preventive maintenance
preventive maintenance

Preventive Maintenance

Many companies are familiar with preventive maintenance but don’t know the best practices for planning a comprehensive program. See what works for thousands of maintenance leaders.

What is preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance, also known as preventative maintenance, is routine, scheduled inspections and tasks (lubrication, chain or belt adjustments, etc.) performed on assets and equipment to ensure they are working the way the manufacturer intended. When performed correctly, preventive maintenance provides benefits to your organization such as increased asset lifespans, reduction in downtime and failures across equipment, and more.

Preventive maintenance should be performed on equipment outside of its normal operating hours so as to not disrupt production or run time. Setting a preventive maintenance schedule for your major equipment ensures efficiency and productivity are high in your facilities.

The preventive maintenance workflow

preventive maintenance workflow

The above flowchart is an example of a typical preventive maintenance workflow. However, your organization may choose to add, remove, or adjust steps as needed to fit your unique processes. In general, a preventive maintenance workflow includes the following action items.


Inspections are an important aspect of preventive maintenance as they ensure that equipment is safe for technicians and others to use and that each asset is performing as intended by the manufacturer.


Many inspections performed will turn over few issues, however, some will yield errors. Finding these errors is called detection and it’s a very important part of the preventive maintenance process. Without it, equipment will continue running until it fails. This will hinder that asset’s productivity, and its ultimate failure could mean serious consequences to your organization.


Once you’ve identified an error, it’s important to remedy the issue. Schedule maintenance for that asset at a time that falls outside of its normal operating time so that it doesn’t affect the asset’s productivity. This tactic allows you to find and fix issues before they worsen or cause a breakdown.


Once the problem is resolved, it’s important to continue inspecting your equipment on a regular basis. Another, unrelated issue could arise and inspections play an important role in detecting them. Schedule your inspections to occur at time or meter-based intervals, depending on the asset.

Types of preventive maintenance

While there are several types of maintenance management, preventive maintenance can be broken down into two basic categories: time-based and meter-based.

Time-based preventive maintenance

This type of preventive maintenance is performed at set intervals of time, and is most beneficial for equipment that needs to be serviced based on a calendar schedule. Depending on the task, you may need to set up maintenance work and inspections to occur daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annually, annually or any other time-based interval.

For instance, manufacturers recommend performing semi-annual inspections and maintenance on HVAC units—once before the summer and once before the winter. On the other hand, you may want to inspect a piece of equipment that halts production when it fails on a weekly basis to ensure everything is operating properly and all maintenance is performed.

Depending on the task, and your preference, you can choose to schedule recurring tasks based on the day of the week/month (e.g. the 1st of every month) or based on the last executed date (e.g. 3 months from the last time the task was completed).

time-based preventive maintenance

Meter-based preventive maintenance

This type of preventive maintenance doesn’t occur at a set interval of time, but rather a set meter reading. Preventive maintenance tasks are triggered for an asset after a certain number of hours operated, miles driven, or production cycles performed.

Whenever the dashboard light in your vehicle turns on alerting you that it’s time to get your oil changed, this is an example of a meter reading. The vehicle alerts you after a certain number of miles driven that it’s time to perform preventive maintenance (get the oil changed and filters replaced) on that vehicle. You can see a similar phenomenon in a facility. For instance, when a certain piece of equipment has performed so many cycles, you can have that equipment item alert you that it’s time to perform an inspection.

meter-based preventive maintenance

Preventive vs. reactive maintenance

As this article focuses on preventive maintenance, it’s important to note the difference between preventive and reactive maintenance. While the two types of maintenance mentioned above focus on inspecting and maintaining equipment before failures occur, reactive maintenance is the complete opposite. This type of maintenance strategy occurs after an asset has broken down and needs repaired in order to operate effectively. A healthy mix (80% preventive, 20% reactive) of these two strategies, along with others, will best set your facilities up for success.

Learn more about reactive maintenance and other types of maintenance management.

Benefits of preventive maintenance

It’s clear that preventive maintenance helps reduce equipment failures and downtime, but there are so many other added benefits of performing routine maintenance, like those listed below.

  • Extend asset lifespan and improve equipment reliability
  • Increase safety and reduce risk of injury
  • Improve planning and resource utilization
  • Decrease unplanned maintenance and inspections
  • Increase productivity and effectiveness
  • Improve audit compliance
  • Cut costs

Preventive maintenance has the opportunity to transform the way your organization manages its facilities and assets, and the best part is you have the tools to get started at your disposal. Your equipment should have ideal inspection frequencies listed in the manual, and then it’s just a matter of getting routine processes in place to get started! If you’re interested in learning how to get a process up and running, stick around. It will be covered shortly!

