Learn about cellular manufacturing and how your business can get lean with it
Cellular manufacturing is an approach that is a part of lean manufacturing that focuses on process improvement and optimization. It pertains to reorganizing your shop floor in a way that would give you the greatest efficiency.
What is cellular manufacturing?
Cellular manufacturing is a manufacturing process that arranges all equipment and workstations in a specific sequence, in a way that products would move through the manufacturing process as quickly as possible, minimizing waste and logistical effort and having more flexibility. Just think of it as a way to arrange equipment, machines, parts, and workstations to gain an optimized flow of continuous production from one part to the next.
In general, it seeks to minimize the time it takes for a single product to flow through the entire production process. Instead of going through multiple parts before dispatching them on to the next step, cellular manufacturing moves products through the process one-piece at a time. In this way, manufacturers can adjust to their customer customers’ needs. Moreover, cellular manufacturing can provide companies with great flexibility. That is, they have the capability to modify product features on the production line according to customer demands.
Most specifically, equipment and workstations are arranged to facilitate small lot and continuous flow. In a cell, all operations that are needed to produce a product are carried out in close proximity, allowing for quick feedback between operations when issues arise.
Cellular manufacturing layouts
Oftentimes operations in cellular manufacturing are arranged in a U-shaped layout but many other layouts exist for manufacturers to choose. These include:
- I-Shaped Cell. The I-cell, also known as the linear cell, arranges machines in a linear order. This layout is the closest to having multiple assembly lines since it is one of the simplest. It is optimal for products where the sequence of operations is straightforward, and materials don’t need to go back and forth between machines.
- U-Shaped Cell. One of the most common.With this design, the machinery is arranged in the shape of the letter U. It optimizes cross-training and reduces the time required to produce the part. Furthermore, it alleviates fatigue and improves communication between technicians since they are much closer to each other.
- O-Shaped Cell. Also known as the Cage.Here, machines are arranged in a rough circle, with only one technician who is highly skilled inside the “cage”. It is optimal for products that require multiple passes through the machines.
- T-Shaped Cell. Components are produced on the arm of the “T” and get together into a final leg for assembly and finish. This arrangement is used for semi-finished goods and production that requires multiple sources of raw materials.
- S-Shaped & Z-Shaped Cell. These cells are often used to deal with obstructions in the shop floor when you still want to implement cellular manufacturing. For instance, if you have a girder in an older facility where you have to consider space. It may also be configured around a heavy machine (CNC or metal bending machine) where moving it is impossible. S and Z-shaped cells may act like a U or linear, depending on the product.
What are the Advantages & Disadvantages?
With cellular manufacturing you can arrange your production workstations and equipment to reap the benefits of:
- Reduced Work-In-Process (WIP) inventory
- Smooth flow of materials & components
- More efficient communication
- Shorter lead times
Nonetheless, there are some limitations and drawbacks to take into consideration.
- Badly designed cells, in lack of deep understanding of the process steps.
- In work cells, oftentimes the cell may contain one type of machine. If it breaks, the production line is down and production may bottleneck.
- Administrative issues, since not all software has the functionality to plan and execute within a cellular environment. Thus, most of them use cells that also feed traditional production lines. So, management has to opt for manufacturing software able to accommodate these hybrid production environments smoothly.
This lean manufacturing method is optimal for single-piece flow and small-lot production. Production equipment is put together into groups and it is then used for the sequential production of a set of parts that have similar characteristics. Epoptia MES helps you adopt lean thinking in your manufacturing business and optimize your production processes. It keeps the workstations in virtual flow and ensures continuous flow.
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