A preventive maintenance program can help you get ahead of the maintenance curve, where there’s more uptime, less unplanned downtime, costs are lower, and work is more predictable. Instead of working reactively, jumping into action on demand and without warning, you can plan and schedule maintenance when it works best for your team. With lots of lead time, you can line up parts and people in ways that minimize costs and operational interruptions. 

But implementing preventive maintenance doesn’t guarantee its potential benefits, and even a good program might be delivering less value than it could be. 

What are the signs of an underperforming preventive maintenance program? 

At the most basic level, your program should help you deliver more uptime at less cost. Diving deeper, there are some specific signs you are not enjoying the benefits you should be. 

Maintenance costs aren’t going down overall 

One of the main goals of preventive maintenance is to cut maintenance costs, so if they aren’t coming down, you need to determine why. Start by looking closely at the numbers, but make sure you’re looking at the right ones.  

For example, are labor costs up in your facility? That might be a concern, but you need to first find out why they’re up. It could be because you’re approving more overtime related to unscheduled downtime. But it might also be part of a larger industry-wide trend.

As it’s becoming harder to replace the wave of retiring technicians, wages are moving up. Another example is parts and materials. Are you spending more because you’re using more, or is inflation raising the per-unit costs?   

When evaluating your system, only hold it accountable for the costs it can affect. 

Look closely at costs associated with downtime and overtime. Is the line down more often than you’d like? Are you spending a lot on overtime, bringing in extra help in the evenings to get everything back up and running before the first shift? These are clear signs your preventive maintenance schedule is not working the way it should be. 

Inventory levels remain inaccurate 

If you’re dealing with a lot of unscheduled work orders, it’s harder to match inventory levels to unpredictable future needs. The maintenance team goes through parts faster than you can reorder them, overcompensate and order too much, which then sits around taking up room, decaying, and aging out of warranty. 

With a good PM schedule, you’ve scheduled about 80% of your work orders at least a week in advance, so you should have plenty of time to have the right parts on hand when you need them. If you’re often pressed for parts, your program is underperforming. 

Other departments still see maintenance as a cost center 

This is one is subjective, but it’s still worth considering. If the maintenance department is seen as being in the way, you’re not making yourself any friends anywhere on the org chart. People are unhappy if the machines you’re supposed to maintain are frequently breaking down or if you must schedule maintenance during peak production hours.

When the big monthly meeting becomes unbearable once the AC quits, people quickly forget all the good work the maintenance department does to support all the other departments and instead focus on the times things went wrong. 

How to improve your PMs and boost ROI 

Even the best schedule can’t make up for poorly thought-out inspections and tasks (PMs). To see a strong return on investment (ROI) on your program, PMs must be comprehensive, repeatable, organized, and “timely.”  

Ensure PMs are comprehensive 

Your PMs need to cover a lot, but never too much. Make sure to include all the assets and equipment that best match with this maintenance strategy, while avoiding any that don’t. In some cases, that means relying on run-to-failure maintenance. In others, predictive. 

When you do include an asset in your program, aim for total coverage. Assets are collections of many small parts, and ideally your PMs cover all of them. And don’t limit yourself to checking for simple wear and tear. PMs should also include calibration. For example, checking and adjusting drive belt clearances and tensions. 

Write PMs so they are easy to follow 

Write your PM so technicians complete them the same way. Here’s the test: If you gave the same PM to three different technicians, they would all do the identical work the same way. 

Ask yourself, “When a technician looks at this work order, do they have what they need to complete the job?” They should see lots of information about the asset, including: 

  • Name 
  • Location 
  • Serial number 
  • OEM manual 

They should also see lots of information about the task at hand, including:  

  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Customized checklists 
  • Drawings/schematics 
  • Specification sheets 

If they need to remove a panel to make an adjustment or add lubricant, you need to explain how to remove the panel and then how to put it back correctly. If there’s a specific safety risk associated with the work, the PM needs to include precautions, a list of the required personal protective equipment, and instructions on the safe handling and disposal of any parts or materials. 

Organize PM inspections and tasks logically 

Every preventive maintenance task is just a collection of smaller tasks, and it’s crucial that work orders organize these smaller steps into a logical sequence that encourages effectiveness and efficiency. So, when setting up a checklist to support a visual inspection, list the items according to logic and location.

For example, a checklist for a forklift might have three sections: elements to check when standing in front of the machine, those to look at standing behind it, and a final group to confirm while sitting in the seat. 

Time your PMs and generate averages 

PM tasks should include the mean time to complete, how long everything takes from getting started to closing out. Technicians can use this information to plan their work schedules and track relative progress on individual PMs. Facility and maintenance managers can use PM times to build better schedules.

If you have a PM that takes the team three hours, you’re not going to schedule it during the hour-long lunch break when the production line stops. If you know a quick PM usually only takes ten minutes, you have a lot more flexibility finding a spot on the schedule. Knowing how long work likely takes adds another dimension of predictability to your day, helping you keep everything running smoothly.  

But having a useful mean time depends on the PM being repeatable. When every technician is completing the tasks idiosyncratically, there will be too much of a difference between their completion times, making the mean meaningless. 

Preventive maintenance programs can deliver a lot of value to facility and maintenance departments, helping them schedule work and cut costs. But the benefits are not automatic, so it’s important to know the signs of an underperforming program.

When you do find issues, you can rework your inspections and tasks to make them more comprehensive and logical, better supporting your technicians and increasing your PM ROI. 

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.