Learn more about the benefits of preventive maintenance

Challenges in preventive maintenance

One of the challenges of implementing a preventive maintenance program is ensuring you’re performing inspections at optimal timeframes. Performing too much or too little maintenance ultimately leads to wasted time, resources, and money.

Determining an optimal point for your maintenance will take time, so be patient and continue to push yourself to find that sweet spot. Once you do, it will be smooth sailing from there.

maintenance management strategies chart

Designing a preventive maintenance plan

The following steps will help you design a preventive maintenance plan based on your unique needs, goals, and assets.

Align your goals to the overall company’s

Every organization has company-wide goals that span years into the future. What are yours? It’s important to think about your preventive maintenance initiatives with these end goals in mind. Leadership is more likely to increase your budget, headcount, and more so long as these added expenses contribute to the company-wide goals.

Gather necessary information

Before you can lay out a plan, you must gather information on all of your assets. This step may seem like an easy one to skip, but it’s very important. Information in the equipment manuals will provide you with optimal inspection frequencies and procedures, and maintenance histories will help you understand how reliable an asset is and how frequently it breaks down. Serial codes should also be gathered in this step so that should an asset fail and need replacement parts, the correct ones will be ordered.

Rank your assets based on criticality

Determining which assets deserve your attention the most is crucial for a preventive maintenance program. You can’t set up plans for every asset up front, so you have to prioritize your list.

Begin by taking inventory of all of your assets and then ask yourself the following three questions about each item.

  1. What is the consequence of this asset failing? Does it halt production, harm the environment, put staff at risk?
  2. How reliable is the asset? Is it constantly breaking down or does it seem to have little to no problems? The key here is to understand whether or not this asset is at risk of failing and causing the consequences listed above.
  3. How detectable are issues on this asset? If an asset had an issue would you be able to find it quickly, or would several of your processes be jeopardized before the issue is detected?

Answers to the above questions should help you prioritize plans for your assets. For instance, an asset that is very unreliable with dire consequences after failure and an extremely low detection rate, would need to be put at the top of your list. On the other hand, an asset that is fairly reliable with little to no impact on your business after failure and a high detection rate, should be put at the bottom of your priority list.

Establish job and labor resources

It’s important to establish resources, time, labor, and other requirements for each preventive maintenance task. This allows managers to easily assign tasks based on a technician’s skillset and availability. Together, these insights will create a job plan for each asset.

The components of a good job plan include:

  • The spare parts inventory associated with the asset
  • Step-by-step instruction sets for inspecting the asset
  • Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) manual
  • Photos, images, interactive maps, or other documents associated with the asset
  • Maintenance and repair history
  • Critical safety instructions

Establish long-term plans

Take a look at the priority list you made after evaluating every asset’s criticality. This will guide which assets to set long term schedules for first. Based on the manufacturer recommendations and reliability of each asset, set up recurring maintenance to occur at time-based intervals or meter readings. If you’re setting time-based intervals, make sure these span the next few years.

Unexpected setbacks may occur that require you to intervene and adjust these long-term plans. However, it’s important to establish an outline that you and your team can stick to. If you need to change these plans in the future, just be sure to follow the same structure as above to ensure you’re optimizing each asset’s

Establish short-term plans

Once long-term plans are established, you can plan what your week to week will look like. It will most likely be a combination of reactive maintenance tasks and preventive maintenance tasks, but be sure to always create a buffer of time for unplanned equipment failures or projects that require more time than anticipated.

Train your entire team

Your team needs to understand what the goals of your preventive maintenance plan are, and how to achieve them. You need to provide thorough training sessions on all of the processes you have in place. If you have software or tools to support these initiatives, the team needs to be educated on how to effectively use those tools to achieve success.

Having each team member execute a preventive maintenance task is a good way to gauge their understanding of the process. They are the ones working on these workflows each and every day, so it’s up to you to provide them with the information and support they need to perform successfully.

Track and adjust

Preventive maintenance is an iterative process. You should be revisiting each asset’s plan, tracking progress and data, and adjusting the process as needed. If a piece of equipment is receiving care every 6 months, but is still experiencing shut downs, you may need to up the inspections to every 3 months.

Continuously looking for ways to improve your processes takes a little extra time, but pays off in the long run.

How CMMS software can help you manage preventive maintenance

Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software is a tool many organizations have used to optimize their preventive maintenance workflows. The system becomes a database for all of your assets, equipment, and workflows to live. It allows you to easily design a program for your organization, create preventive maintenance schedules according to time-based or meter-based intervals, and keep track of tasks that are upcoming or overdue. Alerts and notifications keep your team on schedule and the data collected overtime for your equipment can become a powerful tool for making future decisions.

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