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Tips For Downtime Cost Minimization

By: Celine Frizzle

Downtime can strike fear in the hearts of even the most stalwart manufacturers. The idea of workers standing by, idle, while production lines sit silent and still, no freshly-manufactured products rolling off to provide revenue and profit, is too awful to contemplate. 

While some amount of downtime is a fact of life in manufacturing, there are ways to minimize it. Here are three tips that can help you minimize downtime and the added costs associated with it:

1. Schedule maintenance

We’ve discussed this before in other posts because it’s so important. Scheduling machine downtime and service is absolutely critical for maintaining performance while minimizing the cost of maintaining, repairing, or even replacing machines not regularly serviced. If your company does not run three manufacturing shifts, use one of the off-shifts for scheduled maintenance. Why not take advantage of the production line not running to service the machines on a regular basis?

2. Use scheduling tools more efficiently

Some manufacturers don’t realize that most ERP systems enable you to schedule more than just machinery. To minimize downtime costs, schedule for your bottlenecks. If you have a lot of available machinery but not a lot of workers, the bottleneck is operator availability, not the production line equipment. Ensure that your ERP system is set up to schedule both machines and the necessary operators to avoid an HR bottleneck that results in unnecessary downtime. 

If your bottleneck is space availability, schedule around your shop floor and when the necessary space is open to accommodate manufacturing. Break your resources down to get a better understanding of what’s available and what’s needed to operate your production line. For example, if you have five presses, but they all perform different functions, they can’t all be scheduled the same way. By breaking your resources down into their unique functions you get more usable data and can schedule around your bottlenecks to more effectively minimize downtime.

3. Organize, organize, organize

Lean and agile manufacturing methodologies are all about streamlining processes and improving efficiency. Disorganization encourages inefficiency and downtime. If workers are spending too much time running around searching for materials, components, and tools, it’s time to get organized using the 5S system.

If you’re not familiar with 5S, it stands for: 

Sort This involves going through all the tools, furniture, materials, equipment, and other necessary items in a work area to determine what belongs there and what doesn’t. Answer the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of this item?
  • When was this item last used?
  • How frequently is it used?
  • Who uses it?
  • Does it really need to be here?

Set-in-order Once all the unnecessary clutter is gone, it’s easier to see what’s what. How things should be organized for more efficient use. Workers can determine their own ordering strategies based on their tasks. Some things to consider include: 

  • Which people (or workstations) use which items?
  • When are items used?
  • Which items are used most frequently?
  • Should items be grouped by type?
  • Where would it be most logical to place items?
  • Are more storage containers necessary to keep things organized?

Shine Proper work area maintenance goes beyond simple sweeping and tidying up. Under the principles of 5S, everyone takes responsibility for cleaning up their workspace, ideally on a daily basis, and in some cases can even include some level of machinery maintenance.

Standardize This includes assigning regular tasks, creating schedules, and posting instructions so these activities become routines. It creates standard operating procedures so that orderliness doesn’t fall by the wayside. 

Sustain This refers to the process of keeping 5S running smoothly and everyone in the organization involved. That includes managers and employees who may not be directly involved with production but can help maintain cleanliness and organization nevertheless. Sustain is about making 5S a long-term program, not just a one-time initiative. Ideally, 5S becomes a part of your organization’s culture and a component of continuous improvement. 

5S does more than just make work areas more efficient and minimize downtime – it boost morale and productivity as workers take ownership of their workspace and pride in its highly-efficient organization. 

Downtime may be unavoidable, but it can be minimized, along with the cost of addressing the situations causing it. By implementing the tips outlined here – and coming up with some of your own based on your specific manufacturing operation – you can go a long way in controlling and minimizing downtime costs.