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Starting a preventive maintenance program

An effective preventive maintenance program starts with careful planning. You need to concentrate on scheduling inspections and maintenance for assets before breakdowns occur. And the best way to predict the future is with a truly accurate picture of the past. So, your PM program requires tracking data of all past inspections and maintenance. It's going to take some time and effort, but it's always worth the investment. Also, if you get the right tools for the job, you can track what you need a lot easier. In fact, a lot of it can be done automatically, behind the scenes.

Now, broadly speaking, the purpose of a good preventive maintenance program is to deliver:

  • Increased productivity
  • Lowered costs

Basically, it costs you less in time and money to keep your assets and equipment up and running. Less overall effort for more reliability. And best of all, it does it with a lot less stress on your end. No more running around putting out fires. Instead, you're able to head out early, find pockets of smoke when they exist, and get things under control with the least amount of effort.  

What are the differences between preventive maintenance, a PM, and PMs?

Let's start by clearing up any possible confusion when it comes to how we talk about preventive maintenance. Looking at the definition in Wikipedia, we can see that people often use the initials "PM" as a shorter form of the full phrase.

"Preventive maintenance (PM) is a routine for periodical inspections, with the goal of noticing small problems, and fixing them before major ones develop. Ideally, nothing breaks down."

It can be a bit confusing, because in other circles, PM is also used to mean project management. And to make it even tricker, a PM is used to mean a task that's a part of a preventive maintenance program.

So, someone might say, "I have five PMs scheduled for this week." The good news is not matter what you call it, you still get all the benefits. So from here on in, we use PM to mean preventive maintenance and a PM or PMs to mean preventive maintenance tasks. Remember, those can be walkthroughs, visual inspections, or routine maintenance tasks. So, walking through the facility checking for things like water or oil where it shouldn't be, opening up a pump looking for signs of wear on the gaskets, or changing the oil on a motor. 

Are there other ways to get a quick introduction to preventive maintenance?

Yes, and sometimes it's easier to understand something by watching instead of reading. So, here's a quick video that covers the basics.

How do I get started with preventive maintenance?

While the decision to finally implement a preventive maintenance is the first step toward managing maintenance better, the next and most crucial step is implementing your preventive maintenance program effectively. It's absolutely critical that you do this correctly, and that starts with understanding just how easy it is to do it poorly. In fact, a 2004 survey involving 5,000 companies showed that the majority were not satisfied with the effectiveness of their preventive maintenance programs. Basically, people are not hitting their goals.

What are good preventive maintenance program goals? You're most effective when when 80% or more of your maintenance activities are planned and scheduled at least a week in advance. You should be shooting for an 80/20 split between planned and unplanned maintenance. 

It may seem a bit of a hard reach, and there's a lot of companies that try and fail, but the good news is that a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) makes everything easier by allowing you to schedule preventive maintenance with a few clicks of a mouse.

So, the first step is really about getting into the right frame of mind and being aware of the challenges ahead. Next, you need to start looking how you can:

  • Assemble existing information
  • Compile asset and equipment histories
  • Determine PM requirements such as inspections and tasks
  • Prioritize critical assets and equipment
  • Create a task description sheet
  • Set up frequencies for each PM

What you need to do is decide which assets and equipment you're going to include, what you're going to do to them, and how often you need to do it.

There's a chance you tried this before, but without the support of the right CMMS platform. In that case, the above steps were done with paper or spreadsheets, making it hard to keep track of everything. Your attempt at setting up a preventive maintenance program very likely didn't work out.

That was then. Now, with the right CMMS software all the asset and equipment information and your PM schedule can be stored in one location, where it's easily accessed from anywhere, at any time. Maintenance management software providers design systems that are user-friendly and configurable to meet the needs of their widening customer base. You can get an idea of all the different industries using a CMMS for preventive maintenance be exploring directories like Capterra, Software Advice, Techradar,  and Predictive Analytics.



What are the specific steps to setting up a preventive maintenance program?

