As with most things in life, an offensive position yields better results than a defensive one. The same holds true in facility management (FM).

Plant operations and maintenance (POM) personnel encounter reactive situations on a daily basis, but the wise FM professional who approaches service from a proactive position will be able to avert many equipment failures and down time, thus positively impacting the "quality of life" for the building campus community.

Let's break down the differences in the two approaches.

Reactive management

Reactive management is basically the "run it until it breaks" maintenance philosophy. It is crisis-based by nature, coming up with solutions well after problems develop. No actions or efforts are taken to maintain the equipment as the designer or manufacturer originally intended to ensure design life is reached.

A reactive approach spends too much time fighting fires and can easily be blindsided by crisis situations. Although when critical events happen, it is imperative that a quick thinking response and solution be delivered, this should not be a normal daily practice.

Signs of a reactive management program:

  • Maintenance activities appear to be somewhat chaotic and heavily people-dependent with increased labor costs
  • Increased costs due to unplanned downtime of equipment; equipment and buildings components are frequently broken and inoperative
  • Service and maintenance calls are typically not responded to in a timely manner
  • Normal usage and deterioration continues unabated, making building and equipment inadequate to meet present usage needs

This maintenance philosophy allows machinery to run to failure, providing for the repair or replacement of damaged equipment only when obvious problems occur. Studies have shown that the costs to operate in this fashion are about $18 per horsepower (hp) per year.

Proactive management

Proactive management involves foresight; it is real-time measurements that detect the onset of system degradation, anticipation of mechanical failure or end-of-life cycle deterioration. A proactive organization has contingencies in place, such as back-up generators for power outages.

If a program is designed to identify crisis before it happens, it will inevitably be able to diminish the negative consequences once it happens. The foundation for proactive management is preventive maintenance, which will extend the equipment life thus reducing downtime.

Signs of a proactive management program:

  • Maintenance activities appear to be organized and focused with improved worker and environmental safety
  • Equipment and building components are fully functional and in operating condition with increased component life cycle
  • Reduced equipment and/or process failure
  • Realized cost savings (estimated average of 12 to 18 percent over a reactive maintenance program)
  • Service and maintenance calls are responded to in a timely manner
  • Buildings and equipment are regularly upgraded, keeping them current with modern standards and usage
  • Preventive maintenance is scheduled and completed through the CMMS
  • During routine maintenance tasks, deficiencies are noted and addressed as they arise

This philosophy consists of scheduling maintenance activities only if and when mechanical or operational conditions warrant — by periodically monitoring the machinery for excessive vibration, temperature and/or lubrication degradation or by observing any other unhealthy trends that occur over time.

When the condition gets to a predetermined unacceptable level, the equipment is shut down to repair or replace damaged components so as to prevent a more costly failure from occurring. In other words, "Don't fix what is not broke." Studies have shown that when it is done correctly, the costs to operate in this fashion are about $9/hp/year — half the cost of $18/hp/year under reactive management.

Reactive facility management is a typical problem and one that is easy to fall into by taking the path of least resistance. Do not get stuck in the endless loop of reacting to emails and emergency phone calls. Preventive maintenance programs (regular maintenance to equipment during the productive phase to increase longevity) will result in fewer impending component failures and greater system reliability.

It is not possible to anticipate every potential failure, but it is possible to have a plan. That is what a proactive maintenance with a contingency approach provides — the plan.