What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance, also called run-to-fail maintenance or breakdown maintenance, is when process plants repair equipment after it has already broken down or is showing obvious signs of poor performance. Reactive maintenance isn’t scheduled or preplanned.

A reactive maintenance approach risks causing significant downtime for plants, because crucial items of equipment tend to fail during periods of peak performance. It’s also often more expensive to replace a part than to repair it.

For these reasons, few process plants use reactive maintenance as the primary pillar of their maintenance strategy. Preventive maintenance is far more popular, as it ensures that parts and equipment are maintained before they breakdown. Predictive maintenance is a newer concept, alerting maintenance teams to the earliest signs of possible failure so they can repair equipment at a more convenient moment, even if preventive maintenance had not been scheduled.

Why does reactive maintenance matter to process manufacturing plants?

Although it’s not recommended to use reactive maintenance for all your maintenance needs, it can be useful in combination with predictive or preventive maintenance. Reactive maintenance means you need fewer maintenance staff and lowers the ongoing costs of maintenance, even as it raises the cost of repairs.

Plants that use reactive maintenance apply it only to relatively inexpensive items of equipment that are easy to replace, and/or those which aren’t crucial for the plant to continue running. Reactive maintenance relies on having quick and clear procedures for replacing the failed part, so that unplanned downtime isn’t extended further due to confusion and uncertainty.

It’s almost inevitable for a plant to end up in a reactive maintenance situation at some point, because emergencies can arise. If you’ve already planned and practiced how to respond to sudden and unexpected failure, you’ll be in a better position to deal with the issue without making it worse.