Going Beyond Lean Manufacturing: The Cellular Manufacturing Process

To streamline production and enhance efficiency, companies are turning to lean manufacturing principles. This involves rethinking traditional manufacturing practices to optimize processes and maximize value. Cellular manufacturing, or “one-piece-flow,” goes beyond lean manufacturing, offering increased efficiency and control over production.

What Is The Cellular Manufacturing Process?

Cellular manufacturing takes a different approach from traditional “batch-and-queue” production — where large amounts of inventory are produced en masse. Instead, one item is produced at a time along a line of various machines and operators. Raw materials enter the line with finished goods resulting as the end product. This manufacturing line is referred to as a cell, as the line may be curved, circular, U- or L-shaped.

The goods are easily transferred from one machine to the next, all within close proximity to each other. The cell vastly reduces handling time and the time to complete a finished product.


Why Cellular Manufacturing?

While batch-and-queue processes result in high quantities of inventory developed over a given time, cellular manufacturing produces a day’s worth of inventory within a day.

One-piece-flow prioritizes speed to reduce lead time while keeping up with the known demand. You no longer need to waste unnecessary space for excess inventory. Instead, you can adapt your inventory to demand — adding or taking away cells as demand ebbs and flows. Less money is tied up in unused inventory, creating opportunities to invest in machinery and maintain a higher profit margin.

Traditional manufacturing, however, requires more equipment and more manpower, delaying your products’ completion. Oftentimes, each manufacturing department has its own location. The batch of goods must be moved from department to department until it is completed. Every time it’s moved, that batch must be placed in the back of the queue until that department is ready for it.

Despite high production levels, time and profit are lost due to the inefficient material flow. Cellular manufacturing eliminates these issues through a continuous flow line that minimizes time to completion.


Implementing Cellular Manufacturing

1. Identify Your Pain Points

As you consider transitioning to cellular manufacturing, first identify your current pain points:

  • Are your workers burning out from poorly timed material transitions and lengthy queues?
  • Is your large-scale machinery requiring you to produce greater amounts of inventory than you need?
  • Are you wasting time packing and unpacking materials as they flow to various departments?

By identifying your pain points you will be more equipped to resolve them as you design the ideal cell.

2. Create a Process Map

Map out your current picking process flow. As you draw lines you may be able to identify where processes are duplicated or bottlenecked. Once you understand the necessities of the current process and identify the problems, you can move on to cell design.

3. Develop Your Ideal Cell Layout

The format of the cell will determine its functionality. Carefully create the layout with the following in mind:

  • Keep It Small: The smaller the cell, the faster the product can flow from machine to machine. This will minimize the handling of the product while maximizing floor space for additional cells.
  • Include Your Operators: Involve your operators in the development. They will have insight into takt times, line balance and preferred cell design. Involving them early on can also enhance employee adoption of a fundamental shift in their role.
  • Consider Ergonomics: Design your manufacturing cells with your employees in mind. Easy to operate machinery that reduces unnecessary movement for your team will lower the likelihood of operator burnout and avoidable accidents.

4. Conduct a Trial Run

Before transforming all your equipment to cells, conduct a trial run. This will allow you to identify potential roadblocks and refine the cell before they are duplicated throughout your manufacturing floor. Perform rigorous QA checks on the produced goods from your cell and ask your operators how the cell could be improved.

5. Invest in Proper Equipment

As you transition to a cell-based manufacturing process, make sure to invest in quality equipment. Some of your existing machinery may be useful within the cell, but that is not always the case. Large-scale machinery may not fit the cell or even perform the correct function for your cell. For example, some machinery is designed specifically for high quantities. The equipment for a cell, however, must be easily maneuvered, small enough to fit the cell and usable for one-piece-flow.

You may want to consider investing in industrial manipulators. Industrial manipulators create a convenient option for moving inventory while minimizing physical strain on employees. These material handlers can easily move products that are too heavy or difficult to reach for employees, allowing you to save time and avoid injury. With Dalmec, industrial manipulators are customized to fit your exact needs and space requirements.


Go Lean

Experience the benefits of implementing cell manufacturing in your warehouse. You can trim off inefficient processes and excess inventory. Operators can easily talk to each other within a cell and quickly identify issues. Quality Assurance issues can be quickly spotted and remedied before a whole batch of goods is processed. Cycle time can be greatly reduced and floor space can be maximized. By implementing this lean practice, you can save on lead time and support your bottom line. Consider going lean with cellular manufacturing.

As you go lean, you may want to explore other lean practices, such as industrial manipulators that can support productivity and safety for your employees. To learn how industrial manipulators can benefit your warehouse, contact us today.

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