Making the Most of Automotive Plant Shutdown

Automakers and other manufacturers use summer shutdowns to perform vital tasks to keep operations running smoothly. While these lulls in output can be expensive — after all, factories are not only stopping production but spending big money on improvements — they can also increase productivity. And when management takes time to carefully plan a plant turnaround, they can reap even bigger benefits. Here are three major areas that should be part of any summer shutdown plan.

1. Improve the Line

A plant turnaround provides a great opportunity to train (or retrain) line staff. With less activity occurring, managers can teach workers ergonomic techniques to stay healthier and be more productive. A summer shutdown is also a good time to observe the workflow and determine if beneficial changes can be made to workstations.

Managers searching for ways to improve their line should familiarize themselves with BMW’s groundbreaking strategies. The luxury car manufacturer had an aging workforce that was slowing down. The company wanted to keep the workers and benefit from their years of knowledge, so they created a taskforce to customize the line. Making-the-Most-of-Automotive-Plant-Shutdown_Global

After consultations with staff and ergonomics experts, the factory installed a wooden floor, specialized chairs, and vertically adjustable lift tables. Productivity jumped 7% in the first year alone even though the line was staffed exclusively by older workers. Of course, other factories likely have differing needs, but the point remains — customizing workstations improves productivity.

2. Perform Preventive Maintenance

Any manufacturing worker knows that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After all, you can plan preventive maintenance to take place during downtime, but you can’t schedule when a vital piece of equipment breaks down. Summer shutdowns offer a unique opportunity to tune up hard-to-access equipment in the plant.

Managers should create a plan well in advance of the shutdown of how they’ll proceed with maintenance. Keep in mind that the next opportunity to access some areas may not be until the next summer turnaround. By keeping to a strict schedule, management can ensure that everything receives the attention it deserves.

3. Invest in Infrastructure

Investing in improved infrastructure should take place during summer shutdowns when possible. The lull in activity gives third-party suppliers a window to install or deliver equipment and management a chance to train employees while the plant is not operating at full steam.

Upgrading from manual handling of materials to mechanical equipment can improve productivity and reduce injuries. Powered jib booms speed up assembly processes and gantry cranes make transferring heavy loads safer and easier. Most importantly, relying on ergonomic material handling equipment reduces musculoskeletal disorders among staff.

Summer shutdowns can be difficult, but prudent operations can reap large benefits from a well-planned turnaround. By improving lines, performing preventive maintenance, and investing in ergonomic equipment, management can get their factories in great shape for the coming year.

References

Loch, C., Sting, F., Bauer, N., & Mauermann, H.  “The Globe: How BMW Is Defusing the Demographic Time Bomb.” Harvard Business Review. Mar. 2010. Web. 16 May 2018.

Prepping For a Plant Shutdown.” Brehob Corporation. 31 May 2017. Web. 17 May 2018.

Welch, D., Naughton, K., & Butters, J.”Big summer shutdowns loom for U.S. auto plants as sales sputter.Denver Post. 7 May 2017. Web. 17 May 2018.