What Is Breakdown Maintenance?

Breakdown maintenance is the process of performing maintenance on an asset that is no longer functioning (i.e. it has broken down). This is the opposite of preventive maintenance, in which interventions are made before an asset runs to failure. A breakdown is an equipment outage that requires immediate attention from the maintenance team.

While breakdown maintenance sounds like a last resort or the result of poor planning, some facilities will consciously allow certain assets to run to failure because they are easy or cheap to replace, and don’t pose a safety hazard in the event of a breakdown. In reality, most organizations will use a combination of breakdown maintenance and preventive maintenance to ensure they don’t spend money unnecessarily maintaining nonessential assets while ensuring high-value assets are protected under a preventive maintenance plan.

Objectives of Breakdown Maintenance

The number-one goal of breakdown maintenance is to economize maintenance costs for nonessential equipment while reserving maintenance budgets for high-value assets that need to be put on a preventive maintenance plan. Most organizations will use a combination of preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance, corrective maintenance, breakdown maintenance, and other types of maintenance on different assets/equipment/tools. Applying a blanket maintenance strategy to all assets is cost-ineffective.

Certain types of assets can be allowed to run to failure without jeopardizing safety, production continuity, and output. Other objectives of breakdown maintenance include:

  • Minimizing maintenance costs by cutting out unnecessary preventive maintenance
  • Lowering the cost of replacing disposable items frequently (eg: lightbulbs, fuses)
  • Consolidating downtime for repairs
  • Reducing staffing needs

Breakdown Maintenance Examples

EXAMPLE 1: Let’s say you have a machine with a rotor that breaks down once every 6 months. However, the organization uses the machine infrequently, so machine failure does not lead to service interruptions. Over time, you gather more data, such as Mean Time Between Failures (MBTF), and using a CMMS, your technicians are able to predict when the asset will fail with increasing accuracy.
This enables your team to make necessary arrangements in anticipation of failure, such as ordering the necessary parts, scheduling corrective maintenance, and creating triggers for run-to-failure maintenance (eg: if a meter reading falls below a certain threshold, a work order is generated).

EXAMPLE 2: Sometimes, assets can fail unexpectedly. This calls for unplanned breakdown maintenance, which may lead to unscheduled downtime. Service interruptions typically cost large enterprises $300,000 an hour, according to ITIC, while a small business loses $8,220-25,620.

If your organization is completely unprepared for unexpected asset failure, downtime can be prolonged by having to order replacement parts. Your organization may also incur additional costs in the form of expedited shipping fees, overtime pay, and lost revenue.

Studies show that PM strategies can save companies 12-18% in costs. “According to Plant Engineering’s maintenance survey, predictive maintenance usage rose from 47 to 51 percent between 2017 and 2018. However, slightly more than half of U.S. companies still predominantly practice breakdown maintenance.”

Advantages of Breakdown Maintenance

1. Lower preventive maintenance costs (in the short-term)
2. Requires minimal planning
3. Requires less staffing

Disadvantages of Breakdown Maintenance

1. Failure is highly unpredictable
2. Can lead to higher maintenance costs in the long run
3. Potential for major revenue loss from unscheduled downtime
4. Safety risk to employees and other assets
5. May reduce an asset’s useful life

What is Planned Breakdown Maintenance?

Planned breakdown maintenance is a strategy where an organization makes a conscious decision to allow certain assets to run to failure in order to allocate their marketing budgets and labor hours towards PM for high-value assets. Organizations may set up certain triggers to automatically generate a work order when an asset fails. Ideally, they will also have parts, equipment, and labor ready to go should a piece of equipment fail. While the time of equipment failure is unpredictable, the organization has allocated resources towards dealing with that equipment failure if and when it occurs.

Planned breakdown maintenance

How to Reduce Breakdown Maintenance

While breakdown maintenance can constitute a conscious decision by an organization to let certain assets run to failure in order to minimize maintenance costs, the ultimate goal of most facilities is to implement a proactive rather than reactive approach to maintenance. In some cases, breakdown maintenance is the last resort for facilities that are understaffed and/or lack the budget to put their assets on a preventive maintenance plan.

The best way to reduce breakdown maintenance is to use a CMMS. A CMMS allows you to track the maintenance history for each of your assets. By collecting data on maintenance operations, you can then predict an asset’s life cycle to a high degree of accuracy and thereby avoid letting assets run to failure.

A CMMS also allows you to create triggers that automatically generate a work order if an asset goes a certain amount of time without maintenance and/or a certain meter reading is recorded. You can also schedule and assign work orders well in advance so that more of your assets can be covered by PM and you can maximize wrench-on time for your technicians. Making your technicians more efficient helps to free up resources for preventive maintenance.

