Asset Intelligence and Management

Asset Intelligence and Management

EZO CMMS Blogs What Is Reactive Maintenance

What is Reactive Maintenance? Types, Examples, Benefits, and Drawbacks

reactive maintenance

In the scope of maintenance strategies, preventive maintenance falls between reactive maintenance and predictive maintenance. 

Reactive maintenance, also referred to as “run-to-failure” and “breakdown maintenance”, is a method that involves performing maintenance tasks after an asset breaks down. In simpler words, if something breaks, you fix it — but you don’t do anything to prevent the breakdown beforehand.

This article talks about reactive maintenance, its types, the difference between reactive and proactive maintenance, and its advantages, and disadvantages. 

What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is a process that takes place only after an asset has failed to perform or when it has broken down. The primary objective of reactive maintenance is to quickly bring the asset back into operating condition after it has broken down. 

Known to be the world’s most ancient approach to maintenance, reactive maintenance is widely practiced. According to a Plant Engineering study, 64 percent of manufacturing facilities practice reactive maintenance. 

Typically, maintenance actions are prompted by equipment breakdowns, setbacks, and failures. When machines stop working, they are either repaired or replaced. 

Let’s take the example of a light bulb. Instead of replacing it before it burns out, you would wait for it to burn out and then get a new one. 

The “run-to-failure” approach is more suitable for low-cost and non-critical equipment that doesn’t significantly impact production or the safety of your team. It is not suitable for high-cost and critical equipment that directly impacts production or workplace safety. 

reactive maintenance stat

Types of reactive maintenance

As mentioned, reactive maintenance is a process where maintenance activities are performed only when equipment experiences breakdown. However, there are several types of reactive maintenance that are  as follows:

Emergency maintenance

This type of reactive maintenance requires immediate action after an equipment failure to prevent further damage, avoid potential safety risks, or restore critical operations as soon as possible. It demands top-priority maintenance, and immediate attention, and often results in increased costs due to the urgency of fixing the situation, and unplanned downtime. 

Examples of emergency maintenance could involve the air conditioning going out in extremely warm temperatures or the failure of safety locks on a machine with potentially dangerous moving parts.

Corrective maintenance

This type of reactive maintenance involves making repairs and adjustments once a failure or defect has been identified. It can involve both minor and major repairs and may be scheduled once the issue is identified, but before the equipment experiences a complete shutdown or failure. 

For instance, if a machine defect is detected during production, rather than allowing it to lead to an inevitable failure, the affected part is promptly repaired or replaced.

Breakdown maintenance

Breakdown maintenance requires action to be taken only when equipment experiences a breakdown or complete failure. The primary objective of this type of reactive maintenance is to restore the equipment to its standard operating condition after failure. 

For example, consider your machinery is completely broken, and now you may need extensive repairs to run it again or replace it entirely. 

Run-to-failure maintenance

Run-to-failure maintenance is a planned maintenance task. It is performed when equipment is being operated until it breaks down. This allows the maintenance team to put a plan in place to repair the equipment without causing significant delays to production. Alternatively, in some cases, a replacement may already be acquired to quickly replace the aging equipment once it has broken.  

An example of run-to-failure maintenance includes basic electrical assets such as light bulbs as they can easily be replaced and do not require continuous status reports to ensure uptime.

types of reactive maintenance

Difference between reactive and proactive maintenance

Reactive maintenance, as previously discussed, involves tasks performed in response to equipment malfunctions, failures, or setbacks. On the other hand, proactive maintenance refers to a preventive maintenance approach that aims to foresee defects and prevent failures in advance. 

The proactive approach relies on data acquired from the Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS software), machine sensors, and condition-based monitoring techniques to plan maintenance activities. 

The primary focus is on addressing the root causes of asset failures. For example, the vibrations of a rotating machine can be measured to determine its condition. 

Advantages of reactive maintenance

Reactive maintenance comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of the key pros of reactive maintenance: 

Lower initial costs 

There are no initial costs associated with maintenance planning, implementing preventive maintenance protocols, or acquiring and deploying predictive maintenance technologies.

Less planning 

As reactive maintenance is only performed in response to failures, less time and resources are dedicated to planning and organizing routine maintenance tasks. 


Reactive maintenance is simple as it revolves around addressing issues as they arise. There are no complex schedules or preventative measures to adhere to.

Fewer staff members required

When you only depend on reactive maintenance, it’s possible to outsource maintenance tasks. On the other hand, proactive maintenance (as explained above) demands a dedicated team to inspect assets and perform maintenance in advance, resulting in recurrent expenses that cannot be avoided. However, this is not the case with reactive maintenance.

Disadvantages of reactive maintenance

It is not advisable to adopt a purely reactive approach to maintenance. As per Aberdeen’s findings, the manufacturing industry experiences a loss of approximately $50 billion annually as a result of unplanned downtime. 

Let’s understand why it is not recommended to completely rely on reactive maintenance. 

Increased long-term costs

In the short run, reactive maintenance may appear cost-effective, but the long-term costs can be considerably higher. This is attributed to potential collateral damage upon equipment failure, emergency repair costs, and the costs incurred due to unplanned downtime. 

Unplanned downtime

Equipment can experience a breakdown at any time, leading to unanticipated interruptions in operations. This unpredictability can make it challenging for organizations to meet production schedules or deadlines, potentially leading to revenue loss. 

Reduced equipment lifespan

Regularly allowing equipment to run until failure can reduce its overall lifespan and increase the frequency of equipment replacements. 

Safety hazards

Unexpected equipment failures could potentially pose safety hazards to operators or other members of the maintenance team. 

Reduced asset utilization

In the absence of planned and scheduled maintenance, assets may not be utilized to their full potential, causing their overall performance to deteriorate over time.


Reactive maintenance addresses issues as they arise, typically involving minimal initial costs. Organizations can use this approach for non-critical assets to incur lesser costs and experience reduced downtime. 

However, it cannot be used for critical assets that require immediate attention due to increased unplanned downtime and higher repair costs. For facilities reliant on consistently reliable operations, depending solely on reactive maintenance may prove limited in preventing breakdowns.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is reactive maintenance?

Reactive maintenance is a strategy used only when equipment experiences a malfunction or failure. This means maintenance work is performed when equipment stops working. 

Is reactive maintenance an effective maintenance strategy?

Reactive maintenance is associated with prolonged unplanned downtime and often entails unforeseen emergency repair costs when assets fail, which are typically not budgeted for. 

However, in other specific scenarios, reactive maintenance can reduce the time and resources spent on maintenance planning and initial costs related to maintenance software tools. 

What is the difference between proactive and reactive maintenance?‍

Proactive maintenance is performed before equipment failure occurs, whereas reactive maintenance is carried out after equipment has experienced failure. Proactive maintenance proves to be cost-effective in the long run, improving asset reliability. On the other hand, reactive maintenance is not cost-effective in the long run, resulting in less reliable assets. 


EZO CMMS is robust maintenance management software that helps you manage assets, schedule maintenance, and track work orders – all in one place. Streamline operational workflows and enhance productivity using this computerized maintenance management software. 

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