Big three bottlenecks in food and beverage manufacturing


By Rob Stummer, Asia Pacific CEO, SYSPRO
Wednesday, 02 September, 2020

Big three bottlenecks in food and beverage manufacturing

Bottlenecks in food and beverage manufacturing are inevitable from time to time and rather than being an issue themselves, they are often a symptom of a deeper problem. Understanding the type of bottleneck causing the disruption is the first hurdle and they usually come in three forms: product bottlenecks, process bottlenecks or people bottlenecks. Each one of these bottleneck genres can severely reduce throughput, cause delays, annoy customers and impact employee morale, so should be taken seriously and resolved quickly.

Product bottlenecks

Nothing affects profitability more than not being able to fulfil orders, whether through a lack of raw materials or lengthy delays in the manufacturing process. When a customer places an order they must be able to trust that they will receive the quantity and quality of goods ordered within the delivery window. Lost sales and customers going to a competitor can have a very deep and lasting impact on the bottom line and can even drive manufacturers out of business.

The quality and safety of food and beverage products is incredibly important as the health of consumers is at risk if defective products are sold to them. The issue with bottlenecks in food and beverage companies is that it often results in the disposal of raw materials that have expired, or perished goods due to other delays or problems. These symptoms are indications that something is not right on the shop floor.

Identifying the exact cause of product bottlenecks is made easier by being able to trace the faulty end product back along the production line. This can also significantly reduce waste if the raw ingredients are bad, the process does not run the fault to the end. If the problem is at the end of the production line, the rest of the process may be able to continue without stoppages, so ingredients and time are no longer wasted.

Process bottlenecks

Efficient manufacturing requires every process to be working as expected. If goods are failing quality checks, product recalls are regular, or if poorly maintained machines are performing poorly or even malfunctioning, there is going to be an underlying issue that needs resolving.

Unfortunately, with food and beverage production, raw ingredients can be unpredictable, causing them to perish before expiry, often resulting in shortages. Manufacturers can also end up with excess inventory that expires before sale when inaccurate sales forecasting is sent to the shopfloor.

An ERP system can schedule and run regular checks, so potential problems are never missed. It will identify when a piece of equipment needs attention but will also use that data to predict future maintenance requirements. In a connected, lean manufacturing environment, the system can identify these needs well in advance and because it knows so much about the manufacturing process; it can also identify the best moment to bring it offline to avoid significant disruption.

One of the greatest challenges for food and beverage manufacturers is meeting a growing list of local and international regulations, which vary from country to country across Asia–Pacific. Where a production line relies on staff to adhere to or notice breaches of food safety requirements, issues can easily be missed. An ERP system can follow the process from receipt to shipping, quarantine or release the product at each process step, managing the quality control and provide bidirectional traceability, implement recalls and produce detailed audit trails.

Automated machines that can learn and behave predictively will continuously build a better system. Process bottlenecks can be solved with a manufacturing execution system (MES) integrated with an ERP system, which collects and analyses data to measure and report on overall performance, improving workflow and productivity. Implementing a paperless warehouse management system will allow producers to automate repetitive and predictable processes across inventory, sales and distribution, while gaining a real-time view of stock levels and orders.

Supermarkets expect manufacturers to know the total cost of production. From the ingredients they buy to the cost of warehousing products, and the tools they use in their back-office to the distribution and sales value. An ERP system will surface this data across the entire process supply chain helping manufacturers to know where to intervene to better manage cash flow, control stock levels and maximise profits.

People bottlenecks

In food and beverage production, people are still one of the most crucial elements of the factory floor. Where employees are not performing at their best, productivity or quality will always suffer. Whatever the issue, the most important thing an operations manager can do is to go onto the shopfloor and find out why. A great ERP system will provide the right information to make better management decisions, but it cannot replace the human touch.

The principles of great management are the same the world over and that means culture starts at the top. How companies work with and motivate their staff has a direct impact on waste and productivity, so management need to be alert to signs of people bottlenecks when they see high staff turnover and absenteeism due to a negative company culture, as well as excessive human error and low productivity due to a lack of accountability.

People bottlenecks can be caused by insufficient training. They can also be affected by a remote management style, meaning that there is poor visibility from management of what is happening on the production line. Conversely, a micromanagement style can give the perception of a lack of trust by management.

If the issue is unacceptable productivity or performance output, it may have to do with how clear management are on what staff are meant to be doing. This can be addressed through a better induction process and further training and mentoring to upskill.

An ERP system can help to identify problem areas that could be related to staff performance. If a machine is operating normally but running slowly, the issue could be the operator’s skill or motivation level.

Adding more people to a problem is not necessarily the right solution. Where systems are overly complex or vulnerable to error, automating them can both solve the bottleneck and free up staff to perform more valuable tasks.


In order to try and solve a bottleneck, it is important to identify it, work backwards to ascertain what is causing it and then come up with an effective solution to solve the issue because bottlenecks that are not rectified can drastically impact a company’s bottom line.

Rob Stummer, Asia Pacific CEO, SYSPRO

Top image credit: © Productions

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