What is idle time?

Idle time, sometimes referred to as waiting time, is the time lost due to work stoppages in which machines and/or employees are ready and available but can not be productive. It should not be confused with planned or unplanned downtime. Idle time is when work can be performed but isn’t, while downtime is when work cannot be performed at all. There are two main types of idle time: Planned idle time and unplanned idle time.

Planned idle time

Planned idle time, also known as normal idle time, refers to the time when a machine operator does not use an asset for production. This can occur when the company has a temporary work stoppage. For example, machines in a production facility need to be turned off to prevent them from overheating. Planned idle time can also occur when an operator is inefficient in using a machine or needs to take a scheduled break.

Planned idle time can be a waste of money, and resources like energy, materials, and space.

Unplanned idle time

Unplanned idle time, also known as abnormal idle time, arises from things like a lack of raw materials, waiting for other machines to complete their processes, and micro stops (which occur when a machine stops working for a short period of time due to a problem). This type of idle time is unavoidable since it’s usually unexpected.

What causes idle time?

Below are some examples of the causes of idle time:

  • The resources required for the manufacturing process aren’t available. For example, a part or raw material arrives late due to supply chain challenges.
  • Production needs to be reduced. Perhaps too much inventory is being put out in a facility and now it’s at capacity.
  • A machine needs a part replaced and can not run safely until it is replaced. For example, a machine has an urgent recall on a part and it needs to be offline until it’s replaced.
  • An employee is unexpectedly away on leave. For example, a machine operator on a plant floor is the only certified employee to use a piece of equipment and is out on leave.
  • A power outage or power surge happens. Perhaps machines need to be restarted as a result.
  • An employee may not be trained sufficiently in using a machine. For example, new employees who aren’t fully trained on an asset will not know how to use it effectively until their training is complete.
  • Old processes are not being updated and implemented quickly enough to improve efficiency. For example, production processes need executive approval to be updated. If that approval takes a long time it can hold back production and cause delays.
  • Natural disasters. Perhaps a flood or other natural disaster causes a long term outage in a facility or even damages.
  • Personal injury or other accidents have occurred. For example, accidents have occurred in a facility or to an employee while using a specific asset. This will prompt management to take production and the assets offline to investigate.

Who uses idle time?

Plant managers, engineers, and superintendents are all concerned with idle time. A production manager or production engineer oversees the day-to-day operations of each shift in their facility. They track how much product is produced per hour or day, and how long it takes to complete tasks. They also track what equipment needs to be repaired or replaced, so it’s important for them to calculate and track idle time.

What is the idle time formula?

Idle time is the difference between the time a machine should run versus when it is. Below is the formula to calculate idle time:

Idle Time = Scheduled Production Time (what was planned) – Actual Production Time (what actually happened)

The difference between scheduled productive time and actual production time is your idle time. For example, if your asset was meant to run for 12 hours but only ran for 3, your idle time would be 9 hours.

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What are the benefits of tracking idle time?

Calculating and tracking your idle time can have many benefits for the day-to-day operations of a facility. You can use idle time to:

  • Make up for the lost production time. For example, suppose an asset in your facility has unexpected idle time due to lack of raw materials. In that case, you can run the asset overtime once the materials are available to compensate for the lost time.
  • Improve the efficiency of your production process. For example, if you know an asset in your production has downtime due to scheduled maintenance or a repair, you can make up for this by running production on other spare machines so that no downtime occurs.

Tracking idle time helps you make better business decisions

Idle time is a major cause for concern in any organization. There are many ways to avoid it, but it's important to know the causes of idle time before deciding how to address them. With proper planning and effective management techniques, organizations can reduce idle time significantly thus increasing productivity and profitability.

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