Reducing The Costs And Consequences Of Unplanned Downtime

In today’s competitive business environment, it’s essential that productivity, efficiency and customer service levels remain high, if cost and profitability targets are to be achieved. Whilst there are many different aspects to manufacturing and operational processes, one of the main inhibitors to achieving required output levels and targets is that of unplanned downtime. In this article, Reich Drive Systems UK’s David Proud recommends some basic steps that can be taken to reduce the potential for these events and the subsequent costs associated with downtime.

The issue of downtime, and especially unplanned events, is a blight for any business whether they are manufacturers, plant and transport operators or delivering key infrastructure services. There can be many causes of unplanned downtime ranging from unavailability of materials, shortages of manpower, extended changeover periods and of course one of the most common reasons, equipment or machinery failure.

Regardless of the reasons behind the stoppage, the effects are the same: loss of production and value whilst overhead costs continue to accrue. Although it is almost impossible to avoid all unplanned downtime, it is possible to significantly reduce the potential for these costly events by taking a pro-active and technically led approach.

When considering the potential for unexpected downtime caused by components or equipment, it is highly likely that the oldest or obsolete items will pose the greatest risk. Initiating a detailed review or audit of all machinery and componentry will highlight any particular items that may require immediate maintenance attention or indeed replacement.  This review will also help to enhance and update any existing preventative maintenance schedules, setting new priorities for other items deemed at immanent risk of obsolescence or failure, and also identifying items that are vital to maintaining high operational efficiencies. Taking steps to replace items perceived to be at risk before they actually fail is much less costly that suffering the consequences and costs associated with unplanned downtime. When considering replacements, it is also essential to look closely at the specification of the replacement item. Merely selecting the exact same part, or the least expensive part that will fit, may not be the right decision as this is likely to replicate the original problem, possibly even in the short term.

This is especially true of drive couplings, which are an essential part of any drive train, and therefore a key element in maintaining uptime and efficiency. Drive couplings vary greatly in their design and capabilities, so for any given application engineers must ensure that they specify the drive coupling correctly to guarantee ongoing reliable, efficient and safe operation. Factors such as torque transmission, speed ranges, running start / stops and potential shock loadings are just some of the key elements in the selection of the coupling. If a previous coupling has failed unexpectedly it is likely that one or more of these factors has been overlooked. If there is any uncertainty in specifying a replacement part, engineers should speak with a reputable supplier who will be able to review the application details and identify a variant capable of meeting the challenges of the specific application.

Time spent on this exercise, even in the face of pressure by production to have the system running again, will pay dividends in the long run as the drive train will be highly reliable and unlikely to fail again unexpectedly.

Taking time to review the different coupling types, and selecting a coupling which not only meets all of the technical and application requirements, but is either maintenance free, or has the ability to have change parts replaced in-situ will bring significant ongoing benefits to uptimes and efficiency.

One other important and contributing factor to reducing downtime is that of training. A topic sometimes overlooked, structured and ongoing training for maintenance engineering teams will bring tangible dividends. Ensuring that all maintenance engineers are multi-skilled, and involved in the introduction of new components, systems and technologies within the business, means that they will have both the knowledge and tools required to identify and resolve any issues quickly.

With a history spanning over 70 years, REICH-KUPPLUNGEN has built up unrivalled expertise in the design and manufacture of drive couplings for use across a wide range of industries and applications. The company has earned an enviable reputation not only for the quality and performance of their product range, but also for their ability to provide application and customer specific solutions through the company’s D2C (Design to Customer) philosophy.

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