Engineering Horizons



January 12
12:29 2017


What is maintenance and why is it performed? Past and current maintenance practices in both the private and government sectors would imply that maintenance is the actions associated with equipment repair after it is broken. The dictionary defines maintenance as follows: “the work of keeping something in proper condition; upkeep.” This would imply that maintenance should be actions taken to prevent a device or component from failing or to repair normal equipment degradation experienced with the operation of the device to keep it in proper working order. Unfortunately, data obtained in many studies over the past decade indicates that most private and government facilities do not expend the necessary resources to maintain equipment in proper working order. Rather, they wait for equipment failure to occur and then take whatever actions are necessary to repair or replace the equipment. Nothing lasts forever and all equipment has associated with it some predefined life expectancy or operational life. For example, equipment may be designed to operate at full design load for 5,000 hours and may be designed to go through 15,000 start and stop cycles.

The need for maintenance is predicated on actual or impending failure – ideally, maintenance is performed to keep equipment and systems running efficiently for at least design life of the component(s). As such, the practical operation of a component is time-based function. If one were to graph the failure rate a component population versus time, it is likely the graph would take the “bathtub” shape shown in Figure 5.1.1. In the figure the Y axis represents the failure rate and the X axis is time. From its shape, the curve can be divided into three distinct: infant mortality, useful life, and wear-out periods.

The initial infant mortality period of bathtub curve is characterized by high failure rate followed by a period of decreasing failure. Many of the failures associated with this region are linked to poor design, poor installation, or misapplication. The infant mortality period is followed by a nearly constant failure rate period known as useful life. There are many theories on why components fail in this region, most acknowledge that poor O&M often plays significant role. It is also generally agreed that exceptional maintenance practices encompassing preventive and predictive elements can extend this period. The wear-out period is characterized by a rapid increasing failure rate with time. In most cases this period encompasses the normal distribution of design life failures.

Figure 1. Component failure rate over time for component population

The design life of most equipment requires periodic maintenance. Belts need adjustment, alignment needs to be maintained, proper lubrication on rotating equipment is required, and so on. In some cases, certain components need replacement, (e.g., a wheel bearing on a motor vehicle) to ensure the main piece of equipment (in this case a car) last for its design life. Anytime we fail to perform maintenance activities intended by the equipment’s designer, we shorten the operating life of the equipment. But what options do we have? Over the last 30 years, different approaches to how maintenance can be performed to ensure equipment reaches or exceeds its design life have been developed in the United States. In addition to waiting for a piece of equipment to fail (reactive maintenance), we can utilize preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, or reliability centered maintenance.


Reactive maintenance is basically the “run it till it breaks” maintenance mode. No actions or efforts are taken to maintain the equipment as the designer originally intended to ensure design life is reached. Studies as recent as the winter of 2000 indicate this is still the predominant mode of maintenance in the United States. The referenced study breaks down the average maintenance program as follows:

  • >55% Reactive
  • 31% Preventive
  • 12% Predictive
  • 2% Other.

Note that more than 55% of maintenance resources and activities of an average facility are still reactive.

Advantages to reactive maintenance can be viewed as a double-edged sword. If we are dealing with new equipment, we can expect minimal incidents of failure. If our maintenance program is purely reactive, we will not expend manpower dollars or incur capital cost until something breaks. Since we do not see any associated maintenance cost, we could view this period as saving money. The downside is reality. In reality, during the time we believe we are saving maintenance and capital cost, we are really spending more dollars than we would have under a different maintenance approach. We are spending more dollars associated with capital cost because, while waiting for the equipment to break, we are shortening the life of the equipment resulting in more frequent replacement.

We may incur cost upon failure of the primary device associated with its failure causing the failure of a secondary device. This is an increased cost we would not have experienced if our maintenance program was more proactive. Our labor cost associated with repair will probably be higher than normal because the failure will most likely require more extensive repairs than would have been required if the piece of equipment had not been run to failure. Chances are the piece of equipment will fail during off hours or close to the end of the normal workday. If it is a critical piece of equipment that needs to be back on-line quickly, we will have to pay maintenance overtime cost. Since we expect to run equipment to failure, we will require a large material inventory of repair parts. This is a cost we could minimize under a different maintenance strategy.


Preventive maintenance can be defined as follows: Actions performed on a time- or machine-run-based schedule that detect, preclude, or mitigate degradation of a component or system with the aim of sustaining or extending its useful life through controlling degradation to an acceptable level.

The U.S. Navy pioneered preventive maintenance as a means to increase the reliability of their vessels. By simply expending the necessary resources to conduct maintenance activities intended by the equipment designer, equipment life is extended and its reliability is increased. In addition to an increase in reliability, dollars are saved over that of a program just using reactive maintenance. Studies indicate that this savings can amount to as much as 12% to 18% on the average. Depending on the facilities current maintenance practices, present equipment reliability, and facility downtime, there is little doubt that many facilities purely reliant on reactive maintenance could save much more than 18% by instituting a proper preventive maintenance program.

