Reducing Downtime

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By Emilie A Lachance - July 12, 2019

Reducing Downtime to Prevent Overtime and Balance Lack of Manpower

Downtime is costly to businesses and their profit margins in many ways. We discuss the Cost of Downtime in another post and how important it is to Track Downtime in another. Two factors that can go overlooked as you evaluate reducing downtime are the human factors. Downtime can often force the need for overtime. This can create knock-on problems as a result of the lack of skilled workers available today in the manufacturing industry.

Overtime is quite costly to companies, so if downtime leads to overtime for a manufacturing company, that can further harm their profits in addition to the lost production. Worse yet, if a shortage of product causes a manufacturing company’s customers to experience overtime, this will impact the customers’ opinion of the company and may erode trust between the customers and the company.

As we note above, there is a lack of skilled workers in the manufacturing industry, meaning that many companies likely already experience difficulty meeting the demand for their product. With overtime as an added problem on top of the lack of production capacity, this can cause companies to fall behind on their production needs and will push customers away.

With that in mind, let’s discuss some tactics to decrease downtime. The ideas below simultaneously solve both the overtime issue and the manpower issue. 

Downtime Reduction Tactics

There are many ways to reduce downtime, often overlooked are two categories: machine maintenance and updating and keeping employees involved.

Machines staying online at high production levels will make overtime less necessary and allow a company to operate at design capacity with fewer workers. Sometimes a machine update can increase capacity. Both of these affect your relationship with workers, so in a way machine maintenance, machine updating and employee involvement are interrelated.

Machine Maintenance

One difficulty with machine maintenance is knowing when specific machines need maintenance and what should be done. Most of us know this is hard enough simply with keeping up with our car’s maintenance schedule. It becomes far more complex across a factory of different machine brands, types, models and production years / variations. 

Ideally, like with your car, the best way to go about this is to have a planned maintenance schedule ahead of time. If a company doesn’t have a schedule to perform maintenance on machines, it is more likely that they will postpone maintenance later and later, because it isn’t convenient for the company in the moment.

A set schedule can keep a companies maintenance on track, but a recent study by GE and ServiceMax found that an astonishing 70% of companies weren’t aware of when their equipment was due for maintenance or replacement, meaning that most companies do not pay close enough attention to when maintenance needs to be done. Often maintenance takes the form of repair, with the additional costs of downtime, overtime, emergency repair costs such as overnighting key parts in etc. 

Preventative maintenance is incredibly helpful in reducing downtime, as the amount of planned downtime that it takes to perform the maintenance is almost always significantly less than the unplanned downtime that would result from a machine breaking or malfunctioning. The maintenance would also very likely cost less than the repairs to a machine if it were to break, helping a company’s bottom line even further.

So knowing when a machine needs maintenance or replacement, in the absence of the machine documentation or a formal maintenance schedule using the documentation can be a challenge.   An automated downtime tracking software can be useful as it can pinpoint maintenance deficiencies over time as well as help to identify the costs of lack of maintenance to enable production management to make the case for regular scheduled maintenance. 

To learn more about discovering the causes of downtime you can go here.

Machine Updating

Machine updating involves upgrading parts, software or replacing the entire machine with a more modern version. This can reduce downtime by extending the time between replacing wearing parts, reduce or eliminate software glitches that can interrupt production or enable higher production over shorter periods of time, creating the time and space for routine maintenance.

Old, outdated machines can be prone to breakdowns, setup losses, reduced speed and startup issues, leading to slowed production and downtime. Having a planned upgrade schedule similar to the planned maintenance schedule would be quite useful, allowing a few machines to be replaced at a time to increase production speed and reliability. This would solve both issues of overtime and manpower, as increased production allows production goals to be met without overtime, and increased production also allows more work to be done with fewer employees. This is also beneficial because making small, less expensive upgrades over time will make budgets easier to maintain than on massive upgrade to many machines in a company. Simple upgrades to CPUs and software that control and monitor machines can also be a significant upgrade with new benefits and operational capability, while being both less expensive and far less time consuming than replacing larger hardware.

Smart Factory Analytics Software can provide you with insights as to where the opportunities for machine upgrades lay so that you can make the wisest investments over time.

Employee Involvement

A particular difficult way to reduce downtime can be dealing with employees who have the capability of both causing downtime and reducing it. Humans can be unpredictable and are hard to control, as well as hard to motivate. To reduce downtime caused by employees, frequent staff communication between managers and operators is vital. Managers must set monthly goals, perform employee evaluations, and listen to feedback from employees as different ways to motivate employees. Setting a monthly goal, a tangible achievement, is much more motivational to employees than simply aiming to produce “as much as we can” in one month, and the month after that, and the month after that. Performing employee evaluations and communicating with employees are also important, as this gives managers a chance to discuss where employees are performing well and where they can use improvement. Being too critical of employees may demotivate them, but giving them another goal to aim for will help to motivate them.

Arguably the best way to keep employees involved is to explain to them the connection between downtime and profit, and brainstorm with employees using their feedback about how to reduce downtime. This makes employees feel involved in the decision process, further motivating them and increasing productivity. Increased employee productivity is vital to counteracting the lack of manpower, as the same work must be done with fewer people. To avoid downtime, each employee must be operating at as close to maximum capability as possible.

Proper training of employees is also a key to reducing downtime. As much as 70% of downtime can be attributed to user error, and the same mistakes will often continue to be made over and over until the problem is addressed. It is important that operators know not only how to operate their machine but also how to fix it, giving them greater insight into what causes machine malfunctions at their stations and how to avoid them. If an employee has the knowledge to perform a quick fix on a machine to keep a small downtime event from becoming a more severe event, this is also a huge advantage in reducing downtime and preventing overtime as a result of a longer overtime event. Cross training employees on machines that they don’t usually work on would also be beneficial to a company. If an employee knows how to operate a machine other than their own, they can possibly help to fix another machine when it malfunctions, or they can work on another machine in the event that their usual machine is experiencing longer-term downtime. This will cut down on wasted labor costs, a large cost during downtime events, as well as further balance the lack of manpower by making each employee capable of performing more than just one task. 

There is enough motivation to reduce downtime when trying to improve a company’s profit margins, but with the added motivation of avoiding the additional costs of overtime and compensating for a lack of manpower, these overtime reduction tactics are vital for a company to remain profitable and continue producing for customers.

Hopefully, you can now see connections between costly downtime, overtime, employee relations and machine maintenance and upgrades! The management of many of these issues can be supported through Smart Factory Analytics software.

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