Planning for the Planned and Unplanned: Automotive Shutdowns & Restarts



STRIKE-BLOG-IMAGE-(1).jpgAs a consequence of the ongoing strike and negotiations between the UAW and the American Auto Manufacturers, many suppliers to the OEMs (and suppliers to those suppliers) are seeing decreases in demand that could result in the idling of lines or even entire facilities. In my three decades in manufacturing operations, shutdowns and the corresponding startups were a way of life. At least once in the summer and again in the Christmas timeframe the facilities (equipment and employees) were idled. Driven by the voice of the customer (VOC) and in the best interest of the business, it was necessary to have a plan for how these functions were to be conducted. 

Over the years, businesses have diversified their customer base, auto manufacturers have changed their schedules, and some businesses are far enough removed upstream in the supply chain that, excepting Covid-19, many have not experienced one or more shutdowns. The infrequency of these events means there may well not be a plan to effectively restart plant operations. This can be an expensive oversight for a small-to-medium business as the company incurs poor performance and additional costs at a time when they have also suffered a reduction in demand and revenue. A business can find financial recovery very difficult should they incur both situations. It is important to note that how a business shuts down has a great impact on how it will start back up again.

To ensure that both go as smoothly as possible, a plan should exist for how the plant will resume operations. The plan must consider:

  • The planning process itself 
  • The equipment to be shut down and started back up
  • the associates who will be working on, running, and validating the processes and product
  • The readiness of the business’ supply chain

In follow-up communications we will take a deeper dive into these four categories, but here are some key considerations for a company when building their startup plan:

  1. Building the Team: A primary point here is that the project manager for the restart needs to be someone with an understanding of the operation of the facility, but who can maintain the oversight of the startup without being drawn into firefighting problems. Also, the team needs a level of cross-functionality which will allow it to be effective in all four categories above. Expertise in Safety, Operations, Maintenance/Engineering, Training, Quality, and Manufacturing Resource Planning will be needed. Lastly, experience with facility restarts is a plus.
  2. Safety: Risk of injury to employees, or damage to equipment is greatest when performing non-standard operations. And virtually nothing is more “non-standard” than having to start a process that you almost never shut down. Planning to ensure the safe operational status of equipment as well as refreshing associates on personal protective equipment and safe operating protocols is imperative to a successful startup. Remember that “telling them” is never an effective action. Auditing for compliance with safety rules and procedures is also a critical part of the plan.
  3. Equipment Readiness: There are many opportunities to both help and hurt the business when shutting down and restarting plant equipment. Improper shut down of machinery can create hardships in the startup and also damage the equipment. Not investing to improve the condition of equipment during a shutdown is a missed opportunity that may not come along again anytime soon. Not maintaining that equipment and assuring its readiness for restart can result in unforeseen failures. And not having a plan to verify and restart the equipment properly and to a priority can impact Safety, Uptime, and MANY other performance factors leading to negative impacts on the business, its associates, and its profitability.
  4. Associate Readiness: During the shutdown we need to think about how we can retain those team members being idled while still protecting the bottom line of the business. Which  individuals will still be needed and for what purposes? A communication plan for idled employees needs to be created. How will returning employees be refreshed, refocused, and ensured of a safe working environment?  Finally, a contingency plan and prioritized launch plan must be created for the eventuality that some employees may not return.
  5. Material Resource Planning: The entire supply chain must be considered when preparing for a plant startup. With declining demand, it is likely that some direct (and perhaps indirect) inventories were allowed to lapse and may need to be brought back up to targeted levels. A company also needs to consider the availability of outside service providers, the effect of returning demand to sub-suppliers, and even the opportunity to outsource business in the event of a machine failure as part of their planning.
  6. Product/Process Quality: Ensuring that the process is capable of meeting the customer’s requirements is a mix of equipment condition, followed procedures, calibration, and verification. A cross functional team will be needed to make certain that all materials, equipment, and associates are returned to a readiness capable of meeting both customer expectations as well as business goals.
  7. Startup Sequence: I am certainly incapable of counting the number of times I have reminded groups that we eat the elephant one bite at a time, but let’s add a “plus one” to that count. Regardless of the best laid plan for a shutdown/startup, companies are going to experience unanticipated issues that require resources to mitigate. Understanding the relationship between supply and demand, it is no mystery that increasing the number and frequency of issues is sure to result in a demand on our technical and other resources that will quickly overwhelm them. A controlled and prioritized startup will ensure appropriate attention to each piece of equipment as it comes up as well as a timely response to issues.

While no plan can prevent every problem, having no plan can ensure a situation that will result in additional costs and delays for a business. We here at the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center are tenured manufacturers who have experienced shutdown and startups of manufacturing facilities over our many years in business. We understand the importance of an effective plan and can help you plan for the unexpected and thrive in the face of uncertainty. Connect with a business services advisor today at


MEET OUR EXPERT: Chuck Werner, Manager Operational Excellence/Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
Werner_C2-web.jpgChuck has been a member of the team at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise include Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 30 years of experience in manufacturing.

Categories: Data & Trends, U.S. Manufacturing