Increase factory output: Part 1 – tackle the true bottlenecks

Recent surveys of manufacturers confirm what we’re seeing at the moment – many are struggling to meet increasing orders. We’re being called in by more and more clients who simply can’t keep up! Sounds like a great problem to have you might say, but if you don’t take the right actions immediately to increase your manufacturing output you can find that you quickly run out of your customers, your cash and your sanity!

Time for some home truths.

Many manufacturers throw money and resources at the problem and end up killing their profits and running out of cash. We run a great factory simulation exercise – Factory of the Future – that illustrates this perfectly. Everyone’s working flat out but costs go up, quality goes down and delivery performance goes out of the window. Sounds crazy but those of you who’ve taken part will smile as you remember seeing it with your own eyes.

So how do you get it right?

Well, let’s not get into the finer points of Theory of Constraints at this point – let’s just keep it simple.

First of all we need to look at what’s holding us back. We need to identify our true bottlenecks. We all know that a bottleneck is that part of the process where the capacity / throughput is lower than anywhere else. But we often jump to conclusions about where the bottlenecks are, usually because we see lots of work building up behind them.

I’ve seen six-figure sums spent on increasing the capacity of “bottlenecks” that aren’t really bottlenecks at all so if you want to save your money – and perhaps your job – please read on…

I can’t emphasise this next point enough – WE MUST MEASURE THE TRUE THROUGHPUT at the activity / operation. Many times we find that we do in fact have sufficient capacity and that the problem is not one of capacity.

The next step is to look at how much time is available at the activity / operation and how much of this time is given to useful productive work. Then we can look in detail at the non-productive time, find the root causes and tackle them. Often we find that these revolve around poor planning of labour or poor production scheduling.

In a future post we’ll look in more detail at next steps. In the meantime if you’d like to read up on bottleneck management you might enjoy the classic book “The Goal” by Goldratt, written in the form of a story rather than a textbook. If you’re a UK manufacturer and would like our help have a look at our website page on how to  increase factory output.

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