A large part of keeping a company running efficiently and profitably is ensuring that all the equipment is functioning optimally. To do so, routine preventive maintenance needs to be conducted. Unfortunately, regular equipment checks often go overlooked in certain areas of a company's operations mainly because attention is usually directed toward more pressing issues. It's the classic problem of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. You keep putting tasks off until you have some spare time, once everything settles down. But because you're not looking after your assets and equipment the way you should be, things never finally settle down. When small tasks go overlooked for long periods of time, problems often follow; production errors, work injuries, and asset damage can all occur if careful tracking and maintenance aren’t followed.  And a breakdown in critical equipment is costly both regarding repairs as well as downtime and delays in a company’s productivity.

The problems outlined can be avoided with a computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system that offers preventative maintenance as one of its key functions.

With CMMS software in place, companies can get a birds-eye-view of all their facilities and locations to ensure that effective preventative maintenance schedules are a part of all standard operating procedures.

How? Preventive maintenance software provides tools such as automatic triggers, email integration, set reminders, equipment information, and auto-assigned task which can streamline a company’s entire maintenance process.

Here are the steps for creating an effective preventative maintenance plan:

1. Create a preventive maintenance plan

Before any preventive maintenance (PM) procedures are put in place, it is important first to establish who will be involved in the preventative maintenance  project. Depending on the company size, likely choices may include maintenance managers, maintenance techs and/or people from the accounting or finance departments. Additionally, it is critical that staff members are fully invested in developing the program so that the PM maintenance implementation can be successful. 

What does it mean to be invested? It's not just that they're going to be affect by the project. Invested means that they believe in the project's success. In some cases, the project sells itself. The maintenance techs, for example, love the idea of less paperwork and more efficient workflows. But there might be some holdouts, too. People who feel that the current system is good enough--even though it's not. You need to work at convincing them, developing their buy-in. Often, all it takes is explaining to them specifically how preventive maintenance is going to make their job easier. 

In other cases, you need to tailor your message to the person's specific concerns. If it's a tech, talk about how PMs take the pressure off; no more running around putting out maintenance fires. But for someone in the accounting department who's concerned about the initial startup costs, you need to focus on the long-term return on investment. 

One of the final steps of creating a preventative maintenance plan is determining a goal for the project.

Examples of PM maintenance project goals are: reducing reactive or corrective maintenance costs by X% or decreasing equipment downtime by X%.

Remember, if you can't measure it, you can't improve it. You need to look at specific metrics that you can use to track your progress accurately. It's true that a good PM program reduces stress, but how can you measure a feeling? You need to find measurable things that are connected to stress and track them instead. For example, unscheduled overtime hours and maintenance emergencies that require you to call in tech when they should be off.

Preventive Maintenance Plan E-book

2. Inventory facility equipment/assets

The most time-consuming aspect of setting up a preventive maintenance program involves going through a facility and creating an inventory of all relevant equipment.

Although a time consuming exercise, it is a critical one as it ensures that preventive checks are routinely be made on key operational equipment. You can't make a plan to look after what you have if you don't know exactly what you have.

As part of this task, it is important to take note of equipment make/model, serial numbers, specifications, asset identification numbers and fixed locations. The more data you can collect on each asset and piece of equipment, the better.

Finally, documenting the current condition of the equipment can help prioritize its importance as part of a preventive maintenance program. 

EAM software offers ways for users to digitally track the location of assets that have been physically tagged. A good CMMS has interactive maps and floor plans built right into the PMs and work orders. It also stores asset information and levels on associated parts and materials.

3. Create preventive maintenance procedures

Once a list of equipment has been made, the next step is to determine the tasks or jobs required to maintain each piece of equipment as well as the frequency with which these tasks should occur (i.e., weekly, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, annually).

There may be times when preventive maintenance is best suited to be scheduled around run-time hours while for other assets, other meter-based triggers are more appropriate.

For example, you can set a PM to check your AC units in late spring. But you would set PMs on a pump to be based on the number of cycles. Every 10,000 cycles, you visually inspect the seals and add lubricant. A PM based on run-time hours works well for something like a forklift, where you change the oil after so many miles.

