Defining the Difference Between Throughput and Cycle Time

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By Emilie A Lachance - June 22, 2020

Manufacturing throughput and process cycle times are both important measures of performance. Although they are not the same, they are closely related. What they are and how they can be used to help improve performance are elements of a robust managerial approach to process line supervision. 

This is particularly true in today's uncertain environment. The onset of the COVID-19 virus pandemic has caused demand to surge for some consumer products, including certain foods and paper products.

With the virus situation changing daily, tracking and analyzing OEE and other KPIs is more critical than ever. To successfully manage processing lines, having the correct information is essential, and Worximity Technology has the systems and knowhow to help you monitor and improve your throughput and cycle times.

Using our Smart Factory analytics software and TileConnect sensors, our systems gather real-time operating data directly from line equipment, send it directly to the cloud, and immediately compute OEE and other KPI values. These are the metrics you need to manage and improve your lines. The results are displayed on TileBoards (dashboards) throughout the factory, so employees and managers have access to up-to-the-minute operating results. Furthermore, the systems are configurable so that data can be sent to laptops, cell phones, or tablets. 

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Throughput and Cycle Time Defined


Throughput is often expressed in two ways: in terms of time or in terms of units. One is the reciprocal of the other, and they are both useful. Throughput time is calculated as the sum of the following:

  • Processing time: the time a unit is worked on to convert from raw material to a completed unit
  • Wait time: the time the unit waits before processing, inspection, or moving
  • Move time: the time the unit is being moved from one step to another
  • Inspection time: the time the unit is being inspected for quality.

Throughput volume, on the other hand, expresses the number of units that travel through a manufacturing process during a specified period. Therefore, if 50 good units pass through a manufacturing process in one hour, then the process has a throughput volume of 50 units per hour.

Depending on its application, throughput volume can also be expressed in several different ways.

  • Theoretical throughput is the maximum throughput possible if the equipment is running at top speed and making only good parts.
  • Total throughput is the total number of units that pass through the process, including scrap, rework, and good units. This value shows the potential for production volume improvement by improving quality.
  • Effective or actual throughput is the number of good units that pass through the operation during a prescribed period. This value represents the processes' ability to satisfy customer demand because only good parts can be shipped to customers.

Often, effective manufacturing throughput, expressed as time, is referred to as manufacturing cycle time.

According to Worximity’s blog, “Monitoring Throughput – The Most Important of the Twelve Manufacturing Metrics”, the value calculated for throughput,

‘…measures the average number of units being produced on a machine, line, unit or plant over a specified period of time, e.g.: units per minute.’

This is a good, generalized definition of throughput that can be applied to most manufacturing situations.  

Cycle Time

Cycle time represents the time required to complete one cycle of a process or operation. The “process” involved is often a manufacturing step, but can be any repetitive activity such as completing forms, answering customer calls, or loading trucks. 

For example, one process step can be mixing a 500-pound batch of dough to use for making bread or rolls. The cycle time for making the batch is the time it takes to start aggregating the materials, add liquid, complete the mix, move the batch to the next operation, and begin the work on the next batch. If the time to complete the steps in the process is 10 minutes from the start of the first batch to the start of the next batch, then the cycle time is 10 minutes per batch.

Cycle time can be expressed in several different ways:

  • Effective cycle time: the time to complete a cycle including the load time, unloading time, applied changeover time per piece, and processing time per piece
  • Equipment cycle time: the time to process the piece, excluding support steps

Note that throughput is measured from the physical starting point of a process to a physical ending point, whereas cycle time is measured from the start of a process to the start of the next cycle of that process.

Throughput and cycle time, along with OEE and other KPIs, are critical in today's world of intense competition and unpredictable demands. Call on Worximity to discuss how we can help you and your company improve productivity and respond to the current extraordinary environment. The COVID-19 virus has upset everyday normalcy, and Worximity has the tools and skills to help companies navigate today's uncertainties. Call us today to see how using our systems and the skills of our technical professionals can help your company improve throughput, cycle times, and profitability.

Looking for help calculating OEE? Check out this template:

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Worximity provides simple realtime technologies to solve food processor pains such as downtime, rejects, waste, overtime; helping them gain profit velocity by improving throughput, yield and OEE.

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