Helpful Resources

How to Love a Bottleneck

Jul 1, 2020

Production managers attack bottlenecks.  Since a bottleneck in the flow of a fabrication process limits the output of that process, breaking bottlenecks is an effective way to increase output.  

Breaking a bottleneck usually requires focusing on that process step.  Equipment is moved.  People are re-allocated.  Work rules are changed.  A lot of attention is paid to how the rest of the plant impacts operation of the bottleneck.  

The problem is, once the bottleneck is broken, another one shows up elsewhere in the plant.  Then the focus shifts to address the new bottleneck.  Frequently, this shift in focus causes improvements at the first bottleneck to backslide.  Sometimes the bottleneck shifts back to the first location – while everyone is still trying to improve the second bottleneck.  Imagine the chaos that occurs while you are attacking the third and fourth bottlenecks!  Additionally, while all this is going on, product mix shifts, you have turnover, you have absenteeism, the saw breaks down – and the bottleneck moves somewhere totally different.  This makes it impossible to focus on any one thing and we end up tackling everything.

These constantly moving bottlenecks are creating a lot of the chaos occurring today in fabrication plants.

Bottlenecks, those temporary restrictions in product or process flow, always exist and continually roam throughout your fabrication plant.  As a manager, your job is to continuously improve the performance of your fab plant.  If attacking bottlenecks is an effective way to increase output of the plant, and if doing this is causing chaos in your operation while hampering your improvement efforts, how do you improve operational performance without all the chaos?  There’s an old sales adage: “If you can’t fix it, feature it.”  The scratch-and-dent sale comes to mind.

The idea is to find a way to make bottlenecks work for you.

The core of this approach is to find the ‘ultimate bottleneck’ in your process – let’s call it a “constraint”.  Common characteristics of a constraint are:

  • Represents your competitive edge
  • May be difficult and/or expensive to increase capacity
  • May or may not be a current bottleneck

This constraint becomes the point around which you will leverage your business to drive a tremendous increase in profit.

Remember the focusing activities we described above when talking about eliminating bottlenecks?  Once you select your constraint, similar activities will occur, but with even more intensity, and with an even greater positive impact on the rest of the plant.  For that reason, identifying the constraint should be a strategic decision.  It is an intentional selection, not an abstract analysis.

Since this strategic decision will have such a fundamental impact on your business, the constraint should never move.  Once you have selected your constraint, you will begin to optimize how the rest of the plant supports that process step.  If your constraint is not currently also a bottleneck, then use your bottleneck-busting skills to drive the bottleneck to the constraint – and keep it there.  Lean and Six Sigma have many tools to help do that effectively.

If you execute this well, the increased focus of your plant on optimizing your constraint will greatly reduce the chaos in your business.  A common focus on the constraint by everyone in the plant drives effective prioritization for all operational and improvement activities.  The impact on the constraint is always priority one.  Everything else is secondary.  The outcome is greatly increased profit because of the reduced chaos.

You will also need a few additional tools and some critical financial measures to pull all this together.  Effectively executed, it is common to see throughput increase greater than 30% with little to no investment in capital or additional labor.

To find out more about how to Love a Bottleneck and as well as how to Reduce Chaos and Increase Profit, email me at Ed@FabricatorsCoach.com.

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