Downtime depresses manufacturing

New research suggests that the productivity of UK manufacturing is being held back by the amount of time plant and machinery is out of operation, adversely affecting both profits and morale.

The report, “Downtime: The Problems, Attitudes and Practices in the Manufacturing Industry”, was commissioned by manufacturing efficiency consultancy Idhammar Systems. The aim was to determine the extent to which downtime is a problem for British industry, and therefore a critical strategic business issue, at a time when Government figures show subdued UK manufacturing output. The latest research repeats a similar study commissioned by the company ten years ago.

The study targetting production directors and maintenance managers from 200 manufacturing companies found that most agreed that downtime is a significant problem for their company when vital equipment is not fully functioning, due to repairs, breakdowns, corrective maintenance work or other operational reasons. Downtime nearly always meant lost production time according to 88 per cent of respondents. More than one fifth of the companies believed that product quality was adversely affected, and 41 per cent said downtime was outside acceptable levels.

Despite the recognition of the problem, more than half those interviewed said that insufficient time had been spent on assessing the effect of downtime on profitability, 31 per cent saying that the issue was not discussed at board level. The survey also shows that nearly a quarter of UK manufacturing companies are not currently actively pursuing ways of reducing downtime and 30 per cent have no budgets to support a drive to reduce downtime.

On the positive side, 48 per cent believe that downtime is decreasing in their organisation. Companies are also more likely to record downtime, with 93 per cent now recording periods when machinery or systems are down, compared to 78 per cent in 1996.

Production directors and managers at manufacturing companies are also more likely to recognise the cost to their business of downtime today than ten years ago. In 1996, 33 per cent of respondents did not calculate downtime cost, but this latest survey shows that only 14 per cent are not calculating the full cost of downtime.

Of those that do, lost production continues to be the most significant cost of downtime. According to those interviewed the costs of rising downtime include loss of morale, cited by 18 per cent of respondents compared to 2 per cent in 1996; and profitability, cited by 53 per cent compared to 44 per cent in 1996. The key factors seen to prevent downtime reduction were a shortage of skilled operators (43 per cent), followed by unreliable equipment (39 per cent) and insufficient planning of maintenance (33 per cent).

John Roberts, director of Idhammar Systems, said, “While the findings reveal that awareness of downtime has improved since 1996, as has active management of the issue, there is still a long way to go.

“This survey shows that downtime reduction is critical to business’ success. And in the future managing downtime must be a board-level priority if UK manufacturing firms are to survive within a globally-competitive market.”