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Cycle time in manufacturing industry refers to the total time it takes to complete any specified

manufacturing or allied operation. Cycle times can be used for many different types of
operations. For example we can study the cycle time for a small task such as fixing a wheel on a
car during the car assembly operation or we can consider the complete assembly of car as one
single operation. Cycle times may be used for non-manufacturing operations also - for example,
cycle time for reordering a part stocked in store, or the cycle time for launching new product in
the market starting from the concept stage to actual launch in the market.

Cycle times play a very important role in planning and controlling activities in any industries.
The list of all the uses of cycle time in manufacturing industries will become too long to be
included here. Given below are some illustrative uses of cycle time.

• Production planning
• Productivity measurement and control
• Incentive payments
• Inventory planning
• Process design.

Cycle Time Reduction for Successful

Cycle time reduction is one of the most important elements of successful manufacturing today.
More and more customers are demanding that manufacturers quickly respond to their wants and
needs, deliver perfect quality products on time. This trend, which will continue, has led
companies to focus more attention on their order-to-delivery cycle time.

Order-to-delivery cycle time reduction is often a good place to start

in the overall effort to improve operations because it can often be
done without heavy capital investment. Clearly, long cycle times
cause high inventories, higher cost, and poor customer service. As a
result, many manufacturers are streamlining internal and external
supply operations to reduce overall order-to-cash cycle time. Some
have even undertaken initiatives to extensively redesign and
streamline the entire supply chain process.

Customers Want Cycle Time Reduction

Customers generally evaluate a supplier’s performance on four factors: product performance

(features), price, quality, and delivery within a reasonable time. Now customers are increasingly
emphasizing two additional performance criteria: flawless delivery, that is, very short-cycle on-
time delivery, and responsiveness to the customers’ changing needs. In fact, flawless delivery
and responsiveness can very often be the difference in getting new customers and keeping old

In the past, manufacturers made products and stored them in Finished Goods Inventory (the
“make-to-stock” mode) and waited for customers to place orders to buy them. In this “push”
production model, large runs of batches of products are produced using highly inaccurate sales

In contrast, today, it is the customer who largely dictates what products are manufactured and
when. The customer says: “I’ll let you know what and how many I want, when I’m ready to buy,
and then you ship it exactly as I want the product configured, and in a very short lead time.” This
trend has already contributed to the adoption of short cycle, pull-oriented lean manufacturing
models, where products are made to customer demand, (sometimes called “demand flow
manufacturing” or “mass customization”).

A major consequence of this trend is that CEOs and others in top management are revisiting their
existing strategies and operational tactics. That in turn has led many to pursue new initiatives and
directions, including:

Demand Management—Using improved sales forecasting processes and sales and operations
planning processes to give top management a better handle on demand and supply.

Cross-functional Integration—Redesigning order-to-delivery and other key processes to

connect processes across the enterprise.

Lean Manufacturing—Radically redesigning information flow and material flow processes

with dramatically shorter cycle times, lower costs, minimum inventory, and near perfect delivery

Supply Chain Management —Implementing supply chain planning, execution, and event-level
alert systems, sometimes in conjunction with other modern information technology. As
customers up the ante by insisting orders be promptly delivered and at a precise time, reducing
cycle time becomes the pivotal point in a supplier order-to delivery performance rating. A
shorter order-to-delivery cycle time also has other implications, including reduced inventories,
lower costs, and more effective use of resources (see Figure CTR-1).

In addition, experience has shown that production throughput can improve dramatically once the
order-to-delivery cycle time is substantially reduced. An added set of benefits affects the bottom
line in lower operating expenses, dramatically decreased requirements for working capital, and
increased profit margins.

What Makes Cycle Times Longer?

Many different processes, not just the manufacturing process, contribute to long cycle times.
While all the delay may appear on the factory floor in the form of waiting (often more than 95%
of the order-to-delivery cycle time consists of waiting), the causes for those waits stem from
various processes both internal and external to manufacturing. When order-to-delivery problems
are properly diagnosed, management almost always finds that one or more problems have
contributed to the delay.

