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What Is:
Reactive Maintenance

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Reactive Maintenance

access_time 5 min read

Reactive maintenance, also known as breakdown maintenance, is a strategy that involves addressing equipment or system issues after they arise. Unlike preventive maintenance which anticipates and prevents potential malfunctions, reactive maintenance focuses on restoring the asset to its normal operational condition following a breakdown.

While this approach may offer financial benefits due to its seemingly lower upfront costs and reduced need for routine maintenance, it is essential to balance it with preventive and routine maintenance strategies for long-term sustainability. Relying solely on reactive maintenance could lead to higher costs in the long run, particularly for high-value machinery.

Distinguishing Types of Reactive Maintenance

Beneath the umbrella term of reactive maintenance, there exist several distinct types, each addressing specific mechanical issues:

Breakdown Maintenance

In the event that a machine fails to operate entirely, breakdown maintenance comes into play. This form of reactive maintenance pertains to machinery that requires extensive repair or replacement. While most breakdown maintenance incidents are unplanned and demand urgent attention, some scenarios allow for planned breakdowns. In such cases, businesses can prepare for and work around the asset's maintenance, reducing the overall cost.

Failure Maintenance

Run-to-failure maintenance involves operating a machine until it breaks down. Following the breakdown, reactive maintenance is carried out. There is no preventive maintenance performed on the machine in advance. This approach is typically reserved for machinery that does not pose a health or safety risk to personnel.

Corrective Maintenance

Corrective maintenance targets and rectifies system malfunctions, restoring the equipment to proper working order. The advantage of this form of reactive maintenance is the possibility of detecting and addressing the defect before it causes significant problems or leads to a complete equipment breakdown.

Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance addresses the sudden breakdown of an asset that may pose a health or safety risk. As the name suggests, it is usually a last-minute response and is never planned. The best way to prevent situations that require emergency maintenance is by adhering to planned and preventive maintenance routines.

Advantages of Reactive Maintenance

The reactive approach to maintenance comes with its own set of benefits:

check_circle  Lower Initial Costs

With no upfront costs for preventive maintenance actions, labor, and planning, reactive maintenance can offer financial relief in the short term.

check_circle  Reduced Staff Requirements

As reactive maintenance primarily involves response to breakdowns when they occur, fewer staff members are needed to manage and run equipment compared to preventive maintenance.

check_circle  No Need for Planning

Unlike preventive maintenance that requires scheduling and planning for equipment downtime, reactive maintenance is void of such requirements. However, it is important to prepare for unexpected downtime due to potential equipment failure.

Drawbacks of Reactive Maintenance

While reactive maintenance has its positives, it is not devoid of potential drawbacks:

dangerous  Increased Costs

Reactive maintenance can lead to high unexpected costs, especially for urgent repairs. Additionally, the need for the replacement of old or outdated equipment can further increase expenses. Furthermore, a reactive maintenance situation may require overtime from employees who have extensive knowledge of the problematic equipment further increasing maintenance costs.

dangerous  Unplanned Equipment Downtime

A significant risk associated with reactive maintenance is unexpected equipment downtime, potentially leading to halted production or even business closure.

dangerous  Reduced Equipment Lifespan

Reliance on reactive maintenance may shorten the lifespan of valuable equipment, leading to more frequent replacements.

dangerous  Increased Energy Consumption

Poorly maintained equipment may consume more energy, leading to higher electricity bills and potentially further damage to the machine.

dangerous  Safety Risks

Failing to maintain equipment properly can lead to unexpected malfunctions, which in turn can pose serious safety risks to the personnel operating or working around the machinery. The lack of regular inspections and preventive measures increases the chances of accidents, possibly leading to injuries or even fatalities.

Balancing Reactive Maintenance

While reactive maintenance can be a part of your overall maintenance strategy, relying solely on it might not be the most cost-effective or efficient method. For high-value equipment and large machinery, performing routine maintenance and inspections can help prevent costly repairs or replacements. For lower-value items, reactive maintenance might be a suitable strategy. The key is to balance reactive and preventive maintenance based on the cost of potential asset breakdown against the cost of prevention.

Reactive Maintenance Workflow

Incorporating Reactive Maintenance into a Maintenance Program

Incorporating reactive maintenance into a maintenance program requires careful consideration and planning. Start by evaluating the value of your assets against your budget for repairs and maintenance. For high-cost equipment, weigh the pros and cons of preventive maintenance versus reactive maintenance.

Leveraging maintenance software like a CMMS or an EAM can simplify this process by providing accurate financial projections and calculations. Such software can help track ROI, determine the maintenance budget, and streamline operations with digital work order forms, templates, and checklists.

Reactive Maintenance in Action: Examples

To enhance our comprehension of reactive maintenance, let's take a closer look at some practical instances.

Emergency Repair of a Leaking Pipe

A water pipe within the facility leaks unexpectedly, requiring immediate action to halt the workflow and perform an emergency repair to restore functionality.

Replacement of a Failed Motor

A motor in one of the production lines fails unexpectedly, necessitating the immediate sourcing and installation of a replacement, disrupting the production schedule.

Recovery from Electrical Outage

An electrical outage occurs unexpectedly in part of the facility, requiring immediate intervention to diagnose the cause and restore power, impacting the ability to operate efficiently.

Repair of a Malfunctioning HVAC System

An HVAC system breaks down unexpectedly during peak summer, requiring quick fault location and necessary repairs to re-establish a comfortable working environment.

Restoration of a Broken Conveyor Belt

A critical conveyor belt in the warehouse snaps unexpectedly, requiring immediate replacement of the broken section and recalibration of the system to resume operations.


While reactive maintenance can be an effective part of maintenance strategies for businesses across industries, relying solely on it may not be the optimal solution. Analyze your budget, consider the value of your machinery, and determine where reactive maintenance could be the best choice. Remember, don't wait for failure to take action.


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