November 16, 2023

| 4 min read

Redefining unplanned maintenance: Transforming inevitability into efficiency

If you’re involved in ensuring reliability within your organization, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of plans going awry. We’ve all vowed to enhance our maintenance operations, only to have our intentions derailed by unexpected repairs and breakdowns. Sadly, the problem of backlogs stemming from unplanned maintenance is a widespread issue.

Fiix’s recent survey provides firsthand insight into this phenomenon. The survey results shed light on the time allocation of the respondents, with 39.4% stating that they dedicate a maximum of 25% of their work hours to reactive maintenance tasks. Interestingly, an almost equal percentage of 39.7% reported spending the same time on preventive maintenance.

These statistics present a thought-provoking scenario: many teams grapple with reactive maintenance demands while balancing preventive strategies. Both strategies combined take up about 50% of a maintenance teams’ week, if not more, in comparison to other strategies (i.e. predictive maintenance). Whether it’s feasible to gradually reduce the reliance on reactive maintenance is questionable.

preventive maintenance versus reactive maintenance chart

To address this question, it’s crucial to distinguish between reactive maintenance and unplanned maintenance, as these terms are frequently interchanged. As we’ve previously discussed in our blog, reactive maintenance can serve a valuable role within a comprehensive maintenance strategy when employed appropriately. However, when it disrupts daily operations and leads to costly downtime, it transforms into what we categorize as unplanned maintenance.

Five main causes of unplanned maintenance

If no one likes dealing with unplanned maintenance, why does it continue to be at the forefront of teams spending their time on it? As with most persistent issues, there is no one cause to point to. There are, however, a few commonalities among maintenance teams that can’t seem to get out of the reactive maintenance cycle.

1. Different systems across different sites

Unplanned maintenance issues frequently stem from a lack of standardization, particularly when different systems are employed across various sites. When multiple sites operate with varying systems, identifying inefficiencies becomes a challenging task, compounding the difficulty of implementing corrective measures. The absence of uniform work practices and the absence of a standardized approach can hinder efficiency improvements.

2. No cohesive maintenance plan

Drowning in reactive maintenance is a common symptom of neglecting to focus on reliability culture. When maintenance fails to look beyond the immediate, one-to-one exchange of fixing something that’s broken, it’s difficult to get out of that situation. However, if you shift your organization’s attitude towards being reliability-focused, you can start to view maintenance as something that can be managed proactively, and something that everyone can be involved with.

3. No system to gather and provide easy access to data

Without a way to aggregate and organize data, it’s difficult to understand why your maintenance operations are flagging, let alone where you can start to make improvements.

Justin McCormick, Equipment and Purchasing Manager at Callan Marine, explained this challenge in an interview with Fiix when he described his organization’s maintenance process before implementing a CMMS: “In order to maintain your equipment, you have to have data, so I used that to create maintenance checklists that the guys would send back to me. But…there was still human error. If you messed up on something, it would cause your whole chart to be completely wrong…and because of that, a lot of things got dropped and quickly became an emergency due to the fact that our processes and procedures were never put in place.”

Relying on disjointed systems and processes alone basically guarantees that work will fall through the cracks.

4. Time wasted in paperwork and pen-and-paper systems

At other organizations, reliance on cumbersome documentation procedures makes it difficult to focus on long-term reliability and proactive measures that could be taken. This was the case at Rambler Metals and Mining, where Scott Britton describes their situation: “If something needed to be fixed, it would get written down on a post-it or a scrap of paper and delivered in person. This often meant that our maintenance team would have to spend time shuffling through multiple Post-its or notes, trying to decide which problem could be fixed the most quickly.” Unfortunately, so much time was spent documenting problems that they couldn’t get ahead of the task at hand and start planning properly.

5. No defined KPIs

Many organizations simply lack a baseline for KPIs, making it near-impossible to know how they should improve, and on what metrics. When everything is done on the fly, it’s hard to establish an ideal situation, let alone take the steps necessary to get there.

How to break the cycle of unplanned maintenance

Now we know why it’s easy for organizations to fall into a pattern of unplanned maintenance—but how can they get out of it?

1. Define the problem

Your particular situation might look like any combination of the causes listed above. It’s important for you to take a serious look at your maintenance operations and identify which gaps exist.

2. Start small

No maintenance strategy can be overhauled in a day. Identify small, quick wins or impactful processes that you can implement right away and measure the improvements that occur. It’s important to establish maintenance KPIs for comparison’s sake to clarify whether or not implementing the changes had their desired effect.

3. Invest in the right technology

For the organizations mentioned above, purchasing a CMMS was the solution they needed to standardize practices, create accountability, reduce downtime, and set up a proper, preventive maintenance program. Once you have properly identified the problems that are causing an excess of unplanned maintenance, you can begin to evaluate solutions that will help you conquer them.

Want to learn more about ending unplanned maintenance?

Short guide

A clear path to efficiency

Redefining unplanned maintenance means distinguishing it from reactive maintenance, which, when managed properly, plays a valuable role within a comprehensive maintenance strategy. The key is to ensure that reactive maintenance doesn’t disrupt daily operations and lead to costly downtime, thus evolving into problematic unplanned maintenance. As we dissect the five main causes of unplanned maintenance, it becomes clear that standardization, a cohesive maintenance plan, data management, streamlined processes, and defined KPIs are all essential components of a solution. Addressing these issues one by one can pave the way toward a more efficient maintenance operation.

In the end, the transformation from reactive and unplanned maintenance to efficiency is a journey worth embarking upon. By tackling the root causes and implementing systematic changes, organizations can turn the frustration of unexpected repairs into the satisfaction of a well-oiled, proactive maintenance machine. Embracing this transformation will not only ensure reliability but also pave the way for a more productive and cost-effective future.

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