Preventative Maintenance – Waste of Time and Expensive…or is it?

Some will say that Preventative Maintenance (PM) is expensive and/or a waste of time. Thinking that the labor time spent looking for problems, making a few adjustments and putting a system back together only reduces production time and adds unnecessary costs. I think we can safely say that these are also the people more likely to think that running equipment to failure and fixing it, is a more cost-effective option.

How do we know they aren’t correct? One way we can find out is to stop doing PM’s for a year or so, and measure the cost impact and equipment downtime. No, we do NOT recommend this approach, even if it would provide some solid numbers to work with. So instead, let’s look at an analogy that relates to the true cost of preventable failures in a non-industrial scenario. Peach farms.

Farmer Glen bought a brand new pickup truck a few years ago. Farmer Glen believes in good maintenance on his truck – “preventative maintenance” he calls it. Like clockwork, he gets his truck serviced as recommended; oil changes, tire rotations, chassis lube, transmission service. Every week he checks the fluid levels, tire pressure and cleans it, inside and out. Did we mention that his truck is a crucial component to his farm running smoothly and providing an income? He uses it to haul peaches to the market every day during peak harvesting season.

Now Glen has a neighbor, Farmer Pete, who is also a peach farmer. Pete bought the same truck at the same time as Farmer Glen, Pete just believes that “If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.” Farmer Pete rarely cleans his truck, is not up-to-date on his recommended services and now, four years after purchasing his truck, the transmission has completely failed and needs to be replaced. As with Glen, Pete’s truck is used to haul peaches during harvesting season. Since Pete’s transmission is down, let’s look at the cost of Farmer Glen’s preventative maintenance on the transmission vs. Farmer Pete’s failure-then-fix approach.

Farmer Glen spends a total of $185 each year on the transmission fluid and filter change. He schedules the service when he is off the clock so not to interfere with his hauling. Glen’s total for transmission maintenance in the four years since purchase of his truck, is $740.

Farmer Pete has only the one-time expense of $3,000 for the transmission repair but the repair took 6 days total. This means Pete could not haul or sell his peaches during that time, adding to the cost of the transmission failure. Peach prices are $780 per ton delivered to market and Pete can make 3 trips per day. That is $2,340 in sales each day. Pete was without his truck for 6 days. That’s $14,040 in sales Pete has lost, now add that to the $3,000 for the transmission repair and it has cost Pete over $17,000. That is a 2,300% difference in cost between a one-time repair and preventative maintenance.

Yes, we are not peach farmers, but this analogy holds true across all industries. Preventative maintenance may seem to be an expensive and time consuming yearly cost, but I think we can agree, PM is far less expensive than the cost of a system failure.

Analogy from “Preventable Failures” by Strategic Work Systems, Inc.©