What You Need to Know About Estimating Toll Processing Lead Times

John Bokosky, Dec 10, 2020 6:45:00 AM

lead time map

When you make a call to your toll processor, your first question is probably whether they offer the services you need — from drying to jet milling and classification, from extrusion to specialty extraction, or some multi-step combination of services.

Once you’ve verified they have the capability, your next question is likely about capacity. How long will it take to get the job done and get your processed material on to your next step?

A lot goes into determining service lead times, and your processing partner’s transparency goes a long way to help you confidently coordinate your operations.

Here, we’ll take a look at factors that influence lead times, shared partner responsibilities for meeting timelines, and steps you can take to optimize outcomes when working with your toll processor.

What Do We Mean by Lead Time?

Before we go any further, it’s important to take a moment to clarify terms. Lead time is defined as the total time, from start to finish, between receipt of your purchase order and delivery of your processed materials.

Turnaround time, on the other hand, is an internally focused term describing the amount of time a processing project requires to complete in-house. Lead times are longer than turnaround times, since they account for all time between P.O. and delivery, even if it’s time spent waiting in an equipment queue.

Lead times are data-driven. As your toll processor’s experience with materials and services grows, the information they amass helps improve internal efficiencies and their lead-time accuracy. The basic formula for lead times includes a standard processing rate for a given service, plus the percentages of labor and equipment required to complete the work.

Lead times can vary vastly from one toll processor to another, based on all these factors. Standard rates are based on data — and processors typically assume responsibility for deviations from their standard rate. That means they’re incentivized to look for opportunities to improve efficiency.

Services that are a processor’s bread-and-butter, like jet milling or other particle size reduction technologies, may have the shortest lead times. That’s because demand has allowed them to invest in plenty of high-quality equipment, amass significant experience, and hone efficiencies.

How Your Toll Processor Optimizes Lead Times

Equipment additions and redundancies help eliminate bottlenecks. When you hear about new, specialized, or updated equipment, you can bet that your toll processor is highly motivated to meet customer needs — and they’re leading in that specialty service. 

For example, an added piece of complex equipment that eliminates steps between blending, extrusion, and pelletization of polymers points to robust demand for those services and expert technical skill in that service area.

Cross-training and labor sharing between operators and technical specialists are other ways toll processors optimize efficiency and offer more responsive service. There may be high demand in one service and less in another, and cross-training operators ensures that a processor can run equipment at maximum capacity as needed.

Complex Operations Require a Scientific Approach

Any processing or toll manufacturing operation involves a lot of moving parts, so lead times are always in flux. But a scientific, data-driven approach to estimating is launched when your purchase order is received. Standard processing times, plus labor and equipment, plus special circumstances or other details you provide, all add up to your estimated lead time.

The complexity and dependencies of multi-step processes mean complicated projects can take longer to complete, since every step requires material handling, as well as labor and equipment capacity planning in a specific, ordered series.

For example, some polymer projects may involve blending, extruding, granulating, and fine milling on a specific series of equipment types, demanding multiple operators in different specialties. 

In some cases, a technical team may even add a processing step, such as dry milling a material before it goes into a wet mill for micronization. While the “extra” step may add complexity to the project, it can actually optimize the wet milling process and shorten the overall lead time. Tweaks like this add value and are based on material scientists’ and engineers’ recommendations.

Pilots and process trials, as their names suggest, can be more complicated, and it can be challenging to predict lead times with the same accuracy as production-scale projects. Often, customers work closely with trial engineers and operators. Your involvement in trial work enables your technical team to keep you informed of progress and timelines — and the more material knowledge you bring in advance of the trial, the more efficient your team can be.

Other factors that influence lead times can include regulatory requirements around procedures, checks, and documentation. Toll processors for cGMP have the process knowledge to accommodate and account for these requirements and extra steps when estimating.

Outside Influences on Lead Times, and What You Can Do

Your lead time estimate may also depend on factors outside your toll processor’s control, so it’s necessary to share as much material knowledge as possible with them. This includes every detail from raw material packaging formats to safety data sheets (SDS) and any other information you have.

It’s also important to be aware of raw material suppliers’ performance records, since project completion can be affected by everything from on-time delivery of raw material to packaging formats to raw feed quality issues. Late delivery or unexpected raw material issues can throw a whole series of processes off schedule, so it’s vital to choose your suppliers with care.

Some toll processors can also offer final packaging and labeling, logistics, and warehousing services that can help you achieve added efficiency, with a single partner coordinating multiple services.

Efficiency and Accuracy Are Shared Goals

It’s in your toll processor’s best interest not only to accurately predict lead times but to continuously optimize and improve. As your partnership deepens, so does your shared knowledge base. Each project lends more data to your toll processor’s estimating knowledge base, continuously improving the accuracy of estimates. 

Both you and your processing partner have a vested interest in achieving your long-term goals, so working collaboratively benefits you and them. And your trusted toll processor’s client service team is there to anticipate your needs and ensure that they receive all the necessary details for estimating and processing your projects smoothly and efficiently, from start to finish.

A lot goes into ensuring quality processing and on-time delivery, and process knowledge is just the start. Deepen your insights into toll processing with our Particle Technology Glossary. Just click the link below to download a copy. And if you’ve got questions, just contact us here.New call-to-action

Posted in:InsiderToll Processing