How Equipment Downtime Affects Your Warehouse — And How to Fight It

Keeping your organization’s logistics and processes running smoothly in warehouses and distribution centers is truly essential for your overall efficiency and profitability. With that said, a single incident of unplanned downtime can put a major dent in all your best-laid plans and strategies.

Fighting back against downtime takes planning and preparation. Despite the importance of staying one step ahead of breakdowns, some organizations lack the necessary processes to stop their supply chain operations from coming to a halt.

The battle against downtime is closely linked to some of the other top priorities you should keep in mind:

  • The impact and risk associated with equipment downtime can escalate amid the heightened activity of peak season, making countermeasures, especially important during these busy times.
  • An equipment failure can make it difficult to maintain a secure cold chain, putting organizations at risk of losing whole temperature-controlled shipments.
  • Creating a safe and productive workplace for all employees is only possible when equipment is maintained to minimize the chances of an unexpected failure.

For these reasons and more, your business should recommit itself to building downtime prevention into your overall warehouse and distribution center management strategy. The best way to start such a strategic realignment is to get back to the basics: What kinds of underlying problems could be causing machine downtime in the first place?

The Causes of Equipment Downtime

Every organization eventually suffers some unplanned downtime in warehouses or distribution centers, but this problem hurts some businesses significantly more than others. The companies that experience the most equipment breakdowns may find a few specific issues in their facilities, such as:

  • Insufficient equipment inventory tracking: It’s impossible to take effective care of equipment if you don’t have a good record of your assets. Poor visibility regarding which assets are in place, how long they’ve been in service and their condition can leave companies scrambling to repair those systems when they fail.
  • Solely reactive maintenance strategies: In some cases, organizations suffer unplanned downtime because they simply don’t have any plans in place for maintenance or service. These companies run their equipment until failure and then deal with getting assets running again as quickly as possible — this overlooks the potential to reduce unscheduled downtime incidence rates.
  • Assets unsuitable for their role: Sometimes, an asset fails because it was never the right piece of equipment for the job in the first place. For example, a company that converts a retail store into a distribution center may inherit dock lifts and levelers that weren’t designed for such heavy usage, which can then fail and cause major slowdowns on the loading dock.
  • Human error and a lack of training: ServiceMax survey respondents say 19% of unplanned downtime comes from an operator mistake. When workers haven’t been properly trained on the equipment they’re using, this could become a root cause for either short or extended downtime, and it could represent a major safety risk.
  • Software and automation problems: The ServiceMax research added that while hardware breakdowns are the main type of downtime risk, affecting 45% of companies, software issues are right behind at 39%. The introduction of new technological components to warehouse assets has helped with overall equipment effectiveness, but also creates new potential points of failure.

Every hour of machine downtime is a major problem for an organization. Becoming aware of the factors that can take assets offline is the first step in keeping them working at peak efficiency for longer. To understand just how important these programs are, it’s also worth considering a related question: how much does downtime cost?.

Downtime’s Costs: Logistics, the Cold Chain, and More

There’s an obvious downtime cost — the money spent on emergency servicing to get the assets up and running again. It also has several less visible but potentially very significant costs that can add up and cause long-term issues for businesses. The following are a few of the ways in which equipment downtime can put your organization in the red:

  • Emergency repair costs: This is the most straightforward kind of expense associated with downtime. When a piece of equipment suffers a machine failure, a business must call in experts to get the assets running as quickly as possible. The price tag associated with these repair services is higher than if companies had prevented the problem in the first place, but too many organizations still rely solely on reactive maintenance, not giving themselves a chance to prevent failures.
  • Lost productivity: When equipment fails, logistics processes grind to a halt, putting revenue in jeopardy. As Unleashed Software noted, the expenses come from several discrete sources. Companies are paying salaries to employees who can’t complete their tasks, and other machinery in the supply chain is sitting idle. Add this to the fact that clients’ orders may not be delivered on time, and it’s clear how quickly expenses associated with lost revenue can mount.
  • Potential cold chain breakdowns and spoilage: Organizations tasked with keeping goods at specific temperatures may struggle especially hard with unexpected downtime. Whether an equipment breakdown affects the temperature control system or simply forces a load to be held in one location for too long, these businesses could end up losing entire loads of goods to spoilage. Unleashed Software noted that this may affect raw materials early in the production supply chain, causing other businesses to be unable to make finished products.
  • Increased safety risk: Equipment that breaks down unexpectedly is simply more dangerous to work around than assets that are working as intended. This means every incidence of unplanned downtime increases the risk to employees in a warehouse or distribution center. Not only is there a significant human cost to any accident, but employees will hesitate to work in environments that have been proven unsafe. Furthermore, if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determines that a company didn’t adequately secure its equipment, the company may be fined.

The costs of suffering unscheduled downtime run the gamut from simple repair expenses to the major toll taken by increasingly unsafe workplace conditions. This should send a clear message to organizational leaders: It’s time to implement programs for equipment downtime reduction.

How to Reduce Equipment Downtime in Your Warehouse

Keeping uptime as high as possible and increasing overall equipment effectiveness is a multi-step process with no single solution. Organizations should bake suitable practices into their warehouse and distribution center management processes to insulate themselves against the costs and expenses associated with frequent downtime.

Helpful methods for facility operators to embrace include:

  • Careful equipment selection and expert installation: As Warehouse News noted, businesses that think they are saving money by purchasing bargain equipment may end up paying more in the end, if these assets prove unreliable. It pays to work with an expert equipment service partner on selecting assets that are suitable for their intended purpose and installing them correctly to minimize the potential for failure.
  • Employee training and clear communication: To avoid equipment issues associated with human error — and to protect people no matter what kind of failure occurs — leaders should make sure all warehouse staff are trained and prepared to deal with all equipment. Global Trade added that employees should not only be well trained and safety conscious, they should feel empowered to communicate up the chain of command about potential improvements.
  • Equipment inventory and data management: Creating a clear log of all an organization’s equipment and keeping it up to date is an essential part of managing assets for optimal uptime. This improved visibility into the suitability, age and condition support that facility’s other downtime prevention efforts. Such a detailed inventory may reveal to a maintenance manager that there is a severely aging piece of equipment in place on a loading dock, or even that an asset was never suited to the workload it’s being forced to handle.
  • Turn to proactive maintenance: The opposite of a purely reactive maintenance strategy, proactive maintenance implemented by an expert equipment service partner is designed to deal with assets before they suffer downtime. This targeted, regular maintenance, carried out in accordance with up-to-date data about equipment, can cut down on the amount and severity of costly downtime incidents, preventing warehouses from racking up expenses. A maintenance manager can use short bouts of scheduled downtime to prevent unplanned machine downtime.

The ideal strategy for machine downtime prevention is tailored to a specific organization’s needs, but the general mission is always the same: to stop as many unexpected downtime instances as possible and put money back in the business’s pockets.

Implementing Proactive Maintenance as a Downtime Countermeasure

The best way to take on a new downtime prevention strategy powered by proactive maintenance is to partner with a national equipment service organization. This is where MINER comes in, giving organizations a consistent and highly professional maintenance team experience.

Due to MINER’s national reach, it’s possible to implement downtime reduction approaches and regular maintenance schedules at multiple facilities while dealing with a single helpful contact. This empowers organizational leaders to spend less time worrying about the minutiae of protecting their equipment and more on the day-to-day running of their companies. If you’re ready to free your business from patterns of excessive, costly downtime and the related problems that come along, request a quote from MINER today for planned maintenance, emergency repair service and much more.