Idle time is the amount of time spent waiting to use viable equipment, or the nonproductive time of employees due to lack of demand or unforeseen work stoppage. If you don’t have a piece of equipment scheduled to run, or an asset is up and available but not being used, that’s considered idle time. 

For example, a discrete manufacturing floor where many different products are made might have certain assets sit idle while processes are performed with other assets.

Another example might be a fast food setting where the latte machine sits idle during evening hours. You don’t need it during that time, but it’s up and available in case you do.

How Does Idle Time Differ From Downtime?

SMRP distinguishes between idle time and downtime with these definitions:

  • Idle time is the time in which an asset is either waiting to run or isn’t scheduled to run.
  • Downtime is when the asset is incapable of running, either because of planned maintenance or an unplanned outage.

Now, since both of these metrics represent times when your equipment isn’t running, why track them separately?

Idle Time Can Be Put to Good Use

One reason is you might be able to take advantage of idle time. The best time to perform preventive maintenance is when your equipment isn’t scheduled to run. This way, idle time is put to good use while downtime is reduced. Just be sure to track the time spent performing those tasks because if demand for the asset increases, you’ll have a clearer idea of how much time you’d need the asset offline.

Downtime Represents Lost Productivity

Another reason is because idle time doesn’t really represent lost productivity. Downtime, on the other hand, does. When making decisions about how to improve equipment reliability, you’ll want to look at downtime without lumping it with idle time.

Causes of Idle Time

Idle time is typically caused by factors outside of the person or machine's control. When it starts growing beyond that time, it’s typically caused by simple human ignorance or laziness. It’s the manager’s responsibility to deal with idle time in proactive ways that take into account both the short and the long term. 

Other causes of idle time include: unexpected personal events, natural storms or disasters, unexpected equipment breakdowns, and system failures.

Unexpected Personal Events

When your employees are struggling with something personal in their lives, they're more likely to take advantage of the natural idle times in your day-to-day processes. Companies generally tend to acknowledge this, but it’s good to remember that this can be a significant cause of idle time. 

Natural Storms or Disasters

Natural storms or disasters can have a sizable impact on your business’ overall idle time, depending on your location and industry. For example, the shipping and trucking industry is very dependent on the local and global weather patterns. 

Unexpected Equipment Breakdowns

If a key part on a major piece of equipment decides to give out, everyone that uses or depends on that piece of equipment is going to face unexpected challenges. 

System Failures

To take equipment failures a bit further, when entire systems go down, people generally have to go home. The work can’t be done. When a system fails, then resources are lost. And that’s only one result of that forced idle time.

Lack of Awareness

Finally, don’t forget lack of awareness. A good example of this is that new hires may not understand company protocols and procedures in the first few weeks of working. This is just part of adjusting to the company, and training usually helps reduce this.

What are some concrete ways to cut down on idle time in these and other situations?  

How to Minimize Idle Time

Each of the scenarios outlined above have specific ways that companies could use to minimize idle time. But what are some general ways to cut idle time down and maximize your company’s employees and resources? 

Clearly Define What Constitutes Idle Time

Data collection is critical across the board. When applied to discovering idle time, it’s important to know what data you should capture and track. In order to do this, you need to clearly define what constitutes as idle time and gather data accordingly. 

Improve Your Processes

Unexpected breakdowns and system failures are a major cause of idle time. Improved processes can cut down on the amount of these surprises. In addition, when you overhaul and improve your processes, you can also work around the inevitable idle time that just happens.   

Train Employees

Make sure managers and employees are up to date on what needs to be tracked as well as complying with any process changes. This reduces time spent trying to figure out what they should be doing.  

Set up a Good Preventive Maintenance Program

To follow up on the last point, a well-constructed and maintained preventive maintenance program is one of the best ways to optimize your business practices. This optimization trickles down into every part of your business, including wasted time. It’s a great place to start.

Maintain Your Equipment and Employees in General

Maintenance, by its very definition, deals with optimizing a company’s assets. When you maintain your equipment and care for your employees, downtime does decrease. While it may seem small, that time builds up quickly. 

Monitor and Track Idle Time

Finally, when you know where idle time is happening in your company, you can monitor and track it. This gives you insights into where the company can do better and decrease that amount. 

One of the best ways this can be accomplished is with a computerized maintenance management system. This software optimizes maintenance teams by encouraging process visibility and clarity, while simultaneously allowing you to easily find and manage idle time. 

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