Production scale-up: You’re gonna need a bigger bucket

Image taken from the film 'Jaws'. where Chief Brody says the iconic line ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ after spotting the shark.

Production scale-up is not always attained by chucking in more resources. You need to accurately understand what you are trying to achieve, find a sustainable solution, then thoroughly implement.


If you need a short-term boost in production to meet a short-term peak in demand, then overtime and some extra bits of equipment may suffice. This may be messy, and costly, but it is enough to get the job done. However, this is not always sustainable, staff won’t work overtime forever, and the cost of production will be greater.


If you are looking for a more sustainable production scale-up solution, then you need to work through it logically. There are three stages to a successful production scale-up project.

  • Define what you are trying to achieve by creating a detailed and accurate project scope.
  • Thoroughly research, assess and evaluate scale-up solutions.
  • Aggressively implement and carefully monitor the new process.


This article will describe each of these stages in detail and provide you with some guidance to help your scale-up project be a success.


Stage 1- Project scope.

Before you start rushing ahead and solving this problem, you need to understand what you are trying to achieve. This might seem over bureaucratic, but I’ve been at the wrong end of solving the wrong problem too many times to skip this step. You need to get input from all the stakeholders, and then get sign-off for the project scope.


A project scope is a formal document that describes your project aims, the boundaries of the solution and what the project does not cover. The more complex the project the more detail it requires.


Some of the key factors to include in your production scale-up project scope are:

  • Exactly what are you wanting to make and how do you want to make it?
  • How much do you want to make and at what rate of production?
  • How are you going to run it?
  • How will it fit in with the current facility?
  • What are the regulatory compliance requirements?
  • What is the budget and timescale?
  • What resources are available for the project?


Commercial factors

Knowing what you want to make and how much, comes from good commercial knowledge. Being able to define customer requirements at this stage means you will only assess options that can make the desired product. Understanding the volumes you are trying to make will also ensure you are only assessing the right scale of solution.


The second part to this is related to the sales forecast. How much can you sell the product for? This will determine the target production costs. Are you making seasonal goods? Does this mean there will be peaks and troughs in production, or will you be able to have level production and stockpile the product? Does the scale-up solution need to produce variants of the same products or have the ability to make different product families.


Internal resourcing factors

The new production process will one day become part of normal operations. So ideally it needs to fit with the resources available to operations. This includes skill sets of the management and support staff. Introducing robots to a facility were none have existed before is a big step. However, if there are other robots in operation there will be less hurdles to its introduction. The same can be said about the facility’s services, if you have compressed air as part of the infrastructure then it is much easier to install equipment that requires air.


A critical internal factor that is often overlooked is the availability of space for the new process. What space do you have available? What space could you free up if you needed to? When considering a new process, you need to know its footprint and the working area around it. Does it need extra space for sideline stores, maintenance activities and repairs?


You also need to define how the new process will interface with the current production processes. Make sure you carefully define the inputs and outputs needed for the new process. You do not want to get to the end of the project and realise you need to convert the output of the previous process before the new process can accept it.


These factors may be looked at as constraints to the project. For example, if the best solution requires cooling water in a facility that does not have any, then the installation of a cooling water system needs to be assessed as part of the project cost.


A scale-up solution that is a better fit with the current production resources will be easier to implement. If you consider a solution outside the current production resources, then the benefits need to outweigh the increased difficulty of the implementation.


Legal & regulatory factors

When it comes to introducing new technologies to your business you should make sure it meets your current basis of safety for your production facility. If you are considering a solution that adds new hazards to the business, then management of that hazard must be part of your implementation project. Does having greater quantities of raw materials and product push you into more stringent regulations?


The same can be said about environmental risks and waste streams. If the new process works within your current systems and environmental permits, then there are no new issues that will need to be resolved.


Defining your current basis of safety, safety systems, and environmental systems means you can steer a solution towards what will fits with the business. Going outside of this will increase costs, delivery time and effort, and so if you are taking this route the benefits must outweigh the costs.

Project resources and limitations

A scale-up project should be allocated a budget for the project and a budget for the implementation. The project budget may be an allocation of internal resources or a budget for external resources. The size of this will determine how many different scale-up solutions you can assess. The implementation budget will limit the type of options you can explore. Generally, a smaller budget means less automation and more manual operations, this might give you a lower capital cost but will likely increase your production costs.

Defining how the project will be financially assessed is useful here. Most businesses have their own way of financially assessing a project, it may be a Return-on-Investment calculation or a Payback period or just the gut feel of the MD. Knowing how your project will be judged, means you can present it in the right way and prevent you wasting time on options that will never pass.


The resource allocation and timeframe that have been set by the business should be detailed in the project scope.

Project scope

A detailed project scope will help you quickly rule out unsuitable scale-up solutions and means you will focus more time and effort on viable solutions.

Any vagueness and flexibility in the scope will cost the project in terms of time and money. Sometimes this is a price you have to pay, especially when things are moving fast. This is only ok if you are aware of the cost.

Process improvement.

I would also recommend that you have already applied process improvement techniques to the process you want to scale-up. The reasons being:

  • you might be able to achieve your goals with the resources you have,
  • you don’t want to scale-up an inefficient process,
  • process improvement provides you with a deeper understanding of a process, making it easier to scale.

Any information from process improvement activities should be fed into the project. It is always useful to have information about what has been tried, what works and what doesn’t.

Who are the stakeholders?

