Manufacturing Cells

December 1, 2004
By David McBride

Customers demand variety and customization as well as specific quantities delivered at specific times; a lean producer must remain flexible enough to serve its customers' needs. Cellular manufacturing allows companies to provide their customers with the right product at the right time. It does this by grouping similar products into families that can be processed on the same equipment in the same sequence. To successfully maintain "one piece flow" in their manufacturing cells, companies employ quick changeover techniques.

A cell is a group of workstations, machines or equipment arranged such that a product can be processed progressively from one workstation to another without having to wait for a batch to be completed and without additional handling between operations. Cells may be dedicated to a process, a sub-component, or an entire product. Integral to the manufacturing operations of a lean producer, cells are conducive to single-piece and one-touch manufacturing methods. Cells may be designed for administrative as well as manufacturing operations.

Cellular manufacturing is an approach that helps build a variety of products with as little waste as possible. Equipment and workstations are arranged in a sequence that supports a smooth flow of materials and components through the process, with minimal transport or delay. Cellular manufacturing can help make your company more competitive by cutting out costly transport and delay, shortening the production lead time, saving factory space that can be used for other value-adding purposes, and promoting continuous improvement by forcing the company to address problems that block just-in-time (JIT) production.

A work cell is a work unit larger than an individual machine or workstation but smaller than the usual department. Typically, it has 3-12 people and 5-15 workstations in a compact arrangement. An ideal cell manufactures a narrow range of highly similar products. Such an ideal cell is self-contained with all necessary equipment and resources. Cellular layouts organize departments around a product or a narrow range of similar products. Materials sit in an initial queue when they enter the department. Once processing begins, they move directly from process to process (or sit in mini-queues). The result is very fast throughput. Communication is easy since every operator is close to the others. This improves quality and coordination. Proximity and a common mission enhance teamwork. The benefits of cellular manufacturing include:

  • WIP reduction
  • Space utilization
  • Lead time reduction
  • Productivity improvement
  • Quality improvement
  • Enhanced teamwork and communication
  • Enhanced flexibility and visibility

  • There are many misconceptions regarding cellular manufacturing. To read more about the types of cells, read our article “Types of Manufacturing Cells.”

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