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Downtime in the supply chain can be a significant drain on resources. If goods aren’t moving, they aren’t generating revenue. Hourly employees are being paid to essentially do nothing while the problem is corrected. If the downtime causes you to miss delivery deadlines for your clients, you could face costly chargebacks or even lose future business.

While some downtime is unavoidable, there are steps you can take to minimize it and keep your manufacturing and supply chain operations up and running:

1. Track Downtime

By identifying when and where problems occur, you can better target your efforts to reduce or eliminate these disruptions. Put a robust documentation process in place to accurately track what type of downtime has occurred, and why. In the case of a manufacturing operation or a highly automated distribution facility, this tracking can often be conducted automatically using sensors on the equipment already in the facility.

2. Ensure Technology Uptime

MDM and other types of solutions can help you monitor wireless network and mobile device performance, provide remote troubleshooting, and quickly diagnose any potential technology failures.

A program like Motorola’s Advanced Exchange solution ensures solution uptime by allowing companies to ship back faulty devices. A working replacement is shipped back within 24 hours via Fed-Ex. Instead of waiting for a broken unit to be replaced, employees can have a working mobile device back in their hands quickly, reducing downtime in the supply chain.

A spares pool of mobile devices or printers can also help ensure uptime, because employees don’t have to wait to get a new device if the hardware fails. Those spares pools can be stored and managed on site, or by a third-party VAR or supplier.

Also, make sure all of your technology is updated to the latest software/hardware versions, that all patches are installed, and that your suppliers still support the version of the technology you are using. Without that support, you put your entire operation at risk.

3. Regularly Service Equipment

Manufacturing machinery, automated material handling systems, vehicles, and other assets are the muscle and tendons of your supply chain. Establish regular maintenance checks, follow manufacturer guidelines, and have plans (and budgets) in place to replace devices when they’ve reached their end of life. The cost of an unexpected breakdown during production is often far more than capital expenditures associated with replacing aging equipment.

4. Involve Employees

No one knows your operation better than the employees on the shop or warehouse floor. Explain the costs of downtime in the supply chain to your staff. Ask for input regularly, solicit (and incentivize) suggestions for process improvement, and make sure everyone is trained properly to use and maintain all of the equipment. Operator error can cause machine failures. If an employee doesn’t know how to perform simple maintenance tasks (like changing the printhead or swapping out consumables on a barcode printer), then simple issues can shut down an entire line for hours.

Make sure employees are properly trained on the technology they use (mobile computers, barcode printers, application software, etc.) so that they are taking full advantage of the features and functions that will help them do their jobs better.

5. Set Goals

Once you’ve measured and tracked downtime, establish realistic goals for eliminating it. With employee input, devise a workable plan to ensure uptime and provide incentives for employees who meet or exceed those goals relative to their roles in the process.

6. Have a Back-Up Plan

If systems do go down, have an emergency plan in place so that employees can revert to manual processes in order to keep the supply chain flowing (even if that means it’s flowing slower than usual). Have paper forms on hand to provide documentation while systems are down, and establish standard operating procedures to keep all stakeholders informed of your progress in repairing the problem.

While you can’t entirely avoid downtime in the supply chain, you can minimize the risk of downtime by maintaining all of your equipment, keeping technology up to date, training and communicating with employees, and establishing benchmarks for uptime. Following these steps can keep downtime from eating deeply into your profitability.

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