Communication Breakdown

A breakdown in communication at a manufacturing facility can cause extreme turnaround time and great expense. Who is in charge and how does equipment get purchased? Is it the maintenance team’s responsibility or the purchasing department’s responsibility to ensure that the facility will continue to operate in the best environment possible? Who is to blame when a production line is down and the facility is losing hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars an hour? Here are some communication failures that should be avoided at all cost.


Let’s say a maintenance manager has a VFD failure and decides to send it out for repair.  The maintenance team establishes a fault code and attach a tag to the unit describing the failure to the repair company. They call the company and tell their account manager the issue and the company issues an RMA/RGA for the unit being sent for repair. The unit is received and the price is quoted to the maintenance department. The repair is clearly within the maintenance department’s budget for the year, but the hiccup is the fact that they cannot approve the repair because the price is slightly more expensive than what they have been given the authority to approve at one time without submitting a request to purchasing. Here in lies the problem. You want the repair approved but no one in maintenance has forwarded the repair cost to purchasing for approval. Some reasons why this has not been sent to purchasing is the maintenance team forgot, they are not sure who to send it to in purchasing or they do not feel like they should have to send it to purchasing if it is within their budget. Everyone one of these reasons can cause catastrophic down times if not handled in a timely manner. Maybe no one jumps on the approval because there’s  a spare unit, but what if that backup unit fails shortly after install? What if the unit sits at a repair facility for weeks and no one approves the repairs? How long before you need that VFD on another production line? Communication between these two departments is paramount to the success of the operation of a manufacturing facility. When thousands of dollars are at stake there is no excuse for not handling issues between both departments that can be easily resolved. Team work is vital to production and efficiency.


Another issues regarding communication breakdown is the fact that no one at the facility knows how much they are willing to spend on specific production equipment. Typically, most companies have a percentage of cost they are willing to spend for a unit. First, a decision needs to be made if the unit will be repaired, purchased new or purchased refurbished. After this decision is made then they must decide what they are willing to spend on the unit versus the type of service that will be performed. Unfortunately, many manufacturers have not established a pricing structure for their equipment and what they are willing to spend, thus delaying the opportunity to have a sufficient amount of backups in the store room. Pricing is vital and must be established. First no one knows who is supposed to make this decision on price for the equipment. Secondly, the person who is supposed to make the decision does not have a rule to which they can decide the fate of the unit. Finally, having more than one person to make this decision can eventually stall production when the unit is not on the backup shelf during a failure. Establishing guidelines and allowing a single person in one department to handle the purchasing of these units will allow a manufacturer to continue with production smoothly with the least amount of stoppages as possible.


Lastly, indecisiveness in the in the maintenance department can halt production as well. What do you do with the unit when it breaks down? Where do you send it? What vendor is approved? Is the unit being used as a foot stool in the maintenance shop knowing full well that it needs to be either repaired or replaced? Knowing the best source for keeping your equipment up and running is half the battle. Many Facilities do not have a strategy for replacing there failed equipment. Is the issue pricing, warranty or turnaround time? Are their five different people in the department with five different opinions? Who is the person that will finally take the responsibility for outcome of the facilities equipment? These questions need to be answered so that production can continue running and everyone’s sanity can stay intact. When a strategy is established no one can question the outcome of the replacement units. It will be automatic.


Communication breakdown is a common occurrence at many manufacturers. Increased cost, turnaround and mass confusion are the consequences of this type breakdown. If it is overcome it can allow smooth and affordable processes for keeping your facility operating. Take the time to know each department and establish the best ways to minimize down time. Every facility is different and you need to establish what way works best for yours. Everyone needs to be clear of their expectations in the process. Use communication as an advantage and not your downfall. The boss will be happy you did.


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