How “unplanned” is unplanned maintenance? Not only was the problem unexpected, but you also don’t have a plan in place for dealing with it. It’s like when you get a flat tire but didn’t pack your spare, jack, or lug wrench. 

It sounds awful, and it can be, but in some cases, unplanned maintenance can be your best bet. 

Before looking at when to use or avoid it, we need to know exactly what it is. 

What is unplanned maintenance? 

You can think of unplanned maintenance as “I didn’t see that coming” maintenance. Basically, you didn’t expect the breakdown to happen, and you also didn’t have a plan in place for when it did. 

What would a plan have looked like? 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 is unplanned maintenance vs unscheduled maintenance? 

Although they sort of sound the same, there is a difference between unplanned and unscheduled. 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 for the repairs. So, when you get that flat tire, it’s a surprise. But you planned, so you’ve already got the spare, jack, and lug wrench in the trunk. You even know who is going to do the work; in this case it’s very likely you. Fixing the flat wasn’t on the schedule, but you knew what you would do when it happened and had the right parts and tools. 

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 bad? 

There are plenty of cases where it’s the worst strategy possible. Remember the flat tire example? Without a reliable spare and the right tools, all you can do is hope the tow truck doesn’t take too long to come rescue you from the side of the road. Relying on unplanned maintenance for something like tires is bad. 

But what about the car’s dome light? That little light that comes on when you open one of the doors? 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 carrying spare dome light bulbs with you every time you take the car out, even for a quick spin? You could, but you’d likely be wasting time and energy, which are always in short supply. 

And maintenance management is about getting the biggest results for the smallest effort. Work smart, not hard. 

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. 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 A/C units in a HVAC setup that splits the work of keeping the building cool. 

For non-critical, you need to think very carefully, and it’s never a one-size-fits-all answer. Something critical to one operation might not be so 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 CMMS help 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 maintenance is 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 CMMS 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, a good CMMS 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, CMMS 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 O&M manuals 
  • Associated parts and materials 

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

Next steps 

Hippo’s here to help you get the solution that works best for you, from answering your questions about everything related to maintenance to helping you book a live software demo


You can think of unplanned maintenance as “no one saw that coming” maintenance. Not only did you not know when you were going to do the work, you also didn’t have a plan in place for how you were going to do it. It’s like when you suddenly have a flat tire but don’t have a spare, jack, or lug wrench. Although the two sound similar, unscheduled is not the same as unplanned. With unscheduled, you don’t know when the team needs to do the work, but you already know how they can do it. So, it’s more like getting a flat but having the spare in the trunk. With some assets and equipment, unplanned maintenance is the right choice. But you need to be careful. It only works when assets and equipment are unrepairable, bypass-able, redundant, or non-critical. 

Modern CMMS software can help you with unplanned maintenance. First, because it makes it so much easier to have and work with reliable data, you can find assets where unplanned maintenance might be a good idea. Also, because it streamlines work order management, a good CMMS helps you and the maintenance team react efficiently when assets go offline. 

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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