Traditionally, manufacturing plants have halted operations and utilized the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s to perform much-needed maintenance and repairs on facility equipment. Any amount of downtime can be extremely costly for an operation – especially when it isn’t planned – which is why the idea of a holiday shutdown isn’t anything new. However, with more companies advancing towards an Industry 4.0 model with integrated automation, holiday shutdowns are taking on an entirely different meaning.
Now, manufacturing facilities are becoming much more sophisticated and efficiency-driven due to the technology incorporated into their materials handling processes. For example, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) provide data with direct visibility into productivity levels, mechanical issues, and overall flow in real time. Facilities can continuously make improvements and optimize based on this data since the vehicles themselves are designed for maximum flexibility.
Here are simple steps you can take to plan for a successful holiday shutdown and ultimately increase throughput, reduce costs, and decrease downtime.
Understand, Analyze, and Evaluate:
First, you need to set a baseline. To make impactful improvements, it’s essential that you fully understand your process, pain points, and strengths.
Prior to the shutdown, perform the following tasks:
- Observe and document the different stages within your material flow process
- Identify safety concerns and labor costs for a holistic view
- Review and reflect on previous lessons learned from prior shutdown events
It can also be beneficial to involve your employees prior to the shutdown. Whether you conduct surveys, host open forums, or just check in one-on-one, gathering employee feedback can provide a better understanding of workplace hazards, procedural weak points, and physically demanding or mundane tasks for individuals. By including their thoughts, employees will feel empowered and involved which can also boost morale and retention.
Essentially, make sure that you fully understand the baseline so you can determine where to focus and also measure any improvements.
Determine Your Scope:
Now that you understand the big picture, you will need to identify where to start. It’s very important that you determine what is and what isn’t in scope for the shutdown. With the pressures of production on pause and a keen eye on logistics, scope creep is very common as you may unveil additional topics as you get started.
To keep plans on track, identify a primary decision maker. Their main objective will be to keep tasks within scope, timeframe, and budget. Should efforts start shifting towards new priorities, it will be their responsibility to determine if the scope should change to incorporate the new direction. To reduce extended downtime, it is extremely important that your project stays in focus and on track during this week.
Implement Change - Start Small:
Now that objectives have been defined, it’s time to create actionable solutions. Based on your business case, you may decide to begin replacing manual forklifts with self-driving pallet trucks in one part of your process. As you deploy the vehicles, consider factors like worker safety and labor costs – is this investment worth expanding on a larger scale? By starting with a small test fleet, you should quickly start to see ROI for automating problem areas within your material flow process. Then, you can gradually increase the number of vehicles within your fleet to further optimize operations.
Set yourself up for success during this downtime by defining employee responsibilities surrounding the automation, workflows, and training. Seegrid vision guided vehicles are reliable and predictable, but you want to make sure that your employees feel comfortable with any new technology and procedure. If your employees see the benefits of collaborating with automation and feel confident in their role, they are more likely to quickly adopt the new changes — planning the introduction of new technology is critical to success.
Analyzing and optimizing your supply flow shouldn’t be something that is one and done. Think of this shutdown as your annual health checkup. Without the pressures of production, you can take the time to get a holistic view of health and make changes to address key issues. Throughout the year, if an issue were to arise, you would schedule another appointment to quickly get better. For optimal health, you probably take preventative measures like exercising, weighing yourself, and monitoring your health vitals to track your status and progress. With AGVs providing valuable real-time data, you can constantly analyze your material flow to increase efficiencies.
Want to learn more about leveraging a shutdown to implement incremental automation? Contact us.