How a CMMS Can Help With Breakdown Maintenance

How a CMMS Can Help

Track when, how, and why assets fail

Some organizations use breakdown maintenance as a temporary stopgap while they collect enough data to be able to make realistic predictions of when assets will fail, and then transfer their most high-value assets to a preventive maintenance plan. However, you may elect to keep certain noncritical assets on a breakdown maintenance plan for budgetary reasons. With a CMMS, you can monitor historical asset failure, order parts ahead of time, and create RTF triggers so a work order is immediately issued to the relevant technician as soon as an asset fails. Finally, data reporting helps you anticipate when an asset will fail, how much it costs to maintain an asset, and more.

Optimize the Workflow

Create a set of standard maintenance procedures technicians can follow when dealing with planned or unplanned breakdown maintenance. CMMS features facilitate this process by providing quick access to maintenance logs for every asset, a spare parts management system that controls inventory so you never run out of replacement parts, and centralized information about each asset (OEM recommendations, fault patterns, and maintenance procedures).

Gain insights into the effectiveness of your maintenance strategy

How much does breakdown maintenance cost your organization each fiscal year? A CMMS enables you to document how much downtime costs your organization, what causes it, and measure its impact on the bottom line. With data insights, you can determine whether or not breakdown maintenance is paying off, or if you need to put certain assets on a preventive maintenance plan.


Breakdown maintenance can be an excellent way of ensuring maintenance budgets are concentrated on the most important assets while minimizing the risks associated with letting certain assets run to failure. However, a breakdown maintenance strategy must be documented and continuously evaluated because the associated costs of unscheduled downtime can quickly escalate.

An effective maintenance strategy should also include preventive maintenance for high-value assets, and there is no better way of implementing the right maintenance strategy than with a CMMS.

Related Resources

Types of breakdown maintenance

Sometimes, breakdown maintenance is performed because of an unplanned event, such as critical asset failure. However, it can also be planned in advance–which is what we call “good” breakdown maintenance.

Planned breakdown maintenance

A planned breakdown maintenance event indicates the organization made a strategic decision to allow a certain asset to run to failure. In other words, equipment failure was not entirely unexpected. The equipment operates until it breaks, which initiates a run-to-failure trigger. This trigger can mean several things: a work order is generated, a purchase order for a replacement part is generated, or a certain area of production is suspended for safety reasons. Planned RTFs help drive down the cost of maintenance.

Warning! A planned breakdown maintenance plan must be rigorously documented and controlled. It’s not a willy nilly strategy, even if it initially appears to be. Employees should understand which parts will break and which parts will be maintained normally via preventive maintenance.

Best for:

  • Assets that can be repaired while they are in use
  • Assets with parts that are easy/inexpensive to replace
  • Assets with a shorter life cycle
  • Assets with parts that are meant to be disposed of at the end of their lifespan (eg: batteries)

Unplanned breakdown maintenance

Unplanned breakdown maintenance (AKA emergency maintenance) occurs when a piece of equipment malfunctions without warning, leading to an unplanned downtime event. While this type of maintenance requires the least planning and resources, it’s still crucial for an organization to have a strategy for addressing unplanned downtime events. For example, how will your maintenance team handle an emergency? What critical assets can continue to operate in the event that another asset breaks down? Do you have extra technicians on call in the event of an unplanned breakdown?

Unplanned breakdown maintenance is the type of maintenance you want to avoid. Emergency breakdowns are associated with high costs, financial loss, and safety hazards. Equipment repairs must be done ASAP to avoid losing revenue and creating hazardous working conditions,
Did you know? The number one reason for unscheduled downtime is aging equipment (42%), followed by operator error (19%).

What is the Difference Between Preventive Maintenance and Breakdown Maintenance?

Preventive maintenance is a strategy that involves performing maintenance on a piece of equipment before it fails. Scheduling can be calendar-based, usage-based, or meter-based. PM is typically reserved for high-value assets that are instrumental to production continuity, equipment that is expensive to repair or replace, or equipment that poses a safety hazard if allowed to run to failure.

Breakdown maintenance, on the other hand, entails allowing machines to run to failure either as a conscious decision (to minimize maintenance costs for nonessential assets that can be cheaply repaired/replaced) or due to a lack of a maintenance plan or required staffing.

Preventive maintenance poses higher upfront costs but can vastly reduce unscheduled downtime in the long run. However, it does require more planning, staffing, and budget. Breakdown maintenance is cost-effective in the short run, requires little to no planning and fewer labor hours.

The Breakdown Maintenance Process

1. An asset malfunctions, which is often observed as a dip in production/yield
2. A work order is created and the maintenance team is informed/a technician is assigned
3. In the case of unplanned breakdown maintenance, the procurement team may have to order the part first, and the maintenance supervisor must find an available technician to perform maintenance on the asset
4. The maintenance task is completed and production is restored to normal. Breakdown hours are documented.
5. Notification closed with breakdown causes, tasks, and activities