What is Predictive Maintenance and How Can it Improve Warehouse Efficiency?

Even though warehouses play a central role in product-based businesses, it’s easy to overlook the complexities of running one effectively. Particularly as this includes managing and regulating its essential physical infrastructure, like heavy-duty equipment. Knowing how to implement predictive maintenance can save you a lot of difficulty in the long run.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how predictive maintenance works, and what it can do to make your warehouse much more efficient. Let’s jump in.

Predictive Maintenance

The Importance of Effective Maintenance

Maintaining or replacing equipment and other infrastructure is one of the most common long-term business expenses you’ll have to sustain. In other words, planning for it needs to be a top priority. Fortunately, we’re well beyond the age of clipboards and spreadsheets.

There are various tools to make things like maintenance planning easier, like analytical AI, or a Hadoop distributed file system. Of course, if you’re new to warehouse management, you might wonder why these things are necessary in the first place. After all, warehouses are simply glorified storage units, right?

Wrong. There’s typically a lot of work going on in any given warehouse as stock is brought in, organized, and stored, before being packed up and shipped off to customers or brick-and-mortar businesses.

Without the right equipment, all of these processes would grind to a halt, which would then have an immediate knock-on effect on the rest of your business.

When warehouses fail to function like well-oiled machines, the resulting hold-ups can make businesses seem unprofessional at best, and barely functioning at worst. On top of that, poorly maintained safety equipment puts people at risk.

Forklift Maintenance


Different Types of Maintenance

The main approach worth looking at is predictive maintenance. It’s easily the best maintenance style if you want to master inventory management without interruptions. It’s quite self-explanatory, but for contrast, let’s see how it compares to others to highlight its benefits.

Reactive or Corrective Maintenance

Whichever term you prefer for it, reactive maintenance involves the least upfront effort. It means maintaining, repairing, or replacing something only once it becomes necessary.

While this is easier in terms of responsibility, it also leaves you at the mercy of your equipment. When unplanned maintenance needs arise, they force you to adjust all surrounding work to accommodate them.

For example, broken forklifts may force you to adjust your quotas for transporting, storing, or shipping heavy products. If safety equipment is compromised, you might not have enough to keep a whole shift’s worth of warehouse workers on-site at once.

Preventative Maintenance

Preventative maintenance is definitely a step in the right direction. Rather than simply waiting for disaster to strike, you plan ahead by scheduling maintenance at consistent intervals. For example, annual assessments and repairs for vehicles and loading equipment.

Although it requires less investment than predictive maintenance, the drawback is that things don’t all deteriorate at the same speed, or even in the same ways. Since there’s no ongoing analysis, you can still be surprised by random malfunctions.

Predictive Maintenance

Unlike other methods, predictive maintenance uses data analysis to determine when repairs are necessary. This can be on an informal basis, like knowing roughly how long your warehouse’s pallet racking lasts before wearing out and using that as a basis for scheduling maintenance.

However, these days, predictive maintenance goes a lot further. Rather than simply tracking the average time between breakdowns for a given piece of equipment, it’s possible to use IoT devices to track the condition of individual parts.

While the predictive approach might require more of an investment, it’s well worth it for the productivity loss it prevents.

Different Types of Predictive Maintenance

Let’s now look at some of the most popular – and effective – types of predictive maintenance for better warehouse efficiency.

Electrical Sensors

Equipment for monitoring changes in electrical output is vital for warehouse safety. A device doesn’t have to be non-functional for something to be wrong, and these changes can be emblematic of more serious problems, including short circuits, overloads, or failing components.

Periodic electrical testing over time is an important early warning. It helps you get ahead of potential issues and work out rates of equipment deterioration.

Acoustic and Vibrational Analysis

Have you ever noticed your fridge making a weird sound, only to have it break down weeks or even months later?

If you had done something when you’d noticed the initial strange hum, that would have been the perfect example of predictive maintenance. Acoustic analysis and vibrational analysis are two overlapping approaches that apply here.

Acoustic analysis means listening for changes in the type or volume of noise a piece of machinery makes. If a machine’s regular noise increases in volume or intensity, this suggests it’s having to work harder than usual. An unusual grating noise, on the other hand, suggests something is damaged or out of place.

