Maximize Throughput by Optimizing Your Critical Path

Boxes traveling on an automated sortation system
Boxes traveling on an automated sortation system

Maximize Throughput by Optimizing Your Critical Path

Like most organizations, yours is likely always looking to increase throughput and yield better production numbers while cutting costs. In approaching this effort, many operations managers might use the terms “improvement,” “performance” and “optimization” interchangeably. But in fact, each means something different:

  • Improvement is simply making things better than they are or were, e.g., improvement through a reduction in the amount of time spent changing forklift batteries.
  • Performance is the process of accomplishing a task, action or function in a manner that is measurable, e.g., reducing the battery change time from 5 minutes to 2 minutes.
  • Optimization is making the most effective use of a resource, e.g., minimizing costs and maximizing throughput while improving process efficiencies overall.

In a recent webinar, How to Optimize Your Critical Path for Maximum Throughput, we discussed how distribution and fulfillment (D&F) centers combine these three elements to help optimize key equipment and processes and ultimately exceed their operational and facility goals.

Key Components of Performance Optimization Consulting

Performance Optimization Consulting involves the process of adjusting key equipment components to achieve optimal system performance. Steps include:

  • Equipment Optimization. The first step is to verify that the existing equipment is being utilized to its fullest capacity by examining operating data to identify equipment bottlenecks. This includes verifying all aspects of the equipment in the system, including confirming that all mechanisms are operating in alignment with the original design (such as correct speeds and accumulation modes). It also identifies any obsolete equipment or components (particularly electrical, scanners, and servos or drives), and determines how often preventive maintenance (PM) should occur.
  • Operating Process Optimization. Although automation can help to establish and enforce consistent operating procedures, not every operator or shift will follow the prescribed routine. An assessment is conducted to determine that all personnel are trained to effectively operate the material handling system and respond to issues in the same manner. This step also verifies that the operations team is proactively sharing resources to keep processes running smoothly, even as demand fluctuates.
  • Control (Critical Path) Optimization. In a D&F facility, there are many control loops. Each manages one portion of the total process, such as full case picking, break pack sorting, or shipping. If one or more of these control loops is not properly designed or tuned — particularly those that fall within the main critical path — the entire process will be more expensive to operate and equipment will wear out prematurely. Therefore, it is important to identify the critical path of a system, and determine how each piece of equipment or subsystem is a key contributor to its overall successful function.

Five Phases of Performance Optimization Consulting

Once the critical path has been identified and mapped out, we recommend applying a five-phase approach to ensure all critical areas are optimized. These include:

  • Phase 1: Perform a mechanical and electrical assessment of critical path assets to ensure proper operation, ascertain deficiencies, identify parts needed for repairs, and develop options for repair and obsolescence.
  • Phase 2: Inspect and repair all identified maintenance needs.
  • Phase 3: Validate repairs to ensure that necessary corrections have been made and the system has been restored to proper product flow.
  • Phase 4: Review machine controls, including current settings, timers and devices, by comparing original settings; recommend code changes; and document significant software modifications.
  • Phase 5: Develop an action plan or playbook to document short- and long-term critical path optimization plans, determine how those plans will address obsolescence, and suggest tactics to increase throughput.

To learn more about applying Honeywell Intelligrated’s performance optimization consulting process — a part of our Lifetime Support Services offerings — to meet your operational goals, please view this webinar.

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