How to Avoid Downtime of Critical Assets?

How to Avoid Downtime, Increase Uptime and Maximize the Utilization of Critical Assets 

Downtime costs the world’s best companies billions of dollars in revenue every year. According to an estimate 800 hours of the amount of downtime an average company has to handle every year costing them about $84,000 to $108,000 every hour in case of an IT industry and manufacturing is no exception.

According to another statistics report, 8 in 10 organizations experienced at least one unplanned outage in the past 3 years and each incident lasted on average 4 hours leading to a massive loss of productivity and business.

In this article we are going to discuss industrial downtime and its implications, how we can avoid downtime and keep the uptime, why it is important to have reliable service partners who can help us to avoid setbacks and time delays.

Before we begin it is important for us to understand few simple yet important terms: Downtime and Uptime.  

What is Downtime?

To put it in simple words, ‘downtime’ is any unplanned event that stops production for any amount of time. This could happen because of various reasons like hardware or software error, poor maintenance or maybe because of operator error. In other times it could also happen because of reasons beyond our control like because of natural calamities etc.

On the other hand, planned downtime as the name suggests are planned and therefore under our control and it shouldn’t be calculated in downtime costs. This could be for activities such as upgrades to software or hardware or maybe other planned maintenance of the critical asset.

What is Uptime?

In simplistic terms, uptime is nothing but the time in which an asset is in operation and it is able to produce output for the company or in most businesses revenue generating activities.

Nowadays many companies struggle to in keeping the assets running at optimized rates so as to meet the production targets set by the management. Therefore, it is very important for us to ensure they run at optimized rates to meet these goals. And, as you might imagine, the best way to increase uptime is to reduce downtime.

Downtime of critical asset

Downtime of Assets and its Financial Implications

It is estimated that unplanned downtime is 10 times the cost of scheduled downtime and cost anywhere between $30,000 - $50,000/hour in many industrial settings. To bring it to perspective here are some stats from various industries:

  • In Automotive industry, $22,000 is lost every minute of downtime.
  • In Mining industry, a day of losing an excavator can cost nearly $5 million.
  • In Oil and Gas, $38 million of financial loss is incurred by unscheduled downtime annually.
  • In Process industries, the cost of unplanned downtime equals to 5% of the total output value.
  • When an unplanned downtime occurs there are two types of cost which should be taken into account: Tangible and Intangible costs

    Tangible costs are those which has a direct impact on the company like production and capacity losses, waster labour, recovery costs (repairs and services) and depleted inventory & delayed delivery.

     Intangible costs on the other hand are those which have an indirect impact on the company like stress on machines & people, worker safety incidents, dampened innovation and damaged reputation or lost customers.

    Avoiding Downtime and Keeping Uptime

    Now that we have learned what downtime is and what are its serious consequences for a company let’s find out how we can avoid downtime and keep the uptime so as to keep the productivity high and output consistent.

    And in order for an asset to be productive, it must be up and running most of the time – there’s no simpler way to put it and thus it’s important to keep the uptime. In the asset management world there is an interesting saying which goes along the lines “The Right Work on the Right Asset with the Right Tool and the Right Service Partner at the Right Time” which is basically the essence of productivity.  

    Here are some tips for dealing with Downtime:

    Conduct a Risk Audit

    There is nothing fancy about it but an audit of this kind is probably the fastest and most effective step you can take to reduce downtime in future. It is noted that equipment obsolescence poses a great risk to operations. It is observed that despite huge advancements in automation many companies still work with equipments that are 15-20 years old and aging PLC systems which are no longer supported by the manufacturers.

    Some critical parts like PCB are often unavailable, or are made out of the country and could take weeks to deliver when required during a downtime. In cases like this, what we require is a quick turn PCB Assembly company who can provide critical support during a serious outage.

    Migrate from Reactive Maintenance to Preventive Maintenance

    If your maintenance team is still focusing on mostly emergency maintenance or in other words reactive maintenance to your plant, then it’s time to move to preventive maintenance strategy.

     First and foremost, analysis should be done to figure out which assets require preventive maintenance. For example, HVAC filters can be changed routinely after every fixed interval of time. This task can simply be scheduled out automatically and a computer system can help ensure filters are purchased and the task is completed on time. Performing this task may increase the uptime of an HVAC system, increase its energy efficiency, and lengthen its lifespan.

    Improve Preventive Maintenance Through Condition-Based Monitoring

    In these modern age where everything is data driven, companies are looking to low-cost sensors to detect, prevent and reduce downtime on the factory floor and thus moving towards a preventative maintenance strategy through condition monitoring. The installed sensors can read and monitor different parameters like vibration, temperature, heat and light – conditions that are likely to cause equipment damage or failures. These sensors will help to provide vital information and alerts to the maintenance department if anything is beyond limits, promoting the operators of the equipment to change or stop the operation immediately before equipment gets damaged and thus helping to stop downtime before it even happens.

