10 ways to reduce downtime with preventative maintenance

10 ways to reduce downtime with preventative maintenance

June 10, 2024

Downtime costs every one of us money every year. Our clients are no exception. As a matter of fact, you are all the prime example of downtime is a killer. Most are aware of the benefits of preventative maintenance in reducing planned and unplanned downtime. But what other steps can you take?

In talking with cellar masters, brewers, winemakers, distillers, processors, maintenance tech, suppliers, farmers and everyone else over nearly 50 years, we have compiled our top 10 tips for reducing downtime. The feedback surprised us: empowering employees and adopting a proactive and disciplined mindset were mentioned just as much as preventative maintenance, easy to service systems, and technologies. 

The 10 tips for reducing downtime have been split into two categories:

  • Plant Operations
  • People and Culture

Defining Downtime

“Downtime" is any unplanned event that stops production for any amount of time. Unplanned downtime is most often caused by operator error, poor maintenance, or hardware/software error. Perceived downtime (poor performance or under performing equipment) is also sighted as an issue. Planned downtime; such as upgrades to hardware, planned expansions, or planned maintenance is, as its name suggests, planned and therefore controlled, so it shouldn’t be calculated in downtime costs.

Plant operations

1. Undertake a risk audit

There’s nothing sexy about it, but a risk audit is the fastest and most effective step you can take to reduce future downtime. Contact us to come out and perform a risk audit, or use this form to perform your own audit.

Equipment obsolescence poses a significant risk to operations. Despite advancements in systems, many groups still work with equipment that’s 15+ years old, and past a certain age systems are often not 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. To learn more about obsolescence, read our article on the phasing out of R22 Freon.

Other risks include: oversized/undersized equipment, safety, over-engineered equipment, imported equipment and quality. A risk audit will highlight problems and solutions so that when you go down, you’re better prepared. Fill out our BTU Audit and we'll tell you what size chiller or heater you need.

2. Calculate the dollar cost of downtime

Not calculating the true cost of downtime is one of the biggest errors that businesses make. Five minutes here and there can add 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 or brand/quality, just to name a few. Make sure you know the true cost of downtime for your business. We can fix most issues same-day or in just a couple days, even on older units. 

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 your efforts, and validate your prevention activities to your bottom line. 

3. Install monitoring systems

Data drives the world. Businesses are looking to low-cost monitoring systems to prevent and reduce downtime along with monitoring their systems while everyone is away. Monitoring systems detect temperature, run cycles, shut downs, and heat conditions that are likely to cause equipment damage or failures. The system then sends alerts if anything is amiss, prompting operators to react quickly and avoiding equipment or product damage. In this way businesses can stop or reduce downtime before it happens.

Phase protection will shut a unit off in the event of power drops, phase reversal, or phase loss (phase loss is where one of the 3 legs of 3-phase power is lost). You should have this on all 3-Phase equipment to prevent electrical burn-up on motors or other 3-phase components. Voltage regulators are another safeguard that are pretty low budget and easy to install. These safeguards can be easily added to any machine and the minor cost is more than worth protecting your investment.

4. Harness your data and reporting systems

It goes without saying that data will impact the level of insight and control you have over production. A large amount of breweries and wineries report having no methods of data collection or unsuitable software for the job. If your power bills are jumping it could mean there is an issue with the chiller. If the unit is turning on and off repeatedly, known as short cycling, this will cause large power draws increasing your power bill. In most cases, a short cycling chiller can have a simple and easy fix if caught at the beginning of the problem. If the chiller is not properly taken care of when short cycling begins however, the repair could be costly with a long down time if a compressor needs replaced. 

Your data should pinpoint the major 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 does. Data will show you trends and predict areas of concern. With advancements in technology, you can even access this data in real time. We all get busy and if we don’t put notes somewhere, we forget and issues lingers until they become something bigger at the worst possible time. 

5. Get pre-scheduled maintenance for your equipment

The reality is, whether you are a brewer, winemaker, or manufacturer most of your equipment will be from different vendors and span across eras. You  want it all to work together, and this requires your operators and maintenance technicians to be skilled across multiple vendor hardware, as well as hold multiple spare parts – a challenging task, to say the least. 

Unlike most manufacturers we service our own units, and we carry most replacement parts in-house; and we even work on the other guys stuff too. 

