The ten machine puzzle in my Theory of Constraints blog post is a simple example of the balanced and dependent systems that are surprisingly frequent in the real world. Balanced because all elements have the same capacity. Dependent because events at one element affect the performance of other elements. Frequent because lean thinking drives people and organizations towards them. None work very well.
How does this happen? Inventory, conveyance, motion, and over production are wastes that are relatively easily recognized and reduced. When these wastes are removed, waiting losses (blocks and starves) can replace them. In the extreme, system performance deteriorates as lean “improvements” are made. In isolation yes, in combination no is a primary lesson from Theory of Constraints.
There are three options to improving balanced and dependent systems. The first is to improve the reliability of all of its dependent elements. That is lean thinking, but perfection is a high hurdle. In the ten machine puzzle, each machine’s reliability must be improved from 98% to 99.8% to achieve the 98% system availability target.
Cumulative probability predicts that the perfection hurdle gets even higher for larger balanced and dependent systems. Take a process with 100 dependent steps, not unusual in manufacturing or business. If each element has a 98% reliability, the system will only be available 13% of the time. To achieve 98% system availability, the reliability requirement for each element is 99.98%. Ouch!
The second option is to oversize each of the process elements. In the ten machine puzzle, oversizing each machine from 50 to 60 units per hour does the trick. With 100 process steps, each machine would have to be oversized by almost a factor of three…now that is expensive waste!
The third (and by far the best) option is to decouple process elements with buffers and to unbalance capacities to create a distinct constraint. This option trades inventory and conveyance waste against overproduction and waiting. The trick is to find the optimum balance. Is the trick magic? No, not with discrete event simulation…the next blog’s topic.