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What is Downtime?
Downtime is any unplanned stop in production. It interrupts operations and can significantly impact margins. When left unchecked, it can hurt worker efficiency, inventory planning, and cycle and lead time.
Since planned downtime such as software, hardware upgrades, and preventive maintenance are a part of regular operations, these are not typically considered to be ‘downtime’.
Why Shop Floors Experience Downtime
Downtime can happen for many reasons—human error, improper maintenance, excessive changeovers, and more.
But these reasons only scratch the surface when it comes to finding the root causes of downtime. You have to search deeper and identify why these inefficiencies were overlooked in the first place.
In short, if you’re only taking a reactive approach—logging failures when they happen, keeping incomplete records, not accounting for the many factors that contribute to downtime—you’re not getting the full picture.
Put differently, if you’re not logging downtime reasons and carefully monitoring production, you’re not identifying the real reason you’re losing money, and you’re apt to repeat it.
So how do you detect potential signs of error, and how do you address them?
Take a proactive approach.
Signs of potential error can be detected through monitoring production processes. By increasing visibility into asset performance, operator activity, and machine health, you’re giving yourself the data you need to determine the exact cause of downtime. Anything that gives you direct access to how individual workers and assets are performing at the granular level can serve as a guide for identifying potential errors and inefficiencies.
Digitally Tracing the Causes of Downtime
The fastest and easiest way to gain direct access to your operation is to bring it online. Since errors and inefficiencies can occur at any point in time, it is best to collect continuous data on assets and worker performance.
Here are some ways going digital can help reduce downtime:
Bring Machines Online
The easiest way to prevent unplanned downtime is to start simple: monitoring uptime and downtime objectively.
Unless you have a consistent, accessible source of truth for downtime, you're leaving your operations open to mystery and human error.
Digital machine monitoring applications can help you automatically track machine status, and create an irrefutable historical database of machine status.
Documenting Downtime Reason at the Source
If an operator knows the reason a machine went down, it's critical to document it ASAP. With machine monitoring applications, you can log downtime reasons at the source.
How Preventive Maintenance Can Reduce Downtime
Preventive maintenance can reduce both planned and unplanned downtime. It should always be a part of your plant’s regular routine.
But keeping to preventative maintenance schedules requires a good deal of manual work. You can simplify it by digitally logging each asset’s maintenance history.
Since downtime is entirely contingent on the types of assets and the type of operations on the shop floor, creating your own data-based maintenance plan is key. You can do this by recording how often maintenance has been completed for assets and which steps of the maintenance process took the longest. The numbers themselves will reveal how effective preventive maintenance is at reducing downtime.
Collecting Training Data
There is no better way to understand how new workers are being onboarded onto the company system than collecting training data. This is important because you can understand which jobs and tasks are taking the longest for your new workers to learn and make sure that they are going through accurate, productive training.
Training workers right the first time can prevent any human errors that result from unfamiliarities with machines or lack of general knowledge.
Documenting How Instructions Are Being Followed
Not only is it important to train new workers, but it is also important to reinforce the standard of work expected for everyone on the shop floors.
Document and double-check the completion of each task, product builds, maintenance, and quality check, so that human errors can be minimized at their roots. Create standardized instructions for each action item, and have workers sign off when they complete them. This way you can exactly pinpoint when, where, and how some errors might have occurred.
Working Toward Predictive Maintenance
Consistently monitoring the status of your assets through sensors and IoT devices can help minimize downtime. The constant stream of data from these attached devices can help you detect anomalies and their trends, and you can use them to back your predictions and address errors before any downtime occurs.
In addition, for assets that trigger downtime based on factors such as temperature, vibration, sound, heat, and light, you can set automatic alerts to notify operators when the anomaly is predicted to occur. That way, you can take steps to mitigate those anomalies. For certain assets, you can also automatically adjust their conditions and settings based on the triggers set with the IoT devices.
Reduced Downtime as a Result of Digital Data Collection
The best way to understand the root causes of downtime is to gain visibility into human, machine, and process performance in your operations. When you record these data digitally, you unlock the capabilities of not only reducing downtime, but increasing throughput, minimizing waste, and reducing cycle and lead time.
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