Whichever is the case, it is important to make note of these different scheduling scenarios while also estimating how much time may be needed to perform the PM with work order software.

preventive maintenance software schedule demo cta


Most preventive maintenance programs accommodate schedules based on run-time hours, but having prior knowledge of how often these may occur will assist in a company’s scheduling process.

Preventive maintenance procedures can be determined based on prior corrective maintenance experiences or by referencing the owner’s manual and manufacturer recommendations and documented industry standards.

An important part of creating a preventive maintenance checklist is making a list of tools and internal and external resources needed to complete each job. In summary, a preventive maintenance plan should include the following: a parts list, standard operating procedures (SOPs), safety/lockout procedures and estimated time to complete the PM tasks.

4. Create preventive maintenance schedule priorities

Preventative maintenance scheduling is critical to company operations since these occur regularly and involve time, energy and staff resources to complete.

When creating a preventive maintenance schedule, it is important to make a list of high priority items; these will be the starting points.

Preventative maintenance programs take time to be created and it is best to schedule the highest priority maintenance before overloading staff with tasks that rank lower on priority.

The initial preventive maintenance goals established will direct which assets should be prioritized.

For example, it is important to identify which equipment is most costly to a company regarding repairs, downtime, and value to operations.

Once high priority items have been identified, begin by scheduling preventive maintenance tasks with longer intervals first (i.e. annual, semi-annual, quarterly).

Equipment requiring preventive maintenance on longer intervals generally require the most time and resources, and because of this, scheduling may be best during specific times during the year (i.e., plant shutdown, at the beginning of heating/cooling season.)

Once high priority long term preventive maintenance is completed, scheduling tasks with shorter intervals and more frequent cycles (i.e., weekly, monthly, etc.) and low-priority items should follow.

Since these preventive maintenance tasks generally require less time, they can also easily fill the gaps between the long term and high priority preventive maintenance.

It is important to realistically plan preventative maintenance schedules by striking a balance between preventative maintenance and the time needed to address corrective or emergency maintenance as well as other projects that will likely surface. You can't set up a good schedule without leaving yourself some breathing room for those times when the unexpected happens.

Preventive Maintenance Schedule E-book

More on setting up a preventive maintenance schedule

Here are five tips on getting the right schedule:

  1. Get a Handle on Your Assets
    Since company assets are unique and vary by industry and sector, size of the organization and production activities, there is no “cookie cutter” method to developing an inventory list for the purpose of developing a preventive maintenance schedule.

    At the outset, determinations need to be made about which assets require routine checks and which do not.
    In general, company assets that will benefit most from a preventive maintenance schedule are those that have a critical operational function, failure modes that can be prevented with routine maintenance and a likelihood of failure that increases with time or use.

    Assets less amenable to preventive maintenance scheduling may be better handled using different maintenance strategies. Although it tends to have a bad reputation, there are times when run-to-failure is the best option. When you have an asset that is cheap to carry in inventory, non-critical to operations, and fast and easy to replace, it makes more sense to let it fail instead of trying to maintain it. The classic example is light bulbs.

  2. Use Architectural Drawings to Locate Assets

    An architectural drawing is a rendering of an architectural design as plan and/or elevation views of a building or structure.

    Many maintenance management software systems have the capability of integrating architectural drawings into preventive maintenance programs. Using these drawings make it possible to view supply levels visually rather than in a spreadsheet alone.

    Most important, exact locations of equipment can be highlighted on the drawings.

    Knowing the locations of critical equipment in need of preventive maintenance can facilitate efficient preventive maintenance scheduling because technicians can be deployed to service several pieces within close proximity in a shorter time frame as opposed to the time required to service items spread throughout a facility. For example, you might have a two presses and two pumps in your facility. But the pumps aren't beside each other. Instead, they're far apart from one another; but each one is close to one of the presses. When setting up your schedule, it doesn't make sense to have a tech maintain both presses on the same day. Instead, you schedule the PMs so they match up with the assets' locations. 

    This approach results in better time and resource utilization management.

