Unplanned Downtime

Unplanned downtime occurs when there is an unexpected shutdown or failure of equipment or process. Unplanned downtime not only causes costly delays in maintenance, production schedules and order deliveries, but it also increases the chance of personnel injury, environmental incidents and emergency repairs. Unplanned downtime is most likely to occur during transient operations such as startups, shutdowns and maintenance periods, but it can also happen during normal operation.

One of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to reduce downtime is to employ predictive maintenance and prescriptive analytics. These tools allow organizations to get ahead of events such as equipment failures and transform their unplanned downtime into planned downtime. Avoiding or reducing unplanned downtime will benefit the company financially, as well reducing plant worker injuries, maintaining sustainability compliance and meeting customers commitments.


Impacts on safety

Unplanned downtime causes uncertainty. An unplanned shutdown or equipment failure means that personnel have less time to respond safety issues, potentially leading to injuries. Unexpected downtime also makes it difficult for plant workers to make informed decisions about how to react to a new situation.

Most safety incidents occur during transient operations — for example, during startup and shutdown processes. It is therefore crucial to predict and manage downtime as efficiently as possible during these operations in order to make the biggest impact on safety. Predictive maintenance tools, such as Aspen Mtell®, can assist personnel in not only forecasting previously unexpected events, such as machine failure or a fuel leak, but also in seeing the wide-ranging effects of those events and being able to act accordingly.


Impacts on the environment

Organizations are better positioned to comply with environmental regulations and implement sustainability measures during times of stable, reliable operations. Unplanned downtime can disrupt these processes and have an outsized effect on the environment. The chances of incidents such as gas flaring, fuel spills or other emission events increase substantially as a result of unplanned downtime.

Gas flaring is a common, yet particularly damaging, event. Gas flaring occurs when excess gases or liquids must be burned off in the event of over-pressurization, such as during an unplanned shutdown. Gas flaring is both expensive and especially harmful to the environment, generating about 1% of the world’s greenhouse gases every year. Fortunately, sudden shutdowns or failures can be predicted and mitigated using the right asset performance management technology.


Using prescriptive analytics to turn unplanned downtime into planned downtime

Asset performance management technology uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to predict equipment failures and other issues that may lead to unplanned shutdowns, effectively converting unplanned downtime into planned downtime. These tools can connect to an organization’s systems, equipment and other networks in order to provide data on potential failures. This provides a bird’s-eye view of the impact an unplanned shutdown event will have on the entire organization, from productivity to sales. Having the right data to know how and when to act — that is, having improved “decision agility”— helps mitigate risk across the entire company.

On a larger scale, prescriptive analytics tools can also help decision-makers understand when and where to make important investments. Pattern recognition can help identify which areas of the plant or workflow are losing money and how unplanned downtime negatively affects each of these areas.



How can we reduce unplanned downtime?
Using predictive maintenance can help reduce unplanned downtime. Predictive maintenance tools use machine learning to accurately forecast asset and equipment failures. By predicting failures days or even weeks in advance, organizations can schedule a period of planned downtime to mitigate the event. System tools that use machine learning and AI can also employ prescriptive maintenance processes that can identify failure patterns across an entire operation.

How long is downtime usually?
Downtime can last anywhere from hours to months. A simple issue, such as a machine jam or power outage, may be resolved in a matter of hours. A more complex problem, such as the failure of a critical piece of equipment, may last far longer. The length of downtime can be reduced by having a knowledgeable and well-informed staff, the necessary tools to complete the repair and the right data and information to resolve the issue.

What is the cost of downtime?
Unplanned downtime costs can exceed $1 million USD per day. The total cost of unplanned downtime includes not only the expense of replacement parts and repairs, but also the cost of lost inventory, reduced capacity, worker safety incidents and, potentially, damaged customer relationships. Unplanned downtime can cost up to five times as much as scheduled maintenance.

What causes downtime?
Unplanned downtime can be caused by a variety of factors, including but not limited to: machine jams, power outages, leaks, equipment failure, human error and extraordinary events, such as hurricanes. Any unforeseen event that causes a delay or stoppage in production can lead to unplanned downtime.