Finding and Resolving Bottlenecks with AI-driven Production Scheduling

As we gear up for the holidays, you might be planning to travel by air. You know the drill - show up at least 2 hours before your domestic flight to ensure you have enough time to clear security. You sigh at the long line of passengers waiting to get their bags screened and think to yourself: “If only there were more lines open. I’d be through in less than five minutes.”

Just like the TSA bottleneck at the airport, manufacturing facilities face bottlenecks on their factory floors. A single expensive piece of equipment might already be running at full capacity, limiting your throughput and causing material buildup. Or, the labor shortage might make labor your rate-limiting constraint and prevent you from meeting your customer demand and due dates. Identifying what exactly - equipment, materials or labor -  is causing your facility’s bottlenecks allows you to find the highest-leverage action to improve your operation’s efficiency. 

For example, you might expect that adding a machine will double your throughput. However, after making the expensive investment, you find that the bottleneck has shifted to another device and your investment has only increased your throughput by 10%. It is possible that the biggest bottleneck in your facility is the most expensive to fix, while resolving several smaller, less visible bottlenecks might yield similar improvements to your facility’s operations for lower cost.

In the past year, Kinta has seen many clients seeking to optimize their operations by unlocking their bottlenecks, two of which we dive into in this blog. The first example comes from a facility with a single complex coating machine, which could be loaded from four different prep chambers. The main coating chamber had to be unloaded from the same prep chamber that the product was loaded into, but coordinating usage of all four chambers often proved to be highly challenging in a fast-paced environment.

Given the dynamic nature of the facility, operators often utilized just a single chamber at a time for loading and unloading the coater. This method was highly reliable, even if it was slow and often left the coater idle for long periods of time.

Figure 1: Arrangement of the prep and coating chambers

Arrangement of the prep and coating chambers

Our optimization software ensured that the coater was running at all times by utilizing all four loading chambers, reducing waste and improving throughput. With improved visibility of the process and the ability to edit the schedule quickly through Kinta, this manufacturer achieved greater control of the schedule and was no longer forced to play a stressful game of tetris in case of a sudden change. 

In a different manufacturer’s facility, we found another type of bottleneck. Here, hundreds of devices processed and combined numerous ingredients for a wide variety of flavorings. A single bottlenecked device could delay an ingredient and make a whole order run late. Because changing daily demand made different devices bottlenecked every day, a large part of resolving this facility’s challenge was being able to track their shifting bottlenecks so that workers on the shop floor could alleviate them. By scheduling this manufacturer’s entire operations with AI, we gave the facility a bird’s eye view of the countless processes occurring simultaneously and how to best synchronize across them every day. 

When it comes to unlocking a factory’s potential, each manufacturing facility is unique and has its own constraints, with its own highest-leverage actions.

In some facilities, unblocking the obvious bottleneck is the challenge, while in others identifying a shifting bottleneck is key. The team at Kinta understands the urgent need for bottleneck analysis, which is why we are building out our platform’s bottleneck solving module further in 2022. 

Additional capabilities will include more automated identification of bottlenecks, running bottleneck scenario analysis and suggesting bottleneck resolution actions. If you are interested in learning more about our bottleneck solving capabilities and how this can unlock value for your factory, please reach out to us to discuss further. 

While we prepare for a whole host of new features and product improvements for the new year, we hope you have a restful holiday season and safe travels.