What Is Breakdown Maintenance?

January 11, 2022

What Is Breakdown Maintenance?

Breakdown maintenance is the continuous use of a part, machine, unit, or device until it breaks down and needs to be repaired or replaced. It’s often referred to as reactive or corrective maintenance


Because breakdown maintenance cannot be scheduled in advance, companies need to be able to redirect resources toward repairs every time a piece of equipment breaks down. Ideally, whenever breakdown maintenance is necessary, company maintenance systems should be able to remedy the situation without coming to a complete halt. Of course, there is never a convenient time for downtime. Fixing inconvenient equipment malfunctions is an inevitable part of asset management. However, this type of maintenance can and should be minimized through strategic planning.

Types of Breakdown Maintenance

The key to managing an effective breakdown program is implementing efficient stock and inventory management procedures. Management teams must monitor the asset manufacturer’s guidelines, parts inventories, and backlog history to determine which equipment parts should always be kept on-premises for a rainy day. There are two main types of breakdown maintenance: 

1. Run-to-Failure Maintenance

This type of maintenance refers to equipment failure that is expected to happen. Run-to-failure maintenance means the organization is prepared for a machine to stop working at some point in the near future. Ideal candidates for run-to-failure maintenance include assets that are: 

  • Easy to replace and 
  • Won’t jeopardize operational systems or personal safety. 

In such instances, the cost of repairing the asset “on the fly” is less than the associated costs of preventive maintenance. Run-to-failure maintenance should be reserved for inexpensive or unimportant parts and machinery. 

2. Emergency Maintenance

Emergency maintenance is conducted when an important piece of equipment stops working unexpectedly and needs to be replaced immediately. In other words, this is the kind of maintenance no team wants to deal with! 

Emergency breakdowns are associated with expensive costs, financial losses, and safety hazards. Because these equipment repairs must be conducted ASAP, it’s not unusual for companies to overspend on the expedited shipping of needed parts, outsourced technician assistance, and overtime costs. 

Breakdown Maintenance Procedures

Most breakdown situations follow a similar workflow: 

  1. A maintenance operator detects an equipment issue and then alerts management by phone, email, or CMMS. 
  1. Management creates and assigns a work order for asset inspection. 
  1. The assigned technician analyzes the problem and provides feedback on the expected time, parts, and costs associated with repair or replacement. If the equipment malfunction being evaluated cannot be replicated, this may lead to a significant waste of resources
  1. If possible, the assigned maintenance worker fixes the issue.
  1. The worker restarts the machine to verify the correct performance. 
  1. The issue is “closed” within a CMMS, spreadsheet, or paperwork order. 

After maintenance is complete, the maintenance team may use the newly acquired information to track and prevent similar failures in the future as part of a preventive maintenance program. Additional parts or devices may be ordered and stocked to reduce the length of any future equipment downtime. 

Examples of Breakdown Maintenance

Instances where breakdown maintenance makes sense are: 

  • Non-critical equipment that is easily replaceable. 
  • Parts that are either disposable, cheap, or easily available.
  • Assets with shorter life cycles. 

This type of maintenance is often practiced in IT, factory, facility management, food service, hospitality, education, and many other industrial environments. However, the automotive and aerospace industries never rely on it for obvious safety reasons.  

How Common Is Breakdown Maintenance? 

As Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) become more affordable, maintenance teams are increasingly adopting preventive maintenance (PM) programs to reduce downtime. Studies show that realistic PM strategies can save companies 12 to 18 percent 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. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Breakdown Maintenance?

This type of maintenance has its merits when part of a comprehensive maintenance strategy. These potential advantages include: 


  • Extended Component Life Cycles: If an asset component is beginning to show signs of wear without negatively impacting system performance, it may be fiscally prudent to use the part until breakdown. 
  • Lowered Preventive Maintenance Costs: In some cases, when a component can be easily replaced, preventive maintenance can be more expensive than a breakdown maintenance strategy. Additionally, breakdown maintenance has no initial setup costs

Nevertheless, a complete breakdown maintenance approach is considered to be a “high-risk” strategy. Major equipment breakdowns can have catastrophic effects on productivity, unnecessary costs, and customer dissatisfaction.  The disadvantages of the strategy are:


  • Low Long-Term Cost-Efficiency: Using faulty equipment until it completely breaks down may increase energy costs.
  • Costly Fixes: Addressing an issue on an urgent basis typically costs more than scheduled downtime. Additionally, the financial losses associated with a breakdown, and with failing to meet output targets, can be considerable. 
  • Decreased Asset Lifespan: Using asset components until failure may create a domino effect leading to decreased performance and total system failure. 
  • Decreased Safety:  When performing procedures under pressure, technicians may take shortcuts when it comes to safety measures. 

What Are the Differences between Breakdown Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, and Predictive Maintenance?

Breakdown maintenance may always be necessary due to the unpredictable nature of man-made machinery. However, the maintenance industry continues to shift toward preventive and predictive maintenance plans. Preventive maintenance (PM) dictates that potential asset vulnerabilities are addressed before they ever pose a problem. It involves using manufacturer’s guidelines and asset history to schedule routine maintenance procedures.

Conversely, breakdown maintenance waits to resolve issues until they have become apparent. Predictive maintenance utilizes special tools that evaluate specific equipment usage to schedule maintenance procedures at cost-effective time frames prior to breakdown. Both predictive and preventive maintenance are proactive in nature, while breakdown maintenance is reactive. 

Will Preventive Maintenance Eliminate All Breakdowns?

Both preventive and predictive maintenance reduce the risk of equipment breakdown. Nevertheless, unexpected equipment failures will happen, and the need for breakdown maintenance will always remain when it comes to machinery. However, busy maintenance teams can reduce stress by following standard operating procedures and maintenance best practices. 

Caroline Eisner
Caroline Eisner
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