10 tips to reduce downtime in manufacturing

Smart Manufacturing

Interruptions and equipment failures can be costly and tedious. Even if only one machine goes down, it impacts every process down the assembly line. Luckily, there are multiple ways to get ahead and shorten the duration of delays. Here’s how businesses can reduce downtime in manufacturing.

1. Assess Risks

Even though there have been tremendous advancements in manufacturing technology over the years, many facilities work with outdated equipment. Most have machinery at least 15-20 years old or use parts companies don’t make anymore. Since replacing an entire system or finding the right supplier can take weeks, it’s best to avoid these situations.

A risk audit is one of the best ways to reduce downtime in manufacturing because it’s simple, affordable, and fast. Managers simply take inventory of their machinery, recording its age and wear. This information gives them insight into when and how equipment failure could occur, giving them time to replace everything well in advance.

2. Have a Backup Plan

It’s always a smart approach to have a contingency plan. A backup can prevent unplanned downtime if an important machine breaks down or an employee accidentally wipes critical software. If manufacturing businesses have spare parts, they can immediately swap out whatever breaks.

Although finding extra storage space to keep spare equipment can be expensive, it’s a much more affordable alternative to losing precious production capacity. Manufacturing companies stand to lose a minimum of $500,000 for every hour of downtime. On the higher end of the scale, losses can reach up to $5 million.

3. Collect Operational Data

Manufacturing equipment produces a lot of valuable data while it runs. If managers collect it, they can gain insight into how their facilities operate, significantly reducing the chances of downtime. For example, they could investigate consistent temperature spikes to identify the cause before the machine breaks down.

This method is one of the best because it offers more significant benefits the longer it continues. Manufacturing companies can build up an extensive collection of information over time, helping them find and fix issues much faster. Instead of rushing to find a solution whenever something goes wrong, they can reference their database to find the answer.

4. Train Employees

Employees are one of the most valuable resources a manufacturing company can use to prevent delays. Since they’re constantly on the floor, they can easily spot a small issue and take action before it becomes worse. However, they can only fix things if they know what to look for and how to take care of it.

Manufacturing companies should provide their staff with guides, tools, and training to help them diagnose and fix things immediately. Once they know what equipment failure looks like and what they can do to fix it, they’re more likely to jump in and be the solution.

While training materials and methods differ for maintenance workers and operators, they can all play a part. Even working an equipment checklist into their routine can help them get used to identifying potential machinery issues and preventing downtime.

5. Use the DMAIC Process

The define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC) model is a problem-solving process for finding solutions. It can reduce downtime in manufacturing and help businesses fix the cause behind delays. Once they figure out the basics of the situation, they learn from it and work to improve so similar incidents don’t happen in the future.

6. Install IoT sensors

The Internet of Things is a web of devices with a constant internet connection. It’s useful for people who want to monitor something remotely in real-time. Plus, the technology is readily available and affordable because it’s widespread.

Sensors are IoT devices capable of detecting subtle shifts in the environment. They can monitor changes in temperature, vibration, sound, and pressure as they happen. Facility managers can use them to track equipment health since updates immediately go to their dashboard.

IoT sensors can minimize downtime by improving equipment reliability. For example, if one picked up a new, irregular vibration in a machine, it would alert employees so they could get it fixed as quickly as possible.

Since workers can respond immediately instead of waiting until the problem is noticeable, they can avoid downtime altogether. At the very least, it gives them a chance to reduce its duration — even if they have to wait for a new part to come in, they’ll resolve the issue much more quickly than they would’ve without the sensor.

7. Use Artificial Intelligence

Downtime can result in millions of dollars in losses, even if it only drops production capacity by a small percentage. Since businesses need to keep track of even the most minor parts to stay ahead of it, artificial intelligence may be one of the best solutions.

AI is one of the latest tools in manufacturing companies’ arsenals. It can greatly reduce unplanned downtime while simultaneously improving a host of other processes. For example, it could alert a floor manager to a machine operating irregularly, stopping the issue before it becomes severe.

Also, it can analyze hidden patterns and rapidly process enormous datasets to make insightful decisions. Over time, it can build a large information collection to behave more accurately. When millions of dollars and production quotas are on the line, it’s one of the best tools a company can have.

8. Cross- Train Employees

Some manufacturing companies need highly skilled and knowledgeable employees to fill specialized positions. When those people miss work or leave without enough notice, their absence can cause downtime. The delay will continue as long as their role is empty, which can become a significant issue.

If a business trains its staff to do jobs outside their regular responsibilities, it can prevent these situations. Cross-training can significantly reduce downtime in manufacturing because workers compensate for people who are gone.

Cross-training comes in handy even when staff isn’t the cause of downtime. It offsets productivity losses, reducing the financial impact businesses experience. Employees can increase efficiency in other facility areas until their original roles are ready.

9. Install Automation Technology

On average, 70%-80% of equipment failures or mechanical incidents come from human error. Although employees are among a business’s most valuable assets, they are often the reason behind downtime. Luckily, automation technology provides a solution.

Automation streamlines processes to help manufacturing professionals reduce delays and increase productivity. For example, robotic arms can spot-weld with precision and accuracy. Even though it’s technically another machine to care for, its benefits outweigh the potential maintenance requirements.

If managers in manufacturing businesses notice specific equipment failures keep happening and identify staff as the cause, they can fill the position with automation technology instead. Alternatively, they can keep everyone in the same roles and only use it to support them. Either way, using it can reduce the chances of downtime occurring.

10. Use Predictive Maintenance

On average, manufacturers have around 800 hours of downtime every year because of issues with their equipment. While the amount varies widely depending on the business, almost all experience mechanical problems. If they could predict when it needs repairs, they’d be able to increase their uptime and productivity.

Predictive maintenance is one of the best ways to avoid unplanned downtime and minimize the length of planned delays. It involves anticipating when equipment will need attention to reduce the chance of mechanical issues. Managers can use it to prevent unnecessary repairs, get ahead of problems before they become critical, and prepare solutions far in advance.

Generally, predictive maintenance has a great track record in multiple kinds of manufacturing. For example, fast-moving consumer goods businesses used it to reduce their downtime by 16% between 2020 and 2022. Although it’s not the only reason for the rapid drop in delays, it’s one of the biggest — over 70% of them use it to keep their equipment in great shape.

To reduce downtime in manufacturing, professionals must predict it and do their best to prevent it. No matter their field type, they can use these tips to innovate their approaches and keep their production flowing smoothly.