Minimizing Unplanned Downtime: Strategies for Maximizing Productivity in Your Plant

How much unplanned downtime does your plant have in a week? 

"Downtime" – a word that strikes fear into the hearts of manufacturing managers worldwide. The mere mention of it signals potential disruptions, delays, and financial losses. Unplanned downtime during peak operating hours can wreak havoc on production schedules, leading to delivery delays and wasted resources.  

Production downtime – both planned and unplanned – costs manufacturers billions of dollars a year. According to research from Deloitte, even pre-Covid unplanned downtime cost manufacturers around $50 billion each year, with the average manufacturer experiencing an estimated 800 hours of equipment downtime annually. In modern manufacturing, where efficiency is paramount, downtime is not just an inconvenience but a strategic threat.  

The disruption of production hampers schedules, inflicts significant financial losses, and jeopardizes market competitiveness. Addressing downtime isn’t just about minimizing pauses; it’s a strategic imperative that requires a multifaceted approach. This blog explores the ongoing quest to minimize downtime in manufacturing and the multifaceted strategies employed to achieve operational excellence. 


What is Downtime? 

Simply put, downtime is any duration in which a machine or process is not running. However, not all downtime is created equally. There are two types of downtime, planned and unplanned. 

  • Unplanned downtime — unexpected stoppages or outages 
  • Scheduled downtime — coordinated, planned maintenance/inspection 


What is Planned Downtime? 

Planned downtime is a strategic pause in operations scheduled to maintain machinery and processes. It's essential for conducting inspections, cleaning, and part replacements, ensuring optimal equipment performance. 

This scheduled downtime allows operations to prepare adequately, coordinating with contractors, ordering parts, and planning tasks for maintenance activities. Production managers can arrange planned downs and organize tasks for shop floor workers. 

For instance, using data from production schedules, an MIS/ERP optimizes maintenance downtime by calculating machine hours and scheduling maintenance when necessary. This proactive approach minimizes unexpected breakdowns, prolongs machinery lifespan, and ensures consistent production levels. 


What is Unplanned Downtime? 

Unplanned downtime refers to any unscheduled event that causes a machine or process to be offline, such as equipment failures, breakages, material shortages, or human errors. It can also be the result of inefficient scheduling, or even slow changeovers between shifts. While planned downtime for maintenance and upgrades is manageable, unplanned downtime is the real culprit, leading to lost revenue and delayed orders. 


Importance of Reducing Unplanned Downtime


  • Production & revenue losses 
  • Order delays 
  • Increased overtime 
  • Possible unsafe environments and accidents 
  • Loss of capacity and resource utilization 
  • Increase in maintenance and repair costs 


Unplanned downs cause headaches for production managers and plant managers. Waiting for parts or personnel to fix issues prolongs downtime, directly affecting production output and the bottom line. Depending on what equipment fails, unsellable products and wasted materials due to off-quality production can result.  

The urgency during unplanned downtime is getting that machine/process up and running ASAP. As pressure mounts to resume operations, the risk of accidents increases. The stressful environment often prompts reactive decision-making, compromising safety protocols. 

By identifying the root causes of downtime and implementing proactive measures, manufacturers can mitigate the effects of unplanned disruptions and optimize productivity before a down occurs. 


Analyze downtime 

A first step in minimizing downtime is calculating just how much time and revenue is lost during your plant’s downtime incidents. It's crucial to establish reliable data collection and verification processes to ensure the accuracy of the downtime calculations.  By implementing robust tracking systems, manufacturers can analyze reasons for interruptions, and take targeted action to address recurring issues. 


Equipment Downtime Calculations and Formulas 

Downtime = Duration of stop 1 + duration of stop 2 + duration of stop 3 … 

 = Sum of all Stoppage Durations 

Downtime = Planned Production Time – Run Time 

Cost of downtime = (Duration of downtime x Cost per minute of downtime) + (Lost                           revenue due to downtime) + (Cost of overtime) + (Cost of reputational damage) 


Perform a DMAIC Analysis 

To further understand why downtime happens, and what to do about it, consider employing the DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control). This process is a fundamental tool in the LEAN manufacturing arsenal.  

Using the DMAIC methodology, packaging manufacturers can systematically address downtime challenges, fostering efficiency, productivity, and operational excellence. 

  • Define 

Begin by precisely defining the downtime process and its triggers. Compile a comprehensive list of potential reasons for downtime occurrences. 

  • Measure 

Accurate measurement and attribution of downtime causes are paramount. Implementing robust downtime tracking software facilitates this task by capturing crucial information— such as who, what, when, where, and why—pertaining to each downtime event. 

  • Analyze 

Recorded downtime data undergoes thorough analysis, considering various factors like safety concerns, environmental risks, and material wastage. This holistic approach aids in pinpointing the most critical downtime causes for targeted reduction efforts. 

  • Improve 

Identify opportunities for improvement, including optimizing inspection frequencies, establishing regular maintenance schedules for parts replacement, and updating preventative maintenance protocols as necessary. 

  • Control 

Maintain vigilance by continuously monitoring and analyzing downtime trends to prevent resurfacing issues. Implement workflows and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to sustain control and facilitate ongoing improvement efforts. 


How to Reduce Downtime:  Best Practices for Downtime Reduction 

  1. Monitor Real-Time Data: Real-time monitoring systems, such as HiFlow, offer invaluable insights into machine status, job progress, and resource availability. By leveraging real-time data, operators can swiftly identify and address potential issues before they escalate into major downtime events, ensuring proactive intervention and uninterrupted production flow. 
  2. Properly Train Production Line Employees: Investing in comprehensive training programs equips your workforce with the skills needed to identify and resolve issues promptly. Well-trained employees contribute to error reduction, adherence to best practices, and efficient troubleshooting, ultimately minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity. 
  3. Upgrade Manufacturing Equipment: Outdated machinery is a common culprit behind downtime incidents. By upgrading to modern, more efficient equipment, you can enhance productivity and minimize the risk of breakdowns associated with aging machinery, ensuring smooth and uninterrupted operations. 
  4. Maintain Effective Changeovers: Optimizing changeover processes is essential for minimizing downtime during product transitions. Streamlining changeover procedures and implementing efficient protocols can significantly reduce the time required to switch between products, maximizing uptime and production efficiency. 
  5. Continuous Improvement: Regularly reviewing and improving scheduling processes based on downtime analysis is crucial for ongoing efficiency gains. Leveraging advanced MIS/ERP systems enables continuous improvement by providing actionable insights into operational performance, facilitating data-driven decision-making, and driving ongoing optimization efforts. 
  6. Invest in Technology: Harnessing the power of a robust MIS/ERP/MES system, such as HiFlow, that can assist in optimizing production processes and minimizing downtime. These sophisticated solutions offer Industry 4.0 features that will monitor, analyze and optimize workflows empowering manufacturing companies to maximize uptime and manage planned downtime effectively. 


Final Thoughts 

The journey towards minimizing downtime and maximizing efficiency in packaging operations requires a multifaceted approach, with digital transformation serving as a pivotal solution. By seamlessly integrating Management Information Systems (MIS) into your business ecosystem, you're not just digitizing operations; you're fundamentally transforming the way you do business. 

The benefits are manifold: real-time data sharing empowers decision-makers to take immediate action, robust downtime tracking and analysis pave the way for preventative measures, and investments in advanced technologies, like HiFlow Solutions' MIS, ensure streamlined workflows and heightened productivity. 


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