Updated July 15, 2023
What is Idle Time?
The term “Idle time” refers to the period of time during which an asset, despite being available for operation, does not engage in any productive work. Hence, people sometimes refer to idle time as the waiting time.
Although the term “asset” mentioned above often refers to machines, it can also be an employee. In other words, idle time is the paid time during which a machine or an employee is unproductive owing to factors that are either within or beyond the control of the management. Monitoring idle time is important as it helps understand the difference between the actual productivity levels and the hypothetically maximum productivity levels. In short, an increase in the idle time of assets increases the loss of productivity.
Causes of Idle Time
There can be unlimited causes of idle time, and it is impossible to cover all of them. However, some of the most common causes of idle time are as follows:
- Personal needs: Employees must take some time for lunch or tea breaks to overcome fatigue. These events are usually part of the natural idle time in the everyday processes. Typically, organizations acknowledge this and consider it to be part of the normal idle time.
- Unexpected events: Some unexpected catastrophic events, such as storms or cyclones, can impact operations and become the reason for idle time. For instance, the shipping industry experiences sizeable idle time due to unfavorable weather conditions.
- Sudden breakdown: If one of the key pieces of equipment in an assembly line experiences a sudden breakdown, then it is likely that the entire assembly line will become standstill, resulting in a significant amount of idle time for the assembly line and the associated fleet members.
- Process design: Usually, the processes are designed in such a way that it involves various stages of production. Now, the time taken by the product to move from one stage to another stage in the production line can be one of the reasons for the normal idle time, and it can’t be eliminated.
- Lower efficiency: At times, the idle time can be due to manpower with a lower efficiency level. An employee may lack efficiency during the initial days of work, or health issues may be intentional. The management usually intends to control the intentionally lower efficiency level as it can impact productivity in the long term.
How to Calculate Idle Time?
Idle time is the difference between the time an asset is theoretically scheduled to operate and the actual operating hours.Mathematically, we can represent it as follows:
Let us understand the calculation of idle time with the help of an example. Let us assume that you have production equipment, and the operating manual states that it can be operated for 16 hours daily. However, after you started to use the equipment, you realized that it takes 12 minutes to power up and 10 minutes to shut down. It also requires 15 minutes break for cleaning, and another 23 minutes is lost during shift change. In other words, the overall idle time for the equipment is 1 hour (= 12 min + 10 min + 15 min + 23 min), so it is supposed to operate productively for 15 hours (= 16 hrs – 1 hr).
What is a Normal IdleTime?
Normal idle time refers to those productivity losses inherent to any job situation and hence can neither be eliminated nor reduced. Typically, the cost of normal idle time includes as part of the cost of production by inflating the labor rates. It can also pass on to the factory overheads for cost absorption. One of the most examples of normal idle time is the time gap between finishing one job and starting another.
How to Reduce Idle Time
Some of the most commonly used measures to reduce idle time are as follows:
- Clear definition of idle time activities: While data collection is a critical part of identifying idle time, it’s more important to clearly define which activities fall under the purview of idle time.
- Process improvement: Sudden breakdowns and unexpected system failures are major causes of idle time. These events can avoid largely through process improvement measures, including preventive maintenance, periodic machine overhauling, etc.
- Employee training: The floor managers and technicians should train well and make aware of the best industrial practices. This can help the employees achieve their best possible efficiency, resulting in lower idle time.
- Set up a good work culture: The management should build a cohesive working environment wherein the employees trust each other. Also, the management should consider various employees’ needs, such as proper work-life balance, compensation at par with the industry, etc.
- Continuous monitoring of idle time: An organization needs to know where it is losing productivity. Hence, continuous monitoring of idle time can help track the process lacuna and devise a strategy to eliminate or reduce the same so that the organization can improve its performance.
- Idle time is the period of time during which an asset is available for use but not actually in use.
- Idle time expresses the difference between the theoretical and actual production times.
- The most common causes of idle time are personal needs, unexpected events, sudden equipment breakdowns, process design, and lower employee efficiency.
- We can reduce idle time through process improvement, employee training, fostering a good work culture, and continuously monitoring idle time.
This is a guide to Idle Time. Here we also discuss the introduction, how to reduce idle time and key takeaways. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –