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The Maintenance Management Blog

February 28, 2023

Unplanned Downtime

All companies experience unplanned downtime in one form or another. When the term is discussed, it's usually related to companies with large processors, manufacturing equipment, conveyor belts, and the like. However, unplanned downtime can happen anywhere for a variety of reasons.

While the fault can be given to such things as bad weather knocking out the power or the internet, many problems can be traced back to a human being. I'm not implying that the person purposefully knew the risk and 'did it' anyway—and that can be the case as will be seen later—or that the person even knew a problem existed before the downtime happened—also discussed later. However, assets are made and operated by humans and in many unplanned downtime cases, humans are at fault.

Let's look at six reasons for unplanned downtime and their solutions.

1. Mishaps

"Let me get this straight, Bob. You took out the entire utility box while plowing snow."

Actually, a real-life example I heard about was about as serious as the above bit of humor. One Saturday, a local radio station rebroadcast an incident from earlier in the week where the station fizzled off the air due to one of the employees accidentally spilling coffee on the control board.

Accidents happen. We're not perfect and sometimes we mess up, trip, spill, cut wrong, or foul up. Unfortunately, unplanned downtime of an asset or a company can result.

The only solutions are to be more aware of surroundings, reduce the risk of mishaps—keeping liquids farther away from electronics—and pay attention to and follow safety warnings and protocols. A mishap risks unplanned downtime but also the health and safety of others.

Image: man unloading boxes from van2. Usage

Things wear out over time. The simplest example is clothing. From shoes to T-shirts to jeans. Wear them long enough, and they fade in color, come apart at the seams, or the material thins.

Breakdowns in equipment because of usage comes in four areas. Three are here and the fourth is a separate point.

General usage – Normal everyday use. Over time, equipment ages, and even with preventive maintenance and replacement parts, it will break down.

Overuse – See how long that car engine runs idling with the accelerator pressed to the floor. Some equipment can't be overused without 'rest periods or planned downtime. They overheat, lose lubrication, or just need a 'time out.'

Under usage – Some equipment breaks down because they're not used enough or to full capacity. A Formula-1 race car used for only city driving isn't going to last long. Another example is a printer. Cartridge heads dry up if not used. Automobiles left in long-term storage should be started every so often for lubrication circulation. These are simple examples, but unplanned downtime can come when you expect something to function after not using it for a while.

The solution to all of these is two-fold. Stay vigilant with PMs and operate equipment for the amount of time they're supposed to be operated.

3. Faulty design

One example I heard about was an owner of a brand-new Cadillac who kept going through more tires than usual. After some investigation, the fault was determined to be an axle misaligned by millimeters resulting in extra wear on one edge of the tires.

In this category, the breakdown and unplanned downtime could be delayed with the cause unknown until one takes a closer look.

Also, while human error does exist, it's not intentional or not even known. Maybe the machine that made the machine was faulty or something happened during the faulty machine's manufacturing of the product. An error in small measurements can make for huge problems.

The solution is to investigate abnormalities. Contact the vendor and discuss the problem. Stay on top of equipment that manufacturers other equipment and quality control.

4. Lack of training

"Bob, you shouldn't park the lift truck under the limb you're cutting off."

In this point, there are four areas of training to note.

Lack of complete training – The worker didn't know all about the equipment, including what to do if something happens. If a part fails and is ignored or not tended to in time, unplanned downtime can occur.

Lack of knowledge about proper use – The worker wasn't shown the right and wrong ways to operate the equipment.

Preventive Maintenance (PM) – While the worker may not conduct the overall preventive maintenance, there might be small measures such as meter and gauge readings, frequent refills of fluids, giving the equipment those rest periods, and proper initialization and shutdown procedures.

The solution is obvious. Obtain the best and the most complete training available. Take the initiative to seek out learning opportunities. Ask questions. If you're the trainer, be sure the necessary and correct knowledge is being presented.

Image: man unloading boxes from van5. Not programmed or calibrated correctly

This might relate to the Cadillac example. One 'glitch' is negligible but the constant output of poor-quality products could be the machine's fault. Of course, a step back shows the human probably erred in programming or calibration. No, not intentionally but maybe more of the last's point's training is needed.

Incorrect programming/calibration means the machine will be off. Even normal operations can cause a breakdown.

Solution – Constant quality assurance checks, proper PMs, and investigation of abnormal results.

6. Incorrect usage

"Bob, stop baking cookies in the industrial microwave."

This is a pretty obvious point and wholeheartedly the operator's fault. Equipment is designed to do X. If you try to use it for Y, you risk problems. Parts cannot handle the stress of being forced to work beyond or outside capacity.

Solution – Again, this is obvious. Stop doing that!

Unplanned downtime cannot be eliminated. Equipment and other assets will break down, glitch, or quit running. With proper training, usage, and preventive maintenance, the assets will have extended life. Unplanned downtime can be reduced. Don't worry about Bob. He'll get the hang of things in time and be a valuable employee.

This post has been presented by the folks at Mapcon Technologies who develop a computerized maintenance management system to help with asset management and preventive maintenance. What about CMMS training? Absolutely. Three options are available. Give us a call today at 800-922-4336 and ask how we can reduce your company's unplanned downtime.


Stephen Brayton

About the Author – Stephen Brayton


Stephen L. Brayton is a Marketing Associate at Mapcon Technologies, Inc. He graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College with a degree in Communications. His background includes radio, hospitality, martial arts, and print media. He has authored several published books (fiction), and his short stories have been included in numerous anthologies. With his joining the Mapcon team, he ventures in a new and exciting direction with his writing and marketing. He’ll bring a unique perspective in presenting the Mapcon system to prospective companies, as well as our current valued clients.


Filed under: downtime, maintenance, assets — Stephen Brayton on February 28, 2023