Posts Tagged ‘manufacturing software’

What’s a bottleneck?  Every production system consists in one way or another of a series of discrete steps, right?  We noted earlier that the rhythm of the production process is The Drum in DBR.  Exceed the capacity of one step in the process, and you have a bottleneck.  That’s not bad, it’s just natural.  But that bottleneck thereby defines the capacity of the system as a whole.

Each step has an input and an output component.  Looked at that way, it’s usually pretty easy to spot the bottleneck.  Is one step out-producing the ability of another step to absorb its output?  There’s your bottleneck.  Moreover, overall production only increases if you can increase the capacity of your bottleneck.  Until then, all other processes are subservient to the bottleneck.  It’s the old weak link in the chain concept.

A guy named Pete Abilla has summed up nicely the leading thoughts on managing bottlenecks here.

His thoughts come from multiple sources, but summed up, he points out five principles, which I quote directly (because someone has already invented this wheel, and as they say, a hack borrows, an artist steals…), as a perfect synopsis of how to treat your bottleneck.  Knowledgable readers will recognize these as basically The Five Focusing Points of TOC theory…

  1. Bottlenecks should never be idle; to lose time on a bottleneck, is to lose throughput.
  2. Never let a bottleneck run out of work. It’s okay to build inventory in front of a bottleneck.
  3. Increase productivity rates (offline and online processes) by reducing down-time, change-over time, and off-task time.
  4. Reduce defects by having Quality Assurance and Quality Control in front of a bottleneck, not after.
  5. Focus all improvements on the bottleneck.

The key point: identify your constraint(s), then manage it (them).  Every bottleneck solved creates a new bottleneck somewhere else.  Hence, the notion of continuous improvement.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

Instead, having now looked at the Drum, let’s look next at the Buffer…

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As alluded to in my prior post: With this entry, I’ll start a series of seven articles covering topics of interest to manufacturers.  In particular, we’ll delve into constraints… Eli Goldratt’s The Goal… the use of Drum-Buffer-Rope and Theory of Constraints thinking to solve those constraints… and scheduling.   Along the way we’ll point out a few worthwhile web resources, and mostly, hopefully, get you to thinking… about your constraints.

At the heart of the line of thinking that has been named “drum-buffer-rope” is the basic need to hurdle the obstacle –or relieve the ‘constraint’ — that is found in any process.  It’s often about scheduling, as alluded to in our prior post.  It is a basic construct of Eli Goldratt’s “Theory of Constraints” as first outlined in his book The Goal (where it first appears in the context of a weekend outing of scouts on a hike, and the overall effect on the troop of the slowest boy’s struggle to keep up).  It’s beyond the scope of this blog to detail all the many elements of the The Goal; however, for a great synopsis, you can go here.  Typically applied to production problems, the basic construct is as described below.

It’s called Drum-Buffer-Rope as a metaphor for each component.  The Drum sets “the beat” or the rhythm by which production occurs, or should occur.  In fact, the Drum is the constraint or bottleneck inherent in a production system.  Nothing can exceed its beat, naturally, and hence running at full speed, it becomes the constraint.

The Buffer defines a solution to the situation around or outside the constraint, where a process upstream cannot produce as much as the bottleneck or constraint requires.  So, we create Buffer, or excess, to ensure the constraint is not… constrained.  It’s meant to ensure that the Constraint (or Drum) never has to wait, since waiting is pure waste.  Buffer is inventory.  Having it in excess leads, theoretically at least, to reduced lead time, and thus, better throughput.  But of course, excess inventory is costly, and thus wasteful in itself.

Hence, the Rope.  The rope serves to signal a non-bottleneck process upstream when to speed up or slow down, in an effort to maintain a constant but acceptable flow, to and through any constraint.  It’s the throttle mechanism on a perfect world of production.  In Lean, this is sometimes called “Pull” or Pull Scheduling.  In software, we can use data about demand to know when to push or pull the schedule.

Taken together, it’s a construct built on common sense to solve a complex problem that at one time or another affects production almost everywhere in manufacturing.

How do we maximize throughput, smooth out the bumps, reduce costs and eliminate waste… all at the same time?  In other words, how do we achieve maximum capacity at the bottlenecks with minimal waste, defects and expense?

We’ll head there next post…

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A recent article in APICS Magazine reminds us of the complexity of accurately and efficiently planning production in the manufacturing environment, whether you’re in a continuous or a batch environment.

As David Turbide, an independent consultant points out, traditional enterprise planning involves scheduling materials via Material Requirements Planning (traditional MRP) but seldom takes into account whether there is sufficient capacity to carry out the ultimate plan.

This “plan materials first, then check capacity” logic has been around since MRP was first automated in the 60’s.  Too often, conflicts between supply/production and capacity are detected, and changes are made on the fly, often made during or just before setup, and usually involving trade-offs of inventory vs. schedule disruptions or overtime.

The math to resolve this, if even available, is complex.  Rules that drive the process must often be broken, and blindly following rules seldom leaves every production need satisfied.  Besides, humans can still make better ‘special judgments’ than software when exceptions become the rule.

One effective solution comes courtesy from our old friend Donn Novotny, President of The Goal Institute.  Donn’s drum-buffer-rope (DBR) logic and the long heralded Theory of Constraints provide practical, real-world solutions to thorny production scheduling problems.  We’ll cover more of the basics in our next article, but you can find decent overviews here and here.

Donn, by the way — and many don’t know this — was actually the role-model for Alex Rogo, lead character in the seminal manufacturing ‘novel’ of the 1980’s entitled The Goal, which became one of the world’s best-selling business books ever.  We at PSSI have been friends with Donn (who lives nearby) for years, and have sponsored him frequently at customer events and seminars.  Donn and I are even members of a local consultants’ roundtable called the Business Improvement Group, and we’ve referred Donn to clients who faced the very kind of constraints that Donn is an expert at solving.

For those not familiar with these topics, we’ll highlight DBR and TOC approaches a bit this week.  One thing’s for sure: For every problem in business these days there is no shortage of people with proposed solutions.

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