What is preventive maintenance?

Preventive maintenance (also called planned maintenance) describes upkeep designed to prevent equipment failure and unplanned downtime from occurring.

Equipment, machinery, hardware and tools are generally designed for the longest possible service life. Unfortunately, at some point the standard wear and tear of ongoing use will cause the equipment to become less efficient, less effective and eventually wear out entirely. But while no machinery can operate forever, there are steps that equipment owners can take to ensure the longest possible functionality of vital hardware.

With regular, thorough preventive maintenance, equipment may continue to operate effectively well past its designated use life.

Preventive maintenance is a term that includes essentially any task associated with equipment upkeep. These tasks usually fall into at least one of the following categories:


Preventive-maintenance inspections take a close look at the machinery as a whole, checking areas and doing equipment tests to identify any issues that may need to be fixed. These problems can then be turned into work orders for a repair team to fulfil. Sometimes inspections will also include minor repairs, calibrations or adjustments (called task-oriented preventive maintenance) to reduce the amount of repair work to be done later.

Mandatory and non-mandatory tasks

As the name suggests, mandatory tasks are those preventive maintenance responsibilities that must be performed at regular, predetermined intervals. These often include safety and compliance checks. Non-mandatory tasks are likewise important, but are more flexible in terms of scheduling; these responsibilities are generally less critical than mandatory maintenance, and thus may be delayed without risking penalties or equipment failure. When creating a preventive maintenance checklist, it may be effective to assign tasks as either mandatory or non-mandatory.

Pyramiding and non-pyramiding tasks

Occasionally, scheduled maintenance tasks will not be completed within an allotted time period. A pyramiding task is one that updates schedules to make note of the cancellation of a previous, unfulfilled preventive maintenance task, and reassigns the due date to coincide with the next scheduled maintenance. The updated task will include an explanation for the missed task, as well as notation on the original due date. A non-pyramiding task eliminates some of the documentation, cancelling the missed date and rescheduling the task, without creating any explanatory notes.

Preventive maintenance may sometimes feel unnecessary and overly time-consuming—after all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? But the truth is that performing essential planned maintenance tasks offers a number of advantages beyond just peace of mind.

Increase equipment lifespan

Ensure that small issues don’t become big ones; preventive maintenance identifies and corrects potential problems, and helps keep expensive hardware functioning for longer.

Reduce downtime

By pre scheduling small maintenance tasks, businesses can minimise equipment downtime. Preventive maintenance also allows organisations to schedule when equipment will be offline for maintenance, rather than having to respond immediately to unexpected and much-more time-consuming equipment failures.

Maintain service level agreements

Service level agreements (SLAs) define the level of service that should be expected from an equipment supplier. Preventive maintenance may be included in these contracts, and failure to perform the defined tasks may result in monetary or other penalties.

Increase asset visibility

Regular maintenance gives businesses improved insight into machinery and how it’s being used. This may include the asset’s service history, and incorporate many important metrics.

Improve safety

When machinery goes unmaintained, more than just the equipment itself may be at risk. Faulty hardware can easily become a workplace hazard, potentially causing injury to operators or others. Preventive maintenance helps cut down on these dangers.

Ensure compliance

Standards help ensure that equipment is operating in line with pre-established requirements of safety, environmental sustainability and more. Regular preventive maintenance ensures that these standards are continually met, allowing businesses to make small adjustments or address major issues that may lead to noncompliance.

Increase productivity

Well-maintained machines are much more likely to operate efficiently, providing more return on the investment. At the same time, reduced equipment downtime means improved productivity from employees who depend on functional hardware to perform their jobs.

Reduce energy use

Unmaintained machinery often becomes less energy efficient. Planned maintenance keeps equipment working at its best for longer, reducing energy use and cutting down on the associated cost and environmental impact.

Decrease costs

Whether associated with SLA or compliance breaches, decreased machine and employment productivity, or increased energy usage, equipment downtime has the potential to cost organisations large amounts of money. Preventive maintenance may reduce or eliminate many of these costs, resulting in an improved bottom line across the board.