While preventive maintenance is not the optimum maintenance program, it does have several advantages over that of a purely reactive program. By performing the preventive maintenance as the equipment designer envisioned, we will extend the life of the equipment closer to design. This translates into dollar savings. Preventive maintenance (lubrication, filter change, etc.) will generally run the equipment more efficiently resulting in dollar savings. While we will not prevent equipment catastrophic failures, we will decrease the number of failures. Minimizing failures translate into maintenance and capital cost savings.


Predictive maintenance can be defined as follows: Measurements that detect the onset of system degradation (lower functional state), thereby allowing causal stressors to be eliminated or controlled prior to any significant deterioration in the component physical state. Results indicate current and future functional capability.

Basically, predictive maintenance differs from preventive maintenance by basing maintenance need on the actual condition of the machine rather than on some preset schedule. You will recall that preventive maintenance is time-based. Activities such as changing lubricant are based on time, like calendar time or equipment run time. For example, most people change the oil in their vehicles every 3,000 to 5,000 miles traveled. This is effectively basing the oil change needs on equipment run time. No concern is given to the actual condition and performance capability of the oil. It is changed because it is time. This methodology would be analogous to a preventive maintenance task. If, on the other hand, the operator of the car discounted the vehicle run time and had the oil analyzed at some periodicity to determine its actual condition and lubrication properties, he/she may be able to extend the oil change until the vehicle had traveled 10,000 miles. This is the fundamental difference between predictive maintenance and preventive maintenance, whereby predictive maintenance is used to define needed maintenance task based on quantified material/equipment condition.

The advantages of predictive maintenance are many. A well-orchestrated predictive maintenance program will all but eliminate catastrophic equipment failures. We will be able to schedule maintenance activities to minimize or delete overtime cost. We will be able to minimize inventory and order parts, as required, well ahead of time to support the downstream maintenance needs. We can optimize the operation of the equipment, saving energy cost and increasing plant reliability. Past studies have estimated that a properly functioning predictive maintenance program can provide a savings of 8% to 12% over a program utilizing preventive maintenance alone. Depending on a facility’s reliance on reactive maintenance and material condition, it could easily recognize savings opportunities exceeding 30% to 40%. In fact, independent surveys indicate the following industrial average savings resultant from initiation of a functional predictive maintenance program:

  • Return on investment: 10 times
  • Reduction in maintenance costs: 25% to 30%
  • Elimination of breakdowns: 70% to 75%
  • Reduction in downtime: 35% to 45%
  • Increase in production: 20% to 25%.

On the down side, to initially start into the predictive maintenance world is not inexpensive. Much of the equipment requires cost in excess of $50,000. Training of in-plant personnel to effectively utilize predictive maintenance technologies will require considerable funding. Program development will require an understanding of predictive maintenance and a firm commitment to make the program work by all facility organizations and management.


Reliability centered maintenance (RCM) magazine provides the following definition of RCM: “a process used to determine the maintenance requirements of any physical asset in its operating context.”

Basically, RCM methodology deals with some key issues not dealt with by other maintenance programs. It recognizes that all equipment in a facility is not of equal importance to either the process or facility safety. It recognizes that equipment design and operation differs and that different equipment will have a higher probability to undergo failures from different degradation mechanisms than others. It also approaches the structuring of a maintenance program recognizing that a facility does not have unlimited financial and personnel resources and that the use of both need to be prioritized and optimized. In a nutshell, RCM is a systematic approach to evaluate a facility’s equipment and resources to best mate the two and result in a high degree of facility reliability and cost-effectiveness. RCM is highly reliant on predictive maintenance but also recognizes that maintenance activities on equipment that is inexpensive and unimportant to facility reliability may best be left to a reactive maintenance approach. The following maintenance program breakdowns of continually top-performing facilities would echo the RCM approach to utilize all available maintenance approaches with the predominant methodology being predictive.

  • <10% Reactive
  • 25% to 35% Preventive
  • 45% to 55% Predictive.

Because RCM is so heavily weighted in utilization of predictive maintenance technologies, its program advantages and disadvantages mirror those of predictive maintenance. In addition to these advantages, RCM will allow a facility to more closely match resources to needs while improving reliability and decreasing cost.

Table 1. below highlights guidance on RCM development by equipment application (adapted from NASA 2000). It is important to both define the equipment criticality and cost of down-time when determining the optimal mix of maintenance elements. Once defined, the equipment can be prioritized in the developing a functional RCM program.

Table1. Reliability centered maintenance element applications


 Reactive Element Applications

  • Small parts and equipment
  • Non-critical equipment
  • Equipment unlikely to fail
  • Redundant systems

Preventive Element Applications

  • Equipment subject to wear
  • Consumable equipment
  • Equipment with known failure patterns
  • Manufacturer recommendations

Predictive Element Applications

  • Equipment with random failure patterns
  • Critical equipment
  • Equipment not subject to wear
  • Systems which failure may be induced by incorrect preventive maintenance

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Engineering Horizons

Engineering Horizons

“Engineering Horizons” is the first & leading technical magazine of Pakistan covering Process, Mechanical, Metallurgical, Mining, Electrical & Electronics field under a single cover. We also feel pleasure in saying that this is the only magazine of its own kind & style, which is widely circulated in all Engineering Sectors of Pakistan.

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