What is cycle time? Lean defines cycle time as the time it takes to do a process (we’ll get to
more detail on the definition of cycle time later). In addition to ‘cycle time’, you may hear
several other variations of the term: operator cycle times, machine cycle times, or automatic
machine times.

Lean, and all continuous improvement philosophies, place a tremendous emphasis on time.
After all, it is a component to one of the key operational metrics that many companies use to
determine performance—productivity. (Productivity can be measured many ways. One of the
most common is ‘units per labor hour.)

Many people define cycle time in slightly different ways. Cycle time is one of them. One
definition you might hear is that cycle time is the time between the completion of one unit, and
the completion of the next unit. What’s the problem with that? Well, sometimes an operator
finishes her work early, and has to wait to start the next one.

In practice, that definition means that cycle time will always equal the time between shifts of an
assembly line (most likely set equal to the takt time). Plus, all the cycle times would be identical
on that line. Those who use this definition, though, often break it into two smaller components—
processing time (the time an operator is actually working) and wait time. So, under this
definition, cycle time looks like this:

Cycle time = processing time + wait time

The more common definition of cycle time is the equivalent of processing time in the equation
above—the start-to-finish time of an individual unit. As long as you understand the concepts,
don’t worry too much about which definition is right. Just makes sure you know the usage at
your company to prevent misunderstandings.
Let’s talk about how this works in real life. Do you remember the clip of the old “I Love Lucy”
show—the one where she is working on the chocolate line?

In the episode, you can see, in an amusing way, how cycle time and takt time interact. Lucy and
Ethel are working in a chocolate factory, and have to wrap chocolates moving along a conveyor
in front of them. Initially, the pace is rather slow. Presumably, the conveyor is running at the
speed that matches takt time—its speed is set so that a chocolate passes Lucy every three
seconds. (There’s some math involved here that depends on the spacing between the chocolates
to get the right speed of the conveyor.)

If she was working alone, she’d have to be able to wrap each piece within three seconds to keep
up. Since Ethel was with her, she only has to do every other piece, so she’s got six seconds.
Sorry. More math here…To figure out how many people you need for a production task, you
divide the total cycle time of all tasks by the takt time. It doesn’t matter whether people do tasks
in sequence (like on a true assembly line) or they all do a complete unit, like the Lucy example.
The only catch is that math assumes that the work is perfectly balanced (everyone gets the exact
same amount of work). It never is, so there always more people than the equation says there
should be.

So,if it takes Lucy three seconds, she’s got a three second cycle time (or processing time), and
three seconds of wait time.

To get a few laughs, eventually the line speeds up. In reality, this happens when customer
demand rises. At some point, Lucy realizes that she can’t keep up, and chocolate starts flying. In
your workplace, the effect is more subtle, but the same thing happens. When the pace is faster
than the cycle time, workers can’t keep up with demand.

On the flip side, if the cycle time is much lower than takt time, the operator will be standing
around. Not a very efficient situation. The goal is to balance cycle time to takt time.

Using the wrong term creates confusion. You say one thing, and others hear something else.
Make sure you know the accepted definitions of these terms in your company. Regardless of the
definition that you use, make sure you understand how people and machines interact, and how
their current processes stack up against the takt time.

