6 Illustrations of the High Cost of Downtime, As Told By Engineers

Perhaps no word in the manufacturing lexicon inspires so much dread as “downtime."

Reducing unplanned downtime is a critical component of running a modern manufacturing business. Getting the most out of the (extremely) capital intensive equipment found in 21st century plants demands keeping the line up and running. Rising labor costs also make time squandered in today’s economy more penal than ever.  We took to Reddit to get real engineers’ experiences with the issue.

1) “You Can’t Shut Off Molten Glass”

One contributor brought up his time working with a large glass factory where the furnaces were engaged 24 hours a day. That meant that molten glass ready for forming was constantly being churned out. Each machine that went down, the user indicated, could cost upwards of $2,000 per hour in wasted material inputs. If a major issue that impacted all the machines sprung up, that figure could balloon to $15,000 an hour.

2) The F-150 Show Must Go On

For one automotive giant, at least, downtime simply isn’t an option. One user cited a case where Ford spared no expense to keep its F-150 and F-250 lines up and running. When their local magnesium stamping supplier was experiencing downtime of their own, Ford chose to fly the stamping dies overseas to a European supplier. Then, they made a Trans-Atlantic flight each day to ship the parts produced in Europe to their American assembly plant until the local supplier got back up and running. That was the cheaper alternative to letting those pickup truck lines stop producing.

3) An Hour of Downtime = Half a Million Dollars

The oil industry was repeatedly referenced as one that incurs astronomical costs when production has to stop. A commenter provided some statistical context specific to deepwater rigs. Many deepwater drilling platforms can produce 200,000 barrels of oil each day, which breaks down to roughly 8,300 barrels per hour. With oil prices hovering around $60 per barrel, just one hour offline translates to $500,000.

4) “….And that’s why we now have a stupidly high quality generator hooked up to the plating department.”

One engineer whose work involved electroplating for aircraft parts had this anecdote to share about the simplest of production failures: a loss of power. His plant was finishing up the post-processing of 3 batches of extremely high value components. In the midst of part of this process called hydrogen embrittlement relief, a car accident hit a power pole and caused an outage. The parts were in furnaces for heat treatment, and when the power went out, the furnaces did too. This meant the parts “dipped out of temperature, and basically permanently embrittled the steel.” The final cost? $60,000 for a 20 minute power outage.

5) In Copper Mining, if it’s not Fixed in a Day…Replace it

Possibly the clearest illustration of the cost of downtime came from a contributor who said his company had a simple rule governing the issue. This mining organization stipulated that if a machine went down, 24 hours would be allotted to bring it back up. Failing that, they’d move on and buy a brand new replacement. The user went on to guess that most of the equipment in question cost between $1 million and $1.5 million. The implication, of course, is that after a day or so that million dollars is outweighed by the cost of not producing in that time. 

Reading these anecdotes paints a pretty clear picture of why reducing unplanned downtime is a major driver behind the latest industry 4.0 technology. If you have your own story about expensive downtime, share it with us in a comment below.