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About Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR)

Constraints Management Group, LLC
Drum-Buffer-Rope(DBR) scheduling is the manufacturing application of the Theory of Constraints, a
body of thought developed by Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt, author of The Goal, It's Not Luck, Critical Chain
and Necessary But Not Sufficeint.
DBR assumes that within a dependent system there is usually one or, at the least, a limited number of
scarce resources, within the system across the aggregate product mix. These scarce resources or
critical areas are referred to as constraints and/or bottlenecks. It is these constraints that will actually
determine the amount of throughput potential achieved by the system. In other words, a manufacturing
facility will only produce as much as its scarce resource or constraint allows. These constraints or
bottlenecks are the drums because they are the true pace-setters of the system manage them or
they manage you.
With that realization, we come to the understanding that, in order to best protect the throughput of the
operation, we must protect the constraint - the limiting factor to the system. Delays passed on to it are
delays that can be lost forever or, at the very least, can result in costly expediting and the confusion
that it introduces to the system. At the same time we have to make sure the constraint keeps produ-
cing, we also have to protect against inflationary inventory levels in order to keep overall lead time
down as well as control the costs associated with inventory (obsolescence, carrying cost, etc.).
In order to break this potential dilemma between having enough work in the system to ensure the
constraint keeps running and limiting the overall amount of inventory, DBR allows the scarce resource
to pull work into the system via a scheduling "rope". This limits the amount of inventory in the system
because the non-constrained resources have enough capacity to ensure that they can quickly pass
work on to the constraint.
Thus, we tend to observe limited areas of significant queuing within a facility - in front of the drums. It
is this queue or "buffer" and the monitoring mechanisms for it, that protects the uptime of the drums
as well as provide the necessary information about upstream processes and work orders. Additiona-
lly, this buffer protects against natural fluctuations in processes and the accumulation of those delays
that tend to impact lead time. Because it is centralized protection, it can be a level of inventory that is
less in the aggregate than protecting against fluctuation at each resource. Thus, with a DBR system
we have better due date protection as well as a lower overall level of inventory than many KanBan
and/or Lean environments. The buffer can also be combined with Statistical Process Control efforts
and many Lean tools to identify and deal with problematic processes before they block the constraint
and delay work orders.
Implementing DBR in your organization
Readers of The Goal often have no problem acknowledging that the concepts in the book make a lot
of sense. So why are these common sense concepts so hard to implement in our operations? In our
experience, the answer is often centered around people's inability to transfer the concepts from The
Goal to their unique environment and effectively deal with an organization's resistance to change.
There are three critical components in implementing DBR that overcome these problems:
1. The Transfer of Drum-Buffer-Rope Know-How. Before a management team as well as an orga-
nization can be expected to put a Drum-Buffer-Rope(DBR) system in place, they must be effectively
educated around what DBR really is and how to make decent operational decisions within its fra-
mework. Additionally, this is crucial for people that must later sell these concepts to others. How many
times have you been forced to explain something that you did not fully understand? What were the
People have to realize that education is not enough. Too many times organizations stop here and
expect results from their people or choose to purchase software with the expectation that they are now
in a position to get results from it. How can a manufacturing team deliver results when there is no
effective and comfortable blueprint for how the concepts specifically translate to their environment?
2. The Construction of a Unique, Tailored Drum-Buffer-Rope System. Once the education is pro-
vided, it must be used to unleash the intuition of an implementation team. In other words, the best
people in the world to apply Drum-Buffer-Rope in your facility are sitting in your facility. First, the team
must be educated and then their intuition must be organized to fully construct a robust blueprint for the
system that makes sense for and to them. This means the critical points that define their system must
be fully defined and measures and policies put into place to support their ability to make the right deci-
sions at the operational level whether it is around up-front scheduling or decisions around dealing with
a crisis.
Without this critical step they will struggle to implement anything lasting. Additionally, practical issues
including scheduling software options must be addressed. At this point, the organization is able to
make an informed choice about supporting software packages.
Think about where the implementation team will be at this point; knowledgeable about the concepts of
DBR and, most importantly, knowledgeable about how those concepts specifically apply to the envi-
ronment that they must make it work in. Now the team is in a much better position to clearly explain to
their subordinates as well as other functions within the organization what the system is trying to do
and what is expected from them and why. This is a recipe for breaking down people's resistance to
change, the single biggest killer of any major improvement initiative. But ensuring initial implementa-
tion is not enough. To make long term success assured, people must be left with the ability to inno-
vate on top of and improve the existing system.
3. The Transfer of Thought Process Tools For Effective Problem Solving Now and in the Future.
An implementation team must have the ability to effectively deal with people's reservations around
change. Often the knowledge around the common sense approaches and how they apply to the envi-
ronment are enough, but what happens when someone raises a legitimate reservation that was not
yet fully considered? We know that the people who run the environment every day have strong intui-
tion and, many times, their concerns are very legitimate. Do we scrap the plan? Of course not.
