10 sure-fire ways to reduce downtime

Downtime costs the world’s top companies billions in revenue every year. One report goes so far as to say businesses lose $84,000 to $108,000 USD for every hour of IT system downtime. Manufacturing is no exception.

Most are aware of the benefits of preventive maintenance in reducing planned and unplanned downtime. But what other steps can you take?

We talked with machine maintenance technicians, managers, service engineers and business optimisation experts to put together our top 10 tips for reducing downtime. What they said was surprising: empowering employees and adopting a proactive and disciplined mindset were mentioned just as much as preventative maintenance and smarter software systems and technologies.

So, we’ve separated our top 10 tips for reducing downtime into two categories:

  1. Plant operations
  2. People and culture

Downtime tips for plant operations

1. Undertake a risk audit

A risk audit is THE fastest and most effective step you can take to reduce downtime in future.

In particular, equipment obsolescence poses a significant risk to operations. Despite advancements in control systems, a great number of manufacturers still work with equipment that’s 15–20 years old, and aging PLC systems that are no longer supported by manufacturers. Parts often become unavailable, or are made out of the country and take weeks to deliver. Knowing your support networks and equipment availability can mean the difference between a few hours or a few months in a downtime event.

Other risks that impact automation infrastructure include: security, safety, and quality. A risk audit will highlight problems and solutions so that when you go down, you’re better prepared.

2. Calculate the dollar cost of downtime

Not calculating the true cost of downtime is one of the biggest errors that manufacturing managers make. Five minutes here and there adds up.

True downtime costs include loss in staff productivity, loss in production of actual goods, number of man hours devoted to rescheduling, the unexpected costs of repairing equipment, time spent satisfying customers and damage to reputation.

Downtime should always be calculated into a dollar figure. This, paired with a preventative and proactive mindset (see tip #10), is vital, because it will help focus and legitimise your prevention activities to your stakeholders.

3. Install low-cost sensors to move towards ‘predictive maintenance’

In an increasingly data-driven world, manufacturers are looking to low-cost sensors to detect, prevent and reduce downtime on the factory floor. Sensors can detect inputs like vibration, temperature, heat and light – conditions that are likely to cause equipment damage or failures.

4. Harness your data and reporting systems

It goes without saying that manufacturing and enterprise software will impact the level of insight and control you have over production. A large amount of manufacturers still report having manual methods of data collection or unsuitable software for the job, which has driven the uptake of specialised manufacturing software and integration solutions.

Evaluate your current data collection systems. Are they providing the right information? Your data should pinpoint the macro causes of downtime. A spreadsheet or report stating that ‘machine 31 caused two hours of production loss’ doesn’t solve the problem. Having access to your entire operational data in real-time does.

5. Get support for your current automation systems and equipment

Whether you are a process or discrete manufacturer on a small or large scale, most automation equipment will be from a range of different vendors and span across different eras. This requires operators and maintenance technicians to be skilled across multiple vendor hardware and software, as well as hold multiple spare parts – a challenging task, to say the least.

Automation service partners can cover maintenance, repairs, replacements, upgrades, programming and integration for a range of vendor systems. Having these services on-hand ensures you have up-to-date industry knowledge to implement prevention programs, and 24-hour support for breakdowns.

People and culture

6. Train and empower your employees

Operator error is the second-most common cause of downtime after hardware error. A good operator will not only diagnose and fix their own machine, but have the ability to prevent future downtime events through maintenance schedules and accurate documentation.

Direct your resources into specialised industrial and automation training and emphasise the importance of keeping up-to-date documentation. Empower operators to be able to diagnose and problem-solve their machines and remind them how their actions can positively impact downtime.

7. Stick to a preventative maintenance schedule

Gone are the days when manufacturing managers can say, “We’ll just run it till it breaks.”

Maintenance reduces the probability of failure and downtime, increases overall equipment effectiveness, improves safety and increases productivity.

Thankfully manufacturers seem to be on the front foot when it comes to maintenance. A 2017 maintenance study found that 78% of facilities follow a preventative maintenance strategy, while 59% use a computerised maintenance management system.

8. Do your documentation – and make others excited about it

Updating all documentation on your equipment is a simple, yet effective step to reducing the length of any downtime event. Up-to-date drawings of equipment, machine history and procedures should be kept on hand for easy reference in the event of an error. This ensures operators have the right information to quickly address issues, rather than trying to solve issues with no context.

The challenge is cultivating a culture where people care about this. The trick? Show people how documentation impacts on their time and overall plant performance.

9. Don’t forget backups

This one requires discipline and continuous staff involvement. Regular, site-wide backups of control systems is integral to safeguarding any operation. In one worst-case scenario, a large manufacturing company with a complex servo-driven cut-to-length machine erased their entire PLC system by accident. The company had no backup copy of the PLC system and the provider had gone out of business 10 years prior, so no external support was available. They had no choice but to rewrite the program, halting production in the entire factory for over two weeks.

A simple, regular backup regime of all PLC systems, SCADA drives and control systems will safeguard against worst-case scenarios. After all, restoring a month-old PLC system is better than having to rewrite it from scratch.

10. Change your thinking from reactive to proactive

Lastly, but most importantly, consider your mentality. Thinking and culture will play a large part in determining whether preventative maintenance, staff training and other measures are successful in reducing downtime.


Whether it is a preventative maintenance schedule, operator training, sensor technology or doing your backups, there’s one common factor that will determine its success – employee mindset.

  • No program will work if staff aren’t committed to taking the steps every time.
  • No amount of data will make a difference if it’s not acted on.
  • No amount of policy will ensure equipment is checked and maintained.

It’s people who make the cogs turn, day in and day out. So work your way through this list with culture and staff empowerment front of mind.

Giving your team adequate training is part of this empowerment. See how SAGE worked with Coca-Cola Amital to do just that.

Send this to a friend