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ASPEN:  The Art of Managing Downtime

Mike Steele
Founder & CEO

Mike Steele has over 20 years of experience consulting in manufacturing operations across multiple verticals in over a dozen countries. He is a serial entrepreneur with a successful track record of growing businesses in the manufacturing service sector by delivering hard-hitting improvements to client operations.

Over the years I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to have worked in many manufacturing environments in multiple industries, across 19 different countries. While each manufacturing operation has nuance, they are universally focused on minimizing downtime (unscheduled stoppages, equipment failures, etc.) in order to maximize production efficiencies. Downtime is the enemy…uptime is the goal.  Downtime reduction is such a major focus of organizations that it’s quite common to have one or more meetings per week wholly dedicated to the topic.  That is a lot of focus, energy, and effort being expended, and yet in nearly every operation I’ve ever been in, the downtime information that is available to assist in these conversations is woefully inadequate.  This results in a focus on the “immediate pain” of what just happened, rather than taking a step back and reflecting on the drivers of downtime and addressing root cause issues.  The result: consistently unsatisfying levels of downtime, and a frustrating sense of “whack-a-mole”.  The inadequate downtime tracking solutions I’ve seen (and likely yours) generally fall into one of four buckets.



This last-century approach typically relies on operators and supervisors to manually record events and tally them at the end of shift. More often than not, it gets moved to another sheet, only to be manually summarized again on a daily report. Accuracy with this method is subject to the individual operators’ experience, their ability to estimate time, and their discipline to consistently record events.  The value of this information can be torpedoed by things as simple as poor handwriting, a dirty environment, or a pen running out of ink.  A paper process always places an administrative burden on supervisors, and results in wildly inadequate information for all the effort expended.



In most cases, the paper system mentioned above will be transferred by someone into Excel for reporting purposes.  While Excel can be a very powerful tool in the hands of those few “Excel ninjas” out there, most uses of spreadsheets for tracking downtime fall well short of providing a robust understanding of downtime issues.  Additionally, migrating from paper to Excel results in a delay in communicating downtime, creates an additional administrative burden, and can induce typos and errors as handwritten notes are manually keyed in.  These issues often compound as mill-level spreadsheets must then have certain summary numbers pulled, and then manually entered into separate Regional, Divisional, or Corporate spreadsheets.



Over the last several years, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have been integrating downtime tracking solutions with their equipment.  With this additional capability, a machine is now able to report some downtime information.  While this is exciting, the value of this potential benefit is muted by a couple of realities: 

·  The reported downtime accurately records the exact number of seconds a machine is not working, and possibly the specific location where a stoppage occurred, but the OEM system doesn’t know why downtime happened.  Was the [belt stoppage] due to a mechanical failure, an electrical failure, or was it operationally induced?  If it was a mechanical failure, was it a bearing failure, or a shaft failure?  These systems simply don’t know.

·  Most factories have equipment provided by multiple OEMs, and those (helpful but inadequate) reports do not aggregate.  This glaring problem results either in several reports being printed out and emailed around, or someone extracting summary-level information from each OEM report, and…you guessed it…entering it into an Excel tool with all the deficiencies we’ve already covered.



While Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are excellent at managing all aspects of an operation under a single software product, the fact is that downtime capture and recording (typically a subset of the Production module) is an afterthought to the big ERP systems.  A cheap add-on that checks a box for them, but does very little to help understand, manage, and improve downtime. 


If you’re still reading, it is likely that something in this article has struck a nerve…a pain point that you have regarding your ability to track and manage downtime in your facility.  Possibly you’re considering an alternative solution to the one that you have.  If that’s the case, then let’s take a moment to reflect on what an “ideal” solution looks like. 

For a downtime tracking and reporting system to be considered robust and effective it should meet several criteria:

·  CONNECTED:  In today’s world of high-tech equipment and internet connectivity, a quality downtime solution should gather every second of downtime from Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), and store all data on the Cloud to enable access to reporting from anywhere in the world.  Data from all facilities should flow up and across an entire corporation to allow for immediate and transparent comparison of results, and offer simplified identification of best practices.

·  INTUITIVE:  The interface of a quality downtime solution should be “smartphone simple” to use, and the reporting should be highly visual, and easily interpreted. 

·  ACTIONABLE:  Data should be gathered at a granular level, but reported in a way that highlights the four key concerns of downtime:  Location, Duration, Frequency, and Cause.  The “Cause” that is reported should chart a course to the source of the problem and facilitate a formalized approach to Root Cause Analysis.

·  COST EFFECTIVE:  Let’s face it, the cost of ever-improving technology falls every year, so your expectation for what a system like this costs should reflect that reality. 


Seeing this tremendous market need, in 2023 I started MADERA, a software company focused on developing world-class solutions to meet the real-world needs of high-volume industrial manufacturing operations.  ASPEN is our downtime tracking and analytics solution, and it sets the bar for what manufacturers have been needing to manage downtime effectively, and transparently.  From our PLC-connected touchscreen tablets to our cloud-based reporting solution, companies can now track downtime in real-time, or do deep-dive analysis of downtime over a longer period in just a few clicks.  Reporting is highly intuitive for a company with a single facility, as well as multi-national corporations with dozens, or hundreds of facilities reporting to different divisions. 


MADERA has hit the market with ASPEN, a product that revolutionizes the ability of companies to understand, and drive, results. 


There is an art to managing downtime, and it’s called ASPEN.

Image of a team member at a factory wearing a hard hat

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