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What is Cycle Time?

Cycle Time is defined as the time it takes to produce one item within the manufacturing environment. It includes any stalls or pauses that may occur intentionally or unintentionally during production.

Knowing how long it takes to produce items enables companies to manage their resources in an intelligent and efficient way. Tracking a product’s Cycle Time gives manufacturers the ability to measure their productivity while efficiently allocating resources to optimize production flow. Whether using a push or pull manufacturing system, Cycle Time is a key metric for your production schedule and time management.


Cycle Time is defined as the total production time of one item, from start to finish.

Track this metric to avoid under or overproducing products while saving money through smarter inventory practices.

Cycle Time is a valuable metric for both push and pull manufacturing systems.

Within a pull manufacturing system, your Cycle Time needs to match your Takt time as much as possible

When Does Cycle Time Start and End?

There is no hard and fast rule on how to measure Cycle Time. It depends on the company, the process, and the product. Some companies measure their times based on when they have the raw material inventory whereas others will begin to measure at the point of worker engagement.

Others begin the clock as soon as a customer’s order has been made regardless of other factors — a method that is useful if also calculating Lead Time.

That being said, the Cycle Time of a product typically begins at the initial commencement of work and ends at the final product release. The timer starts when materials, tools, and workers are in place and it continues until the product is complete and ready to leave the production area.

Why Is Cycle Time Important?

A hands-on approach to time management has big implications on the resources used and the costs for the customer. Although time is not a physical good, it is useful for manufacturers to see time as a limited resource.

Wasted or unoptimized time is just as harmful as wasted materials.

So it is beneficial to track how long a process takes and review the factors that affect it.

Tracking Cycle Time provides manufacturers with valuable insight and data into how their production is running. This data can be used to track productivity, fluctuations, improvements, and impediments to the production flow. Or it can be used to indicate if the production schedule is coinciding with demand (Takt Time).

In this way, Cycle Time is a valuable metric for both push and pull based manufacturing systems. Every manufacturing business is able to gain key insight into its operation. Offering a big perspective to help make wiser decisions.

How to Calculate Cycle Time?

Calculating Cycle Time is fairly simple as all information is sourced from already completed work. You only need two pieces of data:

The total number of units produced (U)
The total available production time that was required to complete those units (TAPT)
Let’s put this into perspective: Imagine you produce high-quality wood baseball bats for kids. At the end of the first day of production, after your 5 workers have completed 30 combined hours of work (TPAT), 60 units of wood baseball bats (U) have been completed. Your Cycle Time (CT) would be calculated like this:

TAPT [30] / U [60] = CT [0.5]

Every half an hour (0.5 h), your employees produce 1 completed wooden bat.

Simple enough, right?

Depending on the product and the speed of production, some manufacturers measure Cycle Time by units per minute or even units per second. If you produce aluminum soft drink cans, you will most likely need to frame your cycle time differently than in our wood bat example as some aluminum processes can work at speeds close to 2000 cans per minute.

Takt Time vs. Cycle Time vs. Lead Time

For companies engaging in pull manufacturing, where the customer pulls the product onto the market, the usefulness of tacking your Cycle Time is paramount. This is especially true when comparing it to your Takt Time and Lead Time.

Takt Time: The needed production time to keep up with demand.
Cycle Time: The actual production time of one item.
Lead Time: The time from when the customer places the order to when they receive the order and payment is fulfilled.
As much as possible, your Cycle Time needs to match your Takt Time. If your Cycle Time is faster or slower than your Takt Time, then you are at risk of over or under-producing. As your demand fluctuates, your Cycle Time needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Although Lead Time does not need to match the other two metrics, it is an excellent way to track your customers’ experience. Once this is understood, you can find creative ways to get your Takt time, Cycle Time, and Lead Time working together.

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