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Process Cycle Time Reduction.Why measure and seek to reduce cycle time? Methods to investigate and reduce cycle time.
What is “Cycle Time”?
Cycle Time can relate to a range of measures depending on the industry within which it is being applied. For example in manufacturing, it is usually taken to mean the length of time it takes a product to progress through a process, say from original raw material through to finished product. In the service industry it may relate to the time taken from a customer expressing a need and the time taken to complete the customer request. Cycle time tends to be a simple measure of the difference between the start time and the end time for either a complete process or some aspect of a process. When seeking to reduce cycle time, it is important to determine the theoretical optimum cycle time, which is the time it would take to complete the same process without any delays, stoppages, waiting, set-up, change-over times, etc.. Ideally how long could it take, if the process as currently configured worked perfectly. The words “currently configured” lead onto the possibility for process re-configuration. If the process is redesigned, maybe via the introduction of new equipment, new methods of working, new materials or new technology, can the process cycle times be further reduced.
Why is it important to measure and focus on process cycle time ?
In manufacturing, long cycle times can result in significant investment in inventory which require high levels of finance, in physical work space requirements to hold in-process inventory stock, in long waiting times to ship product to customers, etc.. In the services sector, long cycle times can frustrate customers who have to wait for what may seem in-ordinate times just to get some relatively simple task completed. For example, if a long cycle time exists in a customer service centre, customers may decide to go elsewhere, rather than wait to talk to someone with their requests.
How does a business go about implementing cycle time reduction efforts ?
The first step is normally to develop a detailed, accurate process flowchart. Without such a document, it is impossible to clearly understand how products and processes flow through the organization, also to understand the various interfaces, the supply points and inspection points. The flow chart will also immediately show all the potential hold-ups and wait points in the process.
Once the process is correctly flow charted, then commence to measure the cycle time throughout the process. From this exercise you will gain an insight into where the longer lead times exist within the selected process.
The next step is to determine what would be the desired lead times. At this step, a number of questions will need to be asked by those tasked with driving down cycle time. Is the objective just to optimize the current process, without making major process redesigns? Alternatively, is the objective to seek to completely reconfigure the process, is order to substantially reduce the process cycle time? Very often the answer to these questions in not immediately clear. It may be necessary to obtain industry benchmarking measures of cycle times in competitor organizations to determine if the total process cycle time is currently competitive. The cycle time reduction effort may be part of an on-going continuous improvement process and therefore the organization may be seeking to drive relative minor, but continual cycle time reductions. The answers to these questions, will drive the “desired lead times”.
For the purpose of this document, we will say that the desired cycle time reduction is part of an on-going continuous improvement program. Therefore we’ll say that the objective is to implement cycle time improvement, without major capital investment, nor with major employee dislocation.
In this instance, it may be appropriate to bring the process stakeholders together (line employees, supervisors, engineers, managers, customer representatives, etc.) and lead a Brainstorm session, in order to try to obtain suggestions on how the process cycle time can be improved. This will then follow a normal Brainstorm process. If a Brainstorm is not an optimum approach, maybe using one of the various analytical problem solving tools and techniques such as Cause and Effect or Fault Tree Analysis may be an approach. The key point to note at this step, is that some form of fact based analysis needs to be performed, which will help identify root causes of long lead times and lead to suggested plans to reduce.
Once the actions to be taken have been identified, they then need to be implemented. Throughout this process, measures will continue to be recorded in order to ensure that the objectives targeted for cycle time reductions are being achieved. The implementation stage, will normally require staff retraining, documentation updating, may involve the introduction of new technology, development of new channels for customer contact and feedback, etc. Whatever changes are to be implemented will need to be introduced via a controlled change management process.
SPC & Statistical Methods for Process Improvement.
- Process Capability. Variability Reduction. Statistical Process Control.
- Pre-Control. R&R Studies.
- Process capability indices Cp, Cpk, Cpm, Capability ratio.
- Performance indices Pp and Ppk.
- Variable Control Charts.
- Attribute Charts.
- Pareto Charts.
- Individual – X Charts.
- Histograms / Process Capability Analysis.
- Scatter Diagrams.
- Etc. … Etc. …
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