Downtime! A word that can send chills down the most seasoned production manager’s spine especially when it’s unplanned. These little headaches often arrive in the form of product packaging jams, a broken belt roller, a burned out motor or a blown fuse but are quick fixes with production back up and running usually at most within two hours, (as long as there is a spare motor in the storeroom which I can tell you from experience is not always the case). Then there are those real shift killers of downtime when a pallet stacker has lost its memory and refuses to be reprogramed or the main screw conveyor that brings product from production snaps and a fire watch must be set up before it can be welded.
When you encounter a long downtime period whether it is planned or out of the blue you can be the hero if you already have a list of projects ready at hand for just such an occasion. Depending on contracts, company policies or other past practices when there is no product to pack or produce some employees are able to and may opt to go home, please check into your situation before assuming you’ll have the staffing to accomplish your lists of projects. However, if you can and want to keep employees busy then you can use the opportunity to actually make your team stronger. Some items you may want to include on your list are:
1 – Cross-training – One of my favorite things to do during downtime. I expected my supervisors to work one level up and two levels down and all other staff to be able to accomplish at least two functions. For a shipping forklift driver on the dock that meant they could also pick an order via voice or operate the bailer. This helped greatly during peak season and was able to reward employees with higher hourly salaries based on the number of jobs they could perform. Downtime is the best time to refresh or conduct training and the best people to train are the ones currently doing the job.
2 – Drills – Great time to have an emergency drill and see if everyone responds to a spill, gas leak, fire or employee injury as they should and make sure they use all the emergency PPE required for those emergencies to ensure they properly function. Breaking the group up into teams and competing in response times can make the training fun. Rewards for winning teams can be pizza, sandwiches or one team serving breakfast to another.
3 – Walk Around (Gemba walk) – It’s also a great opportunity to walk your facility to see if there are any issues that may need to be addressed. Sometimes when you are caught up in the day to day activities going on around you, it’s easy to miss small issues like bent rack support, missing fire extinguisher label or burnt-out light. Make notes and get those things repaired immediately. One thing I have found out over the years if your facility looks good people don’t look deeper as they have confidence you know what you are doing and besides you owe it to your employees to give them a clean organized place to work. Don’t know if you’ve heard the term Gemba walk, but it’s part of Six Sigma a philosophy on improving and solving problems. I love the sound of the name, Gemba but you can call it whatever you want. Google Six Sigma, 5S, or Gemba when you get a chance it’s an interesting aspect to add to your repertoire.
4 – Cleaning – One activity that never gets done enough especially since a lot of companies have severely reduced or totally eliminated their sanitation departments. Keep a list of areas and equipment that would benefit from a good deep cleaning. Other areas to consider would be dusting the racks, cleaning under the dock levelers (it’s amazing what collects under there), sorting pallets, washing ceilings, or dealing with the dreaded employee refrigerator.
What other tasks would you tackle during downtime? When it comes to downtime for retooling, modifying changes to production lines or yearly maintenance that is another situation altogether as most employees considered non-essential for retooling must take their vacations like it or not. Some companies track downtime for performance-related issues and determining future expenditures as well as longevity of equipment and materials but think how good your production report will look when you have downtime but demonstrate what you accomplished to make the company better. Yes there are companies that understand stuff happens but more interested if you can make lemonade. So far be it from me to tell you what to do with your employees during downtime but make sure you’re not missing out on that golden opportunity?