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How Not To Fail With MTBF

8 min read

Okay, let's be real — failure is a part of life. Losing a button in the frantic shirt tug to look good for a meeting? Failure. Trying to remember a story so badly you mix up the end with the middle and forget who you're talking to? Double failure. Laying a bottle of wine so carefully like a newborn baby in your shopping bag but a pack of eggs cracks, unloved, on the way home anyway? Well, that's still a success, to be honest.

Whatever you do, it's important to recognize that failure is all around us. Especially if you're in charge of asset maintenance. Plenty of machines, tools and equipment last for a set amount of time before they break down. These failures are inherent. You can't avoid them. However, you can make them less frequent and impactful. A solid maintenance strategy can tell which assets are likely to stop working and whether repairs or replacements are paying off.

Ironically, then, you can fail at dealing with failure. Or succeed. We're going to show you how — all with a pivotal metric, Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF).

Soon enough, the only thing cracking will be those eggs in the bag, instead of your asset protection.

MTBF, MTTF and why they're important

What does Mean Time Between Failure reveal? You guessed it: The average time it takes for an asset to cease functioning properly.

MTBF tracks the number of hours you have before there's a serious issue. And, remember, we're talking about failure. That means the issue will prevent the asset from operating safely or completely. MTBF only applies to assets you can repair, laying the groundwork for preventive maintenance that can fix the problem prior to breakdown.

In this sense, it's different from Mean Time To Failure (MTTF), a metric that measures your assets' finite (and irreparable) operational lifespan. MTTF is used to calculate when an asset must be retired or replaced. Therefore, by contrast, MTBF suggests that a piece of equipment can be used again with the right repairs, adjustments or new parts. MTTF doesn't. Think of MTBF as signs en route to a destination, whereas MTTF shows you where the last stop is.

Nobody wants a low Mean Time Between Failure rate, because it proves either that your maintenance management plan isn't working, or the asset itself might require too many hours or resources to maintain. On the other hand, a high MTBF suggests that you're fixing equipment promptly, it's running well and the maintenance work is satisfactory and reliable.

How to calculate MTBF

Finding a failure rate is fairly straightforward. You just have to divide the number of failures by the asset's total operational hours in a given period. This generates an average figure.

Calculate MTBF with:

Mean Time Between Failure = time the asset was active ÷  X amount of failures

Let's use an example. We have an industrial press running for 10 hours a day, five days a week. In three months, it fails four times. The formula would look like this:

600 hours ÷ 4 = 150

You can apply MTBF to one asset or groups of assets, assessing how they perform side by side. This is a great technique for understanding what a healthy rate of failure is for certain types of equipment. So, if we return to our industrial press and add five more presses — all working through the same period, but with 16 failures in total — we arrive at:

3,600 hours ÷ 16 = 225

That's a higher MTBF on average for the entire asset class compared to 150 hours for just that first asset. What does that tell you? Something's wrong with the first asset's preventive maintenance, or it's suffering a more terminal operational decline.

A quick word on Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

Before we move on, we must mention another metric: OEE. You might've heard of it. As Lean Production explains, OEE measures "the percentage of planned production time that is truly productive." In other words, it shows which assets are delivering the most usable output (whether that's materials, goods or interactions) during the hours in which they're meant to be active.

Ideally, you want a 80-90% OEE rate or higher. Downtime will, of course, reduce output and make your assets less profitable. MTBF, then, is often linked to OEE. By inadequately preventing or dealing with failures, you're harming productivity. When MTBF scores are higher, you should expect OEE to rise, too.

Common causes of poor failure rates

We've alluded to a couple of reasons behind a low MTBF calculation. But, here, let's examine what a high failure rate can tell you about your asset and component maintenance. There's more to investigate than you might think.

You aren't conducting the right repairs on schedule

Keeping equipment humming reliably depends on knowing when it's about to break and what should be done to fix it. Your maintenance team requires a precise, prioritized workflow to step in and repair the asset according to best practices. When there's a low MTBF, it may reveal that you're conducting maintenance too late before the asset shuts down, or your technicians are making mistakes.

The asset isn't worth keeping

Alternatively, the fault may lie with the asset — a damaged, defective or low-quality tool that doesn't justify your investment. This is why it's crucial to have a baseline for assets from one supplier: It helps you compare singular performance against the rest of the assets' Mean Time Between Failure rates. That being said, the same machines or equipment could be failing regularly en masse, which calls for extensive replacements.

Your inventory isn't sufficient

Maintenance personnel need the correct tools for the job. If assets are failing more often, your repair inventory — including any component for small, internal replacements — might be emptier than you realize. Subsequently, you should check with technical experts or asset manufacturers to see whether you have everything you need for reliable maintenance.