Vibrational analysis is a little more particular. It’s specifically about changes in the otherwise normal vibrations machine parts make. As with acoustic analysis, subtle changes can be indicative of emerging problems.

Then there’s ultrasonic analysis. Some of the sounds machinery makes are too high for human ears to perceive. As such, you need special equipment or in-built sensors to be able to analyze them.

Oil Testing

Take a forklift, or any piece of heavy-duty machinery. Whatever you pick, it probably requires some kind of lubricant system. Much like a blood test for people, checking the state of this lubricant can tell you quite a lot about potential problems.

Warehouse Maintenance


Unusually fast oil degradation can suggest problems with how the machine is operating, while contaminants can be indicative of rust, or wear and tear.

Thermal Imaging

Once a popular element of 80’s sci-fi, thermal imaging now serves many practical purposes. One of the most important is testing how hot your machinery is running. Excessive heat levels can indicate that equipment is being overworked, or suggest issues with cooling and ventilation.

Like electrical testing, monitoring the heat levels of critical machine components is an important safety procedure to prevent it breaking down in a dangerous way.

How Predictive Maintenance Boosts Warehouse Efficiency

While it may sound incredibly time-consuming to track the condition and function of individual parts of all your machines over time, modern technology does a lot of the heavy lifting. So, now we’re clear on what goes into predictive maintenance, let’s look at some of the ways it can make your warehouse more efficient.

IoT Networks Speed Up Diagnostics

Internet of Things (IoT) technology refers to synced devices which share a network, or the ability to move your experience seamlessly from one device to another.

In this case, you incorporate a network of IoT devices into warehouse machinery. These devices are essentially a series of nodes, which offer real-time diagnostic reports for parts of equipment they’re attached to.

This means you’ll know the moment something starts to deteriorate, and can plan repairs accordingly without having to disassemble something in search of faults. This will help you plan repairs in the most efficient way, without significant warehouse disruption.

The other main benefit of a predictive IoT network is that it cuts down on diagnostic and repair costs since you’re able to pinpoint issues much more effectively.

Machine Learning for Lightning-Fast Analysis

Analytical AI finds patterns in your IoT node data which manual analysis could easily overlook. This prevents you from having to manually sift through the reports from each node to figure out if there’s a problem. The algorithm simply reports it to you, and can even be trained to suggest repairs.

On top of that, analytical AI can do all this in a fraction of the time it would take a human analyst.

Of course, then that information has to be presented in an accessible way so you can tell what’s going on at a glance. That’s where generative AI technology, designed to compile bespoke reports, comes in. Natural Language Processing (NLP) allows it to detail complex concepts, with image generation for visual graphs and charts.

Well-Maintained Equipment Operates More Efficiently

We’ve talked about how a sudden breakdown of equipment can slow things down to a halt, but avoiding that isn’t the only way predictive maintenance makes a difference. An unexpected breakdown may be the worst-case scenario, but dodgy machinery tends to cause problems even before it stops working entirely.

Whether it’s a wiring fault, misaligned hydraulics, rust in the lubricant, or anything else, minor equipment faults tend to have a cumulative impact on functionality. Maybe your forklift is slower, or your scissor lift struggles to reach its full height.

None of this technically keeps someone from doing their job, but it does stand to cost you significantly more in terms of work hours. Keeping things in good shape ensures your people are able to keep doing their best work.

Equipment Quality Affects Employee Engagement

When equipment degrades, it’s not the only thing slowing down as a result – engagement suffers, too. Employee engagement is the extent of a person’s commitment to their role and obligation to their employer and colleagues. It’s heavily affected by things like morale and well-being.

When equipment works slowly or poorly, it’s obviously frustrating. When employees don’t have the tools to work properly, they inevitably get fed up and disengaged. Taken together, low engagement and faulty equipment stand to make your supply chain’s fill rate plummet, which can alienate customers.

Predictive Maintenance is the Ultimate Proactive Approach

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may be a popular saying. But it’s essentially just a way of shunting problems onto your future self’s plate. That might be okay in moderation, but putting off things like maintenance tends to make the cumulative issues all hit you at once.

In fact, here’s another old adage for you. “A stitch in time saves nine.” Leaving something until it becomes a major problem often makes the resulting fix more expensive. Despite requiring some level of investment, predictive maintenance actually stands to save both time and money in the long run.

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