Safety - worker holding tablet in factory

Manufacturing Cycle Time Explained (+Tips on How to Improve)

Find out what cycle time is, how it differs from takt time and lead time, and what you can do to improve it.

Safety - worker holding tablet in factory

Cycle time is an important key performance indicator (KPI) in manufacturing. It’s a metric that expresses the average time it takes to process raw materials into a completed end-product. Cycle time is also used to measure the particular operations that make up a product’s entire manufacturing process. 

Manufacturers use cycle time to get perspective on the efficiency of their production process. Cycle time is also used by ERP and MES systems for the purpose of production planning. Total cycle time encompasses value-added as well as non-value-added time like move time and inspection time. Gaining perspective on cycle time opens up doors to possible improvements.  

Let’s explore the ins and outs of manufacturing cycle time. Before going into cycle time itself, we’ll start by clearing up a common point of confusion: the difference between cycle time, takt time and lead time.  

What is Takt Time?

Cycle time is often confused or used interchangeably with the terms takt time and lead time. This is, however, a mistake: each term has a distinct definition.  

Let’s start off with takt time.  

Takt is a German word meaning ‘tick’, ‘pulse’ or ‘beat.’ Takt time expresses the minimum frequency in which production must flow to meet a customer’s demand. Let’s do a quick calculation to make that concrete.  

An example of takt time calculation

Takt Time is calculated by dividing the amount of available time by the demanded number of products. Let’s say a customer ordered 30.000 units of a product and you have one month to deliver, in which you have 20 workdays comprising of 7.5 hours. To calculate takt time you have to change the hours into seconds and multiply those with the number of workdays. 

7.5  hours = 27.000 seconds  

27.000 seconds x 20 days = 540.000 total seconds 

540.000 seconds ÷ 30.000 units = 18 seconds per unit 

Takt Time formula

What is Takt Time used for?

Takt time can be set against cycle time to decide if production is fast enough to produce an order on time. If you have a total cycle time of 20 seconds per unit and your takt time is 18 seconds, you’re going to need additional time to complete the order.  

It’s advisable to produce somewhat below takt time, as this gives you a buffer for defects and other production-disrupting events.  

What is lead time?

Moving on to lead time, which is even easier to calculate. Lead time expresses the period between a customer ordering a product and them receiving it. Lead time, therefore, encompasses the processes before and after production, from the placing of an order to its delivery. If a customer orders a batch of products on Monday and receives it two weeks later, the lead time is two weeks.  

Stuck in your digital transformation? Let's talk

How to calculate cycle time in manufacturing

Back to the topic of this article: cycle time. Let’s start off by discovering how total cycle time is calculated. This is also quite simple—a stopwatch and basic arithmetic skills are all you need. 

An example of cycle time calculation

Cycle time is calculated by dividing the number of produced units by the time it took to produce them. Pretty straightforward, no? Let’s do quick calculation anyway.  

Let’s say you produced 2000 units of a product in 20 hours. 2000 divided by 20 equals 100, meaning you produce 100 units per hour, or 1 product every 0,6 minutes.  

Cycle Time Formula

Cycle time of specific operations

It should, however, be emphasized that cycle time is not solely used to express the total amount of time it takes to produce a unit. Cycle time can also be used for the specific operations that comprise a total production cycle. Let’s flesh that out with another example.  

We’ll take the manufacturing process of a nice, floral-printed vase as an example. One operation in the production process is that the vases have to be sprayed and dried before they can go into an oven. If it takes one hour to spray and dry a batch of 10 vases, that means this step of the production process has a cycle time of 6 minutes per unit. This observation opens up a door to improvement possibilities. You might, for example, be able to speed up the drying process by using a more efficient machine, allowing you to improve your cycle time and, in turn, increase your output.   

How to improve cycle time

As we’ve seen in the preceding paragraph, cycle time can be of great assistance in manufacturing improvement efforts. Just like takt time and lead time, cycle time is an important component of lean manufacturing. Let’s examine some of the ways in with cycle time can be improved 

Improve your maintenance

Machine failures can significantly impact cycle time. This includes breakdowns that cause downtime, machines that run slower than usual, and small, hard-to-detect stoppages that nevertheless slow down production. IoT technology has allowed manufacturers to detect and fix these stoppages. Check out this blog to find out the benefits of IoT in manufacturing.   

Improving general maintenance practices can also greatly impact cycle time. Taking proper care of machines and ensuring that machine failures can be fixed quickly, will naturally be of benefit in bringing about a well-flowing production process.  

Work with better raw materials

Working with better materials can also have an impact on cycle time. Let’s take the floral-printed vase we discussed above as an example again. If cycle time data indicates that the drying of vases takes up a big chunk of cycle time, it might be worth it to invest in a type of quick-drying paint. Even if this is more expensive, it might turn out that it is compensated by your increased cycle time and output. 

Improve your factory floor processes

Changing the layout of your shop floor can naturally boost the flow of production. Reordering machines, updating machines and tools, and hiring additional personnel can all improve cycle time. Making a Spaghetti diagram can be helpful in designing a more efficient shop floor layout.  

Share article:

Sign up for our latest connected worker updates

Join 1100+ manufacturing professionals in receiving insights and resources on manufacturing, the connected worker and shopfloor digitalization