You’ve built your manufacturing business with care and consideration. You are proud of what you produce, the relationships you have built with your customers and suppliers, and the team you have around you. And yet, there is a problem — a sticking point, a holdup, a bottleneck. All of a sudden, production is down, and you are losing money.

A bottleneck refers to a specific sticking point within the manufacturing chain. So, just like a fleet at sea moves at the speed of its slowest vessel, your facility is only as good as its least efficient piece of machinery. If just one of your machines is causing a holdup, a bottleneck will occur. Of course, it’s not just machines. A computer, a person, a process or even a whole department can cause a bottleneck.

What do bottlenecks cost your business?

Can you afford stalls in your production chain? Do you want to have to deal with overstock of supplies because your processes have been halted? These are just two of the issues associated with bottlenecks in your business.

Every hour that is lost by a bottleneck translates to an hour that your business falls behind. Your customers, partners and everyone else who relies on you also lose time and money. The result could be a massive financial and reputation loss for your firm, and could potentially also mean a serious reduction in quality.

For a business focusing on DIFOTQ — delivered in full, on time and to quality — this is disastrous. A business cannot achieve complete, timely, high-quality delivery if there are bottlenecks in the manufacturing processes.

Two men in a mondern factory discussing what is on the laptop screen

Five common bottlenecks in manufacturing

1. Ill-defined processes and poorly designed workflows

Outdated machinery and processes are major sticking points in manufacturing. Ask yourself: How long have your machines been in the field? How often are you needing to service your equipment? Which stage of the process is causing problems? When was the last time you assessed your workflows?

Poor factory layout can also be a major contributing factor when it comes to creating unnecessary delays. For example, if you’re not storing your materials adequately and accessibly, you’re running the risk of damage and shrinkage. This may also delay production when you’re ready to start.

2. Key human resources shortfalls that bring production to a halt

When key personnel aren’t present, perhaps due to sickness or even just a planned absence, it causes problems for any business. In some cases, another team member can step in to fill the role, but this is not always easily done. If a key specialist is absent for any reason, their part of the production chain will either run at limited capacity or grind completely to a halt, resulting in a bottleneck.

Even when team members are not absent, poor human resource management can make it difficult to get the right people overseeing the right processes. The key specialists discussed above cannot be in two places at the same time. This is why time and resources need to be properly managed, and organisations must ensure they allocate appropriate hiring and training budgets.

Through skilled human resource management, even a financially limited team can achieve a great deal. Visibility of the number of human resources employed, their availability and their skills will help your business to understand which of your personnel can cover roles in the event of planned  and unplanned absences. Good human resource management means you can put together a contingency plan that sees other team members stepping into the role, easing the bottleneck.

This increased focus on human resource management will also help you to support your key specialists on the ground, and make sure that they are not overstretched. This mitigates the risk of burnout and presenteeism.

3. Machine capacity cannot meet demand

When deadlines begin to bite down, it can be tempting to push your equipment beyond its capacity in an effort to meet these demands. Unfortunately, this leads to accelerated wear and tear on your machinery, which increases the likelihood of failure. It doesn’t matter whether you’re pushing capacity across all phases of production or only one — you’re still at risk of causing a serious bottleneck.

4. Lack of automation

Automation, whether via machinery or through software, is highly adept at handling repetitive processes with no critical input required. If you’re making too many of these processes manual, you’re leaving yourself exposed to the danger of human error. 

Lack of automation also makes key processes inefficient, which then introduces bottlenecks at crucial points in the chain.

5. Poor forecasting

As a manufacturing business, you will be familiar with the need to bring in your components and materials efficiently so that they’re ready to be deployed when manufacturing starts. Excess materials need to be stored safely and effectively to be ready for use.

The flip side of this, of course, is a delay in delivery. If you don’t have the materials and components ready for use, this causes a bottleneck before manufacturing can even begin. But forecasting goes beyond this. You also need to predict times of high demand, and plan for these. If you’re not using the analytics tools and forecasting solutions available to you, or you’re not monitoring customer behaviours and industry trends, you will lose your ability to think long term.

How to remove bottlenecks

To remove bottlenecks, you need to achieve a harmonious balance of people, process and technology. But what exactly do we mean by this?

Process: How do your resources and inventory become the finished product? Define the process you will use to complete the manufacture. Then, optimise and control this process to achieve a smoother and more automated result from start to finish.

People: You need your best people on the job, and your human resources need to be managed and supported in the right way. This way, if you encounter a bottleneck, you can allocate the correct number of appropriately skilled people to reduce inefficiency and enhance productivity. Support this at every stage with the right training and education, and make sure that everyone knows their role inside out.

Technology: Support your processes and your people with the right enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, business software which unifies what often seems like a disparate set of processes into a cohesive whole. This will also help you to automate key processes for maximum efficiency, as well as planning and strategising for the future.

Do you have a bottleneck in your manufacturing systems or processes that you can’t put your finger on? We can help you identify the root cause of your bottlenecks and what this is costing your business. Let us help you get started today with our free ERP Kickstart for Success consult.