Manufacturing Tomorrow


4 Tips to Decrease Production Downtime on the Shop Floor

Jun 30, 2019
By: Jake R. Rohrer

The scourge of all manufacturing production lines is unplanned downtime — unanticipated time that a machine is out-of-cycle and not producing.

Unplanned downtime absorbs precious capacity, hinders manufacturing lead-time, creates production bottlenecks and, ultimately, diminishes profitability.

New industrial internet of things (IIoT) technology is helping companies capture detailed information about unplanned downtime. Shop Floor Optics combines cutting edge IIoT technology with manufacturing expertise to visualize reasons for unplanned downtime and create tailored solutions to reduce their impact.

Based on my experience working with manufacturers, here are four of the most common reasons for production downtime and what you can do to reduce the frequency and duration of occurrences.

1. Setup

Job standards typically include estimates for time to setup, but it often runs longer. Causes can include:

  • Undocumented setup procedures: Without proper documentation, it’s very difficult to be consistent in job setups. Unexperienced personnel will take longer to train and experienced personnel may take shortcuts. Bad setups lead to poor quality and/or inefficient production with many starts and stops.
  • Incomplete training programs: New employees are often overloaded with information in the beginning. Do you have programs and materials in place that help them get up to speed quickly? Neglecting to train on the nuances of each setup can be costly in the long run.
  • Excessive complexity: Long and complex setups are a burden for your production predictability. They cut into production time, reduce the ability to quickly respond to customer demand and introduce variability in quality and lead-time.
  • Missing inputs/outputs: When information, tooling and materials are not ready for the setup, the time searching adds unneeded idle time to your operations.

Quick Tip: If you don’t already have a training program, establish one or, if you do, review it for outdated information. Supervisors can tag along on skills training and update procedures to reflect how the best operators are maximizing productivity. It’s not uncommon for a seasoned operator to have figured out a better way of doing things that isn’t reflected in a training manual. Capture the knowledge they’ve gained through the years and share it with newer employees.

2. Material Handling

You may have the best operators in the industry, but if they spend valuable time moving materials and tooling, they’re not taking advantage of their skills. What can cause this?

  • Input management: If an operator needs to manage his or her own material inputs, that takes time away from operating the machine. Depending on how your facility is set up, a worker may need to go all the way across the plant to get materials and can easily be distracted from their duties or be pulled aside by others for casual conversation.
  • Output transfer: Once finished goods are produced or a job is completed, the operator may need to transport them to the next workstation. Again, this valuable time that they spend moving materials takes away from what they’re great at, which is running the machine.

Quick Tip: If you don’t have a dedicated material handler, consider redeploying one of your seasoned employees to facilitate material flow through the plant. This person should know your company’s production trends, where items are located and which materials are priorities.  Commonly called water spiders, these material handlers can jump or “float” between workstations so that the operators don’t have to leave their work cells.

3. Personnel

A machine is scheduled to run, but there’s no one there to operate it. There’s a variety of reasons why personnel issues may be causing unplanned downtime in your plant:

  • Inadequate skill sets: You may have enough people, but not enough of the right people. Perhaps they’re not deployed correctly or, if someone calls in sick or quits, others may not be cross-trained to fill in.
  • Lack of cross training: Neglecting to cross-train employees increases the risk of being short staffed on a shift at a key position. With the current labor shortage, cross-training key employees is imperative so your plant can maintain consistent throughput levels.
  • Poor staffing patterns: Having too few people scheduled on a specific shift can result in lower production output.
  • Long shift changeovers: When shifts are slow to ramp up and quick to end, you lose precious time. The same issue also applies to extended breaks and lunch.

Quick Tip:

Analyze the production trends at the beginning and end of each shift. It’s not uncommon for the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes of a shift to be unaccounted for. That half hour of lost capacity adds up.

4. Machine Errors

Perhaps the most obvious sign of downtime is when a machine can’t produce goods due to a breakdown or error. Acting proactively and understanding usage patterns can help minimize the exposure to this type of unplanned downtime:

  • Lack of preventive maintenance: Companies that lack a preventive maintenance program inevitably experience higher occurrences of machine failure. Repairing machines before they break allows you to control the downtime, rather than be subjected to it at an inconvenient time.
  • Misuse of machines: Just as seasoned employees may find shortcuts that create efficiencies, those shortcuts can sometimes result in running a machine faster or harder than its intended use. An operator may think he or she is saving time, but consumable tools and machine parts are expensive and can quickly eliminate any perceived gains.

Quick Tip: Begin tracking your tool life by counting the number of units produced before the machine faults. With a handful of data points, you can proactively schedule maintenance downtime before the equipment breaks and causes excessive disruption.

Capture Actual Downtime with Ease

All companies suffer from unplanned downtime, but determining how much and where it’s occurring is tedious and difficult. Typical downtime reporting in manufacturers often consists of hand-written estimations based on the operator’s best guess. Rounding errors, missing data and back-end data entry are costly consequences to accurate downtime analysis.

Machine monitoring solutions, such as Shop Floor Optics, are bridging this data collection gap by autonomously capturing machine downtime. A holistic solution, Shop Floor Optics pairs cutting-edge technology with manufacturing expertise that can revolutionize the way your company tracks downtime and captures hidden capacity.

To see a demonstration of how Shop Floor Optics can work in your facility, contact us today.


Jake R. Rohrer
Senior Consultant
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