Your processes demand newer models

The ways in which you work, even if some of them are tried and true, can influence MTBF. That's because you might be mixing new and old processes, trying to keep up with the sprint to Industry 4.0. Reliable machines must withstand extra strain as your productivity climbs. With a low MTBF rate, you have the necessary evidence to make smarter business decisions, reinvesting across the board in the latest equipment that can handle additional operational pressure. Or, maybe your processes need tweaking instead.

How to improve MTBF

At some point, you'll have to wave goodbye to your assets and let them go. Until then, dry your eyes. There are plenty of routes you can take to boost a Mean Time To Failure rate throughout your business. Here are several methods we've gleaned after decades of consulting with manufacturers, leisure centers, healthcare providers and other maintenance clientele.

Finetune preventive maintenance

The better you're able to forecast when an asset will break, the earlier you can repair it without too much downtime. For example, you might discover that a gym cross trainer lasts for 280 hours on average before demanding maintenance. In that case, schedule your repairs for the 250-hour mark. You'll cut inactivity to a minimum and retain peak performance.

Conduct deeper inspections

What's the problem? Why did it occur? Is this something you expected, or is it something you didn't plan for? Thorough tests and root cause analysis may bring unknown factors to light. For instance, you might find out that a component causes more failures and then choose to restock your inventory with a superior alternative. Or, your technicians aren't following the asset manual to a T. Consider retraining them. Another metric, Mean Time To Resolve (MTTR), is handy in this instance to gauge whether useful repairs are being made too quickly or slowly.

Close the gap between failures and alerts

When an asset breaks down, you should know about it straight away. Real-time alerts are a key part of the maintenance equation. They tell you when planned and unplanned failures occur, launching your maintenance squad into action. Modern maintenance management software keeps you in the loop 24/7 about which assets are functioning, due for a repair or shutting off completely. Maintenance teams are also alerted automatically with zero delays. More on that soon!

Separate MTTF assets

Trying to maintain equipment with a defined shelf life is pointless and sucks manpower from repairs that actually have an effect. So, if you haven't already, identify the assets that will fail forever at some point after sustained use — those that count toward MTTF. By making full replacements at the right moment instead of wasting time on futile repairs, you can focus on improving MTBF elsewhere.

Try to correlate an increasing failure rate

In many cases, assets begin to wear out after years or decades of use. This decline — rather than a manufacturing or maintenance error — can account for an increasing failure rate. If you're seeing trends emerge for older assets, pay attention to them — they could signify that equivalent replacements are on the cards now, instead of much later.

Everything we've just discussed relies on tracking the equipment in your care, how it's behaving and what maintenance work is done day after day. So, how do you do it?

As always, the answer lies with data collection and clever workflow controls. It's about time we introduced ourselves …

Take your asset management up a notch

Too much failure will bite into your profits, safety record and brand's reputation. However, with MicroMain, you'll never suffer these misfortunes again. Our software treats asset failure as a fact of life but helps you manage it, every hour of the day.

MicroMain's computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) absorbs all the asset information you have and monitors their performance. Piece by piece, it builds a complete maintenance log. Whenever there's unplanned downtime, the software uses that data to calculate MTBF for you. It's immediate, automated and 100% accurate. Other metrics such as MTTF, MTTR and OEE are integrated, too. You have a single dashboard in which you can see them all, displayed in various charts and tables.

Similarly, we've designed our CMMS to record supplementary info: corrective and preventive actions, for instance, and root cause analysis. You can set a pinpoint maintenance workflow that notifies technicians when they should conduct a repair, then receive their reports when they're done. This creates an ongoing digital library of the steps you're taking to perform maintenance tasks and how effective they are. Every work order has an assigned priority level along with a list of the necessary tools and components, so you know whether your inventory is up to scratch for the job. 

MicroMain also lets you clone asset categories for simpler, faster organization. There's no limit on the number of assets you can group like this. As a result, you can test MTBF trends for specific machines or equipment, generating a more granular analysis.

Whether you're seeking sharper reliability predictions or a firmer grasp of your assets and service teams' efficiency, it makes sense to embrace CMMS. What's more, MicroMain ties together multiple sites for a unified view on maintenance activity. If you're going through a growth spurt or struggling to stay on top of several facilities, our software is worth a try.

Book a demo! We want to make failure work for you instead of against you. Then, when an asset does eventually expire, you'll know you've done all you could to keep it in good health. Don't break down over breakdowns. There's a better way.


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