In a broader sense, a production cycle is the production process that begins with the raw materials and ends with the finished product. In a narrower and above all in a business context, the cycle describes the length of time a product remains or is processed in the company from the raw materials to completion – in other words, it is a variety of production-relevant processes that occur within a single period – from the start of production to the end of production.

The production cycle is divided into two elements

  • Processing phases: Processing phases include technical activities (for example, processing within or by a machine), natural processes (for example, ripening time for certain foods), inspection activities, maintenance work, internal transport and storage.
  • Pausing phases: Pausing phases include waiting times in warehouses, for example, in connection with batch formation and with regard to the preparation of the workplace (see Setup Time); these interruptions/breaks depend on the organization of the production process. The pausing phases also include those that depend on the organisation of the working day, such as interruptions due to shift changes, breaks or non-working days (holidays).

Planning and control

When developing a production cycle, the following documents, procedures and methods are used:

  • List of materials
  • List of work steps/processes
  • Production orders
  • Ordering materials and equipment
  • Machine configuration
  • Material requirements planning (MRP)
  • Lean Manufacturing (see also Lean Production)
  • Master Production Schedule (MPS)
  • Computer-aided production (CIM)
  • Process management
  • Quality management
  • Process cost calculation

There are also views that do not include physical, chemical or biological processes as processing phases, but as pausing phases. Thus, in the case of the tanning time in leather production or the fermentation time of alcoholic beverages, as with any other type of storage, these periods would not be counted as working periods but as interruption periods.

The structure of the production cycle or production duration (duration of the production cycle) depends on technical and organizational factors. The two main components of the production cycle are the throughput time and the periodic breaks according to the respective working time regime of the production facility.


Production cycle and cycle time

The cycle time is closely linked to the production cycle; it describes, so to speak, the production cycle of a single facility, i.e. the time in which an entire production program is completed once. Often similar products are manufactured on the same facility. When changing from one product to the next, set-up times usually occur, so an optimal order sequence should be planned. The production cycle (of the facility) is completed when the entire production program has been executed once; the duration of this operation is the cycle time or, in other words, the cycle time is the throughput time of a program consisting of several orders on a production machine.

Production cycle and batch size planning

If the production cycle is generally understood as the period of time during which a company produces a finished product from its stocks, then the reduction of this period of time, especially in comparison with competitors, is an important indicator to determine economic efficiency. This indicator is calculated by multiplying the average stock by the days of a year and then dividing it by the cost of goods sold; or by dividing 360 days by the inventory turnover of the corresponding period. The calculated ratio measures the efficiency of the production process. The faster a company can convert its inventories (see inventory management) into finished products, the more efficient the production process is. Minimizing the production cycle is therefore a strategic goal for a company, as this shortens the storage time of inventories (see also storage costs).
In series and batch production, lot-size planning therefore plays a decisive role in order to reduce the unit costs and period costs to a minimum (see Lot Size). Two opposing cost trends (storage costs vs. set-up costs) determine the size of the optimum lot size, simply put: the smaller the lots, the higher the set-up costs and the lower the stock level. The larger the lots, the lower the set-up costs and the higher the stock level. The weak points of a production cycle become particularly apparent in lot size planning when time-consuming phases of downtime are identified.
In the context of an optimal production cycle, keywords, such as ‘deserted factory’ or ‘swarm assembly’ are playing an increasingly prominent role.

Summary of the production cycle

The time during which stocks (raw materials, materials, semi-finished and finished parts) remain in the production process, from the start of processing to the finished product, is known as the production cycle. It consists of processing and pausing phases and represents a part of the production time. The most important factors for shortening the production cycle are the use of advanced process technologies and the automation of production processes. The production cycle can also be quantified in the form of key figures and thus serves to control or increase the efficiency of production in the company.

If you are interested in topics relating to the term production cycle, then you may also want to read the articles ‘Opportunity costs‘ and ‘Throughput and delivery time reduction‘.

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