Unplanned maintenance is more than just unexpected. The team doesn’t see the problem coming and they don’t have a plan in place for dealing with it. The maintenance department must re-prioritize the entire schedule, quickly source inventory and move technicians off existing projects. It’s disruptive and expensive. With the right facility management platform, you can implement the right combinations of maintenance strategies to avoid it. 

But does that mean you always should? 

What is unplanned maintenance?  

Unlike planned maintenance, unplanned maintenance is the “we didn’t see that coming” of repairs. It’s not just that the team didn’t expect it. It’s also that they didn’t have a plan in place to deal with it, even as an unlikely possibility. 

What would a plan have looked like? Solid maintenance planning includes an idea of the parts you need, an established process for using them, a sense of how long it would all take, and how much it would cost. You might even know who on the team would do the work.  

What are the differences between unplanned maintenance and unscheduled maintenance? 

In both cases, you don’t know when the breakdown is going to happen, so you don’t know when the repairs are going to happen. But with unscheduled maintenance, there is a plan in place for the repairs.  

In a manufacturing setting, you might use unscheduled maintenance to look after assets that tend to break down after a certain number of cycles. You might know that a press tends to break down around roughly every 10,000 cycles, but what you can’t predict is when it hits that number. Because of all the variables in the production runs, that press might get to 10,000 this week or next month.     

What are examples of unplanned maintenance?  

There are three general types of unplanned maintenance, and the first is the most obvious: breakdown maintenance. Something just stops working without warning, and the team needs to jump into action to get it back up and running. In most cases, it’s something you never really thought would ever break down, which is why you don’t have a plan in place to fix it if it does.  

Another type is corrective unplanned maintenance. Here, you have a preventive maintenance program in place to find and fix small issues before they have a chance of developing into big problems. Usually, that means having a set schedule of inspections and tasks for your assets. So, for a hydraulic press, you might inspect the worktable and control panel every X number of days, while checking for leaks every Y number of days. In terms of maintenance tasks, those might include changing the oil and various filters.  

But as soon as the asset starts to show early signs of problems, regardless of the existing schedule, the maintenance team performs corrective maintenance to get everything running smoothly again.  

The third type of unplanned maintenance is opportunistic. If during a routine inspection, the maintenance team stumbles across and then fixes another issue, it’s opportunistic unplanned maintenance. No one knew they were going to do that work, and there was never a set plan in place for how to do it, but once the team discovered the brewing problem, they were able to nip it in the bud.  

For example, when a tech is underneath the forklift changing the oil, they might glance over only to discover the brake pads are dangerously worn. Or a tech could be adding lubricant to a press only to find a crack in one of the lines. 

Is unplanned maintenance always the wrong strategy? 

There are plenty of cases where it’s the worst strategy possible.  

If you’re managing a fleet of small delivery trucks, unplanned maintenance is a poor choice for flat tires. Without a reliable spare and the right tools, drivers can only hope the tow truck doesn’t take too long to come rescue them from the side of the road. 

But what about that little light that comes on when you open a truck’s door? Do you need a schedule of inspections to keep out ahead of dome light maintenance? If one of them burns out, do you need a plan to fix it? Should you be stocking all the vehicles across the fleet with emergency dome lights? 

So, for some assets, equipment, and parts, it can make more sense to go with unplanned maintenance. But which assets, equipment, and parts? 

Think about using unplanned maintenance when something is:  

  • Unrepairable  
  • Bypass-able  
  • Redundant  
  • Non-critical  

It doesn’t have to have all these qualities. In fact, in some cases it only needs any one of them, but the more it has, the better.  

For example, light bulbs are basically unrepairable, and the expectation is you use them until they hit the end of their life cycle. For bypass-able and redundant, it would mean you have the same assets or equipment already up and running that could take up any slack. So, that could be AC units in an HVAC setup that splits the work of keeping the building cool.  

For non-critical, the operations and maintenance teams need to think carefully, because it’s never a one-size-fits-all answer. Something critical to one operation might not be important in another. Are forklifts critical? If you have one, it likely is. But what about if you have 15? There’s no simple answer. First, you need to look at how much work each is doing in your operation, and then go from there.  

How does a unified facility maintenance platform with unplanned maintenance? 

First, the right software solution can help you decide which assets and equipment to look after using unplanned maintenance. Second, it can help you and the maintenance team swing into action faster when those assets and equipment go offline.  

Reliable asset records  

For most of your assets and equipment, preventive or predictive maintenance is likely your best bet. With the right combination of inspections and tasks, you can get out ahead of the maintenance curve. But for some assets and equipment, it makes more sense to go unplanned.  

And a good way to know is by looking through accurate, searchable asset maintenance and repair histories. Once you have a sense of the types of failures you’re dealing with and how long it’s been taking you to tackle them, you can make data-back decisions about which maintenance strategies to apply and where to apply them.  

A good facility management solution helps because it makes it much easier to collect, safeguard, and search through good data. Instead of using old-fashioned manual data entry, either with paper or spreadsheets, modern software solutions do a lot of the work for you, which removes all those chances for human error. And once it’s got the data, unified platform keeps everything inside a central database, where it’s not only safe but also searchable.  

Streamlined work orders 

Once you know where to use unplanned maintenance, the software makes the process easier. For example, a motor that’s always been dependable suddenly isn’t. If an operator is the first to notice the problem, they can quickly use the open request portal to submit a maintenance request. No more running around trying to track someone down from the maintenance department.  

The request goes directly to the department, where you can use the software to review it and then generate, prioritize, assign, and track a work order packed with everything a tech needs to close out efficiently, including:  

  • Comprehensive asset maintenance and repair histories  
  • Step-by-step instructions  
  • Digital images, schematics, and OEM manuals  
  • Associated parts and materials  

You can even include interactive site maps and floor plans, so technicians arrive right where you need them, with everything they need to work fast and smart. 

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.