Although every piece of machinery will likely need a preventive maintenance schedule, knowing how to establish that schedule may be difficult. Requirements will vary from equipment to equipment, as well as the operations that each are performing.

Organisations should set their preventive maintenance tasks around established industry standards, taking into account any circumstances that may be unique to their business. Additionally, most equipment suppliers will provide their own maintenance recommendations. Some businesses will choose to take an even more cautious approach, increasing the frequency of preventive maintenance tasks beyond pre-established standards.

While preventive maintenance is certainly an essential consideration, it brings with it certain challenges and disadvantages


Scheduling regular maintenance tasks for essential equipment is itself a task—one that requires investment of both time and effort. And rather than simply jotting tasks down on a calendar, most organisations must shuffle around various maintenance orders to take into account dependencies, ensure that tasks aren’t overlooked, and reduce downtime as much as possible. This can be difficult without a reliable maintenance-planning tool.

Proving compliance

When there are many different maintenance tasks to fulfil, it can be easy to forget about properly documenting completed orders. But documentation exists to prove compliance and ensure that maintenance is being performed correctly and on time. Maintenance planning solutions can help guarantee correct documentation on all completed tasks.

Capturing reliable data

The first step towards improving productivity and efficiency is capturing an accurate picture of how the equipment is functioning. Maintenance planning tools can capture vital and reliable data based on established metrics, so that organisations can work to improve efficiency in their machinery.

Balancing Tasks

It’s one thing to know what tasks need to be completed; knowing how much time to allocate to each task is something entirely different. With maintenance planning, businesses get a clear picture of the entire set of preventive maintenance responsibilities. This allows for better task balancing.

Maintenance planning addresses the challenges inherent in scheduling and fulfilling preventive maintenance tasks. The process of maintenance planning consists of five key steps:

Define goals and priorities

Having predetermined goals and priorities helps ensure that maintenance tasks are being correctly prioritised. This allows for more-effective resource allocation. As businesses grow or conditions change, they may need to re-assess and re-establish prioritisation to fit new objectives.

List assets and tasks

The next step is to take a full inventory of all machinery, categorised into specific equipment families. This list should include relevant warranty terms, maintenance recommendations, available operational data, maintenance and repair history, and legal requirements.

Manage priorities and resources

With goals clearly defined and assets and tasks fully catalogued, it’s time to prioritise the tasks based on criticality and resource availability. Take into account what needs to be done, what you have the resources to do, and where the two overlap.

Define performance indicators

With the plan almost complete, the final step is to establish KPIs to measure its success. Although key metrics may vary based on industry and equipment, common performance indicators include percentage of maintenance completed, compliance rates, equipment efficiency, average time between equipment failures, total maintenance costs and return on investment.

Review and improve

A maintenance plan shouldn’t only describe what needs to be done and when, it should also help identify areas for improvement. Reviewing the plan reveals areas where maintenance tasks may be less necessary, where breakdowns could have been avoided, and what equipment may need increased maintenance moving forward. This helps ensure that maintenance planning becomes more effective over time.

It’s estimated that unplanned equipment failure and necessary repairs may be as much as nine times as costly as simply planning and performing preventive maintenance. But juggling preventive maintenance tasks for minimal downtime and optimal productivity can be an extremely complex endeavour. ServiceNow Field Service Management simplifies the entire preventive maintenance process.

ServiceNow Field Service Management includes a Planned Maintenance application, designed to help you get the most out of your maintenance schedules with the least amount of confusion. Master maintenance plans detail conditions, schedules and essential records, so that you can enjoy the clearest possible view of what’s been completed, what needs to be completed, and how it all affects your organisation. Schedules can also be automated to trigger based on related events or conditions.

Additionally, Field Service Management allows you to create work order templates, capable of automatically creating tasks, skill dependencies and part requirements. These templates are easily customisable to fit specific needs.

Preventive maintenance is essential to ensuring optimal equipment availability and output. Likewise, maintenance planning is essential to ensuring effective preventive maintenance tasks are completed correctly, on time, and based on established goals and priorities. With ServiceNow Field Service Management, organisations can easily create and complete maintenance plans to get the most out of their equipment.

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