Manufacturing on a snow day

The commercial implications of a shutdown

As many of the UK’s children raced outside today to revel in their snow day, thrilled to be spending it building snowmen and racing their sledges, we have spared a thought for some of our customers who will have been less excited by the disruption.

Most manufacturing facilities have scheduled shutdowns that are built into their cost models, and are used for vital maintenance and repairs. The expenses incurred in planned shutdowns can be offset by the eventual improvements in efficiency and quality, but it is a different story for unscheduled shutdowns. Emergency closures due to staff being unable to make it into their shift, or the facilities themselves being affected by the weather can cause huge disruption and ultimately, loss of profit.

If just one workstation is down for one day, the opportunity cost for the interruption is the profit a functioning assembly line can make in a day.

Delays on the road and rail networks also mean that companies waiting for their just in time deliveries will be affected. Even if workers are able to make it to the shop floor, production can’t go ahead, as the materials have not yet arrived. Choices then need to be made about whether the shift workers are sent home or can be used effectively for other tasks.

Shutdowns caused by human error

Unscheduled shutdowns aren’t always due to weather. From a translation company point of view, we are always very conscious of the potential impact to a production line when we work on projects. The knock-on effect of a late delivery of a training document, for example, for your shop floor staff is much the same as if that person had been held up in the snow. If they can’t be at their workstation for the day because they haven’t received sufficient training in their language, the company loses the capacity of that station and potentially the whole production line.

The consequences to your bottom line are the same whether you have to shut down because of physical damage to your facilities after extreme weather, or because there has been an error on the line due to a worker due to not understanding their machine parameters.

According to the company MasterControl, “Human error is responsible for more than 80 percent of process deviations in the pharmaceutical and related manufacturing environments”. However, as they argue, it is not enough to simply declare “human error” on a root cause analysis. If you want to get to the bottom of that behaviour, it needs to be analysed in depth. After all, we would never end an investigation with just “equipment failure.” We would explain exactly what the equipment failure was so it could be fixed for next time.

Root cause of the human error

At Quality Spanish Translations we suggest that a large proportion of human error leading to equipment failure, defects in the product, or total shutdowns is caused by the fact that staff are working in their second or third languages.

  • Understanding: Even if your workforce is considered fluent enough for their jobs, we should begin to analyse the true extent of their understanding when it comes to technical documentation, or safety behaviour. We need to look at just what we mean by that “enough” and consider making translations available for them in their native language.
  • Fatigue: For some people, a side effect of operating in another language all the time is that they become tired more easily, lose concentration quicker than in their native language, and make silly mistakes more often. The HSE advises that fatigue already needs to be included in your risk assessment for shift workers. The further risk implications of shift workers not being communicated to in their native language is therefore clear.
  • Motivation: Motivation also plays a huge part in productivity. Motivated staff work to higher standards of quality when they feel valued and included. They have more ideas, and they are less likely to make mistakes or cause conflict. Therefore your production line is less likely to be shut down unexpectedly. When you translate documents for your foreign workforce, you show them that you value them and you are willing to invest in them. The resulting increase in their motivation and productivity should justify that investment.

Translations provide solutions

By providing accurate, professional translations, by translators who have experience in the manufacturing sector, you can ensure that your company never has to put “human error due to language misunderstandings” as a root cause of an unscheduled shutdown. That just leaves your risk planning for snow days to deal with.

Download our article on calculating the ROI of translations

Wondering how to justify investing in translations? Download our in-depth guide on how to calculate and measure the return on investment (ROI) of translations, including practical examples and exercises. Tailored for the manufacturing environment.


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