The queue time has become a data point that managers are focusing on as a way to make their production processes more efficient.
Queue time is "essentially the wait time from the point where something’s scheduled to the time that the activity occurs," Josh Nelson, associate principal of strategy and transformation at The Hackett Group, told Supply Chain Dive. "It’s the time it takes to put something on the schedule, sequence it and produce the item in question."
The concept of a queue time isn't new, and is at least as old as "when we started doing algorithms on optimization," said Ray Rebello, director of product marketing Acumatica, an ERP provider. But now data and automation have changed the way that managers see and scrutinize the queue time and adjust their processes.
Quick turnaround through short queue time
Managing queue time is important because "you can remove waste from the system," Rebello told Supply Chain Dive. "Excessive queue times mean there’s excessive work in process."
The key to a short queue time, said Nelson, is to have as few changeovers as possible. "Often in a number of production environments, there’s a certain sequence of product that really minimizes changeover time, and changeover effort. In doing so, you can more effectively swap products into that schedule and really get them run much more quickly and effectively," he said.
One way to figure out how to cut down on those changeovers and queue time in general? Through data — and analyzing it the right way.
Automation provides data — and the road to queue time optimization
Automation can give managers the data they need to see if their processes are efficient, or point to where changes can be made to shorten the queue time.
"If you get better information, better visibility on demand, you can better project what your sequences are going to be, what your campaigns are going to be, because you have a more accurate forecast, more accurate demand, more optimized sequences and reduced queue times," Nelson said.
Managers can measure the queue time through key performance indicators (KPIs). In a recent white paper about KPIs for Manufacturing, Acumatica wrote, “We are in what might be called the golden age of business intelligence and KPIs.” However, the white paper also warned that while sensors and smart devices can provide unprecedented visibility and control, they it can also "multiply the information overload problem."
As a result, having the right KPIs is as important as having the right equipment in your warehouse. "Just don’t go get KPIs off the internet and say ‘I want to measure this’ when that’s not important to your organization," Nelson said.
"If your goal is to be more responsive and agile, you need to make sure your equipment and equipment investments are in line with that."
Associate Principal of Strategy and Transformation, The Hackett Group
When it comes to labor, the Hackett Group found companies often don’t have the right people to analyze the data they’re collecting and make it useful. In a 2017 study e-mailed to Supply Chain Dive, they found that 59%of companies had less than 10% of their supply chain staff involved in the execution of digital transformation or analytics initiatives.
"You get people who’ve been around for a while and understand the equipment but they’re not up to speed on the tools that are out there," Nelson said. "New engineers are the new blood to the company and they understand the tools but they don’t really understand the manufacturing processes." While finding someone who can understand both would be ideal, the more doable option to team up the person with the manufacturing experience with the engineer.
This may seem like an obvious thing to know, but using data and KPIs to predict when machines mean maintenance can be a major way to prevent long queue times simply because equipment isn't working.
"A lot of work can be done with technology to measure the drivers of downtime," Nelson said. "It could be temperature, it could be vibration, it could be a number of other factors."
Don’t sacrifice efficiency in the name of queue time
Sometimes, though, a hyper focus on queue time can make companies less efficient, said Nelson. For example, a longer production run can be better because companies can put more products in the queue, and reduce overall time to make those products.
"If your goal is to be more responsive and agile, you need to make sure your equipment and equipment investments are in line with that," he said.