Why Time Study

I find that most people in industry, outside of Industrial Engineering circles, really don't understand time study. Everyone does understand that it has to do with timing somebody or something with a watch or stopwatch but that is about it and if they have to do it for some reason, that is about the result that you get. Even in Lean training and implementation events, time study is rarely mentioned. Usually it is glossed over as assigning times for process steps during the Measure phase of the DMAIC process or value stream map. Sometimes that broad approach is enough for the project or analysis at hand, but to an Industrial Engineer it is a shallow definition of time study.

I have found, during my IE career and years of consulting, that if you really want to understand a process, especially one that you have been asked to improve, do a time study on it. When you are done, more than likely, you will have a pretty thorough understanding of what is going on and have the time data you need to analyze the process and potential changes. If you simply watch and observe a process, especially a rather complicated one, you can be lulled into watching but not really seeing. However, if you do a time study on it, you are recording methods, sketching the workplace, collecting times, noticing the subtle duties and events that occur that you could miss if just casually watching. I know, I have done it.

There are many different time study techniques and the one you use depends upon the reason for the time study itself and what the information is to be used for. Here are a few examples:

  • Stopwatch
  • • Regular elemental breakdown/repetitive time study
  • • Work sampling
  • • Group Timing Technique
  • • Non Repetitive time study
  • Predetermined time systems
  • • MTM 1, 2, 3
  • • MOST

So why time study, why measure work, why establish times, cycle times and production rates? Here are a few reasons for and uses of time study data:

  • To establish a rate of production (pieces/hr, minutes per piece, units per day)
  • To determine the labor content of a product or operation
  • To determine manpower requirements
  • To pay an incentive wage for units produced
  • To know how to quote labor for new business
  • To balance the work on a production or assembly line
  • To determine bottlenecks
  • To establish baseline information
  • To determine production capacities
  • To evaluate different methods
  • To evaluate different equipment
  • To calculate product costs
  • To calculate annual savings or cost increases
  • To quantify VA work and NVA work
  • To develop your own unique standard data
  • To design manufacturing cells

I am still amazed at companies whose costs are based on estimates, whose manning is based on supervision's guesses, whose production rates are swagged, whose bottlenecks are hidden and whose profit margins have deteriorated to the point that they had to call me.