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A photo collage: first image shows three Sunbelt Rentals chillers working in an industrial plant. Second image shows two industrial plant employees wearing PPE viewing a plan on a smart tablet. Third image shows two men in hardhats viewing a part on a large Sunbelt Rentals generator.

How to Reduce Downtime in Your Industrial Plant

When it comes to operational efficiency, unplanned downtime can cause production at even the most efficient industrial plant to come to a grinding halt. These events can cause shortages to your supply chain, loss of valuable man-hours, and decreased profitability. Unfortunately, they may also be impossible to avoid. But high-quality tools and equipment — coupled with a rental partner dedicated to helping you mitigate operational disruptions — can make all the difference. 

Downtime is separated into two categories: planned and unplanned. Planned downtime is scheduled, dedicated time for routine maintenance on machines, equipment, assembly lines, and more. Conversely, unplanned downtime consists of emergency or reactive work that can be triggered by factors, including: 

  • Equipment failure
  • Operator error 
  • Power outages

Whether planned or unplanned, downtime shouldn’t last a minute longer than necessary. From preventive maintenance plan strategies to tips for proactively managing the environmental effects on your industrial facility, discover the key elements for reducing downtime. You’ll also learn how Sunbelt Rentals can provide fast and efficient solutions for even the most demanding maintenance projects.


Take a Holistic Approach with an Industrial Preventive Maintenance Plan.


Preventive maintenance — a collection of processes, guidelines, and tools for conducting routine maintenance on equipment — is critical for decreasing unexpected machinery failures and ensuring an efficient workflow. This holistic approach is the opposite of reactive maintenance, which focuses on resolving a specific issue rather than carrying out regular maintenance regardless of machine condition. 

Reactive maintenance is best utilized when the part or machine is inexpensive and easy to replace. The run-to-failure strategy may cost less right now, because you’re not spending money to keep equipment in condition. But eventually, you’ll spend far more money and resources than necessary. In fact, the Marshall Institute reports that you’ll pay two to five times as much as you would have if you’d performed proactive maintenance — either preventive or predictive.


Using a Simple Process, You Can Create a Preventive Equipment Maintenance Plan to Tackle This Scenario.


  1. Determine goals to reduce downtime and reactive maintenance costs.
  2. Take inventory of your equipment and assets.
  3. Study the manufacturer’s guidelines for each piece of equipment.
  4. List preventive maintenance tasks and frequency for each piece of equipment.
  5. Schedule maintenance yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily.
  6. Work with a knowledgeable partner who can provide temporary equipment to avoid production downtime.

The rule of thumb for the right balance in industrial process cooling applications, for example, is 75% preventive, 25% reactive. But if you don’t invest in preventive maintenance, breakdown of a critical workhorse — such as an air handler — means you’ll face downtime, lost production, safety risks, and unworkable environmental conditions. 

If you plan, you’ll avoid paying more for:

  • Complicated repairs
  • Replacement parts you don’t stock
  • Expedited shipping to receive those parts
  • Overtime for workers performing the repair
  • Missed deadlines on customer orders

Preventive maintenance is the better choice for equipment where repair or replacement costs run high and parts need periodic attention. Then, maintenance can bring your equipment back to like-new condition and resolve any issues that could lead to downtime later. 

The best approach? Develop a preventive maintenance plan to schedule maintenance, repair, and operations; determine tasks; assign staff; order parts; budget costs; and arrange backups to minimize downtime.


Harness the Power of a Predictive Equipment Maintenance Plan.


Preventive maintenance will save you time and money compared to reactive maintenance, but it’s not the only essential element to tackling downtime at your industrial facility. Predictive maintenance is the next critical step. Instead of simply scheduling preventive maintenance according to the original equipment manufacturer’s suggested intervals, your machines can let you know when they need attention — and you won’t have to shut them down to determine their condition. 

With the following in place, you’ll know how long you have to service a key part or machine before it grinds to a halt. As a result, you won’t waste a minute of any component’s usable life.

