Pull-through production, also known as pull production or demand-driven production, is a method used in manufacturing processes where production is based on actual customer demand rather than forecasting. It is a key component of the Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing and lean manufacturing methodologies.
In a pull-through production system, the downstream operations signal their demand to the upstream operations, which then produce what the downstream operations will need, thus eliminating excess production and waste. Each stage in the production process pulls the exact quantity it needs from the previous stage, and so on back through the process to raw materials or component parts.
For example, if a furniture assembly line needs 10 table tops for the next day’s production, they would send a signal (often called a kanban) to the previous operation to produce exactly 10 table tops. This process minimizes overproduction, reduces inventory costs, and aims to improve overall efficiency.
It’s called “pull” because the demand from the customer (or downstream operations) pulls the product through the manufacturing process, rather than the manufacturing process pushing product onto the customer regardless of their actual demand.
Example of Pull-Through Production
Let’s take the example of an automobile manufacturing company.
In a traditional production system, the company might produce vehicles based on estimated demand and then store them in a warehouse until they’re sold, which is known as a push system. This can lead to overproduction if the estimates are too high, or shortages if the estimates are too low.
In contrast, in a pull-through production system, the company starts the production process of a vehicle only after a customer has placed an order. The order then “pulls” the required parts and assemblies through the manufacturing process. Each stage of the process requests or “pulls” the exact number of components it needs from the previous stage. For example, the assembly line pulls the required number of engines from the engine production line, which in turn pulls the required number of engine components from the parts production line, and so on.
This way, every component is made just-in-time, as it’s needed, which minimizes waste and reduces storage costs. For the customer, this means they can customize their vehicle’s features to their preferences since the vehicle isn’t made until after the order is placed.
However, this system requires excellent coordination and communication between each stage of the production process, as any delays can disrupt the entire production line. It also requires a reliable supply chain, as any shortages of parts can also cause delays.