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How to turn equipment breakdown into golden opportunities

Deon McHatton, (8 min read)

For anyone who is responsible for managing a manufacturing operation, the thought of a major breakdown event is enough to send your stress levels skyrocketing.


But there are some hidden opportunities to be made out of equipment breakdown.


You can gain insights into the underlying causes of failure, improve overall equipment setup and minimise future downtime – all through simple, clear documentation of the event. Thorough documentation, such as a Service Report, can provide your staff with a blueprint for solving future breakdown incidents and feed into improvement programs.


Here are 4 ways to turn equipment breakdown into opportunity.


1. Pinpoint the cause of failure to fix underlying problems


Machines or equipment could be breaking down for a number of reasons: age, inconsistent maintenance practices, wrong parts, poor operator practice, flawed equipment build or design, or incorrect setup and installation.

Often maintenance technicians will perform a quick fix, but won’t address the root cause. It may be that a workaround will get production back without much delay, so in isolation the incident isn’t seen as a big contributor to downtime. But frequently occurring small problems are often the most harmful contributors to lost production time. To properly resolve the issue long term, the root cause must be identified.


A comprehensive Service Report, like that provided by a SAGE Service Technician, will pinpoint and explain the underlying causes of any given breakdown. The benefits are twofold:


1) you will understand why the breakdown occurred

2) you can use this information to prevent future breakdowns


This could be as simple as knowing that a circuit breaker is undersized (i.e. the equipment was set up incorrectly) and installing a larger one to stop it continuously faulting.


2. Understand how the fault was fixed to equip yourself in future


Detailed documentation of any failure event can also help others fix the problem quickly in future.


SAGE Service Reports include a ‘Actions taken’ section, detailing fault test actions, the cause of the fault and the actions taken to resolve it.


“We write in a brief, but detailed way, so that if someone finds the same fault, they can look it up in the report and get a step-by-step guide as to how to fix it themselves,” SAGE Service Technician Andy O’Regan said.


For example, at a major Australian bread producer’s facility, Line Slicer 4 had just had two new safety relays installed, when one started tripping at 4 o’clock in the morning. It was after hours, so SAGE’s 24/7 Breakdown Support was called out.


The Service Technician resolved the issue and supplied a Service Report. The report included the name and numbers of the faulting safety protocols, the steps taken to identify and fix the fault, and what to do in the future.


“Here, the underlying reason for the fault was a result of both proximity switches being low at the same time. The fault was resolved through moderating the second proximity switch,” Andy said.


The bread producer shared this information with all their manufacturing maintenance personnel, so when they come across a similar error in future, they can resolve the issue themselves.


The information gained as a result of the breakdown helped add to the knowledge of how the safety relay worked.


3. Action ‘Follow-up’ advice to prevent future equipment breakdown


A breakdown event can easily be used to fix recurring problems. As well as identifying the cause of the fault and actions taken, your internal or external maintenance technicians should also provide ‘Follow-up’ advice.


Here they should detail any risks or issues that may not be able to be fixed on the spot. This might include repeated faults caused by machinery setup, or using discontinued parts or an ageing PLC that is no longer supported by the vendor.


Many facilities use the ‘Follow-up’ advice in SAGE’s Service Reports to fix recurring faults once and for all.


In one example, the same major Australian bread producer called SAGE after a breakdown on a newly commissioned flow wrapping machine that had been brought in from interstate. There were no electrical drawings onsite, which made fault-finding a challenge, but SAGE resolved the issue temporarily and got the plant back online.  


“The technician's Service Report included detailed notes identifying the fault as a burnt-out relay,” the company’s maintenance electrician explained.


“But it also explained how the fault was fixed and provided key recommendations for follow-up.”


Advice leads to reduced downtime

The advice included suggestions to obtain the electrical drawings from the supplier, as well as source and fit a new solid state relay, due to the amount of switching operations.  


As suggested, the maintenance electrician sourced the electrical drawings from the supplier, which minimised any future downtime due to failure. Following this, he replaced the circuit card and changed the standard relays to solid state relays.


Since the changes, the flow wrapping machine's relays haven’t burnt out, meaning no more downtime.


"If you act on the advice, like I did with the new relays, it will save you money down the track,” the maintenance electrician said.


4. Feed breakdown information back into improvement programs


Since the primary goal in downtime is to get back online as quickly as possible, each breakdown incident can be easily forgotten once production commences. Finding a way to holistically track these incidents can provide a great indicator of plant health and overall areas for improvement.


SAGE’s electronic reporting system builds a history of faults over time, enabling you to tackle repeat issues and implement solutions to eradicate machine breakdowns. 


Whether you use an enterprise software system or an excel spreadsheet, find a way to use the information gained through breakdowns to inform facility-wide continuous improvement or manufacturing maintenance programs.


Take advantage of your next breakdown


"I could use the reports to work my way back through each breakdown. I could see the faults and what the technician had done to resolve them, and take action on the follow-up items” – Manufacturing Maintenance Technician at a major Australian bread producer.


Whether you have an external service provider or in-house maintenance technician, the number-one takeaway here is to not just apply a bandage approach, but to thoroughly document each breakdown incident and get to the root cause. This will save you money (and hair) in the long term.


When a machine stops, it can quickly escalate to calling in external help – sometimes unnecessarily. The Breakdown Checklist is designed to get you back online faster. It will get your team thinking about what caused the breakdown and assess the need for external advice. Download the free downtime checklist here.


Get the checklist!


SAGE Automation delivers agile, scalable and secure manufacturing maintenance solutions that don’t just solve current problems, they pre-empt and deter future ones, helping your organisation thrive. With years of experience working in defence, infrastructure, resources, utilities and manufacturing we have the expertise you need to custom-build or perform manufacturing maintenance on your equipment for maximum ROI.

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