Simply put, bottlenecks are areas in the manufacturing process where work is held up. It’s a stage within the process where requests outnumber the throughput constraint, causing an interruption to the workflow and delays across the entire production process. For instance, a company manufacturing cars sends four cars every hour to the painting station. However, the painting station can only paint two cars in an hour. This means more and more cars are being held up at the painting station before they can move onto the next step, a bottleneck. Waste adds up quickly due to the blockage, work is slowed down, and operations are suspended while waiting, and the efficiency of the process is significantly damaged.
Implementing a Lean manufacturing system is a way to effectively manage bottlenecks in the facility and performing a bottleneck analysis is the first step to addressing the issue. A bottleneck analysis is a detailed process in which necessary and valuable information about the manufacturing process is collected and evaluated. Begin by Identifying the specific job process that has the bottleneck. Use a root cause analysis tool, like the 5 Whys, to get to the bottom of the blockage. The underlying issue will be what is addressed and will in turn affect the rest of the manufacturing process.
Depending on the needs of the company and the resources available, there are a number of possible solutions a business can utilize to eliminate bottlenecks in the workflow. One of these solutions is to increase the capacity of the process by adding equipment or additional workstations. This would allow more work to pass through and make for a smoother workflow. In our car manufacturing example, the company could add a second painting station so now they can paint four cars an hour, effectively meeting demand. Other potential solutions include temporarily adjusting the workflow, eliminating wasted steps, adding staff to the floor, and reducing production in the short term.
Once the facility’s bottlenecks have been properly addressed, it is critical to take steps to avoid them in the future. When employees are trained to watch out for bottlenecks or interrupted flow in the process, they can help address the issue before it becomes a serious problem.