Although we tend to think of maintenance management as the processes and programs that keep everything up and running, there are times when letting things fail is the best possible strategy. In fact, there’s an entire class of assets and equipment that perform best with run-to-failure maintenance. Done right, you see lower labor costs while maximizing your return on inventory investments.

The challenge is that run-to-failure maintenance only works in specific circumstances. You need to implement it carefully.

What is the run-to-failure maintenance strategy?

Just like the name suggests, the run-to-failure maintenance strategy is when you let an asset or piece of equipment run until it fails. But to be a bit more precise, it’s when you let just one part or component, not the entire asset or piece of equipment, run until it fails.

An important aspect of the strategy is how before that failure point, you don’t do any active maintenance. So, there are no associated inspections or tasks. You’re not continuously or even infrequently monitoring it. Then, after the failure, you swap out the broken part for a new part. Instead of ever repairing it, you always just replace it.

What are examples of the right places to implement run-to-failure maintenance?

Maintenance is not one size fits all, which generally means that what works for one asset won’t work for another. Often, though, we’re working with some nuisance. So, while preventive maintenance might work fine for an asset, implementing predictive maintenance could potentially deliver even better results. There’s enough overlap between some maintenance strategies for processes and policies that comparing them means looking at degrees of success.

Run-to-failure maintenance is different. It only works in a limited number of places. When you implement it in the wrong places, the results can be catastrophic.

When RTF is a “bright” idea

So, where does RTF make the most sense? The classic example is light bulbs. For any part or component that’s like a light bulb, you can likely let it run until it fails.

What are the defining characteristics of a light bulb? One, it’s very likely non-critical to your operations. If one burns out, it’s not going to stop your entire production line or stop everyone in the office from working. It’s also likely non-critical in terms of safety. They don’t explode when they fail; no one gets hurt when they burn out.

Two, it’s not hard and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to keep spares in inventory. You don’t have to worry about them going stale or getting stolen.

Three, you can assume there’s always someone on the maintenance team who knows how to replace them.

And four, there is no practical way to maintain a light bulb. You can’t use a special light bulb monitor to check how much longer the filament will last. When the light bulb gets close to the end of its life cycle, there’s no practical, cost-effective way to open it up and install a new filament. Without wasting a ton of time and money, you can’t check it and you can’t fix it.

So, if you have a part that’s a close cousin to light bulbs because it shares all these characteristics, RTF is likely your best bet.

When it costs the same anyway

But it doesn’t always have to be like a light bulb. In some cases, where you have a good sense of what it costs to maintain vs. what it costs to repair, you might decide it’s cheaper to just wait until it breaks before you fix it.

A manufacturing production line is a good example. Remember, even scheduled downtime can cost you lost production time. The advantage of scheduling downtime is just that it costs you as little as possible, because you can plan out what work the team needs to do and make sure you have all the parts and materials they need on hand.

Imagine you have Asset A on the production line. Every hour that asset is offline costs you X. With a preventive maintenance program, you’re locked into Y number of hours of offline time thanks to inspections and tasks. By multiplying X by Y and adding in labor, parts, and materials, you can quickly calculate the total cost of maintenance. With most assets, it’s less than the cost of not having a preventive maintenance program.

It’s the same with many other asset categories. Changing the oil on a car takes time and money. But it’s less than the cost of replacing a seized engine.

But there are some cases where maintenance costs are high enough and repair costs are low enough that it makes more sense to just run to failure.

What are the benefits of run to failure?

If you do the math correctly, you should end up saving money. With something that shares a lot of the same qualities as a light bulb, it’s cheaper and easier to let it fail than try to maintain it.

On top of that, letting it run to failure guarantees you’re getting as much value from it as you can. You never have to worry that you’re throwing parts out too early.

What are the possible drawbacks of RTF maintenance?

But if you don’t do the math correctly, you might be creating costly headaches for yourself.

And even if your math is perfect, there are still headaches. With RTF, you’re sacrificing predictability. Instead of maintaining or swapping out parts on a set schedule, you never know when the team needs to swing into action. It might be first thing Monday morning or just before you’re ready to start the weekend late Friday afternoon.

And to compensate for the increased unpredictability, you need to carry more in inventory. Instead of being able to match your inventory levels to predetermined dates when you’ve scheduled preventive maintenance inspections and tasks, you need to carry some inventory all the time because you never know when you need to use it. Those light bulbs need to always be in stock.

How does facility management software help with run-to-failure maintenance?

When you’re looking at RTF, you first need to know how your assets tend to fail. Without a solid understanding of the various failure modes, there’s no way for you to match assets with maintenance strategies.

Once you know where to implement it, you then need a reliable way to react quickly to failures with the right instructions and inventory. You need to be able to tell the maintenance techs exactly what they need to do and then make sure they have the parts and materials.

Modern, unified platform solutions make it all possible. From one central system, you can review maintenance requests and then generate, prioritize, assign, and track work orders.

And the work orders you send out to the team come packed with everything they need to close out efficiently, including:

·       Comprehensive asset maintenance and repair histories

·       Step-by-step instructions

·       Customizable checklists

·       Associated parts and materials

·       Digital images, schematics, and OEM manuals

They can even include interactive site maps and floor plans.

Because the software also helps you control inventory with real-time counts, you can make sure the right parts are there, right when the team needs them.

Although it tends to have a bad reputation, there are situations where the best maintenance strategy is RTF. Basically, you let the asset or equipment run until it fails.

Generally, you only implement this strategy for assets that are like light bulbs. They’re non-critical, expensive or impossible to maintain and repair, cheap to carry in inventory, and everyone on the maintenance team can swap them out for new ones. However, there are cases where you might find the cost of the scheduled downtime needed for maintenance is greater than the cost of repairs.

The advantages of RTF are that you save money and get maximum value from your parts before throwing them out. However, you lose a lot of predictability, and to compensate, you need to carry more parts and materials in inventory.

A modern unified maintenance platform helps implement this maintenance strategy by streamlining work order management, delivering the instructions techs need to work well, and making it easier to control inventory.

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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.