How Much Time Should You Spend Fixing A Problem?

A University undergraduate student was hired for the summer to work at a lab for PhD candidates. Soon after the student started his job, he left the country for 6 weeks. A staff member noticed the student was on the payroll, but no one could remember ever seeing him. An investigation started and they found out the student would arrive in the morning and go into the lunchroom and wait 30 minutes. When no one would show up so he’d go home. Once this was discovered, the problem was soon rectified.

While you may blame the student for a lack of initiative and poor work ethic, you can also find blame in the management. Regardless, of whose side you take in this story – there’s lots of blame to go around – it illustrates the point that you can have a costly hidden problem that won’t resolve itself without intervention.

The question we want to ask is: how much time do you want your production worker to spend fixing his malfunctioning equipment? 5 minutes? 30 minutes? The whole day?

The Problem with Malfunctioning Tools or Equipment


1. Whether the worker’s motivation is high or low the results are the same: both types of workers will blame either the tool or management for slowing down their productivity. The highly motivated worker is going to be frustrated with a malfunctioning tool. Depending on how often the tool breaks down, he’s going to spend his time, not working, to find a solution. The other worker with lower motivation now has a real excuse as to why his productivity is low: his equipment needs to be repaired.


2. Lost revenue from a malfunctioning tool looks a lot different than some steel that had to be scrapped because of a serious deficiency. But it’s just as bad, it’s just less visible and harder to quantify. A production worker who’s billed out at $80/hour costs $20 every 15 minutes. If this worker comes to a halt and there are other workers downstream from him – his lack of production is going to cause a bottleneck and bring their production work to a halt, too.


3. You can pay dearly for unintended bad communications. With no guidelines to solve equipment issues and no clear pathway for finding a solution– the worker may try to fix his piece of equipment long past any savings that could’ve been reaped. And what if the problem is discovered and can’t be fixed: what’s the next step? Begin an Early Easter Egg hunt? i.e. where do I find a replacement? What if the problem is intermittent? How long do you want them to continue working with an inconsistent tool? 10 minutes? 3 months?


4. The Bermuda Triangle. This lost productivity can be a black hole because no one is documenting the problems in production. Therefore, management has no knowledge of it – so they’ll be fixing other things. If the numbers are calculated, is there anyone who can make the necessary changes?

Solutions to Malfunctioning Tools or Equipment

1. Clear instructions. Define very clearly what’s to be repaired or replaced by the operator and what’s to be sent to the repair department. Set a time limit for the smaller problems. Once the time limit has elapsed, they should know who to report to or where to go for a replacement. If you’re going to let them solve the problem make sure they know how to fix the problem. Have someone show the operator what to look for and how to fix it.


2. Ability to pass on problems. If there’s intermittent problem the worker needs to know who to pass the problem onto – preferably someone who knows the solution.

3. Preventive maintenance. We know airlines are the masters at preventive maintenance – of which we thank them – they replace parts before they’re worn out. We’re now seeing on certain plumbing hoses expiry dates – a reminder that these hoses don’t last forever and you can either wait until they burst open or replace it beforehand. Preventive maintenance not only replaces important parts before they expire, but it also allows you to plan ahead of time for the maintenance. So now you have months to figure out when it’ll be a good time and your under any stress – it’s the beauty of a proactive maintenance program.

4. Back up equipment. Maybe that’s a no brainer – have tools ready to replace a broken down one. But how about making sure the replacement is in good working condition? Because sometimes malfunctioning equipment gets mixed in with the good equipment. Plus, make sure they know where to find the equipment. You definitely don’t want to be funding any expeditions to search for a functioning tool – especially if it starts involving other production workers.

5. Your own maintenance people. They need to know what’s expected of them – i.e. what pieces of equipment you don’t want to have unscheduled shut downs. They probably already know that. The ability to stock parts that break down. This is a great idea as the machine gets older – it could be a challenge to find the part. Do your maintenance people have a preventive maintenance program documented and up to date?

6. Contract out some of your maintenance. If your maintenance staff is efficient, they still may need help. They have a finite amount of energy – you don’t have to spend every cent of it and have nothing left in the bank for the when the Big Crisis strikes. Let them know what things to send out for repair. This will prevent things from lying around and not getting repaired in a timely fashion. Remember rush jobs cost extra money.

Bottom line: Production feeds the bottom line. Make sure your production people have the tools and time to do a good job. They’re the only ones who make money – everyone else is an overhead expense.

If we can help keep your good people productive give us a call, we’ll be glad to help.



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