  3. Gather Operating and Maintenance Manuals and Serial Codes
    An important aspect of establishing maintenance schedules is becoming familiar with equipment O&M manuals which among other things, set out recommended maintenance schedules and procedures as well as troubleshooting information.

    Serial codes are important to ensure that when replacement parts are needed, the correct ones are ordered.
    An efficient preventive maintenance benefits from technicians who are knowledgeable about the assets they are servicing as well as having the appropriate parts on hand, when needed.

  4. Review Equipment Repair Histories
    Apart from setting preventive maintenance schedule based on O&M manual recommendations alone, gaining additional information about asset use and repair histories can be helpful.

    Since no two operations are identical, O&M manual recommendations are just that – recommendations. They do not replace a thorough review of repair and inspection histories.

    This added information is beneficial in fine tuning preventive maintenance schedules to reflect the actual usage and performance of a particular piece of equipment.

    Equally important, a review of the repair histories will provide valuable information about prior downtime and serve as a baseline upon which improvements can be determined.

5. Train your maintenance team

While developing a preventive maintenance program takes time, proper CMMS implementation and adoption of the program is crucial. It is essential that companies prioritize the training of its maintenance staff as they are the core users of the system. Having staff members trained to use a program is a key determinant of successful outcomes. Do not scale back on training. Having staff that buy in to the software, adopt it, and use it will ensure the highest ROI.

There are many ways to increase your chances of a success implementation. First, make sure the techs understand the future benefits of the program. They're not going to be willing to go through the training if they can't see the point of the program to begin with. You need to show them the light at the end of the training tunnel. 

Once they've bought into the program, give them as many ways to learn about it as possible. Modern CMMS providers offer a number of training opportunities and resources. Training sessions can be onsite or online, with training walking techs through the software. Make sure they also have easy access to additional videos, manuals, and other documentation. In the end, the best way to learn is hands-on. The sooner they have access to the software and can start to experiment with it, the better.

Many organizations have trouble when they adopt an all-or-nothing mentality. They want to go from zero to one hundred with the CMMS software (also known as EAM software). Instead, it makes more sense to gradually introduce new features and workflows over time. Train techs on a limited subset of features, let them build some experience and confidence, before introducing more complex aspects. Everyone has to learn to walk before they can run. 

6. Analyze – adjust - improve

Businesses are dynamic and so are their equipment assets. Because of this, it is important to analyze the results of a preventative maintenance program and adjust as needed.

Preventive maintenance programs help companies identify equipment that require more time and money than others, leading to adjustments in the preventive maintenance procedure/schedule.

Companies often seek the assistance of consultants or CMMS implementation experts to assess and adjust preventive maintenance programs.

It's not a bad idea to assess and adjust your PM plan every couple of years. 

Without a doubt, developing and implementing a preventative maintenance program takes time and energy.

However, once in place with staff trained to use it, the benefits of automated preventive maintenance far outweigh the costs associated with reactive or emergency maintenance that often results in unforeseen downtime, equipment replacement, and operation disruption.

Having facility management software in place that monitors company assets makes it possible for flexible maintenance scheduling saving time, money, and energy.

How do I know if my preventive maintenance program is working?

It is essential to ensure that all plant and facility equipment is covered by a cost-effective overall preventive maintenance program. An effective preventive maintenance program will reduce the amount of unplanned work to less than 80% of the total manpower expanded for all equipment maintenance activities.

But it's not enough to just have a plan. The effectiveness of a maintenance program depends on its execution. 

comparison between types of preventive maintenance programs used in top performing facilities and overall facilities

What are the key performance indicators for preventive maintenance?

