Productivity and downtime have a strict zero-sum relationship, so getting more from your assets and equipment comes down to how well you can keep them online. But because downtime has more than one cause, you need more than one way to minimize it. 

What is downtime? 

Downtime is simply when you’re not running or can’t run your assets and equipment because they are offline or unavailable.  

But downtime is not a simple topic. Not all downtime is bad, and a lot of it is there to boost productivity and lengthen asset life cycles. It all depends on why the asset is down and if you saw that reason coming. 

Planned downtime 

Consider this common occurrence: At the end of the day, you drive your car home and park it for the night. All night long, right up until you start it up to head out the next morning, it’s downtime. But because everything that happened was according to schedule, it’s planned downtime.  

Overnight, the car is sitting there, doing nothing. And you’re not doing anything to it. It’s the same as a press or conveyor belt in a manufacturing plant. At the end of the shift, when the last of the crew turns off the lights and leaves, your assets and equipment sit idle. Here, too, it’s all according to schedule.  

Planned downtime isn’t always so idle. You might be doing something even though the asset isn’t. Planned downtime includes the times you set aside for maintenance, repairs, inspections, and tests. So, when you’re changing the oil on your car, that’s planned downtime. When the maintenance team is inspecting the press, testing the hydraulic lines, and adding lubricant, that’s planned downtime, too. 

And planned downtime delivers a lot of positives. By taking assets offline, you are ensuring they stay online longer over the long term, with fewer unexpected issues and costs. 

Unplanned downtime  

When an asset or piece of equipment falls all the way down the p-f curve into a full-blown failure, you’re dealing with unplanned downtime. Because you didn’t expect it, there’s a much greater chance that you’re not prepared for it.  

Unplanned downtime quickly costs a lot of money. 

Why is unplanned downtime so expensive?  

According to Aberdeen Research, across industries, the average cost of downtime is $260,000 per hour. Behind that number are all the ways unplanned downtime can affect a company in the short- and long-terms, both in isolation and through cascades. 

Catching up costs money  

First, when an asset is offline, the organization is losing the value it should be producing. If a forklift suddenly dies, the inventory that should have moved from Point A to Point B is stuck. At some point, the organization must find a way to make up for that lost work, which likely means calling in extra help or paying for overtime.  

When something fails, you move maintenance resources away from what you hoped they would do to what they now need to do right away. The tech that had been inspecting the fans by the wielding stations now must head to the loading docks to fix the forklift. Later, because you still need someone to finish the fan inspection, you might end up having to pay overtime.   

Rushing parts is pricy 

In a perfect world, your maintenance techs show up onsite with a neatly packed bag full of all the MRO inventory they need to complete the repairs. 

But what often happens is assets or equipment fail unexpectedly, and you don’t have what you need in inventory to get them back up and running. Instead, you find yourself having to put in expensive rush orders. 

What are the causes of unplanned downtime?  

You can think of a failure as the result of your asset having slid all the way down the p-f curve, which means there were likely many points along the way where you could have seen the early warning signs, scheduled some quick and easy fix, and avoided the downtime completely.  

What you needed was a scheduled set of preventive maintenance (PM) inspections and tasks that the maintenance department could use to consistently find and fix small issues before they had enough time and inattention to grow into giant problems. 

But a lack of preventive maintenance isn’t the only cause of downtime. In fact, the world’s all-time best PM program can’t prevent operator error. It doesn’t matter how perfectly the team maintains an asset if the operator doesn’t run it right. You could have a perfectly tuned manual transmission engine, but it won’t last long if the driver keeps changing gears without using the clutch.  

Other causes of unplanned downtime include low-quality maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO) inventory and poor or non-existent standard operating procedures (SOPs) for maintenance techs. Assets and equipment can fail both when the team uses bad parts and when they use parts the wrong way. 

How can you reduce downtime?  

Because there are many causes, you need multiple solutions.  

Scheduling preventive maintenance  

Setting up and running a solid PM program gets you out ahead of the maintenance curve, where you can see and fix small issues early, before they grow into budget-busting failures.  

Your program can have two main focuses, inspections and tasks. For inspections, you can include everything from the classic facility walkthroughs looking for puddles under assets to a fully developed leak detection and repair (LDAR) program to minimize the emissions of fugitive volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).  

For tasks, you can set them up based on time or usage. So, you can have the maintenance team check the roof for leaks every spring and the hydraulic press for issues every 10,000 cycles.  

Tracking maintenance metrics and KPIs 

It’s impossible to reduce unplanned downtime to absolute zero. With all those people and moving parts, there are just too many things that can go wrong.  

But you can always get better, and one of the ways to do that is by tracking how you’re doing now. By looking at your maintenance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) related to failures, you can find ways to more consistently avoid downtime and make each instance of downtime shorter.  

How does facility management software help you reduce downtime? 

One of the biggest challenges of modern maintenance management is data. You need ways to capture it, keep it safe and up to date, share it, and then leverage it into actionable insights.  

With paper and spreadsheets, all of those are so hard they’re basically impossible. Because you’re relying on everyone to enter the data manually, you’re guaranteed errors. And even if you could get perfect data, there’s no way to easily share it. You might have all the right numbers, but they’re not doing the team any good trapped on a piece of paper or in a spreadsheet back at the office.  

With a modern software solution, all your data lives on a central database, so you know it’s accurate and accessible. Everyone is working from the same sets of data, and everyone has instant access from any Internet-connected device.     

You can use the software solution to set up, schedule, and track PMs. And once you have enough data, you can use the autogenerate reports to calculate critical metrics and KPIs for insights into how the team tackles failures and how they could improve. 

Although there are different ways to increase productivity, the maintenance department should focus its efforts on reducing unplanned downtime, where assets and equipment are unexpectedly offline or unavailable. But because there are multiple causes for downtime, you need a multi-prong solution, including preventive maintenance and a moder facility management software solution that streamlines and strengthens workflows.  

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Jonathan writes about asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions in his role as a digital content creator at Eptura. He covers trends across industries, including fleet, manufacturing, healthcare, and hospitality, with a focus on delivering thought leadership with actionable insights. Earlier in his career, he wrote textbooks, edited NPC dialogue for video games, and taught English as a foreign language. He hold a master's degree in journalism.