Breakdown Maintenance (BM) | What Is It & How Does It Get Applied?

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    Asset Management & Maintenance teams know that even the most detailed preventative maintenance schedules can result in unexpected machine failure. That’s right, I said maintenance failure. Well, what if your plan primarily accounted for asset or equipment failure? That is what Breakdown Maintenance aims to do. Whereas preventative maintenance aims to prevent failure, breakdown maintenance aims to use what’s called run-to-failure, corrective, or reactive maintenance where applicable. As well, with a CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System, or Computerized Maintenance Management Software) a run-to-failure plan can be recorded, so the critical parts can be sourced and stocked, or replacement costs for the asset can be anticipated. Thus a piece of equipment that has broken doesn’t have to accrue unnecessary costs or put a team into a mad dash to replace.

    What is Breakdown Maintenance?

    Breakdown maintenance is a unique approach to maintenance that can be either unplanned or planned. The breakdown maintenance definition is maintenance performed on an asset or piece of equipment that has broken. Seems simple right? Well, it is, but also allows for a lot of variety because it can be planned or unplanned. So, unlike preventive maintenance or predictive maintenance, you are either documenting a run-to-failure maintenance plan where an asset completely breaks and you execute a plan, or you allow the asset to break in an unplanned maintenance fashion and allow investigation for what to do further.

    Types of Breakdown Maintenance

    We know that breakdown maintenance involves some sort of asset breakdown, but what are the types of breakdown maintenance?

    Unplanned – this happens when an asset unexpectedly has a failure. This can trigger either corrective or reactive maintenance. Corrective maintenance may mean scheduling a repair; whereas, reactive maintenance may mean performing emergency maintenance.

    Planned – This is when a breakdown is planned and run-to-failure maintenance is used.  Run-to-failure maintenance plans are highly controlled, often scheduled, well documented, and help to reduce costs by identifying the items that will fail.

    Whether planned or unplanned, using breakdown maintenance on low-cost machinery will alleviate the use of labor and replacement parts.

    Examples of Breakdown Maintenance

    So what are some examples of breakdown maintenance?

    1) The asset or equipment is in a hard-to-reach or inaccessible place.

    2) The asset or equipment is made up of inexpensive or low-effort to replace parts.

    3) The asset or equipment is non-critical to operations.

    4) Replacement is a scheduled part of the entire asset or equipment’s lifespan.

    5) The asset or equipment has a short lifespan.

    These examples are all things that could lead to cost savings and a more effective type of maintenance. By reducing schedule and labor needs, breakdown maintenance will increase operational efficiency on both critical and non-critical machinery. This works because, in these examples, service will be applied when necessary and not before which will reduce costly part replacements. 

    What are the advantages of Breakdown Maintenance?

    When we talk about preventative maintenance, it seems immediately obvious what the advantages are – it helps to prevent costly maintenance needs!  Same thing with predictive maintenance as it helps to predict potential failures to avoid additional costs. But what are the advantages of breakdown maintenance?

    Well, the first and most notable is reduced spending. Because you know that you are going to run the item to failure, you are cutting out needless preventative maintenance. Secondly, the time spent on downtime is consolidated just to these breakdown moments. Thirdly, this method has lower staffing requirements as you are not looking for additional opportunities to prevent failure.

    So, what does this all mean?  A reduced cost based on an aligned business model. As well, it means maintenance is executed only when maintenance is due.  Sometimes an organization can spend unnecessary money by performing preventive maintenance when it is not needed. As well, it can help identify when repairing an item would cost more in labor and parts than in just replacing the asset.

    What are the limitations & disadvantages of Breakdown Maintenance?

    Now that we’ve talked about advantages, it is important that we talk about the limitations of the breakdown maintenance approach as well. With every type of maintenance, there is a drawback that may influence how asset managers plan their costs.

    First,  the breakdown method can present some unforeseen safety issues arising from unplanned failures. This is why breakdown maintenance is not recommended for critical equipment or assets related to safety.

    Secondly, this method can be costly if the parts that fail are high-value. Breakdown maintenance really thrives in low-cost equipment or assets. So, if the replacement parts are high cost, it may end up hurting the expected savings.

