Tag Archives: Shutdowns


With Halloween just around the corner, we started thinking about nightmares that can occur to manufacturers. Is something bedeviling your productivity leading to more tricks than treats? Is there a ghost in the machine? Here are some of the most common “monsters” that haunt manufacturing managers, and ways to banish them from your operation for good.

Things that go bump in the night (or day). Every manufacturing plant on the planet has experienced an “unexpected shutdown” that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Something broke, wore out, went awry or otherwise seized up, causing production to grind to a halt. These unexpected dark periods, whether they last an hour, a day or longer until the problem is resolved, are extremely costly in lost productivity and revenue, delays in shipments and deliveries, and more.

Banish it! Regular shutdowns for maintenance need to be an essential part of your yearly calendar. Yes, these planned maintenance periods still mean downtime, but the point is, you build them into your schedule and plan accordingly for shift scheduling, delivery and other variables.

Zombies on the line. Unmotivated teams can bedevil companies in any industry. From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting, employee morale has taken a tumble since the pandemic. People are just going through the motions out there. Couple that with some spooky stats: According to a Gallup survey, only 36% of U.S. employees are engaged at work and 74% say they are actively looking for new jobs. Low morale costs companies in just about every way possible — increased absenteeism, dips in quality and efficiency, and rock-bottom motivation levels among them.

Banish it! There are many spells you can cast to break that zombie curse. Invest in training and development for your employees. Hold listening sessions to get ideas for improvements on the job. Walk the floor and talk to your people regularly, something management just doesn’t do enough. Build a promotion pipeline from your front lines. All of these will help increase employee engagement and get their heads back in the game.

Process poltergeists. Are you constantly putting out fires that seem to combust without warning? Human errors, unforeseen backups, supply chain bottlenecks, inventory imbalances (too much or too little), glitches on the line. It can feel like you have a firefighting mentality, and it’s counterproductive to, well, productivity. When you’re in a constant state of troubleshooting, you’re not efficient at doing the job today or laying the groundwork for tomorrow.

Banish it! A solid Management Operating System, which is a structured approach to your operations, will help stop trouble before it starts. This allows you to make adjustments and otherwise pivot so your operations aren’t adversely impacted. The best management operating systems focus on processes, systems, roles and structures to map out how the job gets done, and by whom. To learn about MOS in more detail, watch our short (and dare we say fun) video, Stop the Firefighting Mentality.

“20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year”

Wasting disease. Waste can hide on your shop floor like a monster under the bed. It hides where you least expect it, like time, energy, employee talent, productivity and more. Here’s a figure that will keep you up at night: 20% of each dollar is wasted in manufacturing due to inefficient processes each year, adding up to $8 trillion globally.

Banish it! Waste is such an enormous problem in manufacturing, Toyota (or Henry Ford, depending on who you ask) created a process methodology about it. Lean is all about identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. The classic Seven Deadly Wastes (we think it’s eight, but let’s not split hairs) include overproduction, waiting, transporting, processing, inventory, motion and defects. (People is our eighth.) Lean is the process to minimize or eliminate those, boosting your bottom line. Read more about it by downloading our eBook, “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”

The invisible man (or woman). The loss of institutional knowledge happens when your best workers vanish (retire or quit) and take all their hard-earned, on-the-job know-how with them. It’s the tips, tricks and tactics that aren’t in the employee manual. The loss of this irreplaceable knowledge is a growing issue for manufacturing, because the workforce is aging, and there is a lack of skilled younger workers to take their place.

Banish it! Capture that knowledge before your seasoned pros retire or otherwise leave the workforce. Create mentorship programs pairing older workers with younger ones, ask those older employees to participate in roundtable sessions that can focus on “what’s not in the manual” knowledge, and solicit their advice on how to do the job better.

While this is a lighthearted look at manufacturing problems, these issues are no joke. They can seriously hamper your efficiency, productivity and ultimately, your bottom line. At USC Consulting Group, we’re the experts in helping companies reach operational excellence. If you’d like to learn more, please give us a call.

