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What is Predictive Maintenance?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Maintenance costs are one of the largest factors impacting a plant’s budget. Attempts to reduce these costs have led to the development of several maintenance strategies. Predictive maintenance is a defect inspection strategy that uses indicators to prepare for future problems.

One major mistake made with predictive maintenance is that it is often confused with preventive maintenance, which consists of preplanned, routine measures used to prevent major problems. To better understand predictive maintenance, it is best to draw a contrast between it and preventive maintenance, which is often a more widely recognized term.

Preventive maintenance involves regular, prescheduled service. For example, a machine may be shut down every month to have fluids replaced and refilled. Then, every six months, it may be shut down so its belts can be replaced. This is done in hopes that major problems associated with fluids and belts do not occur.

Predictive maintenance, to the contrary, generally involves observation. Notes are taken of indicators that may signal larger problems. For example, a machine may be checked regularly. If abnormal fluid leakage or moisture accumulation is found, these act as signals that some larger problem may be growing.

Another major difference between these two maintenance strategies is that preventive maintenance may be possible while a piece of equipment is in operation. However, in most cases, the equipment must be shut down for a period. Predictive maintenance almost always involves assessments that are taken while equipment is functioning normally. It will generally render the inspection useless or inaccurate if a machine is assessed for defects while it is shut down or its capacity is reduced.

Predictive maintenance does not rely on hunches and intuition. It does not rely on industry statistics, such as those that say a piece of equipment must have a specific service at specified intervals. Predictive maintenance relies on real signals demonstrated by a single and specific piece of equipment.

This can include comparing statistics for indications of an impending problem. It is commonly noted that one of the most costly mistakes made in the industrial setting is not recording and analyzing data such as equipment performance and heat distribution. The figures that represent an optimally operating piece of equipment are excellent indicators when compared to figures that are drastically different. If a box cutter cut 30,000 boxes every month for a year and then suddenly can only cut 20,000, this should be regarded as a signal.

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Discussion Comments
By CaithnessCC — On May 20, 2011

You can also apply the main points of predictive maintenance to your house or apartment. By staying aware of how things run and perform you'll be able to pick up clues when issues arise.

My neighbor averted a fire after she noticed her clothes dryer wasn't working as well as before. There was some problem with lint and the air duct, which could have been deadly if she hadn't been on the ball.

By Acracadabra — On May 20, 2011

@yumdelish - My company send certain key workers on a predictive maintenance training course. It's pretty intensive and thorough, and I'm hoping to get accepted to go on the next one.

In my case this would be something I'd do in addition to my current duties, with a small pay rise of course. Perhaps larger businesses employ people just to do that, as part of their facilities maintenance team.

By yumdelish — On May 17, 2011

Maintenance management classes are offered at my local community college and I always wondered what this kind of job involved.

What I don't really understand though is who is responsible for actual predictive maintenance. Is it a post you could be hired to do exclusively? Or something that would be part of the supervisor or managers duties?

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