    Thirdly, this method requires a lot of planning, even for the unplanned. Just like preventive maintenance, focusing on keeping that specific asset available can require a lot of documentation on work done. Breakdown maintenance requires a lot of work on what needs to be done after failure.

    So, what does all of this mean? If there is not a lot of planning around expected failure dates or necessary materials during failure, the breakdown may cost you more than you expect. As well, this method needs the foresight of a person with safety in mind, because regardless of costs, safety is always the main priority. It is key to identify the parts that will need replacement, because if they are high cost, breakdown maintenance may not be the right maintenance strategy for your assets.

    Summary Pros & Cons List of Breakdown Maintenance

    So, what are the pros and cons of breakdown maintenance over other types of maintenance? Does it support your business needs?


    1) Reduces unnecessary spending on preventive maintenance.

    2) Consolidated downtime.

    3) Lower overall labor costs.


    1) Unforeseen safety needs.

    2) Less predictable replacement part cost.

    3) Requires detailed documentation & planning.

    Based on the pros and cons, we can evaluate that if your business is looking to lower costs and consolidate downtime, breakdown maintenance may be the right path for your assets. However, if there are some gaps in your documentation, this may not be the maintenance plan for you. If your asset management approach aligns with knowing that your asset will work for a period of time and then a consolidated downtime can be performed, breakdown maintenance may be your key to support your business.

    Breakdown Maintenance Vs Corrective Maintenance.

    While they are similar in the premise that breakdown maintenance and corrective maintenance can happen when an asset breaks, these two forms of maintenance strategy actually differ in some key ways. What are they?

    Corrective Maintenance stems from the idea that if something is wrong, correct it. That may mean during asset breakdown you correct the failure. However, it can also mean that while performing work associated with other work orders you notice something else that needs to be corrected, so you perform that maintenance. This type of maintenance management works best when you have a well-trained maintenance team but may result in unexpected maintenance costs, and maintenance is performed before it is necessary. As well, corrective maintenance favors critical equipment and assets associated with safety.

    Breakdown Maintenance involves using a run-to-failure maintenance plan. This means that no maintenance will be performed until there is a breakdown. So, a piece of equipment with this type of maintenance plan can be easily replaced if needed, or the maintenance team responsible for them can plan for the replacements. Generally, this type of maintenance favors assets or equipment that are not critical equipment or safety-related assets, as well as those which have low-cost maintenance plans associated with them.

    Although very similar, we can see that these types of maintenance differ in some key areas. Most notably that corrective maintenance looks for things to fix and breakdown maintenance primarily looks for equipment breakdown. This means corrective maintenance is performed to prevent catastrophic failure, and breakdown maintenance is used to avoid additional costs on non-critical equipment or assets.

    Let’s conclude, what's the breakdown and who is it for?

    So, what’s the breakdown on breakdown maintenance? Who is it going to be for? Well, whether you are looking to schedule failure on your equipment so you can fix or replace low-cost parts, or you would like to allow your easy to replace equipment to break down so you can replace it in its entirety, breakdown maintenance is for you. 

    With a run-to-failure plan that is documented, implemented, and executed teams will find a focused approach to their maintenance. This is because breakdown maintenance’s reduced maintenance costs, reduced labor costs, and reduced part costs, will find savings for any asset management team. As well, as an asset manager, you will know maintenance is performed when it needs to be.

    So, really who isn’t breakdown maintenance for? It’s not really for those who don’t have a well-documented plan. Without a well-documented plan of what is expected at failure, a run-to-failure plan can’t be executed.  As well as those who have a high-cost replacement for their assets, or have not planned their low-cost replacement parts. When the cost of replacement parts is unknown or high value it can disrupt the core savings of breakdown maintenance.

    Despite those cases where breakdown maintenance is not for a specific asset or person. It may be for others who are looking to document their process and create some noticeable cost savings.

    How do you plan to break down?

    So, now that you’ve learned about breakdown maintenance and all of its benefits and limitations, are you ready to try it? Are you going to develop a maintenance strategy for your low-cost equipment to break down so that you can replace low-cost parts for overall savings? Maybe you are going to develop a maintenance strategy to replace some of your equipment when it has hit its end of life? Or, maybe you are going to use your CMMS to prepare for equipment breakdown. Let us know what you think!

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