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Breakdown Maintenance: A last resort

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Breakdown Maintenance

Maintenance done in response to a breakdown, or breakdown maintenance, is by definition reactive maintenance. Because the factory or facility can’t operate with a broken down machine, breakdown maintenance always seems the most urgent. Often it is. However, breakdown maintenance is also one of the most expensive types of maintenance. Eliminating breakdown maintenance is often the first step for reducing the costs of factory and facility maintenance.

The high costs of breakdown maintenance are the result of the inefficient use of time by the maintenance crew. This time comes with an opportunity cost because the maintenance crew could often be doing more productive tasks. Time is needed to be alerted and attend a breakdown. Time is needed to diagnose the problem. More time is required to source required parts and tools. There is also the cost of lost production for a factory, and/or a loss of confidence in the facility maintenance company.

Proactive maintenance

The alternative to breakdown maintenance is proactive maintenance. Proactive maintenance involves maintaining equipment so that it does not break down. Any preparation required is pre-planned and any equipment downtime required for the maintenance can be timed to coincide with production downtime. Some estimates show that the cost of a breakdown maintenance strategy is up to 5 times the cost of a planned maintenance strategy.

Implementing a proactive maintenance strategy

In an excellent blog Randy Quick and John Crossan describe 6 steps to help get a proactive maintenance program get started and keep it running:

  1. Maintenance personnel need to be assigned to proactive maintenance
  2. Operators need to be assigned to daily cleaning, inspection and lubrication work requirements
  3. Preventative maintenance schedules need to be adapted using the assistance of maintenance and operating personnel
  4. Daily issues need to be reviewed in a structured and regular way
  5. All completed scheduled maintenance should be reviewed
  6. Training for preventative maintenance should be structured and regular.

Planning and communication are key components of each of these steps. A significant barrier for planning and communication is the time it takes. This is where a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can be extremely valuable. After the initial setup the CMMS can automate the delivery of work notifications. As a bonus, the CMMS provides feedback for workers regarding their compliance at completing their assigned preventative maintenance work orders.


Even with an effective proactive maintenance strategy machines will still breakdown, but the percentage of work orders spent dedicated to breakdown maintenance should be much less. A standard goal of a preventative maintenance strategy is to have less than 20% of work orders being reactive. For companies where this is true, breakdown maintenance is truly the maintenance of last resort.

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