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What's The Difference between Preventive & Breakdown Maintenance?

February 2, 2018

 by Renaud Anjoran

Whats The Difference Between Preventive and  Breakdown Maintenance

CMC's manufacturing consultants often need to explain the differences between breakdown maintenance and preventive maintenance in a manufacturing setting. Let’s take 2 extreme examples, in other contexts, to make it very clear...

Preventive Maintenance Used By Airlines

preventive maintenance in the airline industry

Airline companies have very sophisticated preventive maintenance systems. A mid-flight engine explosion, like the one an A380 suffered recently, are very rare occurrences.

These accidents have gotten so rare, no victim died in a commercial flight in 2017. When including non-commercial flights, the numbers are also very low:

aviation safety graph

Source: Photo by @StatisticCharts CC by 2.0

This is the result of many efforts, among which excellent maintenance practices. This is not the result of chance alone, but of very methodically going after the potential causes of accidents.

It is very PROACTIVE.

By the way, have you seen our free guide on how a preventive maintenance system cuts costs in a Chinese factory? If you're interested in this topic it's a must!

Breakdown Maintenance In The 'Tour de France' 

breakdown maintenance in the tour de france

Let’s now look at the bike riders of the Tour de France. Once in a while, they have a flat. It is a random occurrence. They have no control over the roads. That’s an example of breakdown maintenance.

So, the best approach when they get a flat tire is to wait on the side and get a replacement wheel (or a full replacement bike) from the support team. Their team is quite organized and has experienced mechanics available immediately when needed. The switch can often be done in less than 20 seconds.

They have perfected this approach, however this is very REACTIVE.

What Do These Look Like In A Factory Setting? 

In a factory setting, these 2 approaches can be contrasted as follows.

Breakdown maintenance:

  • Waiting for a piece of equipment or a tool to break down (and be unable to function properly) before repairing or replacing it.
  • Adapted for inexpensive devices such as an ink jet printer used to print accounting data.
  • Not suitable for expensive equipment since its lifetime is much reduced.
  • Not suitable for equipment that needs to be precise in order to ensure quality of the finished product.

Preventive maintenance:

  • Setting up a plan for taking each piece of equipment down and performing certain actions to improve its ability to do the job economically and to minimize unexpected down time.
  • Is the opposite of the above approach (waiting for a breakdown).
  • Sustains the economic lifetime of the equipment.
  • Greatly enhances process control, which means better quality at the end of the lines.
  • Better safety performance for the plant, since the equipment is less likely to break down in an unexpected way.


A systematic and preventive approach is all the more necessary for equipment and facilities that are expensive to replace and whose function has an impact on quality and safety.

Do you agree with this conclusion? How are you using breakdown maintenance, or preventative maintenance for that matter, in your factory? What's more effective for you?

How A Preventive Maintenance System Cuts Costs In Chinese Factories guide

Topics: Cost Reduction, Preventive Maintenance

Renaud Anjoran

Renaud Anjoran

15 years experience in China.
Partner, China Manufacturing Consultants.
Worked with hundreds of factories in China.
Certifications: ASQ CQE & CRE; ISO 9001 & 14001 lead auditor.
Author of well-read blog, Quality Inspection Tips.

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