Whenever your machinery is not operating, you’re experiencing downtime. Whether it’s for a couple of hours, days, or longer, all industrial operations experience downtime at some point. But not all downtime is the same. While planned shutdowns still mean your machinery isn’t running, the fact this is scheduled allows you to minimize the impact on your business. Unplanned downtime, on the other hand, interrupts your expected operational periods.

Whatever the cause, unplanned downtime will have a significant effect on both the productivity levels and finances of your business, leading to delays and a lack of operating time when you haven’t accounted for it. But it’s the way you deal with downtime that makes all the difference.

Below, we take a look at some of the most common causes and impacts of unplanned downtime for manufacturers and other industrial operations.

The Cost of Unplanned Downtime

The cost of unplanned downtime in manufacturing will vary depending on the cause, as well as the size of your operation. But it’s generally accepted that downtime can lead to a productivity loss of between 5% and 20%1

In terms of the financial cost, research shows 98% of organizations report that even as little as an hour of downtime can cost more than $100,0002

Industrial manufacturers across the world spend an estimated $50 billion annually on unplanned downtime3. It unexpectedly introduces extra maintenance, repair, and replacement costs that can have a big impact on your business’ budget. 

The costs vary for chronic and sporadic failures (frequent faults many manufacturers live with vs. rare, yet catastrophic ones that require attention). Sporadic, catastrophic failures can be hugely costly (such as repairing entire heavy machinery) and tend to attract the most attention – sometimes even outside the plant in the cases of larger events.  

However, while chronic failures tend to generate less attention, their impact can be just as significant. The cost of maintaining these chronic issues repeatedly soon adds up. For example, if a fastener loosens that misaligns a conveyor belt, this can cause the conveyor to shut down or spill material. 

Taking time to fix these issues slows down production. Common chronic problems such as loosening fasteners and shaft misalignment, while costly over time, often remain unseen outside the operational area, which means they are accepted as normal failure.  But in reality, these can be every bit as costly as larger failures.

How much unplanned downtime costs your industrial manufacturing operations depends on factors including the:

  • Duration of the downtime
  • Seasonality
  • Time of day and week
  • Availability of maintenance workers
  • Departments and individuals impacted
  • Complexity of the cause

The timing of any downtime greatly affects the costs too. Downtime during peak production periods when there’s high demand, such as throughout harvest time for a food manufacturer or when there’s a high electricity demand from power plants in hot summer months, will be more costly than across quieter periods.

Planned vs. Unplanned Downtime

Downtime refers to any situation where you’re not operating at expected levels. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all downtime is bad.

Planned downtime refers to any scheduled period when your machinery will be out of action, often necessary for its general upkeep.

When done right, this should be carried out at times when it has the least impact on your business, whether that’s late at night, over the weekend, or during quieter periods of the year. Although finances can still be impacted, these periods of downtime allow you to budget accordingly.

Examples of planned downtime can include:

  • Maintenance - Cleaning parts to ensure top-level performance.
  • Adjustments - Making minor improvements and fixing small problems before they grow and cause a full production line shutdown.
  • Product changeover - Switching from what you currently produce, which normally requires different setup adjustments. 

Unplanned downtime can be more problematic. In these instances, unexpected events cause your production line to stop for an undetermined amount of time.

The nature of unplanned downtime means you won’t be as prepared. Reacting to things after they’ve broken down can take significantly longer and lead to extended periods of downtime.

Regular inspections and planned maintenance are vital to reduce the chance of unplanned downtime. 

Examples can include:

  • Machine jams - Components getting stuck.
  • Base component failures - Vibration, premature bearing, mechanical seal and coupling failure, causing the machine to shut down.
  • Leaks - Water, gas, and oil leaks damaging parts and components.
  • Electrical failures - Blown fuses, electrical control boards overloading and shafts breaking.

Dangers of Unplanned Downtime

Unplanned downtime disrupts your production line. Base component or electrical failures can sometimes be fixed quickly to minimize disruption, but more catastrophic failures, like a generator going down, can result in lengthy downtime that wasn’t expected. 

Stopping your operations in any capacity has a domino effect on other processes, productivity, and profits. 

Reacting to breakdowns can also create an unsafe environment as those who are on site act quickly to try and resolve the cause. They may not have the best skillset, parts, or tools available immediately, but try to get things up and running fast anyway. This can cause further damage. 

Applying the wrong products based on necessity could even increase the risk to worker safety and further breakdowns. 

With planned downtime and preventative maintenance, you can arrange to have spare parts, tools, and trained engineers on-site to fix your equipment breakdowns almost immediately.  

Downtime Duration 

Research shows that unplanned downtime lasts for an average of four hours for companies within the manufacturing industry4. In total, manufacturers can experience as much as 800 hours of downtime annually5.

Various factors affect the specific length of your downtime. For example, maintenance workers spend a fifth of the time traveling to the right part of a factory or production plant to fix the breakdown causing downtime6. Finding people with the right skills can be the hardest challenge to address in any breakdown.

Other factors impacting downtime duration include:

  • Availability of a skilled and knowledgeable repair or service engineer for the machine.
  • Parts and tools required to fix the fault. 
  • Size of the problem, whether it’s a small oil drip or a large-scale leak.

Common Causes of Unplanned Downtime

Base component failures are some of the main causes of equipment and machinery breakdowns. Vibration, misalignment, heat exposure, and general wear can all result in component problems that cause avoidable downtime. 

The types of failures vary depending on the type of component and its placement:

  • Rotating equipment - Vibration and misalignment affects pumps, gearboxes, fans, blowers, centrifuges and more. 
  • Static equipment - Leaks and misalignment in pipes, flanges, tanks and other static assets. 
  • Electrical equipment - Power overload, or electrical failures can stop a critical pump working that supplies essential water or hydraulic fluids to other components. 

Manual maintenance mistakes, such as not spotting an oil leak early, as well as parts loosening or weakening over time due to excessive use, can lead to failure and downtime.

In the global manufacturing industry, human error causes unplanned downtime 23% of the time7, so proper training is vital. 

Machinery and equipment will wear out over time, so any aging machinery is more susceptible to parts or component failure, a common factor behind manufacturing downtime8

Short periods of downtime may have less of an impact on your operations, but their effect on productivity and profit can soon add up. Common causes behind less severe downtime can include9:

  • Extended changeover times
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Early shutdowns
  • Tool changes
  • Personal breaks 

Improve Industrial Manufacturing Uptime

As the cost of unplanned downtime in manufacturing can be high, you should look to reduce its impact and increase uptime. Focus on your equipment, machinery, and processes to highlight improvement opportunities: 

  • Create a preventative maintenance plan to upkeep your machines and monitor their condition. 
  • Follow a regular inspection schedule to check for potential leaks, wear, dirt, vibration, and other hidden defects that could cause breakdowns. 
  • Track manufacturing downtime to identify common causes and implement solutions to eliminate them in the future.
  • Provide additional employee training as human error is a prominent cause, and enhanced training can work to reduce mistakes. 
  • Use relevant products such as threadlockers and sealants to keep base components in place, minimize the chance of leaks and ultimately prevent failure.  

Unplanned downtime has a significant effect on your productivity and profits. With the right approach, your organization can create a more time and cost-effective working environment.

Find out more about how to reduce unplanned downtime in your business

Explore the full range of LOCTITE® solutions for maintenance and repair to find the right product for any solution. Or get in touch with a Henkel expert below to book a consultation to help reduce unplanned downtime in your operation. 

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