  • Productivity
    More specifically, this refers to emergency man-hours. An effective preventive maintenance schedule should see a significant drop (to nearly negligible levels) in emergency downtime and therefore an increase in overall productivity.
  • Equipment downtime
    The total breakdown downtime for equipment, a plant, or even an entire facility indicates the level of effectiveness of a PM program.
  • Equipment costs
    The cost of repairs includes the cost of labor, materials, extra labor hours as well as any direct or indirect maintenance cost. This plays a major role in indicating improvements after implementing a PM program. How does it cut materials costs? When work is scheduled in advance, you have time to order the parts and materials you need and have them shipped at the lowest possible cost. But when things break down without warning, and you don't have the right parts in inventory, you're forced to use expensive overnight delivery.
  • Preventive maintenance efficiency
    This would go over the amount of work orders generated from a preventive maintenance program. These should see a rise when a preventive maintenance program is installed since it would highlight whether the developing equipment problems are being identified more proactively.

What are the benefits you should be looking for with your preventive maintenance program?

If you see these benefits, you know the program is working. Preventive maintenance should deliver:
  • Reduced unplanned downtime due to asset failure
  • Better margins and profits due to less downtime
  • Prolonged life of the assets and less unnecessary maintenance and inspections
  • Less injury risk and increased safety
  • Fewer interruptions to vital operations as timely, routine repairs ensures fewer large-scale repairs

Increased safety also ensures that organizations are in compliance with the rigorous OSHA standards.  A bit more on this topic: Organizations should always put employee safety first. It's hard to imagine something worse than an accident that injures an employee. On top of that, accidents can be very expensive in terms of real dollars and intangibles like costs to reputation. 

An effective preventive maintenance program, if implemented properly, helps boost profit margins as assets last longer, use less time and energy for repairs, and are responsible for fewer interruption to your processes.

If you don't see these benefits, it's time to start rechecking your program. One problem area could be the types of PMs you're performing.

What are the types of preventive maintenance tasks?

PM tasks vary upon the need of the users. The three main types include:

  • Mandatory or non-mandatory
  • Pyramiding or on-pyramiding
  • Inspections or tasks 

Mandatory PMs are ones that must be performed at all costs when they are due. They may involve OSHA, safety, EPA, and license inspections, among others.

Non-mandatory PMs are inspections or service PMs that can be postponed for a short time or even eliminated for the present cycle without resulting in immediate failure or performance penalties.

Each PM task should be designated in one of these categories.

Pyramiding PMs are generated each time they come due. When there is already a PM due and the next one comes due, the first one should be canceled, with a note written in the equipment history that the PM was skipped.

The new PM should have a due date from the canceled PM written in, so that it is understood how overdue the task is.

Some companies, however, choose to make their PMs floating or non-pyramiding. They follow the same scenario as described above, except there is no notification that the PM was missed.

The previously uncompleted PM is thrown away and the new one (without any carry-over information) is issued and added to the schedule.

Inspections will involve only filling out a check sheet and then writing work orders to cover any problems discovered during the inspection.

Task-oriented PMs allow the individual performing the PM to take time to make minor repairs or adjustments, eliminating the need to write some of the work orders when turning in the inspection sheet.

What are the things I need to remember about preventive maintenance programs?

We've covered a lot of information, so here's a quick summary of some of the highlights.

Preventive maintenance system streamlines every aspect of preventive maintenance programs, including development, scheduling, and tracking. By helping maintenance departments find small issues before they grow into large problems, the software cuts costly downtime, increases profits. What is importance of a preventive maintenance system? Because without it, you're only ever reacting to problems, never getting out ahead of them.

Without a structured PM program, you're stuck relying on run-to-failure and on-demand work orders. Scheduling resources and controlling inventory are challenging when you can never plan beyond the next surprise breakdown. As critical facility and production equipment gets overlooked, downtime and repair costs rise.

The solution? CMMS software, helps you develop, schedule, and track a PM program that cuts downtime and boosts asset and equipment life cycles. Data-packed preventive maintenance work orders include everything technicians needs to close out efficiently, including customizable step-by-step instructions, associated parts and materials, digital copies of O&M manuals, images, and schematics.

Preventive Maintenance Program E-book

About The Author

Reena Sommer

Reena Sommer originally hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba and currently resides in the Houston, Texas area. In 1994, she graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Ph.D. in Psychology, Sociology and Family Studies. Reena is a regular contributor for Hippo CMMS.