• This entry focuses on the time it takes a person to do a job. Many times, a worker will be
using a machine. Make sure you understand how operator cycle time relates to machine
time (also called machine cycle time), or to automatic machine cycle time. A Standard
Work Combination Sheet (SWCS) shows this interaction.
• Cycle time should be measured for a process, not a person. Obviously, a fast person will
post better times than a slow one or an untrained one. Solid, repeatable processes and
good training, though, will minimize this variation.
• Takt time remains constant unit to unit. If cycle time was measured on each cycle, there
would be some variation. The more variation, the less stable the process is, and the more
wasteful it is. Get rid of variation, and cycle time will come down.
• Before attempting line balancing, work on cycle time reduction—bring the cycle time
down. It will prevent you from moving a poor process from one location to another.
• Never trust an even number for a cycle time on a Standard Work Combination Sheet.
There is only a 1 in 60 chance that a time ends in :00. (There is only a 1 in 15 chance that
it ends at any of the four favorite SWAGs—:00, :15, :30, or :45) It indicates that whoever
recorded the times logged estimates. That means that nobody observed the work when
recording the SWCS, which means that there is probably a lot of waste in the process.
• Standard Work Sheets document cycle times. Periodically review the sheet to make
sure that the times that are recorded match reality. If they don’t there is a high likelihood
that the process is out of date, raising the chance of quality problems.
• Cycle time gets confusing when batching is involved. Lean tries to get rid of batching,
but it still occurs. To find the cycle time of an individual part, you end up doing what is
called amortizing, or allocating the time that is done for all the parts at once. For
example, the setup time of a machine is divided up between all the parts in that run. Or,
in an assembly area, a person might apply glue to several parts and then shine an infrared
light on several at once to set the glue. The best way to handle this problem? Try to get
rid of batching!

It takes a long time to get past the idea that cycle time is not a measure of you, but rather of your
process. Most people see a stopwatch and immediately get nervous or annoyed that they are
being evaluated. The best way to get past this hang-up is to get used to being measured.
Volunteer to be the one to get timed for Standard Work as often as you can.

You will also have to get used to the idea that no cycle time is ever low enough. Just when you
think you’ve finally settled on how long a task should take, one of two things will happen. First,
someone will have an idea, and they will put it in place, lowering the cycle time. This is more of
a mental block than a real problem. If a process takes seven minutes, and someone comes up
with a good way to do it in three, what’s the problem? The problem is that those four minutes get
filled, so it feels like more work is getting dumped on you. Step back, though, and look at the
quantity of time, not the number of tasks. The catch—if more work is added before the cycle
times come down, you are doing more work.

The second thing that will happen is that your boss will give you an improvement target. She
knows demand is picking up, so she has a new target takt time to hit. That will result in a push to
improve a process and reduce the cycle time. Until you get comfortable with the continuous
improvement process, you will struggle with this. But think of it like visiting a new city. If you
know the general rules of travel—how to get through an airport, read a map, and rent a car—
you’ll be able to have some fun. You wouldn’t avoid travel because you don’t know the exact
layout at your destination’s airport. In the same way, once you get a few improvement successes
under your belt, the goal of reducing cycle time won’t feel like such a burden.
If cycle times vary widely, whether from cycle to cycle, or from person to person, it is an
indication that there is something wrong with the process. On occasion, you will have one person
who can’t seem to keep up. Make sure you observe the operator before you to jump to
conclusions. In all likelihood, the person is slower because he is not following the process, not
because he can’t do the work.

As a leader, you will have to blow the dust off your old textbooks and brush up on your math to
be really good at Lean—especially as you advance towards more sophisticated concepts. If you
don’t have these skills, get them. Your job will be much harder than it needs to be if you lack the
ability to solve increasingly difficult math problems.

• Cycle time is the length of time—start to finish—to complete a process.

• Some definitions of cycle time vary—make sure that you use the term the same way your
company does.
• Cycle time should be balanced to takt time to create an efficient workspace that can meet
customer demand.
• Strong math skills are needed to progress in Lean.

Try timing your processes. For the shop floor, use the Time Observation Sheet. In the office,
use the Office Process Recording Sheet. You will likely learn a great deal about your operation
simply by watching and timing. If your cycle times are significantly different from each other,
you should start your improvement process by focusing on variation reduction.

If you need help improving your processes, contact us at We offer a wide
range of Lean training and consulting services to help you accelerate your improvement