For a manufacturing company, fast-casual restaurant, or other operation that relies on production line uptime to drive productivity, system downtime means lost production and added cost. One day you’re addressing an outage in your production line, and the next, you’re hit with a machine malfunction on the shop floor.

With a bit of upfront work, you can learn how to minimize downtime and ensure your machinery and equipment are running smoothly. Take a look at 5 downtime reduction strategies for cutting down costly downtime.

1. Perform a risk audit

Audit: a big, scary word that no maintenance team ever wants to hear. But, in the case of reducing downtime, it’s something you will want to undertake as soon as possible.

A risk audit will point out equipment obsolescence. Say you have a machine in your manufacturing plant that’s 25 years old. Not only is it at high risk for equipment failure, but it’s also going to take much more planned downtime to return it to production. The manufacturing company that built the machine may no longer support your older system, making it difficult to obtain the spare parts you need. This machine would be considered obsolete. Ideally, you would want to replace it because in the long run, its actual cost in time and money to repair it is more than the cost to purchase new machinery.

Performing a risk audit can also inform you of any obsolete equipment that poses a risk to the safety of your maintenance team or employee well-being, reducing even more costly disaster recovery.

2. Look at the data

While basic tracking systems or other downtime analysis can determine how often unplanned downtime is occurring, it doesn’t always inform you how to reduce downtime in the first place.

For instance, counting each downtime event for a particular machine in your production line is not much help when it comes to preventing equipment failure in the future. Instead, you should figure out the downtime reason of each downtime event (either due to planned downtime, equipment failure, changeover, etc.), predict the next time that it might fail, record the downtime cost, and enact a preventative maintenance plan.

In order to do this, you need the data! The best way to obtain accurate data is to have a central place for your team to track every time they service an equipment item, order spare parts, notice an underperforming asset or do anything else related to machine downtime. Once you have enough data in place, you can begin to notice trends that can inform a predictive maintenance process.

How software can help:

When your team performs routine maintenance on an equipment item, they can report all the details, such as steps taken or spare parts used, in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Most CMMS software will calculate mean time between failures (MTBF) for you based on how frequently a machine is down. With this data, they can alert you when it is likely to break down again, reducing downtime and ensuring a continuous improvement of your maintenance management.

3. Set up a preventive maintenance plan for all equipment

While I may sound like a broken record, I’m going to say it again: implementing a preventive maintenance plan will minimize costly downtime, save your maintenance team time, and reduce unscheduled downtime. If you can catch issues before they lead to complications or machine failure, you can proactively order spare parts and perform regular maintenance during intentionally planned downtime. By doing this, you also can avoid priority-shipping expenses, overtime compensation for your employees, and a drop in production. Check out these steps to create a preventive maintenance schedule.

CMMS software can help take the hard work out of preventive maintenance by helping you plan scheduled maintenance tasks days, weeks, months, or years in advance. Create step-by-step instruction sets and eliminate any potential confusion when your team inspects your production line. 

4. Properly train your team

Not all errors can be blamed on the age (or condition) of equipment. Sometimes, an employee handling the equipment can cause errors, too. As the maintenance, production, or facility management leader, it’s your job to ensure all employees are properly trained so that they make as few errors as possible when working on and with equipment.

To start, make sure you are pointing out helpful tips to improve your employees’ results and sharing best practices with the entire team. This will help boost morale while also giving them areas for improvement.

The second initiative you should consider is cross-training your employees. If there is only one person who knows how to get an air-handling unit up and running and they’re out for the day, you are in big trouble. So, make sure every employee is comfortable performing maintenance on each piece of equipment, which will ensure each asset can always be fixed.

5. Calculate downtime expense

You may not know just how much money you are losing in downtime cost, and the answer may shock you. On average, a company experiences 800 hours of manufacturing downtime per year, which is a little over two hours each day. While two hours a day may not seem like much (especially if it’s allocated over several pieces of equipment), it can add up quickly.

When you calculate the amount of money you regularly lose (weekly, monthly, yearly), there are several factors to measure. These include production loss of goods, employee labor hours (and sometimes overtime) to fix the issue, spare parts and shipping costs, and the opportunity cost of other things your maintenance team could be working on.

Knowing how much money your overall downtime is costing your operation can be an eye-opener, and also help justify future preventive maintenance plans to upper management.

Managing equipment downtime doesn’t have to cost you your sanity. In fact, with the help of downtime tracking software, you can use data from machine failure to help justify more staff and better assets and ultimately decrease downtime.