There is no way to prevent a factory from having an unscheduled shutdown from time to time. However, there are ways to prevent many of the equipment failures that can cause these shutdowns. One of the easiest preventative measures is conducting proactive, rather than reactive, maintenance.

An analysis by ABB’s Process Automation Service found the answer. Kevin Starr, R&D manager, said their findings revealed the root cause of the disparity: the plant experiencing difficulties operated under a run-to-failure philosophy for maintenance, spending nearly 35 percent of maintenance time on unscheduled corrective procedures. In contrast, the plant meeting its goals spent only 8 percent of maintenance time on unscheduled activities.

Other aspects of production that should be taken into account are asset reliability and the criticality of each asset. Understanding which assets are most critical to plant operations and then making sure these assets can perform reliably is an important step in conducting the proactive or preventative maintenance that will keep a factory moving.

The methodologies for managing assets to ensure reliable performance first began to be developed by the airline and power industries and the U.S. military in the 1970s, according to Augie DiGiovanni, vice president of reliability key accounts for Emerson Process Management. “In the last 10-15 years, an understanding of the value of asset reliability as a plant performance issue has spread to all industries.”

Many universities began offering programs in reliability management, DiGiovanni says, and graduates are now entering leadership positions in operations and maintenance at many companies. “They’re realizing that their plants are not executing the reliability methodologies they learned in school,” he explains. “When they experience too many failure events and issues, they recognize that this can’t go on.”

Any reliability program must begin by ranking assets for criticality in terms of the potential impact of their failure on plant production, DiGiovanni says. Strategies then need to be developed to ensure the optimal performance of these critical assets and extend their operating life.

Finally, decisions must be made about what technologies and what data to use to determine asset health.

Understanding which processes in your factory are most critical and keeping them working are some of the most important steps in keeping the production process from having unscheduled downtime. By making sure that engineering teams are trained to identify when maintenance should be undertaken, production lines can have scheduled downtime, which will reduce costs (and downtime) in the long run.

To read more on how preventative maintenance can save you in the long run, visit Automation World.