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The Impact of Unplanned Manufacturing Downtime

For managers in the manufacturing industry, one of the most frustrating occurrences is when machines – especially with operators on duty – sit idle for any reason. It can work the other way as well. Downtime also occurs when machines are ready and in working condition, but have no operator on duty to run them. Both situations result in lost productivity, which trickles down to have even more significant consequences. Like any machine, you must maintain manufacturing equipment regularly, so some downtime is expected. The real issue arises when downtime occurs unexpectedly or more often than planned.  

Planned Vs. Unplanned Downtime

When discussing downtime, it’s important to distinguish between planned and unplanned.  Planned downtime refers to scheduled periods when equipment undergoes servicing, updating, or cleaning. Other examples of planned downtime include equipment testing and upgrades as new technology becomes available. 

Effective managers – often through the help of a manufacturing execution system (MES) – plan downtime to occur strategically, resulting in the least amount of impact on productivity. One way in which to do this is to schedule equipment maintenance/updates to occur at regular intervals (i.e. after a certain number of runs) or plan for maintenance to occur outside of standard production time.

Because planned downtime is scheduled, managers can staff accordingly and adjust production schedules as needed to limit the impact on productivity. However, sometimes it is the case that a machine requires unexpected maintenance immediately. Downtime not scheduled in advance is referred to as unplanned. During unplanned downtime, machines halt or limit operations. Depending on the type of maintenance or repair required, this time may be an hour, a full day, or even longer. As previously mentioned, unplanned downtime can also occur because of personnel shortages. When there is no operator present to operate a piece of equipment, it cannot function. Possible personnel reasons for unplanned downtime include poor scheduling and unexpected employee absences. Unplanned downtime not only interrupts a manufacturers’ expected operational time but can also have a disastrous impact on overall production levels. In turn, that affects both revenue and customer satisfaction.

Revenue Impacts of Unplanned Downtime

Because unplanned downtime ultimately negatively impacts production schedules, that effect trickles down to impact revenue as well. Less production means fewer units for sale. And, fewer units for sale means less revenue generated. Revenue goals represent one of the biggest areas owners and managers focus on in terms of measuring success. When unplanned downtime causes expected revenue to not hit its intended target, this is incredibly frustrating. In addition to frustration, revenue goals are often directly tied to other business areas, including investor relations and market value (when it comes to publicly traded companies).

Impact on Customer Satisfaction

In addition to negative revenue consequences, customer satisfaction and service are both also affected by unplanned downtime. Because productivity halts when machines aren’t running, this affects total output as well. In manufacturing, often production schedules directly correlate to customer orders. Failing to meet production quotas then often directly leads to a failure to fulfill work orders – and ultimately, customer orders as well. When customers place an order with a manufacturer, they generally receive a timeframe for completion and delivery. If deliveries don’t arrive when promised, this results in poor customer experiences and overall satisfaction.

How to Best Prevent Unplanned Downtime

Unexpected events and anomalies occur in the manufacturing process, so unplanned downtime may not be 100% preventable. However, there are several strategies successful manufacturers can take to limit it as much as possible. On the personnel side of things, proper scheduling and accountability measures can help ensure that manufacturers schedule enough staff at any given time to operate all machines. This includes building contingency plans in the case of unexpected employee absence. A good time and attendance software solution can help with this, especially when it integrates with an organization’s MES to automatically update as changes to production schedules or employee availability occur.

As far as unplanned downtime due to machine breakdowns or failures – much of this can be prevented by implementing an effective maintenance plan. Rather than relying on machine manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance OR waiting for equipment issues to arise, we recommend taking a proactive approach. Many leading manufacturers rely on predictive maintenance recommendations and machine learning (like that used in IMCO’s Computer Learning Module) to effectively plan for routine preventive maintenance and service. Our machine learning software monitors, learns, and predicts process anomalies and equipment failures before they occur and cause unplanned downtime.

Many manufacturers greatly underestimate the actual amount of unplanned downtime they experience, either due to lack of monitoring or inefficient reporting. This results in not fully comprehending the revenue repercussions or decline in customer satisfaction. Accurately evaluating unplanned downtime and the effect it has on an organization’s productivity and profitability is crucial for setting and achieving realistic manufacturing goals. Equally as important is taking proactive measures to prevent as much unplanned downtime from occurring.  

While it may seem like an overwhelming task, with the right software solutions and training, the effort can be highly automated. The key is getting the right solutions in place and properly training team members on the steps needed to significantly reduce the probability that unplanned downtime will occur. Luckily, the team at IMCO Software brings years of industry experience and technical expertise to advise manufacturers across a variety of industries on best practices and software solutions that best meet their individual needs. If you are looking for ways to reduce unplanned downtime in your operations, we would love to offer our help.  Contact us today to learn more about our unique solutions and partner app integrations that make preventing downtime something any organization can achieve.

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