Stuck – The Importance of Bottlenecks image


Stuck – The Importance of Bottlenecks

By Oli Walwyn, Digital Marketing Apprentice

It’s been a month since the Suez Canal was first blocked by the ship Ever Given. The blockage roughly cost 12% of global trade valued at over $9 billion per day. The dispute in costs and damages are still being discussed today. To some, amusing at the fragility of the ‘magic’ global supply chains we rely on. For transporters and manufacturers, it was excruciating.

Like it or not, the world relies on these physical systems that are subject to the Earths geography and powered on hard manual labour. They are complex, inconceivably large and span all 7 continents. Like many systems of production, they are also subject to bottlenecks that restrict their output and limit their productivity.

Bottlenecks are points of congestion in a production system that occur when workloads arrive too quickly for the production process to handle. In simpler terms, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. No manufacturer is free from these restrictions.

Take Tesla, for example. When Tesla began production of its electric vehicles, demand was high, and some analysts were concerned that production would be reduced due to problems in the production line.

Founder Elon Musk said the company’s ability to expand its production line depended on its ability to increase output of batteries. To meet demand and ease the bottleneck, with the help of Panasonic, Tesla opened a massive “Gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada in 2016. This would allow the company to make their lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicle subassemblies. By 2018, the factory was already the highest-volume battery plant in the world (in terms of gigawatt-hours).

Batteries were the problem, but also the solution. In Ever Given’s case, a sudden strong wind along with the size of the ship, caused it to become stuck. Once in, it was extremely difficult to free, causing a build-up of over 300 vessels at both ends of the canal and leading some, to take a massive detour around Africa.

How could this have been prevented?

  • Increased regulations on ship size
  • Widening the canal
  • Improved weather protections whilst passing the canal

These are just some ideas of how to mitigate a bottleneck in this instance and prevent a massive loss in production, and in costs. But what if you don’t have the ability to create an additional production line, as was the case with Tesla? Or you cannot ‘widen’ your existing bottleneck, then the priority must be to maximise its throughput, never let it miss a beat. Understanding, and implementing, bottleneck theory can help maximise your bottleneck. Not sure how this can be done?

Get in touch with us today. Contact Erica Bassford to learn about Bottleneck Improvement or other manufacturing solutions through The Ambassador’s Academy.


I believe that the project has been the catalyst for some big changes in the way we operate and think. Your presence, support, enthusiasm and ability to engage the personnel involved has been integral to this.

Keith Bassett, Plant Manager, KR Castlemaine

Our cooperation with LI Europe has yielded significant improvement across the plants in East Asia and I have recommended the cooperation be implemented across our other regions and suppliers

Jose M. Chao Diaz Senior VP Supply – Developing Markets