Any plant manager knows they can boil down their job to one single mission: no downtime. Downtime means not making money and at the end of the day, that’s your boss’s one single mission. Knowing the top five things that can force your warehouse into downtime can help you get in front of them.
If you aren’t fully staffed, not only can it cause costly downtime, but it can mean people rushing where rushing can be unsafe. Unfortunately, this is an issue that is spanning across industries at the moment more than ever before. From restaurants to food processing plants to corporate offices, companies are understaffed. Many companies are offering sign-on bonuses and an additional bonus after 6 months of employment to entice people to not only come work for them but to stay. While this can be a solid strategy upfront, it can also create turnover. Think about reviewing your human resources plan or writing one in the first place. You don’t need to start over if you have one but just revamp it with a focus on recruitment and retention. Attracting the right talent is key, so sit down and think about who you want working at your warehouse. What kind of person is it? Once you can identify the type of person, you can think about what could be important to them. It may be flexible work schedules, tuition reimbursement, or just free bagels on Friday. Whatever that is, consider a cost-effective way to offer it. Having a job is about more than clocking in and clocking out. No matter what industry you’re in, people want to feel like they are appreciated, like others are being held accountable, and like they are working toward a common goal. This can be a long-term issue, but eventually you will stand out as being a solid company to work for and may feel less pressure when it comes to being fully staffed.
Computers are great! Right up until they aren’t. When you’ve decided to automate and streamline your processes with technology, it can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing are, of course, that you can basically have eyes on everything on the computer screen in front of you. It gives you more time to focus your efforts elsewhere. With that comfort can come complacency. Relying on the technology to do the heavy lifting can give you a false sense of security and create challenges in your warehouse. Your systems should all talk to one another so that one system is not more up to date than another. Also, make sure you are updating the software regularly. Automatic updates are great, but not knowing something is updating could put a wrinkle in time! Having planned updates during times you know are less busy is a good way to go. If you are a 24-hour operation, you can at least plan for the update time accordingly. Hacks are common nowadays so make sure your security software is always up to date as well. The major issue with relying too much on technology in your warehouse is a power outage. It will not only turn out the lights but can keep product from moving along if you don’t have any backup source of power. Generators installed now that are automatically switched on should the power go out will create a seamless transition and almost no downtime.
Pests can cause temporary downtime, long-term downtime, and even closure. Depending on what flows through your warehouse, you will have different pest pressures to contend with. You will also have different regulations and standards to meet. For example, a warehouse that deals with food will have several different kinds of audits to pass and a pest sighting can cause failures. Some failed audits can cause the facility to shut down until you can prove that the steps were taken to fix the pest issue. Even if your warehouse doesn’t move food through it, there are pests like drugstore beetles that can eat just about anything from food to paper to even medications. It’s not just downtime that pests can cause. Damage to your reputation is difficult to fix and if you aren’t dealing with pests often enough, you can pass them on to other vendors on pallets and in packaging. Those contracts will be difficult to win back. So, pest downtime can be more serious than you think. But it’s also one of the issues that can be prevented. Depending on the products your warehouse deals with, fumigation can serve as a necessary Preventive Control in your Supplier Verification Program or as a Corrective Action in your Food Safety Plan. Fumigation isn’t general pest control. Routine fumigation at your warehouse will eliminate pests in lieu of just controlling them so there’s no question whether or not you’ve got a pest problem.
This is an obvious one. But, your equipment is an integral part of your warehouse. Whether it’s the trucks that help you ship, the pallet jacks that move things around quickly, or the conveyor belt moving your product to the next step in its process, if one of them goes down, that step stops. Just like changing the oil in your car, make sure you’re doing preventative maintenance on all pieces of equipment down to the smallest one. If your maintenance manager is spending a lot of time on a particular piece of machinery or the parts to fix it are expensive enough, you may want to consider an upgrade. It’s not just the parts that cost money, your maintenance crew can be doing something else so their time may be wasted on that piece of equipment. In the long run, it may be more cost-effective to get something new. Your regular routine maintenance should include cleaning and disinfecting to keep build-up from forming. That build-up can erode machinery as well as slow down gears. That is downtime that can almost certainly be avoided.
Poor communication – or worse yet, no communication – with everyone from the CEO to the kid that sweeps up at the end of a shift should be a priority in every industry. If one hand doesn’t know what the other one is doing, the ripple effect can be extensive. If two people are doing the same job because nobody told anyone the other was taking care of it, you just paid for the same job twice. Should your shipping manager not be talking to the head of facilities, they may never know that a certain truck has been idling and is in need of a tune-up until it’s needed and now that shipment will be late or not go out at all. If the cleaning crew isn’t talking to each other, whole areas could be missed during a routine cleaning. We can all agree that more meetings can make people cringe but think about how fewer meetings you may have to fix things that went wrong. A one-hour weekly talk and then 30-minute team meetings daily could be the difference between losing a contract or gaining another. It could also be the difference between wasted time, wasted money, and exactly what we have been discussing all along – downtime.
Almost all of these problems that can cause downtime (and cost you money) are avoidable if you’re careful and proactive. The time it takes upfront for a general manager to create standard operating procedures and put them in place to keep these things top of mind is worth the time it will save down the road. And you can shift and change those SOPs as your industry shifts and changes. Don’t forget about them and make sure everyone knows about them! Remember, if you create them but don’t communicate to anyone about them… you will be back at square one.