Summer shutdowns: A time to take stock?

For those who don’t work in the manufacturing sector, the idea that a business would shut down its factory for a couple of weeks in July or August and ask most of its production staff to go on annual leave will seem absurd.

 

But summer shutdowns have long been a characteristic of the manufacturing industry, particularly in the automotive sector, or other sectors that are primarily production-line based.

 

They allow essential repair and maintenance work to take place and for production lines to be tweaked to make them more efficient or capable of producing new product lines. Many use the quieter summer months to replace outdated machinery altogether, which forces them to suspend production.

 

There’s also the argument that shutdowns reduce overheads, such as energy usage, at what is a quiet time of the year when orders typically reduce and most staff would elect to take time off anyway because of the school holidays.

 

But critics have begun to question the wisdom of traditional summer shutdowns, claiming they hamper output and productivity and thus risk allowing the UK to lose ground to its international competitors, particularly when you consider most UK factories shut down for a week or two at Christmas too.

 

Indeed, many of the large car manufacturers, including Ford, Chrysler, and Vauxhall, have in recent years announced plans to scale back their summer production shutdowns in the hope of boosting output.

 

Significant investment in plant and machinery has given many large manufacturers ‘round the clock’ flexibility and reduced the need for summer shutdowns. Even some smaller manufacturers are beginning to buck the trend and opt for either a shorter shutdown period or none at all.

 

But, of course, not all manufacturers have that luxury. The summer can be the only time other than Christmas where essential maintenance can be carried out.

 

Regular readers of my manufacturing blogs will not be surprised to learn that my advice to those businesses having a summer shutdown period is not to just focus on production issues.

 

It should also be used as a period of respite from the day-to-day challenges of running the business. It’s a chance for directors and senior managers to use at least some of that time to regroup, review their business plan, or revise their strategy (once they’ve had their own holiday of course!).

 

Whether it’s during the shutdown period, or just those quieter weeks towards the back end of summer, it’s also a good time to focus on the financials, so you can hit the ground running during that busy ‘back to school’ period.

 

Ginni Cooper is head of the manufacturing team at Moore and Smalley