Production bottlenecks are a type of congestion that form when a workload arrives too quickly for the production line to handle. While bottlenecks happen most frequently on the production line, they can also occur off of it – for instance, if trucks don’t arrive in time to move products out of the manufacturing facility to storage or to consumers.
Bottlenecks can be expensive for manufacturers, delaying production, spiking costs, and potentially meaning products will not be delivered on time. However, most manufacturers only recognize and address these bottlenecks at the beginning of their manufacturing process, as they identify and fine-tune their initial process.
How can bottlenecks be mitigated, production capacity maximized, and production goals met? As we will see, manufacturers have several tools at their disposal to combat the dangers of bottlenecks in production.
Setting Realistic Goals
To understand how to avoid bottlenecks, we must know how they emerge in the first place. Bottlenecks emerge when a manufacturing line’s capacity can no longer keep up with production goals. Solutions must either fix the weakest links in the chain causing the bottlenecks, or goals need to be reassessed.
Theoretical capacity is the highest possible yield that a manufacturer can produce. While this can be a useful benchmark, it is virtually unattainable: it requires no employee downtime, no machine breakdowns, and no mistakes. With hygiene in food manufacturing being of critical importance, striving for theoretical capacity may also put your products at risk to contain foodborne illnesses.
Practical capacity is the range used to calculate production with risk calculated in, and what most manufacturers choose when setting manufacturing goals. The further you push your staff and machines, the higher your output will be – conversely, the greater your risk of bottlenecks forming if one element in the equation breaks down.
Most manufacturers can’t afford to lower production goals. Instead, they turn to CRP tools that are able to calculate when machines are in need of maintenance. By creating periods of planned maintenance, manufacturers are able to reduce jams, breakdowns, and accidents before they become a problem.
Recognize What Causes Production Bottlenecks
From a birds-eye view, we can see how a bottleneck is caused by workers or machines taking on more product than they are designed to handle. But on level to the manufacturing line, how do these bottlenecks emerge?
During the manufacturing cycle, there will be parts that naturally grow slower or faster as the production line adapts. A true bottleneck never changes – it will always be there even as other parts of the process change. To identify these bottlenecks, look for these signs:
Capacity – According to the theory of constraints, the machine operating at the highest percentage of capacity is the one causing other machines to work at reduced capacities. When examining your manufacturing line for bottlenecks, look for this machine first to determine what needs to be fixed or altered. Increasing the capacity of this bottleneck machine increases the capacity of the entire production line.
Accumulation – When the input of items into a process is higher than the output of items, an accumulation builds up. For a single-item production line, this is the most common type of blockage that occurs.
Throughput – The rate at which a product moves through a machine is directly related to its output. When a machine is not operating continuously or has high wait times, the machine preceding it tends to have low throughput.
How Automation Breaks Production Bottlenecks
Bottlenecks are a major problem for manufacturers, but they share similar root causes. Employee error and breakdown error are two aspects that must be fixed by decisions in how things are managed or operated, and can be fixed by training and tools that mitigate unplanned downtime. Machine-oriented bottlenecks can’t always be resolved without customizing or replacing existing machines.
These types of bottlenecks can be a challenge for manufacturers, as they are often the most expensive problems to resolve. Thankfully, advances in automation can make this easier and more affordable for manufacturers, and can help resolve all three kinds of bottlenecks.
One of the major problems facing the manufacturing industry is hiring and maintaining employees. Manufacturers spend a large portion of their budget on HR, with diminishing returns. Automation doesn’t replace existing workers – more often, it makes up for a deficit, meaning more money can be spent on the manufacturing process rather than the hiring around it.
New automation tools are built with easy access and efficiency in mind. This makes the equipment easier and faster to repair, amounting to less unplanned downtime.
Most importantly, they are designed to operate at maximum efficiency. When a machine on your manufacturing line is unable to keep pace with the others, swapping it out with advanced automation allows for the whole process to run more smoothly.
Have bottlenecks in the manufacturing process become a problem for your business? Custom Cut Metals offers world-class manufacturing equipment at prices that won’t break the bank. Contact us today to learn about how automation can take your business to the next level.