What we really need is from our implementation team to have the ability to understand these reserva-
tions, solicit or come up with comfortable solutions and re-incorporate them back into the solution.
Furthermore, we know the one thing in our environments that is a constant is change. Given that, we
need to make sure that people have tools to evolve the system in the face of change. These tools will
provide the common language and the DBR education and tailored solution provides the framework in
which to communicate. When those two things are present an organization has the ability for rapid
and robust solutions to changing conditions.
DBR Examples
A Simple DBR System
Constraint Buffer
The constraint is the
drum because it sets
the pace for the
The buffer is a
window of time that
protects the drum
schedule with inven-
The rope is the
schedule of the release
of materials tied back to
the gating operation.
A More Complex DBR Example
This company has combined DBR technology for short cycle times with Replenishment, the TOC
Application for distribution, on raw materials for most purchased parts and finished goods for some
Buffer 10 Hours
Order from custo-
through sales.
The Finished
Buffer protects
availability to the
customer and the
from variable
within a given
time frame.
Internal order to
replenish buffer
Solder and
Shipping Buffer
10 Hours
Finished Goods
Buffer for low mix,
WIP Inventory and DBR
Is Inventory an asset or liability? Don't be so quick to answer. The answer must be considered in
terms of the constraint, the limiting factor in the system.
But what is the mechanism can we use to find and maintain this level of inventory? In TOC we use
Buffer Management.
Buffer management
Buffer-Rope system is managed through its buffers. The buffers will tell you about the health of the
system and any individual operation, the status of a work order and where to focus improvement. The
buffer is sized according to variables including, average process batch size, the rate and volume at
which a batch can be transferred to the area to be buffered, the reliability of the processes in front of
the buffered area and the potential for other types of "Murphy." A company shouldnt debate for
weeks and months calculating this number. Define what is good enough and go with it because it will
change on you as you manage and adapt it.
To manage the buffer we divide it into three zones, let's call them Red, Yellow, Green. The zones are
not always of equal size.
Material Flow
3 hours 3 hours 3 hours
When inventory drops too
low we have an accumulation
of delays passed on to the
When WIP is too
high we block the
flow to the constraint
resulting in longer
lead times, expedi-
ting and confusion.
This is the level of inventory that
allows us to protect our most critical
Inventory Level
For our example we have defined a 9-hour buffer. Material flows to the constraint "X" from left to right.
Green defines a time frame where we can expect a work order to begin queuing in front of the cons-
traint (6-9 hours before it is being run). Green means things are going fine, you don't need to micro-
manage this order. When things don't show up in the buffer according to plan, we have what we call a
"hole." If we don't see it with six hours left we will penetrate into our yellow zone, which is watch and
plan. Walk up the line, find the order and see what the problem is. Begin to make your plans around
ensuring that the constraint does not go down. When you penetrate into the red zone act on your
If you are always living in the green zone, what do you know about your buffer? It is too large. Re-
member that smaller buffers reduce the amount of WIP and with less WIP lead time can be reduced.
If you are living in the red zone too often, what do you know about your buffer size? It is too small.
Raise the level of inventory for the short term, identify the problematic upstream issue and address it.
This will allow to reduce your buffer once the issue has been addressed. Thus, Buffer Management
can provide the focus for SPC, Kaizen and Lean tools.
Buffer Types
Is the Constraint Buffer the only kind of buffer we should have?
If we know that the constraint dictates the throughput of our system then we know that anything pro-
cessed by the constraint is extremely valuable. Any delay for those work orders in the downstream
processes is a delay in throughput. Furthermore, if we know that fluctuations occur in dependent
systems and there are dependent events in the downstream process and we must protect our due
date performance then we must protect the work orders that have passed through the constraint form
those fluctuations.
The following are two types of buffers that can help. "X" marks the spot of the constraint.
Total System Inventory Implications
With a good system of Drum-Buffer-Rope and Buffer Management systemic WIP is the lowest it can
be while still ensuring the most throughput for the system. Below is a simple comparison of DBR,
JIT/LEAN manufacturing and a more "traditionally run and measured" manufacturing operation.
The system will have lower levels of inventory in comparison to JIT because the buffers allow us to
centrally protect against fluctuations before they impact the critical points. When we protect centrally
we are better able to absorb the accumulation of variation (both positive and negative), thus the level
of inventory is less than a JIT environment. The inventory is less than a "traditionally run and measu-
red" plant because the release of inventory is dictated by the constraints. Thus, we have a "pull"
system based upon the resource that is the limiting factor.
For more questions about implementing DBR contact us at:
(800) 496-4144
Inventory Level
TOC & Buffer Management
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