  • A basic setup to collect data
  • Sensors to measure vibration, temperature, pressure, rotating speed, chemical composition, and many other parameters
  • A software system to handle monitoring and analysis, so you’ll know how long you have to service a key part or machine before it grinds to a halt

Consider most process cooling equipment, for example. The combination of fans, drives, motors, bearings, and varying loads puts enormous stress on mechanical components, eventually leading to failure. The question is: When?

One key way to determine when the bearings and gears in a rotor are going bad is simply to listen. But that requires access to the equipment, which often isn’t available when it’s running. And you’re gathering information only on one component. You may still not know the best time to shut down the equipment to perform preventive maintenance. 

On the other hand, predictive maintenance lets you shift from reacting to problems and a keep-it-running philosophy to analyzing performance and continually improving processes.

Let’s walk through how this strategy worked for a power generation company with 30 facilities.


Customer Success Story: Predictive Maintenance Plan. 


A major power generation company leveraged an end-to-end solution to implement predictive maintenance plantwide across its 30 facilities. The goal was to replace monthly manual data collection and analysis with daily remote data collection and monitoring.

Now, when the predictive system discovers an anomaly, it sends an email to alert key staff. The alert provides information in graphical form to pinpoint deviations and deliver an initial diagnosis. A recommended time frame also lets the team schedule a fix when the cost or time required will be lower, the plant will be shut down for maintenance, or the demand is lower.

To make the most of the reduced downtime afforded by predictive maintenance, the power producer implemented a comprehensive schedule to perform work with the help of Sunbelt Rentals. At the start of each quarter or fiscal year, Sunbelt Rentals meets with plant representatives to discuss maintenance activities, temporary utilities, logistics, budget, and communications, all to ensure that power consumers will never be without power even for a moment. Any time a plant experiences an issue, maintenance personnel can simply reference the planning document created, and Sunbelt Rentals puts it into action.


Manage Environmental Impacts Proactively.


Your facility may be experiencing much different conditions now than when it was built, especially if that was decades ago. According to NASA, temperatures planetwide have seen a rapid warming trend since the pre-industrial period, with Earth’s global average temperature increasing by more than 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade.That may not sound like much, but ambient temperatures in the summer where your facility is located could be several degrees higher, drastically changing the indoor environment. Excessive heat and humidity, along with varied weather patterns, may require changes in cooling equipment to maintain production, ensure quality and safety of stored goods, and keep workers comfortable.

To stay competitive, plants are requiring longer shifts, higher production levels, and faster throughput. Regulations may also mean your workers today must wear stifling protective gear. That puts a lot of stress on staff, especially when the temperature soars. For example, a U.S. Department of Energy study determined that for every 1°C (1.8°F) temperatures rise above 25°C (77°F), work performance declines by 2%. So, when you think of reducing downtime, you want to make sure you consider staff hours as well as equipment downtime. 

Although years ago, your predecessor might simply have opened the factory doors, today’s high-precision manufacturing equipment often requires clean air, largely free of dust, dirt, pollen, and insects. And, opening a door won’t do much good if the temperature outside is sweltering. But plant managers today can choose from a range of cost-effective solutions for supplemental cooling, from mechanical cooling and hot-water absorbers to absorption chillers that use byproduct heat.


Customer Success Story: Proactive Approach to Environmental Impacts.


After a supplier’s faulty installation of flawed equipment on a five-plant production site, a poultry processing leader faced additional moisture on hot days. This, in turn, caused safety and quality issues.

The site, which included cooking, breading, and a spice dock, needed air as dry as possible, with temperatures at or below 12°C (55°F). But the supplied air conditioning didn’t provide the required temperature.

Safety issues also occurred when workers cleaned the spice dock floor. The area would remain wet, and cooling coils would form ice, creating the potential for forklift slippage and employee hazards. Also, 700 amps was not sufficient to safely supply power to equipment.

