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03 August 2017

From reactive to proactive maintenance: how maintenance plans are becoming superfluous

Whether it’s about vibrations, temperature, pressure, oil levels or wear – these days organisations can measure so much with sensors in their installations. Based on the measurements, for instance, you can predict what type of maintenance is needed, and when. So because sensors make it possible to predict the right maintenance moment, reactive maintenance becomes largely superfluous. It’s certainly not the case that every organisation will be using this data analysis everywhere within the next couple of years, but it will quite probably be universal within the next decade. 

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From reactive to proactive maintenance

Right now many organisations still perform reactive maintenance on their capital equipment. This type of maintenance only occurs when there is a failure. Always unplanned, unexpected and mainly, expensive. After all, when a device or operational equipment really is defective and has to be repaired or replaced, it can be assumed that important business processes will be halted for longer than is desirable. Consider for instance a flickering fluorescent tube in a meeting room, so that employees are perhaps unable to use this area for some time. To avoid reactive maintenance (and high maintenance costs), maintenance departments draw up maintenance plans for preventive maintenance, based mostly on time. That means the fluorescent tube in the example above may be replaced earlier than needed.

In manufacturing there is a heavy emphasis on proactive maintenance. Here the data provided by sensors helps to predict the right maintenance moment, thus minimising undesired disruptions. This development is carrying over into the entire maintenance domain. Now that the use of sensors is becoming steadily cheaper and more accessible, sensors are being built-in by default into new installations, and as the technology for data analysis is available, it becomes possible to switch to ‘just in time’ proactive maintenance. This results in more control over the performance of your operational equipment and a more efficient deployment of available maintenance resources. That’s because maintenance can be performed at times when it does not directly cause serious problems in the business processes.

Will maintenance plans continue to exist?

Where it used to be, as it were, that an experienced technician could hear by a particular noise whether maintenance was needed, with today’s complex machines that’s an impossible task. The power of sensors is that data is collected continuously.  In combination with big data analysis, patterns can be recognised, so that fault and disruption predictions can be made. That lets you take action in good time, because there’s an insight into how an operational resource is used, how it is stressed and what the environmental factors are. In years to come this scenario for maintenance management will become the rule rather than the exception. Drawing up maintenance plans in advance, a time-consuming task, will then become less necessary.

In the classic way of performing maintenance, the ratio of 70 per cent planned and 30 per cent reactive maintenance will only be achieved by ‘best in class’ organisations who have their maintenance process properly ordered. In all probability the deployment of sensors will cause a shift, whereby reactive maintenance will become obsolete. The best possible maintenance moment can after all be predicted, because it is calculated on the basis of historic data and the current status of operational resources. Perhaps the use of sensors sounds like sci-fi right now, but before you know it, that’s what you’ll also be working with! 

Nico van Dijk
Product Manager Maintenance Management

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