Aiming for Zero Downtime

The holy grail of maintenance in a production facility is 100% uptime and zero downtime. Unexpected downtime can cost manufacturers up to $22,000 per minute. In the UK, it was estimated in 2017 that annual downtime costs UK manufacturers £180 billion per year a vast figure, which can be compared to the annual GDP of a country like New Zealand!

With this in mind, preventing downtime, especially unexpected downtime, can give a huge boost to the bottom line.

Of course, you can’t control everything, and some downtime can occur through things nobody can plan for, such as human error or natural disasters. But there are some ways you can reduce the risk of downtime.

Preventative Maintenance

Traditional preventative maintenance schedules are based on fixed schedules, with part replacement carried out at constant intervals.

A preventative maintenance schedule is designed to prevent the part from failing. Its based on the assumption that an item will degrade following a certain amount of time or usage. This is the same principle which says your car should have an oil change after 10,000 miles or 1 year of motoring.

However, the main problem with this approach is it can potentially result in unnecessary maintenance. This is because parts are replaced before they come to the end of their usable lives.

Also, when maintenance is carried out at constant intervals, the schedule does not take into consideration the unique circumstances of each machine. Although these schedules can be easy to manage, they often waste money by replacing parts which are still operational.

Predictive Maintenance

Alternatively, many manufacturers are moving towards a predictive maintenance approach. This strategy aims to get the most out of the natural life of a part while minimising the potential for downtime.

By gathering data based on five key elements; equipment, measurement, inspection, data management and action protocols, a more sophicated understanding of the health of the part can be maintained. Usually, this would involve taking constant measures of the equipment, such as vibration levels combined with maintenance records. This data is then used to predict when a part comes to the end of its life and requires replacement.

The obvious disadvantage of this method comes with the interpretation of data. Data, which can even be extended to information garnered from social media comments and google searches, needs sophisticated interpretation methods. As the digital ecosystem of cloud-connected tools, sensors and computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) grows, this interpretation should become easier. Yet for many manufactures this level of data interpretation is simply not yet workable.

Which maintenance Method Should I Choose?

Even if your maintenance schedule is based on data classed as unsophisticated for our connected age, having some maintenance schedule is better than having none at all.

As a supplier of a huge range of new and obsolete automation parts, Northern Industrial's engineers have seen a vast range of faults which have resulted in downtime.

Site Engineer, Ben Fordham explains "Most instances of downtime we are called out to would be prevented by a robust maintenance schedule. The most extreme and costly equipment failures are when the equipment is no longer supplied by the manufacturer. If the facility does not have a spare part to hand, the downtime will be continue for as long as it takes to get a spare part to the factory!"

This is when its important to think of your spare part inventory as an insurance policy against downtime. If the part you need is obsolete and no longer supported by the manufacturer, your downtime will last as long as it takes you to source the part you need.

Suppliers like Northern Industrial are crucial when this happens. Holding a huge stock of new and obsolete spare parts and having the expertise to understand most breakdowns means we can help get you up and running quickly during unexpected downtime.

Many Northern Industrial customers take this planning further. They use our expertise to understand which parts would be difficult to source during a breakdown and whcih parts it would be prudent to keep in stock.

​​​​​​​Although a less sophisticated strategy, we often find this approach is best for manufacturers when they rely on older equipment.

Other customers, will opt for a scheduled overhaul of their equipment and will upgrade to parts supported by the OEM. A good example is the Danfoss VLT 2800 which can be upgraded to the  VLT Midi Drive 280.

Whatever strategy you opt for, you need to consider your unique circumstances. Do you have the equipment, expertise and available financial resources for your chosen strategy? Would you prefer to insure against downtime with an insurance policy? Or, do you prefer to risk it and deal with downtime when it happens?

If you need help with you preventative maintenance strategy then get in touch. Our engineers have worked with all types of automation equipment and will be able to help you understand how to prevent downtime.