The world of manufacturing varies greatly from one industry to the next. Skill-level of the workers, the number of and potential for bottlenecks, and wildly differing production schedules are just a few of the things that coalesce to make one plant so different from the next.
What they do all have in common however, regardless of industry, is the negative impact of downtime; or perhaps more accurately, the shared need to maximize factory uptime. A plant floor is a complex place with a lot of moving parts – you might even call it a well oiled machine – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to make operations run more efficiently.
Scheduled Downtime Can Actually Increase Uptime
There’s a common misconception when it comes to plant operations that planned downtime to maintain equipment and machinery does not add value; in fact, it’s just as likely to be associated with loss of capacity as it is with maintaining efficiency. Of course, this position is coming from the short-term perspective.
Proactive maintenance performed by skilled technicians not only helps to prolong the lifespan of a factory’s equipment, it can also help to prevent catastrophic breakdown (unscheduled downtime), both of which can impact a company’s bottom line.
As important as it is, in order to be effective, proactive maintenance tasks must strike a balance between safety, cost, and uptime. That means working efficiently to ensure these activities are completed safely and in a time effective manner – after all, every second a machine is down, it’s not generating any revenue. Performing too much preventative maintenance too frequently means that technicians run the risk of giving the impression that their efforts aren’t working; performing too little and the risk of a mechanical failure can grow exponentially.
Proactive maintenance, when done properly allows technicians to perform a quantitative analysis of the condition of a piece of equipment and, over time, allows them to predict instances of failure. It may not sound like a lot, but even just 30 minutes of additional unscheduled downtime twice a week can cost a manufacturer hundreds of thousands of dollars in unrealized output every year – so it only makes sense that managers make proactive maintenance as part of their factory uptime strategy.
Leveraging Technology in Economy of Scale Initiatives
When talking about efficiency on a factory floor, nothing can compete with automated equipment. A company that infuses their production line with equipment that can anticipate operational needs will obviously enjoy an advantage over their competitor. And with increased use of automation, comes the higher need to ensure they don’t interfere with each other. While automation allows plant managers to analyze their production line from start to finish, the real benefit is in the system’s unrivaled capacity to perform with complete accuracy; something that is unheard of in the human workforce.
An accurate production improves quality control of goods, increases the efficiency of inventory management and reduces labor costs. Granted, as beneficial as these systems are, they undoubtedly require a skilled workforce to maintain them. In fact, plant automation has, and will continue to feed the need for electronic and PLC programmers for years to come.
Examining Metrics to Improve Efficiency
Sometimes when things are running smoothly, it can be difficult to identify areas that might be improved. Is there a bottleneck that wasn’t accounted for? Is there an abundance of capacity that can be leveraged for further profit? By studying the metrics of a production line, plant managers can identify ways to optimize factory uptime.
OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) is a metric that examines the common causes of productivity loss and determines methods to improve the manufacturing process. The data that is extrapolated helps decision makers focus their energy and resources into the areas that require the most improvement with the ultimate goal of reducing the operating cost of their inventory. In addition to improving efficiencies on the plant floor, OEE data can also help to determine when it might be the right time to invest in new equipment based on a number of variables, or stay the course with what’s already on the factory floor.