Part 2… People and culture 

6. Train and empower your employees with the correct resources

Ask yourself, who is affected by downtime the most? Is it your cellarmasters, winemakers, brewers, assistants, production supervisors, or line operators? Yes! Those staff who can most easily prolong downtime events are often in the best position to prevent it in the future. Ensure they have a source to call for support, repairs, and parts. Do your people have the authority to authorize repairs to make downtime shorter? 

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.

7. Create and stick to a preventative maintenance schedule 

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

Equipment can’t last forever, but a sound maintenance schedule will increase its lifespan. Maintenance reduces the probability of failure and downtime, increases overall equipment effectiveness, improves safety and increases productivity.

A horrifying number of facilities use a ‘run-to-failure’ method where maintenance is reactive. While such operators would prefer to save on maintenance, this approach results in longer, more frequent downtime incidents, more overall cost of repairs, more catastrophic failures and higher operating cost. And always at the worst possible time. 

A dirty condenser on a chiller can reduce the efficiency of the unit by 50%.  A lot of times a service call can lead to finding other minor issues and get them repaired before a larger failure occurs, or the whole system going down. 

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. Unique ‘fixes’ and work-arounds can take a tech or new operator hours to figure out. Or worse yet, could damage the unit. In the heat of harvest and getting a batch out, some “fixes” are made that should not be long term fixes. 

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

9. Don’t forget backups

Even if you have a replacement part, if you don’t have a backup program you’re in trouble. Who is going to install that part? What else is needed? 

This step requires discipline and continuous staff involvement. In one worst-case scenario, a large company with a complex old valve system got a new intern and dumped over 3,000 gallons of glycol in less than a minute, drained their entire system and then burned out the pumps. In less than 30 minutes they had over $100,000 in damages. This wasn’t a Tanktemp system, but we got the call after 3 other groups couldn’t get to it or didn’t know how the system worked. Glycol systems for breweries and wineries aren’t your normal plumbing and chiller systems, and they’re all we do. 

Another company had no backup system and the provider had stopped supporting their chiller 10 years prior. No external support was available, and it was an imported unit with no replacement parts. We got half the system running by rewiring the unit and scavenging parts but it took two weeks on site to make it work. They had no choice but to replace the system, halting production in the entire operation for over two week in the middle of harvest. Big units can take up to 6 months to build keep that in mind. When you have a bigger system, parts aren’t always available. In the dead of summer most rental units are spoken for and even if we do have one, a 5HP isn’t a 30HP-100HP unit. It’s crucial to always have a plan.

10. Change your thinking from reactive to proactive

Lastly, but most importantly, consider your mentality. Adopting and championing a proactive, rather than reactive, mentality is one important habit that we as managers and owners must adopt – or face being left behind. Proactive thinking will ensure you adopt the systems and habits needed to stop problems before they occur. A culture of being proactive will play a large part in determining whether preventative maintenance, staff training, and other measures are successful in reducing downtime and increasing productivity and profits. 

Tanktemp is 5 years into this model. We are not just writing about this, we are living it with you. We are have the same challenges you do. And we are as much a part of your team and care about your success as anyone else on your team. 

Working Lean 

The Lean program is one example of proactive thinking. The core idea is to maximise customer value while minimising waste. This includes undergoing continuous improvement, which have a positive impact. For example, long changeover and set-up times between production runs can cause considerable downtime.

A lean approach at a label printing company reduced changeover downtime from an average of 5 hours, to 30 minutes. How? The company used a technique called ‘Single Minute Exchange of Dye (SMED) – to simplify the changeover process. In addition, encouraging a clean, efficient workspace, and scheduled machine maintenance and calibration helped reduce quality defects. The company estimates it gained 5 hours per machine, per shift – that’s 70 hours of added capacity and more than $3 million of annual unexpected profits.  

But all Lean programs start with changing individual and organisational mentality which can be a huge challenge. A McKinsey report on the psychology of change management offers four steps to effectively change staff mentality:

  • Give staff a purpose to believe in
  • Reinforce the new system(s)
  • Provide opportunities to gain new skills
  • Don’t underestimate the power of role models  

Is there a winner in the battle against downtime?

Whether it is a preventative maintenance schedule, operator training, or backups, there’s one common factor that will determine its success – 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 or quality is 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.

When a machine stops, it can quickly be fixed by calling in external help – Tanktemp. This list is designed to get you back up faster. It will get your team thinking about what caused the breakdown and assess how to avoid them in the future.

Want to learn more?

Follow this link to find out more about Tanktemp's service offerings and to schedule a service visit right online.


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