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How to determine equipment criticality to save money and reduce your maintenance backlog

5 December 2018 by Chris Laing

Maintaining an asset is no easy feat. Backlog can often be the norm and firefighting can trump forward planning.

One of the problems we see time and time again is the over- or under-maintenance of equipment. And this can lead to big challenges, including overspending on unnecessary maintenance, costly downtime due to equipment failure, a growing backlog of maintenance tasks, and more.

Understanding and defining your asset’s equipment criticality can be part of the solution. In this article, Chris Laing, Junior Consultant at Add Energy, gives you some insights and tips on how this can be done effectively.


What is equipment criticality?

Equipment criticality is about prioritisation - what is important to you as a business, and where should your effort be spent in maintenance?

If something has a high equipment criticality, you’re saying it is incredibly important to your company - without it, you wouldn’t be able to operate. If something has a lower equipment criticality, it’s still important but it might do something as simple as telling you how full a tank is - it doesn’t shut anything off, or it doesn’t stop anything else from working.

Most of your team’s time should be spent maintaining equipment that is high, with less time being attributed to the equipment that has been ranked as having low criticality. But many companies don’t have a clear picture of their equipment criticality to know where best to spend their time.

If a piece of equipment keeps breaking, or backlog keeps growing, many maintenance leaders will perceive the easiest “solution” to be increasing its maintenance, or throwing more people at it. But this approach is extremely flawed, and can lead to even bigger, longer-term problems.

Nailing your equipment criticality can give you clarity, confidence and a clear plan for resolving or avoiding these issues in the most efficient way possible, allowing you to better plan your maintenance and ensure your team’s time and effort is spent in the best place.

Why is equipment criticality so important?

There are a few common symptoms of not having your equipment criticality properly defined:

  • Significant backlog of your maintenance work
  • Repeated failure of critical equipment
  • Lack of time to identify the root cause of your backlog

On the other hand, if your equipment criticality was accurate, you’d be able to:

  • Reduce your backlog
  • Spend time on meaningful work instead of firefighting
  • Have more confidence in your maintenance strategies, especially when justifying scheduled work to senior management
  • Have a site and team that is performing well
  • Be happier at work
  • Identify opportunities for further optimisation around your maintenance
Not every piece of equipment on your asset should have high criticality. Yes, every piece of equipment is important, but you need to differentiate between the most important pieces that enable you to operate, as well as the less important pieces. And this is how your maintenance should be prioritised.

On a typical asset, around 15-20% of the equipment should have high criticality. But we often see this sitting at around the 40% mark, which is not an optimal way to work.
If every piece of equipment has high criticality, you lose sight of what is absolutely critical for your business. Your strategy and system becomes ineffective.

Having a strict hierarchical approach ensures your team’s time and attention is being spent on the most important pieces of equipment first and foremost - so you can avoid costly downtime, stop unnecessary maintenance, and reduce that impending backlog.

Defining your equipment criticality: consequence versus probability

The most effective way of defining your equipment criticality is to assess consequence and probability.

What is the likely repercussion or impact if that piece of equipment was to fail? And what is the likelihood of failure? Both of these factors are equally important to accurately classify equipment criticality.

At Add Energy, we apply a matrix in line with your equipment philosophy to conduct this assessment. And we repeat this for each piece of equipment, against each core consideration.


It’s also important to identify the core considerations for your business, that you can assess consequence and probability of failure against. For a typical asset, these are usually:

  • Safety: could someone be killed or seriously hurt?
  • Environment: could the environment be damaged, or wildlife be harmed?
  • Production / financial: could it stop production, that could result in significant financial losses?

How we can help

We have worked with many companies over the years to assess and define their equipment criticality - including oil and gas operators, power generation plants, and more.

An equipment criticality assessment can be a standalone piece of work, or part of a larger maintenance optimisation project, and the scope of work is tailored to the needs of each individual client. Typically, this type of project includes the following 5 steps.

1. Identify what is important to your business

First, we need to understand your business. We would work closely with you right from the start, to find out exactly what your business is trying to achieve, and where you feel the problems lie. What equipment do you believe is crucial for your to operate and hit your goals?

2. Review your current equipment data alongside external data

What equipment do you have, what is the function of each piece, and how do you currently consider its importance? We can usually pull this information from your CMMS. Essentially, what does your system tell us about your equipment?

Once we’ve collected this data, we assess if it matches reality. We review external data, for example data from equipment manufacturers, and pull from our own experience to determine this.

This is the stage where we assess the consequence and probability, against the key factors that are important to your business, i.e. safety, environment and production.

3. Further tests or assessments

Depending on the quality of data pulled from your CMMS, we may opt to conduct further tests or our own sample study. For example, to understand where your backlog is, to ensure you have the correct spares coverage for your critical equipment or to enable prioritisation of training on equipment for fast and effective repair and recovery.

4. Create your equipment criticality report

Once we’re fully satisfied with our findings, our team creates a full equipment criticality report. This will detail our recommendations, alongside our findings and justifications.

Our recommendation could be that you need to adjust your maintenance strategy to reflect this new equipment criticality classification. Maybe you’re pretty much there, and just need a few small tweaks. Or perhaps your CMMS data is incomplete or incorrect, which could be impacting your maintenance strategies - and we’d recommend you take action to sort this.

5. Final workshop

We would then hold a final session with your team, to talk you through our recommendations. This usually involves discussion around key parts of the report, to develop an understanding of what you are happy with or if there’s anything you’d like to change.

We then finalise the report, ensure a fully auditable trail around all decisions is available and update the CMMS upload templates for direct updating to your CMMS, ready for implementation.



There is always room to optimise your maintenance strategy, and equipment criticality is a highly effective first step in doing this. It can ensure the foundation is right for building your entire strategy.

If you’re interested in learning more about equipment criticality, or you perhaps want to identify ways to save money or reduce equipment backlog, then we’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with our specialist team by completing the form below.

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