The right approach to avoid expensive unplanned production stops

Impianto nastri gomma

According to a recent study by Aberdeen Research, 82% of the world’s manufacturing companies have experienced unplanned production stop with average costs of several thousand dollars per hour of stoppage up to the limit of $22,000 for every minute of non-production for the automotive industry.
Maybe it is not your case, but the unplanned production stop is an important damage because it involves the whole production and commercial chain.

In this article I want to inform you and suggest some tools to limit the unplanned plant downtime as much as possible.
And I want to share it with you, so that you can make your choices in a conscious way

What happens when you suddenly have to stop the plant?

Lost production.

Any electrical, mechanical or software element can cause a system shutdown.
If you cannot produce, in addition to the net loss of unbilled material or delayed delivery, you have the fixed costs of the facility that continue to weigh in regardless of production.

You can’t send everyone home suddenly if you stop the line in the middle of the morning.

You can’t avoid fixed costs for the time you do not produce.

If any element of the line stops (loading system, mixer, software, other) the whole line and related workers are stopped.

Assuming you can move the operators to another line, you will inevitably need time to organize the new production, warm up the machines, prepare the components, etc..

Unhappy customers

We both know how easy it is nowadays to lose customers or orders.

It’s frustrating not being able to deliver the order on time because your line is down for several hours or days, with the risk of never seeing that customer again.
It is not a personal factor nor how long you have been one of its suppliers, but also your customer has very tight deadlines to meet and cannot afford to deliver late, let alone have an unreliable supplier.

What better opportunity for him to try a new supplier that gives him the same price, and maybe find out that he is better off.
Result: goodbye customer.

You must do absolutely everything in your power to prevent these problems as much as possible.

A study by the multinational company GE (General Electric) conducted on offshore Oil & Gas plants where the risk of breakdowns in addition to economic problems could cause much more serious pollution problems, indicates that compared to an estimated annual economic damage of 88 million dollars, only 24% of companies have an active preventive maintenance plan based on data and analysis.

Put simply: 3 out of 4 companies do a simple maintenance on the main components just replacing the broken elements when damage occurs.

Can you imagine what percentage is already in our sectors?

Surely you can’t replace the pieces at random and/or keep in stock every single component of the line.

So what is the right approach?

There are 3 aspects that you need to consider and on which you can act:

–     Non-physical elements, such as software or suppliers;

–     Physical components easily replaceable electrical, electronic or mechanical;

–     Physical components that are difficult to replace (such as the motor of an extruder);


Non-physical elements

Operators and suppliers.

To have an efficient line, in addition to the machinery, you need operators, raw material suppliers and management and control software (those installed in PCs to make recipes and control the line and those in PLCs to perform operations).

It is good practice for operators and suppliers to always have an alternative.

You cannot afford to stop the line if the worker at the mixer has a fever and the other one is injured.

As far as you can, you need to have different operators who can do more things and you need to rotate them in the various tasks regularly, so that everyone can handle more machines.

Similar approach for suppliers. Having only one supplier for a raw material is very risky, you must always have at least one alternative.

It may happen that your main supplier has production problems or simply due to administrative problems is unable or unwilling to fulfill the order.

In a working relationship everything happens, so you must always have a plan “B” (and maybe even “C”), even if it costs you something more.

The Software of the machines.

It seems trivial to say it but all your production is entrusted to a handful of software installed on a few PCs and PLCs. (…and this is the aspect in which I feel more involved).

What happens if your production PC on which the recipes are saved breaks down?

How much time do you have to lose to restore the PC, recover the copy of the program (often several months old) and restart?

Also, if you break an old PLC installed in some machine, are you sure you have everything you need to restore it quickly?

Remember, the point is not IF but WHEN something will break.

Fortunately, if you haven’t suffered this damage yet, you can prevent the problems right away:

  • First of all, if you don’t have the support of the company that made you the PC program, hire a capable computer expert to come and make you an image of the system’s PC disk. This image, if made by professionals, can be transformed into a virtual machine and easily installed in any PC;
  • if you still have contacts with the automation company, ask them to provide you a spare PC with the program already installed (and try it when they deliver it to you);
  • if you have our solutions and at least 2 PCs you don’t need the above, because our software is already born to be redundant, if one breaks the other can do everything;
  • if you already have one of our latest versions, you can ask us to install the hot redundancy module in this way if something breaks (even the network cable) a backup PC takes control of the system without anyone having to do anything, without wasting time and data.

If you want to know more watch the video:


For PLC software more less is the same.

  • If you still have a relationship with your supplier, ask for a copy of the PLC software or better a CPU already programmed (I’ll explain it below);
  • If on the contrary you have no more relationship, pay an experienced PLC technician to retrieve the program from the CPU (attention that is not always possible);
  • If this route is also not practicable, consider soon a change of the PLC (or just the program);

Easily replaceable components

In the switchboards and in the production line there are some physical components that have a ridiculous cost but if they break, they force you to stop everything.

