Deferred maintenance

What is deferred maintenance?

Also referred to as backlog maintenance or demand maintenance, deferred maintenance is planned or unplanned maintenance that has been postponed. This could be due to a number of reasons, but the most common is usually a lack of available funds. As a result, maintenance projects get deferred to a future budget cycle and the maintenance backlog increases.

What are the causes of deferred maintenance?

There are several reasons a company might defer maintenance. Some of the most common causes of deferred maintenance include:

  • Cost: The company may not have enough budget to fund the work, especially if it’s unplanned. This is typically the most common cause of deferred maintenance. However, the cost of putting off maintenance is usually not taken into account; only the cost required to maintain and operate in real-time.
  • Inaccessibility: Depending on its location, the asset may be physically inaccessible or difficult to safely access in order to complete the needed maintenance.
  • Company policies: The company may have policies focused on lean maintenance and/or a run to failure maintenance strategy. Assets are deliberately allowed to operate until they break down, at which point reactive maintenance is performed.
  • Lack of priority: The asset may be considered lower priority compared to other maintenance priorities. Its consequences of failure may be perceived as being tolerable to the company.
  • Hold orders: A hold order may have been intentionally placed on the work for a given reason.
  • Insufficient information: There may be a lack of information available that would assist maintenance managers in making compelling arguments for maintenance and repair budgets to decision makers.
  • Lack of human resources: Maintenance and repairs on particular assets might require specialized knowledge that internal workers do not possess. In addition, there may not be enough workers to carry out repairs.
  • Unavailable parts: Parts may not be available to fix the problem.

What is a good reason for deferring maintenance?

Deferred maintenance is sometimes unavoidable. If a maintenance manager reaches their allocated maintenance budget for the month, it may be necessary to defer maintenance to the next period of available budget if it is low priority. This can be frustrating, but there are ways to stretch the budget and still hit business targets, keep up with preventive maintenance, and avoid staff burnout while on a small maintenance budget.

If you regularly conduct inspections and aren’t finding anything wrong with an asset, you can probably do them less often. Consider conducting scheduled maintenance based on OEM guidelines. Monitor any PMs you change to make sure failure rates don’t increase.

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What to do if maintenance is deferred?

If maintenance is going to be deferred, a prioritization schedule should be created to ensure maintenance needs do not fall through the cracks. Depending on the maintenance required, it may be much more costly to the business in the long-run if issues are not addressed sooner.

Increasing unnecessary risk to the business should also be avoided when deferring maintenance projects. That is, if deferring maintenance increases the health and safety risks to consumers or employees, it should not be deferred and added to the maintenance backlog.

What are the risks/dangers associated with deferred maintenance?

Deferred maintenance is a communal problem for all maintenance managers. Delaying a repair might seem like the smart decision for those with budget restrictions and decaying facilities. However, deferred maintenance can do more damage in the long-run to your business.

While some level of maintenance backlog is acceptable and unavoidable, the appropriate level of maintenance backlog depends on business needs and the level of risk associated with each particular asset. Low-risk assets tolerate longer maintenance backlogs while high-risk assets tolerate shorter maintenance backlogs.

If you’re a maintenance manager facing excessive levels of deferred maintenance, consider these key risks:

  1. Increased cost of breakdown repairs: Deferred costs can lead to increased costs. If you decide to repair an asset a few years down the line, the price for parts to fix the issue will have most likely increased due to inflation. The lowest cost available for that piece of equipment is right now.
  2. Reduced overall equipment effectiveness: Low levels of overall equipment effectiveness lead to a significant increase in production losses. There is also a direct effect on delivery times against planned schedules and product quality as operators try to keep up with orders despite the reduced production capacity. Additionally, when equipment is not adequately maintained, it may use more energy, thereby increasing costs and environmental damage.
  3. Entire system failure: The perpetual delay in repairing an asset may result in it becoming inoperative. If a single asset experiences a complete system failure, the downtime may be disastrous along the entire production chain.
  4. Health and safety risks: Safe working environments and product quality are directly linked to all assets working effectively and efficiently. In many cases, safety hazards may actually increase as a result of deferred maintenance.
  5. Inadequate regulatory compliance: The cost of a workplace injury hurts more than just your maintenance budget. Above all, health and safety should be considered more important than profitability. But if that isn’t enough to consider the negative impact of deferred maintenance, consider that OSHA fines cost manufacturing companies more than $6 million in 2019.

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Strategies to combat deferred maintenance

Deferred maintenance is part of the existence of every maintenance manager. But there are plenty of ways to better manage your maintenance backlog so that it doesn’t end up growing every month. To break the cycle of deferred maintenance, the following approaches are a good way to start:

  • Audit and prioritize your current maintenance processes and projects: A maintenance audit will help your business identify maintenance-related problems and assign a level of priority and risk to the business if deferred. It will also help reveal why work orders are getting backlogged.
  • Track maintenance activities in CMMS maintenance software: A cloud-based CMMS will enable your team to have instant access to asset data, work order histories, service requests, equipment locations, and documentation (like O&M manuals and receipts). A CMMS balances resources and maintenance costs so the backlog doesn’t get out of hand. The software captures small fixes that would otherwise go unnoticed and allows maintenance tasks to be scheduled, assigned, and prioritized. This way, no jobs fall through the cracks.
  • Strengthen your preventive maintenance program: Adopting a preventive maintenance program is one of the most effective ways to prevent unplanned maintenance emergencies and deferred maintenance. It starts with listing out all your assets, identifying the PM tasks associated with those assets, and then scheduling future work orders to service the asset in advance.
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