To ensure correct conditions, Sunbelt Rentals installed air-cooled chillers for lower temperatures and maximum moisture removal. The positive impacts were far-reaching: 

  • With cooler delivered air, the existing refrigeration equipment could operate as designed, eliminating the need to replace equipment. 
  • Stainless steel building penetrations and sealing with certified food-safe caulking allowed workers to properly sanitize the areas. 
  • Safety improved with point-of-service breaker panels for power control and proper grounding.
  • To reduce electricity use, the rental team arranged installation of a gas feed to the desiccant dehumidifiers that are part of the total process cooling system.

Installing an air monitoring system and creating and implementing a maintenance schedule left the poultry producer much better positioned to avoid USDA-related work stoppages due to condensation contamination. As a result, they were able to keep production moving.


Consider Product, Speed, Quality, and Standard Changes.


Every year, plants face changes in equipment and processes due to internal shifts — such as new product introductions, greater customer demand, and different quality controls — as well as external standards such as evolving regulatory requirements. This often requires modifying the plant environment and equipment needed for process cooling.

If your current capacity cannot keep up with peak demands or meet regulatory requirements, you may have to repair or replace a chiller, air handler, or cooling tower, preferably without disrupting your operation. If you need only a replacement part, you may be able to get by with your existing equipment for a few days and not lose much time. But if you need to order a large rooftop unit, with a delivery date weeks or even months away, you’ll want to consider renting supplemental equipment to cover the gap. That may call for portable air-conditioning units that can spot cool or a fully engineered solution that involves large rooftop units, chillers, air handlers, and cooling towers.

Either way, be prepared for the situation to unfold in ways you least expect. Working with a partner such as Sunbelt Rentals can help you create an emergency cooling plan and confidently address equipment failures and other adverse situations.


A Sunbelt Rentals chiller being transported on a Sunbelt Rentals truck.


Customer Success Story: Keeping Up with Changes.


The USDA flagged a food processing plant for condensation that occurred with low temperatures during second processing. The plant was under pressure to quickly find a solution for maintaining correct condensation levels with makeup air — or face a shutdown.

The challenge? Meeting the engineer’s requirement for makeup air and single-digit dew points while containing cost. The facility had no existing roof or wall penetrations, and wall penetration core drilling for six penetrations 40 feet above ground would have to take place over existing ammonia lines. Also, core drilling and installation had to be done within a 36-hour window. Air had to be distributed throughout the area inside the plant, but workers faced limited space overhead to run ductwork and no existing gas lines or power disconnects. The site also had no level laydown area for equipment, and the adjacent road had to be kept open for tractor-trailer traffic.

The Sunbelt Rentals solution development team arrived on-site and prepared a proposal for the customer within a day. The Power & HVAC, Scaffolding, and General Tool specialty teams presented a turnkey proposal within four days and coordinated scheduling of outside contractors. Building scaffolding to create a level area for equipment — and installing the equipment itself — required one day. Within 24 hours, the equipment was running and the ductwork installed. The Sunbelt Air Monitoring System provided 24-hour remote readings from the plant and logging for USDA audits. 

With requirements met for temperature and humidity, the USDA released the facility, keeping downtime and lost production to a minimum.


A person wearing a white construction helmet and Sunbelt Rentals safety vest uses a portable measurement tool to monitor the air temperature in ducting connected to a portable air conditioner.


Develop a Contingency Plan. 


With a contingency plan in place and a partner with temporary equipment, engineering knowledge, and expertise to ensure smooth installation, you can change a reactive response to a proactive one. To develop an effective contingency plan, start with these five steps: 

