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The overall goal of maintenance is getting the shortest amount of unscheduled downtime over the longest possible life cycle. You also want to work things so you get the biggest bang for your maintenance buck, with the most uptime for the least maintenance. And for that, you need to carefully control not only the types of maintenance inspections and tasks you do but also  when you do them. 

Usage-based maintenance can be one of the ways you dial in your timing. 

But before anything else, all those definitions. 

What is usage-based maintenance? 

Just like the name implies, maintenance-based maintenance is a strategy that focuses on timing maintenance according to usage. What sets it apart is how it allows you to borrow a lot of the good parts of other maintenance strategies. So, just like meter-based maintenance, it relies on tracking usage. And just like predictive, it helps you leverage past and current data points to help you plan and prepare for the future. 

But just because it borrows from other strategies doesn't mean it isn't a complete and completely separate strategy all its own. That said, because of all those borrowed parts, the easiest way to understand it is to compare it to other strategies. 

What are the differences between usage-based and meter-based maintenance? 

Meter-based maintenance is directly tied to usage. So, if you say you need to change the oil in your forklift every 250 hours, as soon as you see the right numbers on the meter, you change the oil. Because you're matching it to usage, you don't have to worry about doing too much or too little maintenance. 

But the problem is you also never know exactly when you're going to hit that 250-hour mark, making it harder to line up the people and parts you need to get the job done. 

With usage-based maintenance, though, you avoid this problem by adding a few more data points so you can make an accurate prediction about when to do the maintenance. With meter, you know two things: when to do the maintenance and where the meter is now. With usage, you know those two plus the average usage based on historical data. In this example, it would be an average number of hours of use per day. 

So, you have: 

  • 250 hours between changes 
  • 100 hours since last change 
  • 10 hours a day average usage 

You need another 150 hours before the next oil change, which is 15 days away, based on your average use. With two weeks to plan, it's easy to schedule the people and parts you need for that maintenance task. 

What are the differences between usage-based and predictive maintenance? 

Going by strict definitions, there aren't any differences. Usage-based maintenance is a type of predictive maintenance. So, it’s just like asking about the differences between chewing gum and candy. There aren't any differences. Gum is a type of candy. 

But there are differences between usage-based maintenance and what people tend to think of when they hear "predictive maintenance," which is a high-tech network of special sensors attached to assets capturing streams of data related to heat, vibration, and noise that then feed powerful AI-backed algorithms capable of crunching all those numbers into accurate forecasts on future failures. 

With usage-based maintenance, you're working with much smaller data sets and everything is a lot more straightforward. 

What are the benefits of usage-based maintenance? 

There are many, but one of the important ones is how it helps you avoid doing too little or too much maintenance. With too little, small issues have a chance to grow into big, budget-busting problems. With too much, you're wasting time and money doing work you didn't have to. Another benefit is how it helps you plan, ensuring you have everything lined up for the maintenance tasks. 

What is a possible drawback of usage-based maintenance? 

Remember, though, that some of this is sort of theoretical. What you're doing is tracking usage with a meter under the assumption there is a connection between usage and condition. In the forklift example, the idea is that every 250 hours of use creates roughly the same amount of wear and tear.

But do they?  Don't different drivers drive differently?

So, sometimes an hour is not an hour. There're the forklift drivers who are more of the slow-and-steady types. And then there are the ones who put a lot more stress on the machine, with a lot of fast starts and stops. 

Another way to think about it is when you're buying a car. Sure, the odometer tells you how many miles the car has travelled, but it doesn't tell you who drove them. In the old days, dealerships used to love telling people a car had had only one owner, a "little old lady who only ever drove it to church on Sundays." The last thing they would admit is that it was a 16-year-old pizza delivery driver who was forced to sell the car to pay off a ton of speeding tickets and fines related to reckless driving charges.

Next steps

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Summary 

Usage-based maintenance is a maintenance strategy that helps you time your maintenance tasks. Because it borrows different parts, an easy way to understand it is by comparing it to other maintenance strategies. Like meter-based maintenance, with usage based, you do maintenance only after the asset or equipment passes a predetermined amount of use. So, for a forklift, it could be hours of use. But the difference is that meter based only focuses on the meter, which can make it hard to predict when to schedule the work, putting you at a disadvantage. It's harder to organize the right parts and people when you don't know when you'll need them. With usage-based maintenance, you can get around this problem by using past usage rates to help you predict when you will likely hit the predetermined amount of use. In terms of benefits, tracking usage can help you time your maintenance better, but there are possible problems. You're using usage to make educated guesses about condition, but there are lots of situations where type of usage is more important than amount. For example, even though two forklift drivers drive the exact same number of hours, because of their different driving habits, they might add a different amount of wear and tear to the equipment. 

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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