Even if you can’t buy a duplicate of everything, try to prevent the problem and play smart.

When you commission a new machine or revamping, always provide the list of brands to use for components, this allows you to limit the number of spare parts.

For example, you can ask only PLC of a certain brand and family (like Siemens S7-1500), so you can include in the order 1 spare part for each type of board used (usually they are always the same, with 10 codes you have practically all of them).

The same goes for CPUs, having 4 different models forces you to have 4 spare parts because if one CPU breaks down it could take days before you get a new one.

To optimize, even if it apparently costs you a little more, standardize only one mid-high-end CPU model to fit all tasks and ask all vendors to use only that model. So with only 1 spare part you have covered all the machines and systems.

If it seems too complex to manage and you don’t have an internal automation office, call me, I often do this type of consultancy on new projects.

Also for inverters and any other “particular” component you have to standardize brand and model.
You don’t need to have all the inverters installed, the inverters have different sizes depending on the power, so for example if you buy a 4kW inverter as a spare part, it will also suit for a 2.2kW or a 1.5kW because it has the same size.

Especially in the field you have to identify the critical elements that if they break would completely stop production and have a spare part of each part.
For example, one load cell per type or, one complete pneumatic valve per type or, the motor of a compressor or a rotary valve.

You have to make an analysis of each component and ask yourself: if this part were to break, would I still be able to produce even if with difficulty?

If the answer is “no” you have to buy a spare part.

Once again if you don’t know how to do it you can ask me for advice, for professionals it’s easier than you think.

Physical components that are difficult to replace

There are components that are not easily replaceable, either because of cost or availability reasons or because of difficulties in disassembling and reassembling the component.

In these cases, how do you do it?

There are two methods that travel in parallel, one does not exclude the other:

–     Predictive maintenance

–     Periodic analysis

Predictive maintenance is based on monitoring how much each component has worked, both in terms of number of hours or days, and in terms of start-ups (e.g. how many times the mixer motor has started).

These two data collected by a software are compared with the maintenance tables of the supplier, when the actual values exceed those indicated as maintenance intervals, the software sends a warning to the maintainer who makes the appropriate checks and if all goes well resets the counters waiting for the next interval.

The periodic analysis requires to report on the table all the interventions carried out in the last n. years in order to understand which is the component that has suffered the most problems, the one that has recently been replaced more and the replacement interval used.

In addition, it requires physical inspection of the component by experts to assess the real condition.

There are machines that work for several years without maintenance, but to know when it is time to do it, you need to know the apparent state of wear of the same (how much has worked) and / or the real one (technical inspection).

With these two methods, which should work together, you are able to anticipate the most onerous and complex interventions so that you can plan them in time at the best time of the year and after having taken into account the cost of the intervention itself.

Building the future instead of predicting it.

You can’t stop production because of stupid problems, because you don’t have 10.000€ of spare parts in stock or because your worker got sick.

We must fight to stay in the market and prosper because with every false step we leave the side uncovered to some competitor.

At Multi Data we are constantly developing tools to help you produce better and avoid problems.

In the last year we have introduced the “Diamond” service contract which, in addition to give you immediate assistance, guarantees you to have in our warehouse every spare part that can serve you at PLC, inverter and amplifier scales level, and if something electronic breaks we bring the spare part immediately to you, in the meantime we make you start again (you don’t have to spend to make an electronic spare parts warehouse).

Since last October is available the redundancy module to avoid downtime if you break the PC with recipes and productions, I already talked about it, if you want to know more look here: Linkedin

We already have in beta version (it will be ready in spring) a program not only to manage the predictive maintenance of your plant (machine working hours and number of departures) will also help you to know why the line stopped (maintenance, tooling, breakage, raw material, other) and how much energy you really spent to produce (electricity, water, compressed air) in this way you will have everything under control, to know what happened and to take every necessary countermeasure so that it doesn’t happen again.

Now I think you understand!

I invite you to contact me and ask me any questions.

The best way to sell your products is to make sure that your production line is efficient, modern and reliable.

And I can help you make a difference.

The stronger you will be, the stronger we will be.


Buona vita

Claudio Tosi

Claudio Tosi

Nato nel 1974 a Modena, si è diplomato all'istituto superiore Enrico Fermi in elettronica e telecomunicazioni. Dopo l'anno di militare ha iniziato il suo percorso professionale come tecnico programmatore presso la Multi Data s.r.l. Dopo oltre 20 anni di lavoro, si occupa di seguire i nostri clienti nel settore plastica e gomma, aiutandoli a migliorare la produzione e ridurre errori e costi.

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