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What is a maintenance strategy?

A maintenance strategy is a comprehensive blueprint for how companies minimize downtime, keep maintenance costs at bay and ensure their factories work at or near capacity.

Maintenance strategies are a critical aspect of asset management, by which companies attempt to manage everything contributing to their operations and the production of their goods.

As companies have embraced data and analytics, the types of maintenance programs that can make up a maintenance strategy have proliferated.

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Types of maintenance strategies

Here are four major types of maintenance management programs.

Reactive maintenance/corrective maintenance

Imagine you drop and crack the screen of an old mobile phone. In taking it to the repair shop, you may find the cost of fixing that screen, given the age of the phone, is more expensive than buying a new one. This can also happen in enterprises where it is not cost-effective to repair or intervene to fix equipment before it breaks.

This form of maintenance deals with assets after they either need service or fail. For most organizations, responding to failed assets proves to be expensive, burdensome for the manufacturing process and, through reliability centered maintenance (RCM)1, completely preventable by prioritizing alternative forms of maintenance.

A similar form of reactive maintenance is run-to-failure, which is a maintenance approach where companies purposefully allow equipment failures to happen to keep maintenance expenses low. It is usually only used with specific facility assets, like light bulbs, batteries, laptops or printer cartridges, all of which are either not repairable or will cost more to repair than to let run down and replace with spare parts.

Reactive maintenance as a comprehensive discipline is less popular with the rise of data-driven organizations that can rely on more data to make informed decisions on how to approach maintenance. While it is often used because the cost of addressing parts before they expire may not be worth it, an unavoidable downside is it will create unplanned downtime as companies race to replace the parts.

Preventive maintenance

At its core, a preventive maintenance strategy2 is about fixing things before they break. It involves scheduled maintenance tasks aimed at extending the equipment's lifespan and preventing future failures. While preventive maintenance minimizes failure risks by proactively addressing potential issues, it can become costly if parts are fixed or replaced well before they need it, leading to additional maintenance costs.

Preventive maintenance programs can mean different things for different equipment, tools and parts. Heavy machinery, for instance, will often require lubrication and cleaning done on a consistent basis. Other tools may use up parts (for example ink or dye) and need replacements before doing more work.

In addition, any given machine could feature many parts with different timelines to failure or repair, different failure modes (the different ways they might fail) and different costs to repair or replace. That makes preventive maintenance a challenge when so many individual pieces can determine whether the larger machine fails and when. Preventive maintenance also often fails to consider any real-time or updated data that might influence when equipment might fail.

Predictive maintenance

This proactive maintenance approach uses data and machine learning, among other advanced technologies, to help engineers decide when to perform maintenance. Given the technology involved, it will have upfront costs to implement. But it is favored among data-driven organizations as a way to conduct maintenance when necessary, based on hundreds if not thousands of data points.

Predictive maintenance(PDM) is a more data-driven and advanced form of preventive maintenance. Both disciplines seek to fix equipment before they expire. The main difference is that predictive maintenance uses more data and real-time information to make a more accurate decision on when to replace, repair or clean the equipment.


Reliability centered maintenance (RCM)

RCM is a systematic maintenance planning approach organizations use to identify the critical physical assets, such as machines or tools, necessary for product production. It involves developing a comprehensive strategy to ensure that these assets remain operational and perform optimally.

Maintenance teams that use RCM will approach each piece of equipment and part differently. They choose the type of maintenance based on factors. These factors include the criticality of the equipment, difficulty in sourcing or replacing it, the data it generates to help maintenance workers identify whether it needs repairing or replacing and its costs. RCM can help organizations track and handle different critical assets versus non-core assets so that the ideal maintenance work for each piece of equipment and part can be done with ease.

Maintenance strategy components

Several maintenance activities can help companies minimize equipment downtime and cost savings while promoting a healthy life cycle for their equipment.

