance need is expected, according to scheduled corrective action plans made ahead of time.

Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM): In a condition-based maintenance approach, performance and condition metrics are monitored in real-time using sensors. This allows maintenance managers to schedule maintenance work before a problem occurs, but on a spontaneous and as-needed basis.

Preventive Maintenance (PvM): This is the most common type of proactive maintenance, as the first step toward proactive maintenance is using data from past experience to drive your maintenance timelines and decisions. Preventive maintenance is scheduled using time-based or usage-based intervals. This approach still requires significant manpower to perform tasks that at the time may seem unnecessary. However, this extra effort can pay off in the long run when things like production uptime and being able to plan the work are added to the equation.

Predictive Maintenance (PdM): Predictive maintenance predicts equipment failure so you can take corrective action before failure occurs. Maintenance is scheduled using predictive analysis based on an asset’s monitored condition, historical performance data, and advanced analytics. Predictive maintenance forecasts when failure is likely to occur, allowing maintenance teams to take proactive action. Predictive maintenance enables you to better and more organically plan corrective actions before the equipment experiences a failure. A variety of technology tools can help with this, and the main goal of each is to measure failure symptoms or faults through direct monitoring and analysis. This information is sent through predictive algorithms to discover trends and identify when an asset will need to be repaired or retired in the future.

Proactive Maintenance (PM): While all above methods can be referred to as ‘proactive,’ proactive maintenance as its own category differs from the three other maintenance modes. The differences lie in how PM addresses significantly more systemic elements of a maintenance program, rather than being machine focused like its counterparts. This approach is diligent, efficient and works to control problems that can lead to machine wear and tear as opposed to monitoring the deterioration itself. Though this requires some diligence and up-front costs, it is a less expensive maintenance strategy than the former three.

Ultimately, proactive maintenance flips the equation by shifting the focus from the symptoms of failure to the root cause.

Reactive vs. Proactive Maintenance

Relying upon a solely reactive maintenance approach can be detrimental to your organization because it means that other forms of proactive will get put aside due to constant emergency maintenance work.

Preventive maintenance requires more ongoing effort, but when executed properly, it can reduce overall costs in both the short and long term. While there is still a risk of machine failure occurring, a plant has a far greater chance of catching and correcting issues before they become major problems when using this strategy. This requires more labour to perform tasks that may seem unnecessary, but as previously stated, this extra effort pays off in the long run.

Furthermore, reactive maintenance is actually more costly than proactive maintenance. This is because – generally speaking – reactive maintenance tasks tend to be complex, whereas preventive and predictive maintenance tasks are relatively simple.

Generally, reactive maintenance traps maintenance teams in a vicious cycle of constant emergency work due to the nature of unexpected failures, leaving less time and money for maintenance work that could have helped to avoid the same failure in the first place.

Fixx found that while 25% of customers were currently using reactive maintenance, none of those customers planned to use it in the future, meaning they hoped to replace it with another approach. In another report by Plant Engineering, 33% of survey respondents said that they were hoping to decrease downtime in the future by moving from reactive to preventive maintenance.

A small caveat

Now that we’ve made a case for proactive maintenance, we must acknowledge that reactive maintenance can, in fact, be part of a sophisticated, well-balanced, reliability-centred maintenance strategy.

Both of these maintenance strategies are implemented in an organization. For example, if asset risk is high or priority is high, then proactive maintenance is implemented for those assets. If the asset risk is low, then reactive maintenance is used for those assets.

While the reactive method may seem wasteful by comparison, it can sometimes be the most cost-effective solution for low-value assets that can be easily replaced.

It’s the way you determine which assets fall into which category and how you manage them that makes all the difference. This is where having the right tools and creating a good plan comes into the equation.

For example, you may use machine data and the help of a CMMS to determine that it costs less to replace a part rather than carry out regular maintenance on it. Alternatively, you invest in planning a response. Similarly, you might determine that a machine breaking down would have little to no impact on production. In this scenario, a reactive approach could be appropriate for that piece of equipment.

