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Eliminating Unplanned Downtime: Automate Your Obsolescence Management

Published: 03/02/2023

Eliminating Unplanned Downtime: Automate Your Obsolescence Management

Operational downtime is a multifarious occurrence, materialising in two different forms with one being far more feared than the other.

Planned downtime is anticipated, scheduled in advance and usually accommodates working hours. In this format, downtime remains undisruptive to operations, minimising the impact to workplace productivity. Scheduling routine repairs puts the power back into the Maintenance Managers hands, giving you higher levels of control. Carrying out these routine inspections means systems and devices are functioning at maximum efficiency, keeping costs to a minimum and boosting output. Whether it be general maintenance, adjusting settings or switching out obsolete equipment, this methodology is priceless. Identifying a potential threat and neutralising it before it causes potentially catastrophic issues, demonstrates the importance of planned preventative maintenance.

On the flip side, if you whisper the words unplanned downtime to a Maintenance Manager, they are likely to grimace in horror. As the name suggests, this downtime is not planned, so preventing the aftermath is a mammoth task. While difficult, it is not impossible to recover. Provided the business has an established disaster recovery (DR) plan, the impact can be minimised, reducing the amount of operational downtime. If an industrial process includes obsolete hardware or software, the likelihood of operational downtime is significantly increased. Even if you do not experience a system outage, the performance of outdated components has likely diminished if not sufficiently maintained.


The Domino Effect

With operational downtime, financial implications will most likely be substantial in magnitude, however the impact ricochets beyond the pounds, creating an seismic aftershock effect with the initial consequence being loss of productivity, followed by damage to brand image and so on.

According to Humanising Autonomy, “recent estimates put a price tag on this pain point: £180 billion a year.”  Their article touches on how the complexity of issues has increased, meaning the amount of time spent “offline” and unable to produce output is higher. The innovation of the manufacturing industry has been integral to lowering operational costs, generating a faster ROI and reducing lead times. Following the implementation of such, planned maintenance is highly important, ensuring you continue to reap the financial benefits of automation. Loss of productivity is a direct consequence of production lines grinding to a halt and the impact can be even greater than you may think. With multiple devices communicating and linking with one another, if one fails it initiates a domino effect. For instance, if your PLC is connected to a HMI and this connection is broken during downtime, neglecting to backup programmes results in loss of productivity while an engineer reprogrammes the device. Meanwhile, fixed overheads continue to loom both internally and with third parties. This data loss not only has an impact on your business but also your ability to supply your customers demands. In an ESG study last year, “IT leaders report that 42% of their applications are hosted on-premises, yet they are less confident that these workloads can recover in time to consistently meet their needs.” The study underlines the importance placed on regular testing and maintenance with over 50% performing inspections and tests monthly in preparation for a power outage.

These internal issues cause the next domino to fall as brand image becomes tarnished. Regardless of how established your business is, if product deliveries become unreliable due to loss of productivity, partners may begin to look elsewhere for a more dependable supplier. The domino effect can also transition to their business, a risk many are not willing to take. Having a lack of confidence in your ability to deliver, they may take their custom to a competitor and as that business spreads the word, others may follow suit, having a detrimental impact on your bottom line. In turn, this can translate into missed opportunities as potential customers hear of your crumbling reputation in your industry. Say hello to the unsold stock sitting on your shelves.


What Is the Solution?

Step one is to capture your data via a risk audit, taking note of previous system failures, evaluating the chances of the same error occurring again and avoiding living in fear. Once you have identified the root cause, it is crucial to ensure that the employed data collection software is suitable for the job. Having the correct software integrated in the computerised process means the data captured and device monitoring is accurate, capable of pinpointing the cause of downtime in real-time. This can then be used to find a direct correlation between each device if present, meaning you can respond promptly and with purpose. This may be done using cost effective sensors which highlight temperature changes and estranged vibrations capable of causing significant damage. Acting as an alert, appropriate action can then be taken to counteract downtime. With a single item holding the power to cause a complete shutdown, identifying the faulty device is no easy challenge. Once found, an analysis must then be carried out to determine why the fault has arisen.

Implementing a preventative maintenance schedule and making the switch from reactive to proactive is the cornerstone of downtime avoidance. Maintenance not only elongates the lifespan of equipment and devices, but also improves overall effectiveness and productivity, positively impacting financial performance. Plant Engineering Magazine compiled research into how many companies embrace this approach. The study showed that 78% of facilities have a preventative maintenance strategy in place with 59% incorporating a computerised maintenance management system. This approach allows these facilities to schedule regular maintenance, maximising efficiency. Asset management and having readily available (especially obsolete) parts is a huge factor in reducing unplanned downtime risk. Aging programmable logic controllers and discontinued equipment can take multiple weeks to be delivered, so the dreaded downtime is guaranteed to occur. Having surplus stock and keeping track of availability can be the difference between a speedy recovery and a cataclysmic event.

Overall, having a preventative maintenance plan firmly in place can remarkably reduce the chance of unplanned downtime, however unexpected system failures are bound to come to light. Having a reliable contractor on hand to assist with unprecedented repairs is essential. Enter Northern Industrial.


How Can We Help? 

As we have seen, one item failure can have a disastrous impact on a business as a whole. Replacement parts are integral to the avoidance of unplanned downtime and we have a solution to satisfy your automation spares cravings.

SparesVault™ enables proactive manufacturers to manage obsolescence and reduce unplanned downtime. Our service provides a bespoke obsolescence management system, minimising the effort required to procure obsolete spare parts. SparesVault™ provides an extra layer of protection for those who simply cannot afford the disruption and risks associated with unplanned downtime. We enable you to take charge of your assets and secure spare parts coverage for the future, with minimal up-front costs and without the need to house a huge spares inventory at your site.

Substituting obsolete parts for new technologies can be a costly affair and with many businesses choosing to stick with what they know, our team is on hand to support you and your need for obsolete spare parts with guaranteed availability, a cost effective membership and a two year warranty. SparesVault™ allows our team to manage your inventory (including the condition, storage and availability) but we also have you covered with 24/7 call outs and technical support. If that was not enough, we also commit to a fixed price promise in line with our dedication to transparency, allowing you to budget to your heart's content for the duration of your plan. We take out the middleman, stocking all your obsolete parts here in our warehouse, nullifying additional third party costs. Cementing the cherry firmly on top, we pride ourselves on giving you options, offering standard, enhanced and premium options, each with their own repertoire of benefits.

How Does It Work?

Plan - We will compile a detailed obsolescence report following a comprehensive, expert led review of your system critical assets. With recommendations for parts to be included in your bespoke SparesVault™ inventory.
Implementation - SparesVault inventory is sourced, tested and checked by experienced in-house Northern Industrial engineers. This stock is then held securely at Northern Industrial's bonded stock warehouse facility.
Delivery - In the event of a breakdown, the relevant part will be despatched within the agreed contractual response time. This includes any add-ons selected such as engineer callout or telephone support.
Review - On a regular basis Northern Industrial will carry out a review of the recommended SparesVault inventory levels and propose adjustments where necessary with your agreement.

Industrial automation is part of our DNA.

If you are on the hunt for a complete automation solution, we are ready and waiting to provide the integrated support you deserve in the fight against unplanned downtime.

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