  • Computerized maintenance management system(CMMS4): This is a software program that tracks assets and work orders5 and schedules maintenance. A CMMS organizes data about everything an organization must maintain, including necessary materials and resources.
  • Maintenance schedule: Once companies have created the right maintenance strategy for their business, they must create a robust and holistic maintenance schedule based on that approach. If using RCM, the schedule will depend on many different variables. If predictive or preventive maintenance is the approach, it will depend on how they want to incorporate data into decisions about their replacement schedule. If run-to-fail, the maintenance schedule is less a guide and more an expectation of when to replace parts.
  • Condition monitoring: Inherent to a predictive maintenance strategy, this strategy involves real-time monitoring of specific equipment to determine the timeline to repair or replacement. It often includes vibration analysis and readings and data collection from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
  • Incident reporting: Once a piece of equipment or part fails, the maintenance team will report the incident so there is documentation and corrective action can occur.
  • Root cause analysis: The maintenance team will identify what caused that failure and note any extenuating circumstances that hastened or slowed the timeline or circumstances of the failure.
  • Failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA): A comprehensive approach to identifying how equipment or parts will eventually fail, what impact that will have on the overall process and system and how that might create an adverse effect.
Maintenance strategy considerations

Maintenance is a foundational component of a well-run industrial strategy. But every organization is different and may require a different approach. Indeed, many modern organizations have embraced RCM as the most sophisticated maintenance strategy that attempts to understand the underlying variables for every piece of equipment and part so that the organization can address each one optimally. However, that may not be feasible or desirable for every organization.

The same holds true with predictive maintenance (link resides outside ibm.com). Likewise, few organizations will embrace a complete run-to-failure or reactive maintenance strategy due to the complications brought on by parts breaking before being fixed. Yet, no one-size model fits all, so here are some considerations organizations should make when settling on their specific strategy.


Some organizations have much larger budgets than others, allowing for more comprehensive and advanced options for handling their maintenance. But for many organizations, RCM promotes uptime and reduces costs, so it is the ideal maintenance strategy to promote profitability. Companies can often do reactive or preventive maintenance with staff on hand. However, upgrading to RCM or predictive maintenance usually requires an investment in technologies like sensors and software. It may also potentially require upgrading to newer versions of equipment currently being used to take advantage of new technologies like IoT and machine learning.

Equipment used

If a manufacturing process uses low-cost equipment, it may make sense to have a run-to-failure model. The cost of monitoring equipment performance and repairing machines may be more than just replacing them when they fail. However, if another organization uses highly sophisticated, expensive and hard-to-replace technology, then predictive or reliability-centered maintenance would be the effective maintenance strategy.

Staffing availability

Even with advanced technology, the most sophisticated maintenance strategy still requires human capital. Humans monitor the technology, analyze the equipment and decide when to intervene and repair or let the equipment fail before replacing. Therefore, how many maintenance workers and support staff an organization has will affect how they approach their strategy.

State of existing equipment

If the current equipment is antiquated and often subject to repairs, organizations should consider letting those machines fail. They should begin replacing them with newer models that could build the foundation for a preventive and RCM maintenance strategy.

Regulatory and compliance requirements

Some organizations may require more frequent monitoring and maintenance depending on which equipment they use or the products they make. In those scenarios, they may require preventive maintenance or RCM to protect employees and meet their stringent requirements.

Maintenance strategy products
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Maintenance strategy resources What is preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance is the act of performing regularly scheduled maintenance activities to help prevent unexpected failures in the future.

What is predictive maintenance?

Predictive maintenance helps predict the future potential state of equipment to determine when maintenance operations should be performed.

What is reliability centered maintenance (RCM)?

RCM is a process whereby organizations identify the physical assets required to produce their products and create a strategy for keeping them online and operating at an optimal level.

Take the next step

Unlock the full potential of your enterprise assets with IBM Maximo Application Suite by unifying maintenance, inspection and reliability systems into one platform. It’s an integrated cloud-based solution that harnesses the power of AI, IoT and advanced analytics to maximize asset performance, extend asset lifecycles, minimize operational costs and reduce downtime.

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