What Is Idle Time? Improve Manufacturing Efficiency Like a Pro

What Is Idle Time? Improve Manufacturing Efficiency Like a Pro

Businesses operating in the manufacturing and production industries know from experience that time is money. Whenever a machine breaks down or an employee is idle, valuable time is lost.

This can have costly implications when production processes are halted or are not operating at 100% efficiency. While it is common practice to schedule repairs and maintenance, idle time is a concept that many maintenance and production managers will be aware of. They track it in an effort to reduce it.

But what is idle time and what is the difference between it and downtime? What are the different types of idle time and how do you calculate them? These are a few of the questions that we will explore in this article.

Keep reading to discover more.

What Is Idle Time? Improve Manufacturing Efficiency Like a Pro

What Is Idle Time?

A brief definition of idle time must necessarily consider the dual nature of work through machines and employees. That is why an idle time definition encompasses both aspects.

Often referred to as waiting time, it refers to time that is lost when work stoppages occur. This means that employees and/or machines are readily available to work, but they are prevented from being productive.

When it comes to looking at idle time’s meaning, it is essential that it is not confused with either planned or unplanned downtime. These concepts differ and have different purposes and consequences. Also, if you want to track idle time vs downtime, there are key differences. We will discuss these in more detail below.

The Difference Between Downtime and Idle Time in Manufacturing

Although both terms deal with the concept of time in manufacturing, idle times and downtime differ drastically. For example, they have different tracking requirements and calculations for working them out, they serve different purposes and they have different results. Here is the key difference between the two:

  • Idle time: This is the time an asset, such as machinery or equipment, or an employee is in a waiting process when they aren’t working or being productive. This can be caused as a result of a scheduled, unscheduled or unforeseen situation. It must be remembered that a machine is capable of running. However, it is simply not in use. This can occur when a machine is waiting for another piece of equipment to finish its job and is therefore not being used. Similarly, an employee may be at work and ready to handle a task. However, they may be on a scheduled break or they may be prevented from doing work for various reasons, such as weather conditions and natural disasters. Therefore, there are numerous factors that cause idle time.
  • Downtime: Downtime is the term that is used to describe a situation in which an asset is not capable of running. This is often the result of either planned maintenance, scheduled maintenance or an unplanned outage due to the need for emergency repairs or a breakdown. In such cases, downtime can halt the operation of certain machines or stop the production process entirely, negatively affecting productive work. This can be highly costly for manufacturing facilities and plants that rely on a smooth production process.

Types of Idle Time

idle time
Just like there is unplanned and planned downtime, idle time also has two types: normal and abnormal idle time. Below, we look at what each one means in the context of manufacturing.

Normal Idle Time

This is considered unavoidable in a production environment. When it comes to machines, imagine the following scenario: A production line consists of several machines that manufacture a product.

A few of these machines can be used to manufacture different parts of the item, while others are used for packaging and leading items down a conveyor belt for shipping and distribution. The machine that does the packaging needs to wait for the finished goods while the conveyor belt waits for the packed items. While these machines are “waiting”, they are involved in normal idle time.

This is unless a manufacturer attempts to streamline the process and make it more efficient. In terms of employees, it is standard labour practice for equipment operators to take scheduled breaks. These breaks are also considered unavoidable and constitute a part of normal idle time. As such, normal idle time refers to events that cannot be controlled by inside forces and prevent the operation of machinery or the work of employees above a certain percentage of the allocated time.

Abnormal Idle Time

The next category of this time-related maintenance concept is abnormal idle time. In short, it is an occurring situation that is controllable and avoidable.

Looking at it from a machinery point of view, it is when a machine breaks down unexpectedly. This can take away from productivity when an unplanned event occurs, such as a power outage that stops production and interrupts and interferes with processes. It can have high fixed costs because idle machinery or equipment can result in depreciation while reducing productivity.

From an employee’s point of view, it can occur when there is a strike, for example. This is when labour is available but is not used to its maximum productive capacity.


How to Calculate Idle Time

We already mentioned that downtime and idle time are calculated in different ways. Now, we will explore how to calculate idle time—in other words, how to find idle time at an organisation. The formula for calculating idle time is as follows:

Idle Time = Scheduled Production Time (what was planned) – Actual Production Time (what actually happened)

In short, idle time is considered the difference between scheduled productive time and actual production time.