On the other hand, identifying root causes of failure and taking proactive actions to minimize or eliminate risk factors entails more commitment and resources but can bring a significant ROI for high-value equipment.

For this reason, many organizations combine maintenance methods strategically to place the highest priority on critical assets.

The main objective is to use your resources in the most cost-effective way while also maintaining reliability.

Most Common Causes of Asset Failure

To further showcase the benefits of taking a proactive approach, let’s now take a look at some causes of asset failure that you are most likely familiar with and how proactive methods can help mitigate or even eliminate these issues.

1. Low-Quality Materials

It’s always best to buy spare parts and materials from trusted vendors and to stick to manufacturers’ recommendations. Buying high-quality materials is actually a proactive action, and while it may be more expensive up-front, the higher price tag typically comes with a high ROI.

2. Maintenance Staff Errors

Sometimes, the work of different maintenance technicians may differ in terms of quality. Make sure that all standard operating procedures (SOPs) are as detailed and up to date as possible, and that technicians can follow them without errors. Investing in these materials as well as staff training can greatly decrease errors. Monitoring the impacts of these changes will help you know whether you have solved the problem or further action needs to be taken.

3. Machine Operator Errors

Machine operators can misuse equipment, leading to its deterioration and failure. Again, having detailed SOPs and adequate training procedures in place will help eliminate these errors, and monitoring where and how this misuse can help you target your proactive action to make it as effective as possible.

4. Assets Nearing the End-of-Life Cycles

Assets that are approaching the end of their lifespan may underperform and need to be fixed more often than usual. Sometimes it makes more sense to replace them before their complete failure than to suffer increased maintenance costs or potential losses associated with downtime. Use your analytics to make this call, factoring in downtime, recovery costs, potential damages and safety risks.

5. Skipped or Delayed Periodic Maintenance

If the maintenance team is overwhelmed and needs to skip periodic maintenance activities to fix more urgent issues, this increases the risk of machine failures. Implement a solid periodic maintenance schedule and adhere to it.

6. Unusual Increases in Production Output

During a busy season, equipment is more prone to wear and tear. By taking a use- rather than a time-based maintenance schedule – particularly for more seasonal operations – will help prevent failure.

How To Make the Change

Proactive maintenance often requires a change that is difficult for most organizations to master because it requires a shift in thinking, processes, procedures and culture.

As a result, the transition from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance does not happen overnight. Proactive maintenance requires a fundamental change in maintenance philosophy that continues to produce tangible benefits and savings as it evolves.

Because developing a maintenance strategy from the root-cause perspective is contrary to many existing programs, the conversion to proactive maintenance can be a long and arduous undertaking. What is sometimes perceived as the drawbacks or disadvantages of proactive maintenance are the initial investments in technology, equipment and training.

However, this change is to be thought of as more of an evolution than a change. Even when all is said and done, you may never rid yourself of reactive maintenance work. The goal, however, is to significantly minimize unplanned repairs.

Given the complexity of proactive maintenance implementation, careful planning and organization are needed to ensure a successful transition. The planning process should begin with establishing program goals, leadership, budgets, and training strategies.

1. Invest in Maintenance Management Software

The best way to support a proactive maintenance strategy is with a CMMS. A CMMS helps you and your team shift to a proactive mindset by allowing you to organize, track, manage, and analyze maintenance data. Without the help of software and the supporting structure behind it, your efforts will need to be multiplied many times.

Later, once your plan is put into action, a CMMS will keep your team accountable. Team members will use the CMMS to communicate maintenance work, access asset information, and document maintenance activities.

The main goal of this software is to help provide proper planning and scheduling of your proactive maintenance. Maintenance costs can never be eradicated, but they can be redirected. You want to focus your time, money, and energy on making sure that proactive tasks are completed because when done correctly, they will result in a massive reduction in reactive tasks.

You are, in effect, trading complex, harder work (reactive maintenance) for easy, cost-effective work (proactive maintenance). Software should be able to help facilitate this trade. If you are not currently using a CMMS, now is the time to invest.

