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Cycle time vs. Takt time: why the differences matter

Cycle time vs. Takt time: why the differences matter

Cycle time vs. Takt time: why the differences matter

What is takt time and what is cycle time? Mathew Kavanagh, Head of Engineering from MSC Industrial Supply Co. UK explains the differences between them – and where they intersect.

Living in the digital age, we are all aware that data is more important than ever. As the American engineer and statistician W. Edwards Deming famously said: “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion.” However, it’s what you do with the data that counts. A quote from renowned management consultant Peter Drucker springs to mind: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

These statements can be applied to many facets of everyday life but are especially true in manufacturing. In fact, for as long as people have been making things, they’ve been looking for the best way to gauge their productivity. Which brings us to an important question: How does your facility measure its production? Do you use takt time, cycle time, both, or neither?

Cycle time

If you are engaged in high-mix, low-volume production, then the time needed to produce a part is all-important. This is known as ‘cycle time’ - but what does this term actually mean? 

A machine operator might associate cycle time with processing time—or the time needed to go from green light to red light. However, it’s properly defined as the time needed to machine, bend, form, weld or print any given component. The factory supervisor will take a different view – to them, cycle time more likely means green light to green light. This includes part load and unload time as well as the waste associated with any production process. Most facilities think of this as parts per hour.

Another perspective is the person quoting the jobs. To them, cycle time is the lead time to the customer. This includes material procurement, setup time, outside processing and, of course, the sum of all the discrete manufacturing operations. 

Takt time

Takt time looks at production rates from a completely different point of view; it is the rate at which you need to complete a product in order to meet customer demand. For example, if you receive orders at a rate of ten units per hour, your facility needs to finish ten products in an hour or less to fulfil that demand.

Takt time is effectively your sales rate and – unless you want a lot of unhappy customers – is integral to your production process. If you calculate it correctly, it enables you to meet client demand while optimising inventory. In turn, this means better cash flow as you do not have to hold as much stock in reserve.

The term was first coined in 1930s Germany for aeroplane manufacturing and comes from the word ‘takt’, meaning ‘beat’ or ‘pulse’. It is used to define the rhythm or heartbeat of your output. From a lean manufacturing perspective, defining takt time is crucial for reducing waste in your processes, helping you maintain a continuous flow of work and minimising output irregularity.

To define takt time, simply divide the production time available by the customer demand for the product. This needs to be as accurate as possible, so only include the time spent actively working on the shop floor – for example, remove breaks and any time spent setting up at the start of a shift or tidying up at the end. 

Matching them up

In a perfect world, cycle time will exactly match takt time, regardless of the size of the manufacturer or its production volumes. The problem is that customer demand is rarely consistent. People buy products based on the season, availability, and price among other reasons, and this inevitably trickles down to the companies that manufacture those goods.

Where volumes are larger and less sporadic, the volatility of customer demand can be averaged out, providing a relatively stable takt time against which cycle times can be measured. This should still result in less overproduction and better cash flow. For smaller manufacturing and engineering facilities, takt time can become much more ambiguous. Nevertheless, it’s still important that companies gain a firm grip on order history, demand on the facility, people requirements, and how many components have to be machined or pieces of equipment designed and built each year.

Whatever the method of calculating takt time, cycle times are equally relevant, and often more so. In order for you to understand and then improve upon the end-to-end process, you need to know your production capabilities, whether you’re using manual labour or automated machinery. Without this, you won’t know how to determine costs, what resources and equipment are needed, or how long it will take to deliver products. These are all key elements, and cycle time plays an extremely important role in all of them, particularly when the cycle time in one area is causing the rest of the system to bog down.

Being Proactive 

It’s critical now more than ever to understand what’s going on in your processes, so you can proactively address problems and minimise production delays, rather than reacting to them after the fact. Once again, the two methods of measuring throughput and their relative importance to one another depends largely on the type of manufacturer, as well as who is doing the measuring.

Some facilities will consider takt time as the mean time between jobs as needed to meet customer demand. In this scenario, they will typically look at cycle time as the elapsed time from the moment that a job is available to be worked on until that job is clear of a given station or machine tool, including the time needed for load and unload.

The definitions will substantially change based on whether you operate an assembly line, or smaller batch, custom manufacturing. Whatever the case, your cycle time will hopefully be slightly less than your takt time—if not, you’re going to fall behind schedule.

Measuring time

Manufacturers need to know how their capital investment is running. They need to know how to improve their processes so they can be competitive in the marketplace and validate that they’re getting the most out of their investment. One way to effectively measure time is a manufacturing execution system (MES).

MES goes beyond the Andon lights perched atop any piece of CNC equipment to provide much more than a red-yellow-green view of production status. It captures information such as the current job and part number, specific operators logged into a workstation, machine override status, fault data, elapsed cycle time, and time remaining. MES does this for each piece of equipment on the production floor, displaying the results on a big-screen television for all to see, or sent to a software program for further analysis.

MES allows you to see whether there are slowdowns or stoppages anywhere on the factory floor—and helps to find out the root cause of those events.

Technology like this has been used by automakers and other large manufacturers for decades. It gives them actionable information so they can go in and attack the problems that every manufacturer faces, each and every day.

For more information on how MSC UK can help your business to harness the power of data, visit www.mscdirect.co.uk 

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