Column Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Preventive Maintenance Reliability

Move from Reactive to Proactive

Klaus M. Blache | October 1, 2020

Moving from reactive to predictive maintenance is much like climbing a sand dune. If you don’t keep moving forward, you’ll slide back to the bottom.

By Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC)

More than half of the facilities/factories in North America still rely on reactive maintenance as their overall maintenance strategy. For decades, evidence has demonstrated the greater benefits of performing proactive maintenance. So much so, that the PdM/CBM framework makes the old way of thinking and acting insufficient, less effective, and less desirable. So why has it not changed and what can you do about it?

Here are five reasons:

• Few truly understand the relationship between reliability-based maintenance and business/operational performance.

• KPIs (key performance indicators) need to be better selected, aligned, and communicated. Also, identify behaviors that need to be supported to enable the desired outcomes.

• Place more emphasis on the workforce. North America still doesn’t average one annual suggestion per employee. This is a socio-technical process.

• Maintenance has not done a good job of monetizing the benefits. Savings from proactive maintenance need to be relatable and believable by management.

• Moving from reactive to proactive is a long-term process. It’s about enabling employees and using that momentum to improve the process.

Many times I’ve hiked over Sleeping Bear sand dunes to Lake Michigan. It starts with a 460-ft. steep climb. The sand resists each step. If you don’t keep making forward progress at a steady pace, you lose ground. Many give up and don’t accomplish the steep climb. Those that continue and get near the top gain in confidence. It gets easier because the goal is in sight. As you crest the top, reality sets in. You are looking at 1.75 miles of up/down sand dunes to Lake Michigan. Many are satisfied with the event and go back down. A few continue for the 3.5-mile round trip. 

Similarly, change to proactive maintenance is never easy and many who start are not ready for the journey. Here’s a short list to guide you:

• Acknowledge the need for change. Most companies think they are better than they really are.

• Recognize it’s a journey. Plan to sustain the journey when leadership changes.

• Select an implementation model that works for your organization and make sure that it involves an early culture component.

• Assess your true status. Perform a brutally transparent investigation, including significant plant-floor input.

• Set the vital few targets (leading and lagging KPIs) that must be done well.

• Identify and reward behaviors that support the KPIs.

• Perform daily Gemba walks to mentor plant-floor employees and develop problem solvers.

• Get all departments involved.

• Communicate progress and celebrate successes.

• Nurture and sustain a robust continuous-improvement process. Remember, this is a 50/50 socio-technical process.

Everything is relative and it’s not about deciding if you can afford to do it. It’s about deciding if you can afford not to do it. EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at


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