Why Most Forest Product Companies Misidentify Bottlenecks

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80 percent of companies misidentify bottlenecks. The reason they do so is that they confuse where the bottleneck should be or appears to be as opposed to where it actually is—the bottleneck doesn’t always occur with a big, expensive machine. 

“Oftentimes, people will focus on the results and easily miss the root cause (of a bottleneck),” said Dane Floyd, president and CEO of BE&E. “It happens too easily. The general manager is at his desk, and the maintenance manager comes in and complains, ‘This thing is down again. This machine is down again. This thing is plugged up again.’” The result is that the machine gets attention instead of the cause of the problem.

Addressing bottlenecks isn’t just about machines. It has to do with buffers, accumulation, fixing significant bottleneck issues, and planning for bottlenecks, as all systems have bottlenecks—different processes in the systems have different capacities. One process will inevitably be the slowest.

Why Companies Don’t Identify Bottlenecks Correctly

People so often get it wrong when it comes to identifying bottlenecks because they focus on fixing the immediate problem. “And as soon as the problem at hand is solved and the plant is running again, there’s not the proper amount of attention at the root cause,” said Dane.

Dane provided this example: say a pipe from a blower to a silo keeps plugging up. The maintenance crew or manager will focus on this step in the system and think the pipe or the fan is too small; the pipe or the fan is the cause of the problem.

“That’s an oversimplification,” said Dane. “Often, it requires a study of the system. That pipe and the blower are part of a bigger system, so to know what’s really going on, you need to know the whole system and evaluate each piece.

In the example Dane gave, the problem might be that surges are going to the fan, not the fan or the pipe. Surges can be overcome by installing a surge bin or some metering device before the material goes to the fan, which would ensure that the fan would receive a steady flow.

Dane provided another example of misidentified bottlenecks. “In sawmills, the chipper keeps getting plugged up with root flares. So what do they do? They buy a bigger chipper.”

But the problem isn’t the chipper, he said. “It’s the one-in-one-hundred root flare that’s going to the chipper. All the other waste going through the chipper isn’t a problem.”

And when the company buys a bigger chipper, they’ll spend additional money on maintenance and energy. “What they should have is a flare reducer and save energy at the chipper,” said Dane.

What To Do Instead

When addressing their systems, a company’s primary objective should be to create a smooth and continuous material flow while increasing overall capacity. Increased capacity means that it takes less time to process more material. Less time means less money is spent paying employees and paying to keep equipment running. And less money spent means you can stay competitive.

Want to learn more about how butt flare reducers and surge bins can prevent bottlenecks? Contact us. We’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have and can help you evaluate your processes to determine whether these machines are right for you.

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