2. Make Maintenance an Essential Part of Your Business

A change in strategy also brings about the use of other new technology, additional employee training, and tools. It is a good idea to create a new team or dedicate an existing one to managing these changes. You will have an easier time implementing a proactive maintenance strategy if everyone is in the know and properly trained.

CMMS software supports this team, as it automatically schedules work orders and notifies personnel to complete them.

3. Plan and Schedule Maintenance Activities in Advance

The next steps in establishing the revised maintenance plan include the baselining of existing conditions. Equipment life span history, failure reporting, spare part usage and established preventive maintenance cadences will play an essential role in baselining the current state of affairs.

Applying reliability-centred maintenance analysis would be ideal; however, starting with the information from the manuals in the original equipment manufacturer and the experience of the team to create and establish the PM and PdM programs are good starting points.

Again, having the appropriate software tools available will facilitate this transition as the computing horsepower begins to connect the dots between root causes and effective strategies and solutions.

All work must be well planned and scheduled. This will provide a complete step-by-step process with proper safety precautions, thus keeping workers informed, organized and safe.

4. Track and Analyze Performance and Failure Data

The next phase of baselining will include real-time measurement and monitoring of input factors to identify existing problems, establish nominal operating levels and prepare for deployment. The baselining process is also vital for quantifying improvements over time.

Maintenance managers can review historical records of assets to schedule inspections and preventive maintenance, identify recurring causes of maintenance issues, evaluate opportunities for CMMS software training, and make better budget projections, ultimately increasing ROI.

By analyzing and positively identifying the causes of failure, proactive maintenance precipitates a continuous improvement cycle. Equipment design, installation, and maintenance processes can all be elevated over time to optimize equipment life and performance further.

5. Look at the Reasons Why Equipment Fails

Proactive maintenance is a process, not a perfect solution. Invasive activities that are a part of a proactive plan could potentially introduce new defects and cause the early failure of assets, which is why it’s important to introduce some form of monitoring and analysis procedures.

Proactive maintenance software will gradually facilitate a favourable trade-off between labour-intensive reactive tasks and targeted cost-effective, proactive tasks.

One of the simplest ways to move toward proactive maintenance is through education or training your frontline people on what to look for and why. For more potential causes of asset failure with simple proactive solutions, refer back to the section on common causes of asset failure above.


The breadth of tools required for proactive maintenance support is dependent upon the level of implementation and the potential sources of failure being considered.

A comprehensive, proactive maintenance solution might also include wireless sensors and other advanced monitoring devices to connect these input factors to equipment performance.

However, the essential tool for any successful maintenance program is proactive maintenance software that facilitates data capture, analysis and management. As mentioned above, CMMS software is an innovative and cost-effective means to incorporate intelligent analytics into maintenance practices and drive proactive, data-centric solutions. Intuitive and user-friendly dashboards and features make advanced maintenance processes logical and accessible.

CMMS asset management and reporting functions are also ideally suited to proactive maintenance activities, converting information on equipment lifespan, performance and repair into tangible, actionable metrics.

Horizant offers an array of customizable asset management software packages tailored specifically to your needs. Contact us to learn more about the top-of-the-line solutions we can offer you.


Ultimately, carrying out proactive repair successfully depends on the quality of resources that an organization has at its disposal—a skilled workforce, the tools with the ability to track machine health, and the software required to gather data and schedule work.

It is important to recognize that reactive maintenance will become unnecessary. In some cases, it is actually more economical to let parts fail rather than proactively replace them. Additionally, no maintenance strategy will eliminate unexpected failures.

A balanced maintenance plan will include and budget for some reactive maintenance. Ideally, this method has an 80/20 planned maintenance ratio – meaning 80% of maintenance initiatives should be planned while the remaining 20% can be unexpected repairs.

Understanding the different maintenance philosophies and having an excellent grasp of operations, machine criticality, costs, etc., will be essential in adopting a balanced approach in your organization. Only once all the variables are fully understood can you optimize your program and start getting the most from your assets.

In the end, you just need to choose what’s feasible for your company but have maintenance optimization as your main trajectory.