The stakeholders are all the people who have a vested interest in the scale-up projects. On the shop floor this will be the operation and maintenance teams, plus any other technical support. It will include those involved in production planning and management, and those whose job it is to sell the product, and importantly the people who will authorise the project and spending.


Identifying the key stakeholders is important to the project. There is some politics in this, as people will have to be convinced you have come up with the right solutions, you will also need support to get the project signed-off and implemented. There is also useful information tied up in these people’s heads. If you can ask the right question to the right person, you can save yourself lots of time.

Mission creep

It is very common for objectives to be added to a project when it is underway. These are the little ‘nice to haves’, and ‘whilst we are doing this, we could get this job done’. It is easy to fall into this trap, but each added objective adds time and money to the project. You will be held accountable for failing to hit the original time scale and budget, even by the people who have asked you to do those little extras.


If you have a detailed project scope you can then use a management of change system to document those additional objectives and seek additional budget and timescale. Without this scope you are at the mercy of the whims of the management team.


Stage 2- Identifying production scale-up solutions.

The project scope has detailed a lot about the limitations and the boundaries of the new process. Now we need to focus on the process itself. Start with a detailed description of the process you are trying to scale-up. A SIPOC diagram is a good starting point, this tool has been discussed in a previous article here.


Create a list of candidates solutions

With a good process description, you can start talking to technical sales reps, and get them to do some of the legwork. They should be able to provide you with suitable candidates from their equipment ranges. From a few phone calls you should be able to produce a list of off-the-shelf and bespoke solutions, plus some leads on other technologies that may be useful.

A few things to keep in mind when identifying candidate solutions:

  • Automation does not always mean robots. A press with an auto feed and hopper is a type of automation and is a very mature technology. There are lots of examples like this which we will expand on in a future article. There is a place for robots in automation, especially for dangerous, or mind rottingly repetitive tasks.
  • If you find the right piece of equipment but it is too expensive, you can always look at reconditions second hand or imported equipment. Just make sure maintenance and spare part availability is part of your cost-benefit analysis.
  • In a similar vein, if you have found the ideal piece of equipment it is worth comparing the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) with a reseller. The price may be similar, but the service packages could differ significantly and could reduce your maintenance costs.
  • You can always outsource the process. Bringing everything in-house gives you control especially over lead times, but there are some toll processors with expertise and working at a larger scale who could provide a competitive service. Outsourcing allows time to develop a process without any capital spend, and when you are ready you can bring the process in-house with a knowledge transfer agreement. However, even if the price is right this will generally come down to a strategic decision from your business.

Create a short list of candidates solutions

Using the project scope, you can quickly rule out some of the candidate options. Other options are worth combining, for instance if a number of companies provide the same solution. Run through the long list with the stakeholders and listen to feedback, they may be useful insight about what may work well and what won’t. You should aim to get the shortlist down to two or three, each should have their own pros and cons. Sometimes you may end up with one obvious choice, I would focus most of my efforts here but keep a second option available just in case.


I would just like to mention here about technology maturity. It is worth considering how mature a technology is. A novel technology may appear to have all the answers, but it will not have the performance history of more traditional techniques. If you are tempted to buy new technology, make sure you thoroughly test it first and that is it is also fully supported.


Identifying the best solution

Use you project scope as a guide to create a list of assessment criteria. Not all criteria are equally important, so you may need to work out a fair score weighting. Then evaluate each scale-up solution against the criteria. To complete your assessment might require further detailed investigation by experts and equipment trials.


With your completed evaluation you are now ready to identify the best solution. Depending on the project you may have the autonomy to pick your own favourite. Even if you can, I would still arrange a final discussion with the stakeholders. Prepare a report and presentation summarising your assessment, and pitch this to the stakeholders. The aim now is to get a decision and buy-in about which option to implement. Make a presentation to the stakeholders and listen to feedback, there may be some valuable insight about pro and cons of the options you have not considered. Ideally you want a quick answer from the key decision makers.


Now you have identified your best scale-up solution you can then start working on the detailed engineering and implementation plan.

Stage 3- Implementation.

Engineering project management

The first part of implementation is managing the engineering project. This topic is too large to cover in detail in this article, if you are looking for more information you can find an overview here. The engineering project will include:

  • Work breakdown structure
  • Project schedule
  • Budget and resource plan
  • Risk management
  • Quality management
  • Communication
  • Change management
  • Project governance

The amount of work required will be proportional to the size of the project. The end result will be an installed scale-up solution, that has a full set of documentation and has had its functionality checked. At this point there is a high risk of undoing all the hard work by conducting a rushed hand over to the operations team.

Optimise and standardise.

Get your process improvement team to work on the new equipment early. They can establish optimise running conditions and create standard operating procedures.

Training and handover.

Your process improvement team can then manage the training of the operations team. They can put all the necessary controls in place and make sure the process is running smoothly before moving on to the next project.


Final words

The article’s image was taken from the film ‘Jaws’, where Chief Brody says the iconic line ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ after spotting the shark. Apparently, this was an ad-lib that was related to the insufficient resourcing of the production of the film. The support barge was too small for the ambitions of the film, and so a fitting image for this article.


Embarking on a journey to scale up a process can be both exciting and challenging. Whatever industry you are in, a logical and strategic approach is key. At Production Support 56 Ltd we have helped other businesses successfully navigate the difficulties of scaling, if you are looking for extra support for your scale-up project then check out our chemistry solutions page.


If you’d like help identifying the best scale-up solution or would like to create a simulation to help you assess solutions, then drop me a message and we can arrange a chat.