Preventative vs. Predictive Maintenance – Which Do You Need?

Gabriel Gheorghiu
Gabriel Gheorghiu  |  January 30, 2019

Maintenance is critical for any business using equipment and fixed assets.

And while the importance of maintenance cannot be overstated, that doesn’t necessarily mean that companies should invest in asset management software and qualified personnel to manage maintenance operations internally. In some cases, it may be preferable to rely on the equipment manufacturer for maintenance or work with third-party providers of maintenance services.

To determine how to approach maintenance, companies need to understand when they need maintenance, what are the different types of maintenance they can choose from and which option is the best for their specific needs.

How to determine when you need maintenance 

Whether you need maintenance or not depends on several factors such as:

  • Equipment complexity – The more complex the equipment, the more it will require maintenance. (For instance, maintaining heavy machinery is critical.)

  • The number of equipment pieces – This has a significant impact on inventory management but also on maintenance. Maintaining hundreds of tools requires a lot of planning, even when they are not complex. This is even more complicated when these tools are spread across multiple locations.

  • The value of fixed assets – This is usually directly proportional to their complexity. A notable exception is old assets, which may be complex but whose value diminished in time.

To determine when maintenance is needed for tools and equipment, all three factors mentioned above should be combined. The table below describes how vital maintenance is, depending on equipment complexity, number and value.

Preventative vs. predictive maintenance

Another important factor to take into consideration is the approach to maintenance, which can be preventive (or preventative) and predictive. Choosing between the two isn’t always straightforward; some companies might adopt a mix of preventive and predictive maintenance.

To better understand the differences between the two approaches, let’s take a look at how each one can help with maintenance.

What is preventative maintenance?

The preventive (or preventative) approach focuses on regular maintenance based on equipment usage or time frame. For instance, preventive maintenance can be performed every week or month, or after every 1,000 hours of usage. The goal of this approach is to perform maintenance often enough to ensure the equipment functions properly and to avoid unexpected downtime.

The primary challenge of preventive maintenance is that it’s difficult to determine how often it should be performed. If it’s too often, the costs of maintenance may increase, and the operations using the equipment will be disrupted unnecessarily. If it’s not performed often enough, this type of maintenance will not help companies maintain their fixed assets for optimal use. To help with this challenge, equipment manufacturers usually provide guidelines on how maintenance should be performed and how often.

The preventive approach is the best option for fixed assets that are not critical, therefore less disruptive. For instance, a forklift can be replaced by other types of equipment and sometimes even by manual work. Repairing a forklift is also easier and takes less time than more complex equipment, which means that its failure is less disruptive. Finally, companies can rent equipment to replace defective forklifts temporarily.

A good alternative to preventive maintenance is working with third-party providers or allowing the manufacturer of the equipment to maintain the assets. This option may be more costly than internal maintenance, but manufacturers and their partners are more qualified to perform the activities required to maintain fixed assets efficiently.

What is predictive maintenance?

As the term implies, predictive maintenance aims to predict when equipment failure may occur and address the causes before they happen. The main benefit of this approach is that it reduces the time and costs spent on maintenance. On the other hand, predictive maintenance requires a lot of data on equipment usage, which can only be captured using sophisticated technology such as the internet of things (IoT). This requires a significant initial investment in technology that most companies cannot afford.

The predictive approach is preferable for critical equipment that can cause significant disruptions or serious accidents when it fails. An example is a conveyor in a distribution center, which can paralyze the entire distribution process when it malfunctions. Most warehouses only have one or a few conveyors, each one being used in different sections of the facility, which means that they are not interchangeable. This type of asset is extremely difficult to replace and may take a long time to fix. Fixing or replacing complex equipment is also expensive, which is why companies should avoid it as much as possible.

Predictive maintenance can also be outsourced, especially the setup phase when equipment, sensors and software need to be synchronized to streamline the flow of information that will allow companies to predict future problems. Once potential issues are identified, companies may try to address them internally, but they may have to work with third-party maintenance providers for complex operations.

What are the various types of maintenance?

Regardless of the number, value and complexity of your assets, you will probably need some kind of maintenance. It is therefore vital to understand the differences between different categories of maintenance to choose the best option for your company.

Maintenance types can vary depending on many factors, the most important being:

  • Timing refers to the delivery of maintenance operations, which can be planned (scheduled in advance) and unplanned (or unscheduled).

  • The approach your company takes to manage assets can be proactive (when you try to address issues before they occur) or reactive (when you prefer to wait until equipment is broken to do something about it).

  • The beneficiary of maintenance can be your company, your customers or both. Manufacturers of heavy equipment or industrial fixed assets need to maintain their own equipment, as well as the ones sold to their customers.

  • Compliance makes maintenance mandatory in industries such as food and beverage or transportation. When malfunctioning equipment isn’t likely to cause harm or damage the environment, maintenance can be optional. That being said, the manufacturer of the equipment may force you to perform maintenance to benefit from warranties.

  • The provider of maintenance services can be your own team or a company that specializes in this type of service.

Ideally, maintenance should be planned and proactive, and having an internal team responsible for it gives you more control and flexibility. At the same time, companies need to be realistic and understand that it’s impossible to eliminate unplanned maintenance. Also, investing in qualified personnel and equipment to perform maintenance internally can be more expensive than working with third parties.

How to choose the type of maintenance you need for your company

The future strategy of your business should have a significant influence on deciding what kind of maintenance to use. If you plan to expand your business by using new technology such as robots, maintenance becomes critical because of the high value of the assets. New complex equipment also requires a proactive approach to maintenance to extend its life. In this case, it may be worthwhile to invest in personnel and equipment for maintenance rather than outsource it. On the other hand, if you plan to reduce your asset-intensive activities such as manufacturing and focus more on services, outsourcing maintenance is probably more efficient.

You can also compare the costs of different types of maintenance. The example below shows a comparison of how much it may cost you to have your team for maintenance, versus working with a provider of maintenance services.

In this scenario, outsourced maintenance may cost the same as having it in-house if you require unplanned repairs each month. Using historical information on asset use, you should have a pretty good idea on how often your equipment may need repairs.

Asset management software matters

Different kinds of maintenance may require specific functionality, which isn’t always included in traditional CMMS or enterprise asset management (EAM) software. To choose the right software for the type of maintenance you require, I recommend you familiarize yourself with the products available in the market. Our asset management categories include most vendors and their offerings and allow you to compare products.

Want to learn more about asset management, EAM and other types of software to manage assets? Check out:

Gabriel Gheorghiu

Gabriel Gheorghiu

Gabriel’s background includes more than 15 years of experience in all aspects of business software selection and implementation. His research work has involved detailed functional analyses of software vendors from various areas such as ERP, CRM, and HCM. Gheorghiu holds a Bachelor of Arts in business administration from the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest (Romania), and a master's degree in territorial project management from Université Paris XII Val de Marne (France).