Empower Operators and Eliminate Downtime

If there’s one thing worse than downtime for manufacturers, it’s unexplained downtime. You’re doing everything right – keeping up with your suppliers’ preventive maintenance schedules, giving your team plenty of training opportunities, integrating the latest technology – but when the output numbers arrive at the end of the month, you’re still falling short of your equipment’s capabilities. The results? Unpredictable lead times, unhappy customers and reduced profits.

To explain the unexplainable, you always need more information. Luckily for manufacturers, massive leaps forward in sensor technology and machine connectivity make it easier than ever to obtain extremely granular data about their processes. But even the most advanced machine monitoring systems often still rely on the oldest sensor known to manufacturing: the operator. By empowering the humans at the center of an increasingly automated and digitized industry, manufacturers can solve the toughest downtime mysteries with ease.

Operator input is critical in machine monitoring for one simple reason: No sensor is smart enough to always know why machines aren’t cutting parts. A machine monitoring solution can know exactly when a machine is in cut and when it’s sitting idle. It can know who was at the machine, what they were doing there and how much they got done. But the context in which those data exist is often only known to the machine operator, and gaining access to that information is critical to minimizing downtime.

In a typical shop, operators usually report in during shift changes, updating colleagues on their progress – or the problems that prevented them from being productive. A lot happens in an eight-hour shift however, and keeping track of it all while keeping production moving is not easy, and it’s often tempting to skip the logbook and head home. Furthermore, cross-referencing operator reports with other data streams and turning all that data into actionable reports can easily be a full-time job even at a small shop.

Advanced machine monitoring solutions automate the reporting process and include it alongside the data in the system, making it possible to understand every moment of downtime. Reporting becomes a truly seamless process because the system prompts operators for explanations for every instance of downtime as it happens, right at the control. Automatically organized and linked to precise periods of downtime, the data eliminate the need for the paperwork historically associated with these investigations.

Instituting this kind of automated reporting system alongside a machine monitoring solution is one of the few ways to spot unexpected sources of downtime. In one memorable example, a shop truly was doing everything right, including providing a regular training program that kept operators up to date on the latest manufacturing techniques. After installing an advanced machine monitoring solution, it didn’t take long to find out the truth: Attendance at the training session meant that critical machines were unattended at the same time, slowing down everything downstream.

These kinds of minor lapses in communication happen in shops both large and small – especially when organizing production across departments, or between the shop floor and front office. As the company in the example discovered, bringing down the barriers to communication immediately resulted in the resolution of a number of minor misunderstandings that had a major impact on productivity. The resolution was as simple as adjusting the training schedule. Addressing this and other identified issues enabled significant improvement in uptime and output.

On the subject of investigating mysteries, Sherlock Holmes advised, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” It’s also a great perspective for investigating mysterious downtime. By empowering operators with a frictionless, easy-to-use system for keeping track of their machines, automated reporting systems provide the context that eliminates all those impossibilities and finds the truth.


According to Murphy’s Law, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. However, although this means problems can show up where and when you least expect, it also means that usually, other people have had to solve a similar mystery in their shops. Here are five common sources of downtime that seemingly can’t be explained:


    A lot goes on during the average operator’s shift, and crucial bits of information fall between the cracks constantly. Machine monitoring solutions give operators the tools required for clear, open communication across shifts and departments.


    Without a well-managed job queue, it often falls to operators to make decisions about workflow. Machine monitoring allows the ability to dispatch jobs to specific machines and let operators choose from only verified workorders.


    Eliminating setup time is an important way for a shop to optimize its operations, and with machine monitoring, they can track down obscure causes of slow setups, such as transit time through a busy part of the facility or a particularly hard-to-find tool.


    Whether it’s finding one specific end mill in a messy tool crib or navigating shelves full of works in progress, a poorly organized inventory causes many problems that a machine monitoring system can help spot simply by asking operators to specify reasons for downtime.


    How much faster is your best operator compared to the worst – and, more importantly, why? Machine monitoring does more than identify areas for improvement, it highlights the operators who may have something to teach the rest of the shop.

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