A bottleneck describes the scarcity of resources such as manpower, machinery, (partial) products, or manufacturing materials. A bottleneck worsens or delays the process or its performance, increasing the cycle time or even bringing the process to a complete standstill. Thus, a bottleneck usually holds significant potential for optimization. Bottleneck sources can be found and eliminated by process discovery and root cause analyses.
Where can bottlenecks occur?
In principle, bottlenecks can occur in any process at any time. The occurrence of bottlenecks depends, among other things, on planning factors, such as capacity or the failure of required deliveries. In general, a distinction is made between organizational, automatic, procurement-related, and financial bottlenecks.
Organizational bottlenecks occur for instance when a process step can only be executed by one person. If this is the case, the person may be overloaded, and their work may accumulate, delaying or even halting further process implementation. The same applies if the person responsible is absent and no replacement personnel is available. The principle is the same for machines. However, organizational bottlenecks can also be caused by the process itself. For example, in a production process with very long transport times for intermediate products, bottlenecks quickly arise because the continuation of the subsequent production process depends on the delivery.
Bottlenecks in procurement occur when there is not enough stock of a material to be procured for all planned process runs. At an automobile manufacturer, for example, there must always be enough windscreens available for a smooth and bottleneck-free run of the car manufacturing process. As soon as no more windscreens are available, the process comes to a standstill.
Financial bottlenecks describe the scarcity or even lack of monetary resources. Financial bottlenecks can cause organizational or procurement-related bottlenecks because invoices cannot be paid or required manufacturing materials cannot be procured.
How can bottlenecks be eliminated?
In general, bottlenecks can be prevented by detailed capacity planning. This includes capacity planning for necessary production equipment and employees as well as the calculation of default risks. Organizational bottlenecks can be identified by estimating or measuring employee or machine utilization. If the employee responsible or the machine carrying out the work is working to full capacity, they should be relieved. A relief can be achieved, for example, by hiring additional employees for an area or by purchasing additional machines. If the bottleneck lies in the process itself, a company will have to restructure. In this case, process mining analysis can be a good support to quickly identify bottlenecks and possibly their causes or more advantageous process variants.
If bottlenecks in procurement are to be eliminated, materials from other manufacturers can be obtained to supplement the process. In addition, systems or techniques should be introduced that signal early (depending on the procurement duration) as soon as existing reserves are used up. If such a signal was given, for example, by lights at a certain production step, a supply of new materials must take place. In the ideal case, the system permanently checks the stock levels so that there is no shortage of resources. If the required raw materials become too scarce there, it is conceivable that a system will automatically reorder them from the manufacturer. In this way, future bottlenecks can be avoided through automation.