We will now look at some examples of calculating idle time for employees and equipment.

  • Idle time for employees: An example of idle time for employees is if there is a mandatory expectation that your employees work an eight-hour shift per day with a one-hour lunch break and two 15-minute tea breaks. If your employees work for the full eight hours, there is no idle time and no lost productivity. However, if they waste time waiting for a spare part to arrive or remain unproductive, this is considered idle time. However, if the employees are waiting for spare parts or are out on a strike and are unavailable for, say, a full day, abnormal idle time would be calculated at eight hours per day of the strike or labour action activity.
  • Idle time for equipment: While humans have a limited capacity to be productive for short bursts of time, machinery and equipment can usually perform for much longer. However, that’s not to say that they do not require maintenance, being switched off to avoid overheating and other aspects. When it comes to calculating the idle time for equipment, an example that would illustrate the point is as follows: if your machine or asset was meant to run for 12 hours but only ran for three, your idle time would be the difference between the two, which is a total of nine hours.

How to Reduce Idle Time in Production

We now turn to answer the question: how to reduce idle time in production? There are three primary ways you can achieve this goal to reduce inefficiency and streamline operations.

  1. Optimising Workflows

One of the most important ways to reduce idle time in manufacturing is to optimise your workflows. While this is easier said than done and requires an in-depth look and understanding of your asset portfolio and how it works, it is possible to achieve this aim. Optimising workflows starts with understanding your machinery.

It is about knowing who the manufacturer is, when machines need maintenance, what type of maintenance is required, how long the warranty is on the machine, what the expected life cycle is and what types of spare parts and other consumables are best for that piece of equipment. Once you have this information, you can start scheduling preventive maintenance, or preventative maintenance, to ensure that these machines do not break down unnecessarily.

  1. Training Employees

The second way to reduce idle time in production relates to training your employees. If you are using a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS), it’s important that your employees understand how and why this maintenance management software is used. For example, a CMMS system can help maintenance managers issue work orders to their technicians with attached instructions, diagrams, specifications, etc.

These work orders can be sent via smart notifications to tablets, smartwatches and smartphones. A technician needs to know how to access the information, carry out the work and then upload the work order completion documentation after the preventive maintenance task is completed. Training should take place from employees going through onboarding through to more experienced technicians.

  1. Implementing Tracking and Reporting Tools

We have already mentioned that calculating idle time is done differently from calculating downtime. We also mentioned that idle time is tracked and reported differently. For accurate reporting, you need the right tools and analytics so that you can make data-informed decisions.

With a CMMS at your fingertips, this process becomes much faster and more streamlined as the software can issue reports at the click of a button. Once you know how much idle time you are experiencing, you can take steps to reduce it. Having the right knowledge and tools at your disposal is an essential part of having a broader and deeper understanding of the inefficiencies in your production processes.

We have already mentioned that calculating idle time is done differently from calculating downtime. We also mentioned that idle time is tracked and reported differently. For accurate reporting, you need the right tools and analytics so that you can make data-informed decisions. Here are some CMMS example reports that can be useful.

Fabrico: Your Solution for Minimising Idle Time

idle time fabrico

Having a maintenance management solution in place is possibly the best and most powerful way to introduce efficiencies in your production processes, streamline operations and minimise idle time. With Fabrico’s leading CMMS, you and your team will be empowered to achieve these goals with ease and simplicity. The software is highly intuitive and user-friendly. It also comes at an affordable price that is based on a plant basis and not the costlier variations on the market that charge on a per-user basis. With all these benefits in mind, there’s no reason not to implement Fabrico’s CMMS at your production facility.

We encourage you to explore this CMMS solution for yourself and see how it can help boost your manufacturing processes, reduce idle time and downtime and improve your business’s bottom line.


The importance of having proper planning and effective management techniques in place to reduce manufacturing idle time and increase productivity and profitability cannot be overstated.

That’s why it’s essential to choose the right tools for your production business that offer scalability, affordability, efficiency and streamlined operations. By exploring the right manufacturing maintenance software solutions, you will achieve better results and improved productivity.

Learn more about how to optimise your equipment reliability and reduce downtime by understanding MTBF (mean time between failures).

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