A recent global study showed the majority of companies have experienced at least one unplanned downtime outage over the past three years, costing a staggering average £183,000 per hour across all businesses. David Lenehan of Northern Industrial argues how both soft and hard policies are of equal importance in keeping things up and running.

“Downtime is, in short, a nightmare. But in such a physical business as furniture production, a common error in the hair-tearing stakes is to concentrate primarily on hardware problems, where sometimes the real issue is software.

Before I carry on, let’s get something straight. Northern Industrial is not a software company. We work in multiple sectors, worldwide, specialising in spares and repairs for obsolete equipment. We buy up used equipment and keep it in stock for the day someone across the world has a breakdown and needs an obsolete part or repair to get them going again.

So, while our focus as a company would initially seem very much on hardware, good software management by our customers can often be critical in how quickly we can get them back online.

As an example, a furniture production client recently had a problem on a machine that puts the laminate edging on the cabinets. The machine runs 12 intelligent Berger Lahr stepper motors all run from a main computer. Six of the 12 motors had lost communication with the main computer and so were not running. Our engineer went to site to diagnose the fault and managed to make the computer see the motors but the computer could not operate them. He decided to take the six faulty motors off, readdress the six remaining motors and change their position so that they could resume some production at least.

The six faulty motors were brought back with the engineer into our workshop where we did further fault finding and discovered that they were not able to communicate with the motor as the memory on them had been corrupted. 

Luckily, we had had a previous motor from the customer at our workshop in the past and had taken a backup of their program. This meant we were able to reorder new chips and install the backup program onto their motors before full testing. This was able to be done over a 48 hour period where the customer was able to resume full production after our engineer reinstalled them back at site. 

Had we not taken the backup of their program earlier as standard procedure, the engineer would have had to remove one of the six working motors to bring back to Northern Industrial and copy the program. This would have meant the client would have had no production on that machine at all, as it required six motors minimum, and would have taken significantly longer.

The lesson is that looking after your software is as important – if not more so – than looking after your hardware. Hardware can almost always be found somewhere in the world and shipping only takes so long – 24 hours or less with a good supplier. But lost software can be much harder to resolve quickly. Backing it up should be part of your obsolescence strategy.

If you don’t have an obsolescence strategy, we recommend you get one. A good obsolescence strategy will ensure you get the maximum value from previous or new capital investments in terms of ongoing performance, performance improvement and energy efficiency.

All hardware wears out at some point – the clue is in the name. So have a strategy that takes a head-out-of-sand view on when things are likely to go wrong and have plans in place to mitigate the risks, the key components being Repairs, Upgrade and Spare Parts.

Taking a holistic approach encompassing both your hardware and your software will save you time, stress and money in the long run.


David Lenehan is managing director of Northern Industrial, a multi-award-winning business providing new, reconditioned and obsolete parts and repair services to customers in 132 countries worldwide. The company currently sources from over 1350 manufacturers, covers over 200,000 part numbers, and holds approximately £7m in stock. Northern Industrial is Certified ISO:9001 and approved by ISOQAR.