How to Reduce Machine Downtime

When you think of downtime, what comes to your mind first? On a personal level, you may think about vacation or naps or hanging out. On an organization level, you may think of lost revenue or repairs or closure. According to Merriam-Webster, downtime is “time during which production is stopped especially during setup for an operation or when making repairs.” Merriam’s second definition is “inactive time (such as time between periods of work).”

Looking at these definitions, downtime itself is not negative, rather it is a state of being. For humans, we need downtime to regenerate and improve. For plants, it’s a time to repair and improve. But with the addition of a single word, downtime can either be a headache or an opportunity. And what’s the word that changes the system downtime impact? (Un)Scheduled.

Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce the number of headaches you have in a month as well as ensure you get your equipment and plant up and running as quickly and effectively as possible. Here’s 10 tips on how to reduce machine downtime.

Reduce Machine Downtime: Unscheduled

Tip 1: Expand

In order to reduce machine downtime, expand your maintenance strategy to include predictive maintenance elements. By reducing an organization’s reliance on reactive maintenance, you will have more lead time to plan and act. In addition, if you identify hidden and potential failures in advance, you can deal with these failures during scheduled downtime. An example are sensors. Wouldn’t you rather be alerted of a faulty sensor that you can fix during a scheduled downtime, rather than be alerted of a sensor issue because the equipment failed and there’s only bad data?

Tip 2: Augment

Subject matter experts bring significant value to an organization from optimization to machine downtime analysis. What if we told you that they could easily provide more value? One of your first questions would be how? The answer is technology. For example, at Centralized Monitoring and Diagnostics (CMD) Centers, subject matter experts monitor entire fleets, focusing on where their expertise is most needed. How do they do this? By using technology that monitors the plants in disparate locations, alerting them to problem areas. When subject matter experts can focus on an area before it becomes a functional failure, you reduce your risk of production downtime.

Tip 3: Automate

A good way of limiting reactive maintenance is automating processes and operations. Humans make mistakes and when humans make mistakes, it opens the door to manufacturing downtime. For processes and operations that don’t require human brains, consider automating the process. Computers are more than happy to help by following rules and steps. And don’t be scared off by automation. It doesn’t mean you have to be a lights-out or dark factory. Automation is a spectrum and there are some easy wins in eliminating unscheduled downtime through automation.

Tip 4: Monitor

Time and people are finite resources for organizations. As a result, plants typically monitor equipment on a rotating schedule or monitor specific and critical equipment all the time. This works great if there is a potential issue with the critical piece of equipment or it matches up with the rotating monitoring schedule. But what happens when a piece of equipment has an issue, and no one is monitoring it? Look for technology that can help you monitor the equipment all the time, alerting to you potential issues. When you have a clear picture into the current operating status of your plant and equipment, you have a greater potential of detecting an issue and fixing it before it leads to unscheduled downtime.

Tip 5: Inform

Data itself doesn’t have value unless you transform it into useful information. For maintenance, there is a wealth of information ready to help your organization in your historian and historical data. The key is to find tools that enable data-informed decision-making like intuitive visualizations and report generation. For example, a comparison trend that shows the current start-up time compared to last week’s start-up may alert you to a deviation that is a precursor to a potential failure. When you have convenient data access, visualization, and analysis, you may see something that previously would have gone missed.

Reduce Machine Downtime: Scheduled

Tip 6: Plan

Like in construction, measure twice and cut once applies to scheduled downtime. Plan twice and do once. Create a schedule downtime system, detailing the process, protocols, and inventory required. When creating a maintenance plan, detail things like: 1. What needs to be accomplished 2. How you will accomplish these items 3. Who needs to be involved including employees, experts, and contractors 4. The timeline for completing everything 5. Required inventory and permits if necessary.

Tip 7: Communicate

Your organization should be continuously communicating, so don’t forget to continue to do so around scheduled downtime. And communication should not just happen during the downtime but also before and after. Look for tools that will help you centralize communication as well as provide the ability for collaboration and comments. In addition, if you use a centralized location that documents the process and what happened, this will serve as institutional knowledge for the next scheduled downtime. What is something you think you’ll never forget may become foggy in a few months or year.

Tip 8: Train

Like communication, training should be a continuous process for an organization and a part of schedule downtime. Since you’ve already planned the scheduled maintenance, you should already know the required skills and abilities needed for success. Train your people accordingly. In addition, during the scheduled downtime, take it as an opportunity to train new members on how to do things. This doesn’t have to slow down maintenance. Something as simple as shadowing during the scheduled downtime will help future trainings and scheduled downtime.

Tip 9: Evaluate

In order to improve, you need to evaluate what worked and didn’t work. This is not about assigning blame, but rather preparing for the next time. Use your plan to identify what went as planned, what went better than planned, and what went worse than planned. Don’t forget to include all layers in the evaluation process. You’ll have future downtimes, so look to the evaluation stage as a key step to your iterative process for improving scheduled downtime.

Tip 10: Implement

The most important tip is to implement. Good plans and ideas don’t mean anything unless you do it!


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