  1. Identify situations that would put your production goals at risk. You know your facility’s tolerances for ambient temperature and moisture. Brainstorm with your employees and get creative about what could go wrong. Rank the risks in order of probability and impact to your business.
  2. Determine which pieces of equipment are critical to your manufacturing operations. List their performance specifications, and then look for temporary equipment that could replace each one in an emergency, along with any accessories required. Install connection points for temporary process cooling equipment and power supply in your structure before they’re needed.
  3. Create a contingency plan for each scenario identified in Step 1, including the timeline, source for equipment, logistics for bringing it on-site and installing it, and communications to make sure everyone knows what to do and when. Keep the plan for each piece of equipment with it on paper, not on a computer that could be inoperable in an emergency.
  4. Work with a partner who will look at your operations, help determine your requirements in an emergency, agree to a response time for delivering equipment, and outline everything you need for a seamless installation and recovery, whether it’s power generation, scaffolding, or a forklift.
  5. Educate your workforce. Your staff should respond to incidents with memory as embedded as the muscle memory they use for a golf swing. They’ll need training to build discipline and processes, react appropriately, and avoid making mistakes that could cost your plant and up your downtime. They’ll also need to practice the plan, so it’s as automatic as a fire drill.


Customer Success Story: Putting a Contingency Plan Into Action.


A plant faced shutdown by the state when water testing revealed contaminants in two cooling towers. Cooling towers are often subject to water quality issues and need periodic maintenance to remove dirt, dust, pollen, insects, algae, and bacteria. Not only can contaminants contribute to health risks, but they also impact energy efficiency and water treatment costs. The state ordered the remaining towers to be taken offline for testing.

Sunbelt Rentals brought in and installed temporary cooling towers in a seamless transition that kept the facility open and productive. A potential work stoppage instead became a non-event.


Prepare for Natural Disasters. 


No part of the world is immune from a natural disaster, whether it’s a hurricane, earthquake, wildfire, flood, tornado, or volcanic eruption. In such an event, your company will need help getting back online.


Here Are Just a Few of the Details You’ll Want to Cover Before You Face an Emergency Situation.


  • Temporary equipment location: Identify locations to position equipment, ensuring it won’t impede normal traffic. Determine how much electrical cable, chilled water hose, and/or flex duct you’ll need.
  • Electrical connection: Establish the location of temporary electrical connections and how they’ll be made.
  • System connection: Determine how and where connections are made. Choose
    a location that’s easily accessible and requires the least amount of temporary installation material.
  • Power availability: Document the available voltages and amperages in case a transformer or generator is needed. Even if power has not been affected, some temporary units may require more power than existing units.

Making sure your contingency plan covers all the details is the key to saving every spare minute in natural disaster situations. A rental partner such as Sunbelt Rentals can save you days or weeks by working through every scenario and every possible need at your specific site.

For example, you may use chillers in your process cooling. Many times, the permanent chiller works on electricity of a specific voltage and amperage. The temporary chiller must use the same type of electricity. If that’s not possible, you’ll need a generator or transformer to adjust for the power differential as well — and the fuel for it. Or, the connection points may use 4-inch hoses, not the 8-inch hoses the company supplying the chiller brings. 

The bottom line? Planning and communication are critical, down to the last nut and bolt.


An aerial view of eight Sunbelt Rentals cooling towers connected to an industrial plant facility, identified by large industrial pipes connected to holding tanks, a number of catwalks and viewing platforms.


Customer Success Story: Facing a Natural Disaster.


When Hurricane Michael hit Panama City in October 2018, manufacturing plants were extremely vulnerable. A chemical plant in the city was decimated, with all cooling towers knocked out. The maintenance personnel called Sunbelt Rentals to deliver a fleet of temporary cooling towers and the generators to power them. Instead of the four- to six-week delay experienced by many companies, the chemical plant was back online within 48 hours.


Consult with a Partner — at No Cost. 


When you’re developing a preventive or predictive maintenance plan, responding to a change in anything from climate to regulatory rules, or fighting an emergency shutdown or natural disaster, you need a partner who’s just as invested in saving time and money as you are. Sunbelt Rentals provides high-quality equipment and accessories, engineering knowledge, and installation expertise wherever you need it, 24/7. 

Contact Sunbelt Rentals to learn how we can support you with the planned and unplanned maintenance needs of your industrial facility, from planning to execution — and explore five questions to test your knowledge