Unless your facility has infinite capacity, or the process flow is perfectly matched at every step, it has at least one bottleneck. A bottleneck (often referred to as a choke point) is that portion of your process whose individual capacity determines the overall productive capacity of a line, department or even the overall facility.
There are lots of reasons for bottlenecks. Equipment constraints, the duration of chemical reactions, quality checks and a scarcity of skilled employees are a few of the typical ones that we encounter.
Overcoming the bottlenecks in your operation may be costly, time consuming and even technologically impossible. Many companies, however, have found that simply overcoming traditional scheduling paradigms can free up product flow quickly and at very little expense.
How Can Scheduling Increase Your Capacity?
- Increase the amount of time your equipment is available for production.
Companies are all too willing to accept that a valuable piece of equipment must be down for certain non-productive activities. Breaks, shift changes, maintenance, sanitation and changeovers are seen as simply “the cost of doing business.” To some extent, that may be true. If it has to be done, then do it — but, do something else at the same time.
Look for opportunities to consolidate down-periods by conducting parallel activities such as maintenance and changeovers at the same time. If sanitation takes an entire line down, do maintenance on that portion of the line not involved in sanitation. Look for ways to operate through breaks and shift changes. Not only is productive time lost if you stop during these periods, you may also lose product and suffer some fluctuations in quality. You must also restart equipment, often generating much more maintenance than you would have when running continuously.
- Never let the lack of personnel be the source of a bottleneck.
It is extremely rare to find a facility where the cost of being adequately staffed is higher than the cost of letting a critical piece of expensive equipment operate at less than full capacity. We have seen facilities where the bottleneck is identified as a million dollar piece of equipment that is capacity limited simply because they did not have enough trained operators.
- Use all of the hours available to you every week.
There are 168 hours in a week (seven days times twenty-four hours). To overcome a bottleneck, not all operations need to take advantage of all of these hours, just the bottleneck. For example: A production line may be able to meet all of its customer demands using two shifts a day, six days a week. It could meet these demands in 5 days except there is a certain assembly step that slows everything down. By placing the assembly area on a 3-shift schedule (while everyone else operates two shifts a day) the production line is able to meet all of its obligations without running on the weekend.
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