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Are you performing preventive maintenance on a regular basis? If you’re not, you may want to consider adding it to your schedule. Why? In a word, it’s about efficiency. In a few words (as its name suggests), it prevents problems before they start. Preventive maintenance is becoming the manufacturing industry standard. Roughly 80% of asset and facilities stakeholders are embracing the process as a way to cut costs, increase efficiency, and keep assets running like clockwork.

By performing regular preventive maintenance (or its cousin, data-based predictive maintenance) you are heading off problems, snafus and breakdowns at the pass. It’s about identifying and handling any potential issues that may be lurking down the road. The point is to find potential problems before they become real problems that could lead to delays and costly headaches.

The irony of preventive maintenance is that it can sometimes seem like it causes more problems than it solves. It requires regular downtime, which in itself is a problem. There’s also the tricky matter of timing. Finding the optimal time to perform the maintenance can be a delicate balance between shutting down for maintenance too soon and waiting too long.

But, the challenges are worth the rewards. Ensuring you have the proverbial well-oiled machine will make your operation more efficient and productive now and in the future.

Let’s take a look at preventive maintenance benefits and challenges and how it can help boost your operations.

Preventive maintenance benefits

The idea behind doing regular maintenance on the lifeblood of your manufacturing operations — your machinery — is to keep it humming along at optimal efficiency and prevent any problems that might occur. Benefits to making it a regular part of your business process include:

You control the downtime schedule. It’s true that performing maintenance requires downtime. You’ll experience a work stoppage because of it. However, the good news is, when that downtime happens is up to you. You can schedule it for slow periods and avoid your high-volume times. Build maintenance into your schedule as a regular part of your routine.

Fewer surprises. A snafu happens, something breaks, and you have to stop production to figure out what it is and fix it. That can happen at any time, and trust us, it will happen when you least want it to. Performing preventive, not reactive, maintenance will lessen those unwelcomed surprises that erode your productivity and profitability. A general rule is that planned work will cost two-thirds less than unplanned work in time and other resources.

Increased efficiency. At USC Consulting Group, we’re all about efficiency, and one of the surest ways to find “hidden efficiencies” that you didn’t even know were possible is to perform regular preventive maintenance on your machines.

Increased longevity of your machinery and assets. This is key. Just like your car needs regular oil changes and tune-ups to keep it running at its best, so do your assets.

Preventive maintenance challenges

There are some challenges with doing regular preventive maintenance. However, in our view, these don’t outweigh the benefits.

Finding the optimal time to do it is tricky. A regular schedule is the key to finding the best time to shut down for maintenance. And the downtime is typically where we see the most pushback from executives and managers who aren’t thrilled with this process.

It will cause shutdowns. There’s no way around it. To perform maintenance on your equipment, the line must stop.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is an old adage for a reason. You may be shutting down for your scheduled maintenance when no problems actually exist. The shutdown does come at a productivity cost, so… is it worth it? Some manufacturers solve this issue by performing predictive maintenance instead. It’s a more complex process that is data driven, and analyzes how your assets are performing in real time. All’s well? No shutdown. But if you find problems, that’s when you act. It reduces downtime, and you’re not replacing any parts while they’re still good to go. The downside of this approach is complexity and connectivity. If you don’t have state-of-the-art machinery, you won’t get the data analytics that this process requires. That’s why the majority of manufacturers today are using the preventive approach.

At USC Consulting, we’ve been helping manufacturing businesses increase their efficiency, production, throughput and profits for more than half a century. Get in touch today if you’d like to learn more about how preventive maintenance benefits can boost your bottom line.

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Learn more about project management best practices.

Every organization with major assets has different initiatives or projects it wants to pursue such as shutdowns, turnarounds, outages or other large scale capital projects. However, managing all the details that go into those efforts — from team coordination to stakeholder communication — requires a dedicated strategy. Furthermore, avoiding schedule overrun and staying within or under budget is critical. That’s where project management comes in, which helps leaders better monitor, control and execute projects by emphasizing:

Want to learn more? Download our eBook “Getting Down to Business: The Essentials of Project Management.”

