Why Downtime Events Take Longer to Resolve Than They Should (and What to Do About It)

The shrewdest way to optimize manufacturing productivity may seem to be preventing breakdowns on the line altogether, keeping operations running on time. But there’s a fundamental paradox there, and it’s better for leadership and management to come to grips with this reality than try to deny it: stuff breaks. Regular updates, maintenance and upgrades can minimize or stave off certain issues, but downtime events will occur.

The question that must be answered – the only question that really matters in these circumstances – is this: How do you resolve the problem as quickly as possible?

Giving consideration to the reasons behind typical downtime events and the solutions that can get your line up and running again with minimal lag can be instructive. With that, here are a few of the main issues that drag out downtime events and what can be done about them:

Inadequate access to information during troubleshooting. Too often when the line stops, technicians lack access to the information they need to troubleshoot the problem. That information may include maintenance history, manuals or tacit knowledge from other members of the team. Shift work can exacerbate the issue.


Possible solutions:

- Mobile CMMS tools that technicians can actually use on the floor, and that are maintained with the right information. This takes time and a concerted effort to do well –an effort that can’t simply be rolled out when the trouble starts. Depending on your CMMS, additional systems and tools may be needed to access all the data technicians need.

- Knowledge management and connected worker software is another tool that can organize information and facilitate knowledge transfer when and where teams need it.

- For critical assets, keeping physical copies of manuals, schematics and other pertinent documentation at the machine can help. It’s critical, however, that this information be kept up to date. That can be more problematic with physical copies.

Inadequate information about the problem. In some cases, technicians don’t have a clear picture of what happened when they arrive. At one plant, a critical conveyor belt went offline at the end of second shift. When third shift arrived, the only note included on the work order ticket was “Belt stopped moving at 9:51.” That bare-bones assessment leaves a lot to be desired. The end result: The line was down for two hours while maintenance pieced together what happened in order to make the requisite repairs.

Possible solutions:

- Clear messaging around the importance of rich information in a work order request.

- Access to mobile work order request software that allows operations to input rich detail on the spot.

- Good shift pass-down that ensures there’s always a human at the machine who is familiar with what happened on the previous shift.

Inventory issues. Sometimes parts can’t be found. Sometimes they’re mislabeled. These often are just a systems-and-processes issue, but they can nevertheless lead to costly line stoppages.

Possible solutions:

- Training everyone involved in supply chain and inventory management on correct procedures goes a long way toward preventing these issues.

- Investing in inventory software that is accessible to all team members involved – from stockroom personnel to people on the floor.

- Tying KPIs to accurate parts tracking.

Small, ongoing issues aren’t reported until there’s a critical failure. When a technical hiccup or nagging problem that may seem to be a minor issue isn’t reported by operators, it can compound over time and lead to significant, unexpected downtime.

Possible solutions:

- Incentivize everyone to raise the alarm. Think of a mechanism (and possibly a cultural shift) such as that around the Toyota Production System’s Andon Cord, but for less critical issues that need the attention of the maintenance team.

Root causes aren’t correctly identified. Too often, time is wasted on repairs that don’t solve the core problem, or that lead to additional problems shortly afterward. This rework is time-consuming and costly. According to industry experts, maintenance techs spend only 25-35 percent of their working hours on wrench time. The rest? They may be waiting on parts or instructions or stuck in coordination delays.

Possible solutions:

- Training plays a big role in improving first-time repair rates. But even for seasoned technicians, asset nuances and changes over time make this difficult – especially if multiple people are touching the asset at different times. With a generational shift happening, many teams don’t have the luxury of pairing technicians with years of experience and those in need of more seasoning.

- Remote assistance platforms such as HelpLightning can be useful here, ensuring that SMEs can check out most calls.

- Even here, however, SMEs aren’t always available during off-hours. And some technicians don’t want to use them anyway. For big teams in larger manufacturing environments, a good knowledge management system that allows team members to access and contribute to tribal knowledge forms an intuitive, asset-focused database that can be incredibly useful.


Completely eliminating downtime events, quite frankly, isn’t a reasonable goal. But minimizing the length of time they halt your plant’s productivity is not only possible but is within your grasp. A combination of preparation, employee incentivization and relatively modest tech investment can get your line up and running faster after downtime events – and help you do your part to optimize productivity and profits.