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5 tips for preventing unplanned downtime

24 July 2020 by Add Energy

The biggest enemy of maintenance and reliability is unplanned downtime. While planned downtime is inevitable when managing a plant, unplanned downtime is often one of the largest challenges and expenses.

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When production has to cease unexpectedly because of a broken part or safety issue, time needs to be urgently spent to identify the problem, fix it, and ensure there are no ancillary issues before restarting. This is highly disruptive and costly, and maintenance teams are therefore always striving to avoid unexpected failures or breakdowns. 

Jerry Chen is one of our senior consultants based in Houston, and he has specialized in reliability and maintenance for over 8 years. In this blog post, he shares his top tips for actively preventing unplanned downtime...

1. Do it right the first time

“Unplanned downtime can often be caused by maintenance teams not fixing something correctly the first time.

“If there is an unexpected issue with a piece of equipment, it can be tempting to put a temporary fix in place, instead of figuring out the root cause of the issue - with the intention of coming back at a later date to fix it properly, when things are less hectic.

“However this temporary “band aid” is often forgotten about, and this can result in significant damage to equipment and unplanned downtime. And the rework often costs significantly more than if it had been done properly the first time.”

2. Knowledge transfer

“One of the biggest opportunities for avoiding unplanned downtime can be found within your team. For years, knowledge around processes, procedures, equipment and more will have been exchanged verbally - but has it all been documented?

“We often find there are a few key people within a team who have the answers to everyone’s questions, but this can be highly inefficient if many people need to speak with them in order to do their work, or if that knowledge is required urgently when they aren’t working. It can also be concerning if they leave the business or retire, as that deep knowledge will leave with them.”

“You should try to preserve that tribal knowledge, and create a central source of documented information that the full team can access at any time. This will allow your team to function effectively without relying on these experienced individuals, and it will enable these key people to do even more within their working hours. 

“From the perspective of avoiding unplanned downtime, this shared knowledge will allow your team to be prepared for the unexpected and be more agile if something does go wrong.”

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3. Accurate foundational data

“A cluttered, out of date CMMS can also lead to unplanned downtime. This is an area I’m really passionate about - as we have identified huge improvements and cost savings for assets across the globe by improving and streamlining the foundational data in the CMMS. 

“Things can accumulate over the years, and your CMMS may be filled with unnecessary items that don’t need to be there, for example ladders or Christmas lights, or equipment that is either decommissioned or no longer maintained by your team. You could also have duplicates in your system, as people perhaps couldn’t find something and created another - so the history for that item is spread across multiple records that need to be merged. 

“Often, the CMMS is so messy that the maintenance teams tend to work around it to track and assign work. 

“By having accurate, reliable and up-to-date data in your CMMS, that is easy to navigate and use, the chances of unplanned downtime occurring will significantly reduce. You’ll have more confidence in your maintenance plan, be able to seamlessly track work orders and shift to a more proactive approach to maintenance.”

4. Criticality rankings

“Prioritizing equipment is extremely important for avoiding unplanned downtime, and this comes down to wants versus needs. 

“By ranking equipment based on criticality, your team can focus on maintenance that is essential to ensure production and safety are not compromised, and unplanned downtime does not occur. 

“If unplanned work does come up, these rankings are extremely useful - as you can ensure work on low priority equipment does not overtake planned or unplanned work for higher criticality equipment.”

5. Continuous improvement culture

“Ongoing training and development is vital to ensuring your team’s work is always improving, and creating a culture where people want to learn and improve as the ultimate goal. 

“Processes and behaviors are learned over time, but there may be better or more efficient ways to do things - that could save both time and money, and ultimately help avoid unplanned downtime. 

“Bringing in new perspectives is an easy way to identify improvement opportunities - for example hiring a young engineer or an experienced engineer from another company. However, culture is important here - you want to encourage people to be open to change, not resistant to it, and having a shared goal of continuous improvement will help develop this. 

“This doesn’t have to be a huge shift overnight - even small and regular changes can make a difference, as they will incrementally snowball into significant improvements.” 

If you’d like to learn more or speak with our team about preventing unplanned downtime or how to optimize your maintenance, please either click here or fill in the form below.

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