The Essentials of Project Management

Planning an upcoming project? Contact us today to speak with our subject matter experts about your initiative.


The project management office (PMO) is a common organizational feature among modern businesses. Eighty-five percent of enterprises have PMOs, according to researchers for the project management software provider PM Solutions. Of those companies that do not have PMOs, 30 percent plan to establish them over the next year.

Organized and well-resourced PMOs can drastically improve operations, allowing companies to execute improvement strategies that are on time and under budget. However, few PMOs perform at this level. A mere 25 percent of PMOs facilitate improvements to productivity, and only one-third consistently deliver under budget. Why? Because many PMOs suffer from functional and structural issues that hinder their performance.

For a deeper look at a Project Management Office and its structure, check out ProjectManager.com as they provide an extensive guide to PMOs.

Now, let’s look at a few common PMO issues and how to address them:

Lack of operational identity

Businesses often form Project Management Offices for one of two reasons:

  1. Executive leaders have requested the formation of a permanent PM team.
  2. An operational issue warrants an internal team of problem-solvers.

In either scenario, the resulting PMO can encounter roadblocks as they try to find a clear identity, the Project Management Institute reported. PMOs created at the behest of business leaders often struggle to pinpoint their purpose. At the same time, PMOs established to address one-off problems tend to be slightly more productive, as they at least come into existence with a clear objective in mind. But once they tackle the objective they were created to achieve, finding new purpose can be difficult.

PMOs can avoid this issue by crafting an organizational identity upon formation. For instance, some PMOs use responsive processes and specialize in solving reported problems. Others take a more proactive approach by staffing multiple project managers and technical executors who can actively pinpoint and iron out problem areas. PMOs that work to cultivate actionable identities are more likely to find sustainable success than those that function with seemingly little direction. But organizations should refrain from building PMOs with overly rigid missions. Agility is essential in today’s operational climate, and a PMO that can adapt is far more likely to face new challenges confidently and correctly.

Ineffective performance metrics

In order to achieve success, PMOs must know what excellent performance on the shop floor actually looks like. Metrics are, of course, responsible for painting a full picture.

Unfortunately, few seem to work off such measurements. Analysts for PM Solutions found that more than 40 percent of PMOs struggle to demonstrate their value, which speaks the weakness of their reporting structures. The absence of ironclad performance data can lead to resourcing issues and distrust among executive and operations leaders. This makes it more difficult for PMOs to execute, even without the context data provides.

The root of this problem lies in the actual mechanics of tracking performance. Many PMOs rely on manual reporting practices powered by unwieldy spreadsheets. This variable alone makes it difficult for these offices to collect and analyze actionable data, leaving many to give up on such efforts entirely. Enterprises can overcome this issue by outfitting their PMOs with back-end solutions capable of gathering real-time performance insights that map to specific internal initiatives.

Fear of failure

PMOs pursue long-term performance excellence. As a result, project managers are always searching for projects and cultivating processes meant to maximize the likelihood of success and, ultimately, revenue. But this desire to demonstrate value can actually cause dysfunction within PMOs. PM departments that constantly look for wins may avoid innovative methodologies that could lay the groundwork for operational transformation in favor of more traditional, battle-tested solutions.

Today, according to PMI, 15 percent of the programs managed through PMOs result in failure. This figure indicates that many PMOs put timeliness and budget above overarching business performance by submitting unambitious project plans. Sure, they’re likely to be executed on time and under budget but will have little impact on the operation when all is said and done. PMOs must be empowered to break free from convention and pursue innovative methods for improving their businesses.

In the end, enterprises that overcome these challenges can expect to create powerful PMOs that lead internal initiatives, realize goals, and catalyze real change.

Here at USC Consulting Group, we’ve been working with our partners across various industries for five decades, lending them operational insights that bolster shop-floor functionality and facilitate financial success. Does your PMO lack direction, struggle with its key performance indicators, or feel trapped in a vicious cycle of boilerplate solutions to complex and unique problems? Connect with us today to learn more about our work and how we can help your PMO reach its full potential.