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Five Steps to Reduce Equipment Downtime

Leverage software, training, and reliability-centered maintenance to maximize productivity

Bryan Christiansen

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS.

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Lab operations are time-sensitive and require uninterrupted equipment availability to ensure the quality of investigation results isn’t jeopardized. Unplanned lab equipment downtime results in reduced productivity and financial loss, with equipment idling or operating below desired levels. 

Lab facility managers are under constant pressure to optimize asset efficiency and availability. They must employ innovative measures to keep lab assets operational and minimize equipment downtime. This includes exploring the prospects of digital technology in asset management, real-time equipment performance monitoring, and maintenance planning.

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Here are five steps that labs can take to minimize downtime and maximize productivity:

Step 1: Use a CMMS to automate maintenance

Manual lab operations are prone to human errors, resulting in decreased productivity and longer turnaround times. The effects of manual work are more evident in maintenance management, with multiple independent assets requiring diverse maintenance interventions to keep equipment and systems functional.

Labs can boost productivity by automating maintenance with a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). A good CMMS provides lab managers with centralized maintenance planning tools and allows them to track equipment maintenance across the facility, enabling them to distribute various maintenance tasks among personnel. 

Additionally, CMMS solutions facilitate accurate data storage and maintenance. Labs can keep detailed equipment manuals and standard maintenance procedures for technicians to refer to when conducting routine inspections and repairs. That way, lab equipment receives the appropriate care required to maximize its performance and efficiency.

A reliable CMMS streamlines equipment maintenance planning and provides technicians with adequate technical resources to foolproof maintenance processes and guarantee prompt inspections, repairs, calibrations, and faulty component replacements. 

Step 2: Have a backup plan for critical equipment

Lab equipment can fail without notice in spite of a robust maintenance program. Such breakdowns are beyond the control of facility managers. Labs need to prepare for emergency breakdowns and develop suitable mitigation measures, including investing in redundant lab systems.

Equipment redundancy ensures labs remain operational when primary systems break down. Labs can implement redundancy for critical equipment—data storage devices, power backups, or auxiliary analysis equipment. The redundant systems buy time for maintenance teams to troubleshoot, repair, and restore failed equipment. 

Lab managers evaluate several factors before determining the redundancy required in a facility and prioritize critical equipment whose failure will jeopardize other operations across the facility. For instance, labs can consider owning a backup power supply unit in anticipation of potential power interruptions. They will need to analyze the cost of equipment downtime before acquiring the redundant system. How much equipment downtime can the lab sustain, and how much will it cost the facility? 

Step 3: Streamline maintenance, repair, and operations inventory

Labs can experience extended equipment downtime due to missing or inadequate maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) supplies. Some MRO parts can be difficult to source, while others are expensive. Lab maintenance teams require adequate MRO supplies to respond to emergency breakdowns and replace damaged components. Streamlining MRO inventory management is one way to minimize downtime and boost the productivity of a lab.

Conducting a comprehensive facility audit and analyzing historical maintenance data helps lab managers develop a lean maintenance inventory. The audits are crucial for identifying resource requirements for routine maintenance schedules and critical replacement components that take time to acquire. Lab managers use these audits and maintenance records to identify and rank spare parts and tool vendors, along with identifying the most reliable partners to work with when managing MRO inventory. These audits can also unearth unnecessary spending and waste in the form of obsolete spare parts.

Automating lab equipment maintenance scheduling makes it easier for lab and maintenance managers to track MRO inventory utilization and related costs. The managers can identify replacement parts or components that frequently break down and try to establish if it is a manufacturing or installation problem. 

Step 4: Establish reliability-centered maintenance

Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) programs focus on identifying and eliminating the root causes of frequent equipment failures. Maintenance teams look beyond restoring defective equipment and analyze the causes and effects of different asset failures. Some reliability-centered maintenance programs train lab equipment operators to troubleshoot common equipment failures.

Addressing the root causes of lab equipment failures prevents their recurrence. The RCM program details how to conduct root cause analysis and ways to collect data using advanced maintenance technologies like condition monitoring and predictive analytics. 

Condition monitoring and predictive maintenance require multiple sensors to monitor the real-time performances of lab equipment. These sensors identify erratic equipment performance patterns and use predictive algorithms to estimate when failure is likely to occur. 

Maintenance teams use this information to initiate planned equipment downtime and rectify the defects before critical assets fail. Through such measures, labs eliminate unnecessary equipment downtime and can significantly lower the total cost of maintenance. 

Step 5: Invest in employee training

As lab equipment continues to evolve, it incorporates sophisticated digital technology. While these advanced systems improve the performance of lab equipment, they can complicate the approach to asset care. It demands a shift to data-driven maintenance strategies and the utilization of several digital tools to maintain lab equipment.

Labs can invest in advanced training programs to acquaint operators and maintenance technicians with the operations of different systems. Additionally, it introduces them to advanced data analysis skills, making it easier to identify underlying equipment defects based on real-time performance data. Proper training allows labs to identify and rectify defects before they cause costly equipment failures.

Unplanned equipment downtime negatively affects lab productivity and revenues. For maintaining the quality of investigation results and overall productivity, it’s crucial to reduce it. Labs can counter equipment downtime by implementing automation, equipment redundancy, and effective inventory management strategies. 

Reducing equipment downtime may not happen immediately; it requires substantial financial investment, continuous improvement, and the participation of different lab employees. Track the efficiency of various equipment downtime mitigation measures and develop relevant employee training programs.