    These sensors are cheap and have a long battery life, which can be easily integrated with any machine and well worth the small upfront investment which could save thousands of dollars.

    Collect Data and Improve Reporting System

    It’s important to check your current data collection system and look for important answer like: are they providing the right information? Your data should be so accurate that you can pinpoint the macro cause of a downtime. Having access to entire operational data in real time is the way forward.

    Develop Solid Checklists

    Though it may sound simple and not so important but when it comes to maintenance, there are situations when checklists should be mandatory. Even if a person has been performing the same job for years it is natural for a human being to forget occasionally.

    Empower Your Team

    According to study conducted it is found that operator error is the second- most common cause of downtime after hardware error. If the operators are trained properly they won’t just have the ability to prevent future downtime events but will also be able to diagnose and fix their own machine.

    It is of no surprise that the staff who have the most potential to prolong downtime events are often in the best position to prevent it in the future and therefore it is of utmost importance that we direct our resources into specialised industrial and automation training and emphasise the importance of keeping up-to-date documentation.

    Important Backups

    Last but not the least, taking regular backups are very important. Imagine a situation where you have the replacement part but if you don’t have the backup program then you are in trouble. This is something which requires discipline and continuous staff involvement. Regular backups plant wide of control systems, PLC systems SCADA drives is integral to safeguarding any operation against worst-case scenarios. After all a program which is month old for a PLC system is better than having to rewrite it completely from scratch.

    Why Do We Need Reliable Service Partners?

    Whether a company is a process or discrete manufacturer having a small scale or large scale operation, most of the automation equipment nowadays will be from a range of different vendors and span across different eras which requires the workforce of the company to be skilled across various vendor hardware and software and at the same time hold multiple spare parts – something which is a challenging task and not practical to say the least. 

    Therefore, there is a need for reliable service partners who can cover maintenance, repairs, upgrades, integration, replacements and programming for a range of vendor systems. Like in our earlier example a reliable PCB assembly company is vital to be in our vendor list which can provide critical support let say during the Chinese New year when most of the companies are not in operation in China.

    Having these services on-hand ensures that we have up-to-date industry knowledge to implement prevention programs, and 24-hour support for breakdowns and thus avoiding time delays and setbacks which could have caused us thousands of dollars in financial losses.

    Need for Service Relationship Management

    In numerous bigger associations, both external and internal people require and contribute information to specific assets or processes. In the olden days, this was an extremely unproductive process, frequently involving a great deal of paperwork and often, obsolete information.

    Although today's sophisticated technology innovation and open cloud-based arrangements ought to effectively smooth out that process, but unfortunately it’s observed that it is not the case most of the time. For instance, numerous organizations have embraced the Internet of Things (IoT); but it’s found that the majority of the data collected is not utilized, as per a report by McKinsey and Company.

    In order to take maximum advantage of the data collected, organizations should start adopting service relation management (SRM) processes. SRM processes will ensure that the key players whether external or internal to the company have all the required information they require to work efficiently and effectively.  

    Just to help you understand we shall now discuss using a simple example:

    Organizations that keep a fleet of vehicles generally use sophisticated programs to track the working condition of the vehicles. Sensors installed provide vital data like mileage, vibration, and spillage. Whenever any of the values exceed beyond safe limits, an alert can be send to a central computer system which will then automatically generate a service order for the technicians to work on the vehicle thus acting proactively and avoiding downtime of the vehicle.

    However, this may involve bringing the vehicle back to a central location to perform the work. This can cause unnecessary time and expense for a company. On the other hand, if multiple service providers are working on a company's fleet across a large geographical area, there might be limited information for the service technicians to access in regards to the vehicle's history.

    Having an effective SRM system makes the history of the vehicle available to all the stakeholders evolved who may have worked on the vehicle in the past, or might be engaged to work on the vehicle in the future. This means everyone will have all the required information in order to give a good service and at the same time identify potential problems.

     Since SRM systems use cloud based platforms in order to collect and provide data to both external and internal service parties, it ultimately helps the organization to improve the uptime of its critical assets and equipments.

    So What Is the Ultimate Weapon Against Downtime?

    No matter whether it is preventative maintenance schedule, operator training, sensor technology or doing your backups, the ultimate weapon against downtime is employee mind-set. 

    No program will work if the staff is not committed, do data will be helpful if not used and no amount of policy will ensure equipment is checked and maintained – it’s ultimately the people who make the cogs turn. And thus the way forward is culture and staff empowerment!

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