Written by Nathanial Marshall, Practitioner at LI Europe.

As I was reading Erica’s latest blog on Cycle Time Reduction, it got me thinking about bottlenecks and the importance of correctly identifying them in your production process.

Why is this important?

I have worked with many organisations that have been disillusioned by previous improvement initiatives. There are a variety of reasons for this but one of the most common is a lack of results despite investing time, effort and money to improve a specific asset in order to increase its throughput.  It takes me to an example I saw within a business recently…

A lot of focus had gone into improving casepacker reliability and whilst successful in improving its availability, the work yielded no overall improvement to the line’s output.

The casepacker had the lowest maximum output of all processes on the line. It was the capacity bottleneck.   Having a process of this nature at the end of the line is not a good example of a balanced line and investing in this is certainly something that should be done. However, should it have been the priority focus?

Not when, on closer inspection, the casepacker was being starved by upstream processes. Namely, bagging machines which incurred a large amount of short stops. These 5 to 10 second stops happened so many times that they were going unnoticed by both operators and managers and were seen as the norm. Yet the baggers were the process with the lowest average output – the throughput bottleneck – causing starvation at the case packer and the lack of output. No attempt to improve the reliability and cycle time of the casepacker would improve line output if it wasn’t being fed with product consistently.

Focusing on the baggers to eliminate the most frequent short stops and ensure the casepacker was consistently fed with product and the line’s output improved by 10%.

A simple observational study of a line to capture process speeds, accumulation points and downtime can point you towards the throughput bottleneck.

Want to know more about the Debottlenecking Method? Get in touch directly to request a Tip Card >



rollercoasterWritten by Erica Bassford, Engagement Leader at LI Europe.

Have you visited any theme parks recently? Got tired feet from standing still for so long in the inevitable queues? On a recent visit, after 40 minutes of standing in a very long queue, waiting to ride the next fast and furious rollercoaster, my son turned to me and said “why do we have to wait so long Mum”?

I could have said, “Because there are lots of people waiting to go on this ride”, or “Because ‘Express tickets’ get to go ahead of us” or “We just have to wait our turn” – but I didn’t. Instead it got me thinking about Bottlenecks, Cycle Time Reduction and simple Throughput, which I decided to share with my son…

First we broke the activity down or mapped the cycle: open the entry gate, load people into seats, close safety harnesses, issue safety instructions over the tannoy, check safety harness, raise harness to move small riders to left hand side, lower safety harness again, ride, release safety harness, unload people, open exit gate, close exit gate – repeat. 

I then asked my son what ideas he had to make the queue quicker and he came up with the following four ways they could optimise the cycle:

  1. Why don’t they fill all the seats?
    My son had identified that they should keep the bottleneck full at all times because every missed unit is lost forever. (Some parks have adopted the ‘single rider’ lane to cover this but alas it was not the case at this park!) 
  2. They should tell you which side the children should sit before you get in so they don’t have to keep lifting the safety harness for people to switch!
    He even suggested a picture (or visual aid) to show which side the grownups should go and ensure clear instructions are given early to prevent waste on the bottleneck machine.
  3. The man who opens the exit gate keeps getting stuck behind the people trying to leave so it’s taking ages to open the gate and let everyone out. Why don’t they open the exit gate at the same time as the safety harness is raised?
    Good question. Why not introduce concurrent activities to shorten the cycle time?
  4. Could they move the start of the queue next to the entry gate, not at the top of the 15 steps down to the entry gate?
    He’d identified that they could start activities earlier to shorten the cycle time.

If we’d achieved nothing else – by the time we had developed our shortened cycle it was finally our turn and I didn’t have to hear him ask “Why do we have to wait so long” over and over again! It didn’t however, stop him from asking to buy a fastpass ticket!

Cycle Time Reduction is a powerful tool, with the ability to increase throughput on any repetitive cycle. Are you frustrated by lack of throughput in your plant? Get in touch for some ideas of how you could shorten the cycle.