In the decades following the popularization of lean manufacturing, there have been dozens of strategies and methodologies developed to minimize waste and optimize production processes.

One of the standout applications of the lean philosophy is just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing – a practice that allows manufacturers to make enough products for the current market demand, minimizing waste caused by overproduction. Some businesses take this approach even further by instituting cellular manufacturing to maximize productivity within a just-in-time framework.

This type of manufacturing allows businesses to speed up production because the production stations are staged next to each other in convenient set-ups, facilitating smoother workflow.

In this post, we’ll dive into cellular manufacturing and discuss the pros and cons of this lean strategy and which industries it is most well-suited for.

What is cellular manufacturing?

Cellular manufacturing is a production process involving workstations and equipment set up in a convenient sequence, enabling products to move through the manufacturing process with maximum velocity while minimizing waste and logistical effort.

Cellular manufacturing is most commonly used in a discrete assembly environment, where items pass through the cells one at a time. This differs from most process manufacturing environments like pharmaceuticals or food and beverage where products are created in batches as opposed to being individually assembled. With cellular manufacturing, each production cell is a uniquely self-sufficient production unit.

In many environments instituting cellular manufacturing, workflows are arranged such that the previous station’s output is the input for the next one. However, in some instances, a cell may assemble finished products from start to finish.

Origins of cellular manufacturing

Cellular manufacturing descends from the concept of group technology – a production technique that involves identifying and grouping similar parts to leverage the similarities in design and production.

Mechanical engineer Ralph Flanders originated the concept in the United States in the mid-1920s. In the 1970s, Japanese manufacturers adopted this production method as an outgrowth of lean manufacturing, refining it to improve workflows and reduce waste in a factory setting.

DMG MORI spindle assembly line

Advantages of cellular manufacturing

Here are the benefits associated with the cellular approach in manufacturing:

Reduced lead times: Cellular manufacturing reduces lead times by streamlining assembly processes and cutting down on set-up times.

Furthermore, in this form of manufacturing, each part is processed entirely within a single cell, reducing the traveling distance and time required to move materials and components.

This allows manufacturers to fulfill orders more quickly, increasing customer satisfaction and reducing waste associated with work in progress.

Improved communication: Workers in a cell are close to each other physically, making it easy for communication within the group. This is particularly evident in U-shaped cell layouts.

Clear communication allows workers to remain on schedule. At the same time, it enables easy identification of problems during production.

Better product quality: Improved communication provides workers with quick feedback regarding quality defects and other events. This enables operators to more easily identify the source of quality issues, eliminating defects from moving downstream to other cells.

Reduced production costs: At the heart of cellular manufacturing and other lean manufacturing methods is reducing waste and increasing efficiency.

Cellular manufacturing consists of reduced set-up time, material handling, and streamlined workflows. As a result, manufacturing businesses minimize production costs.

Disadvantages of cellular manufacturing

Despite the many benefits, cellular manufacturing can create some challenges to production in certain circumstances. These can include:

Production bottlenecks: Because products flow through separate dedicated cells sequentially as they’re being assembled, an issue at a single cell can create a bottleneck, preventing products from moving to subsequent production cells.

Poor cell design and layout: Poor cell design can result in significant underutilization of shop-floor space. This can be especially problematic in facilities where certain production processes can only be performed in certain areas of the factory.

In these scenarios, cellular manufacturing might make less sense compared to production processes that enable operators to assemble products in a relatively confined space.

Complicated resource planning: Resource utilization and workflow planning can become challenging for businesses adopting a new layout and production strategy.

In many cases, the existing systems on the shop floor might not be configured for the new workflows, and changing the systems to adapt to the change in production flow can potentially be challenging and resource-intensive.

At Tulip, we advocate for flexible, no-code manufacturing systems that enable businesses to change and configure their digital solutions to more easily adapt to changes in business processes.

Is cellular manufacturing right for your business?

Ultimately, when it comes to deciding whether cellular manufacturing is right for you, it’s really going to depend on the nature of your production processes and the resources needed to assemble your parts.

For basic, discrete assemblies, cellular manufacturing offers significant benefits and allows for more efficient workflows with less waste.

The same holds true for companies looking to partake in just-in-time manufacturing. Cellular manufacturing reduces work-in-progress significantly to free up resources for other parts of the business.

Regardless of the shop floor layout that you choose for your specific needs, it’s important to implement the right digital tools to collect data and track production from beginning to end. Many of the leading manufacturers trust Tulip to connect the people, machines, and devices across their operations, allowing them to digitize operator workflows, streamline data collection, and track the KPIs that matter most for their business.

If you’re interested in learning how Tulip can help increase efficiency across your operations, reach out to a member of our team today!

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