Design and implementation of a Drum-Buffer-Rope pull-system

John Darlington, Mark Francis, Pauline Found, Andrew Thomas*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: This paper investigates the selection, design and implementation of a Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR) type of production pull-system in a panel fabrication plant characterised by extensive shared, batch resource resources within a low volume UK manufacturer of large vehicles. This was the second of a series of two related research projects conducted under the aegis of a Lean initiative at this case firm.Design/methodology/approach: A purposively selected longitudinal case study conducted over 24 months and organised around a two phase research design. The initial body of evidence included a detailed map constructed by a project team of eight managers and accountants during a two day structured workshop; numerous unstructured interviews and observation of shop floor practices; document and archival analysis, and 140 photographs of the focal operation. Supplemented by extensive financial and operational data extracted from the firms accounting and MRP systems, including all data necessary to construct and implement bespoke capacity planning, work in progress (WIP) monitoring and simulation modelling tools. The case firm is anonymised.Findings: The Lean manufacturing literature ignores the real-world issue of shared resources, and this gap is attributable to the concept of rightsizing tools and equipment that is widely promoted within the Lean community. The case panel plant is characterised by extensive shared resources; many of which are also batch processes. The most appropriate pull-system method for this production environment is DBR. The detailed design of the DBR mechanism required a controlled transfer buffer of overhead conveyance capacity after the Drum because the extent of downstream process variability risked it being unable to offload panels, hence compromising throughput.Research limitations/implications: The study is based upon a single case. This consequently has implications for the ability to generalise from the results.Practical Implications: When the DBR pull-system design was implemented it reduced the number of panels in WIP by 60%. This equated to a 56% (18 days worth) reduction of manufacturing lead time and more than doubled the plants inventory turns (from 9.1 to 21.2). It also significantly improved delivery schedule adherence, with downstream jig stoppages in the Final Assembly falling from an average of six to less than one per week. The financial benefit was independently audited to equate to an annualised value of 850 K. Consequently, this project was awarded the first prize at its parent enterprises annual worldwide process improvement competition.Originality/value: This paper details a novel technique that permits the routings of multiple value streams to be mapped and is useful for highlighting the identity and location of shared resources. It also contributes significantly to the literature that is available on the relationship between the Lean paradigm and the management of shared production resources, and adds to the literature on the detailed design and implementation of a DBR pull-system in a jobbing-type of environment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)489-504
    Number of pages16
    JournalProduction Planning and Control
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


    • Drum-Buffer-Rope (DBR)
    • lean
    • pull-system
    • shared resources
    • theory of constraints (TOC)


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