Cellular Manufacturing

AuthorR. Inman

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Cellular manufacturing is a manufacturing process that produces families of parts within a single line or cell of machines operated by machinists who work only within the line or cell. A cell is a small scale, clearly-defined production unit within a larger factory. This unit has complete responsibility for producing a family of like parts or a product. All necessary machines and manpower are contained within this cell, thus giving it a degree of operational autonomy. Each worker is expected to have mastered a full range of operating skills required by his or her cell. Therefore, systematic job rotation and training are necessary conditions for effective cell development. Complete worker training is needed to ensure that flexible worker assignments can be fulfilled.

Cellular manufacturing, which is actually an application of group technology, has been described as a stepping stone to achieving world class manufacturing status. The objective of cellular manufacturing is to design cells in such a way that some measure of performance is optimized. This measure of performance could be productivity, cycle time, or some other logistics measure. Measures seen in practice include pieces per man hour, unit cost, on-time delivery, lead time, defect rates, and percentage of parts made cell-complete.

This process involves placing a cluster of carefully selected sets of functionally dissimilar machines in close proximity to each other. The result is small, stand-alone manufacturing units dedicated to the production of a set or family of parts—or essentially, a miniature version of a plant layout.

While the machinery may be functionally dissimilar, the family of parts produced contains similar processing requirements or has geometric similarities. Thus, all parts basically follow the same routing with some minor variations (e.g., skipping an operation). The cells may have no conveyorized movement of parts between machines, or they may have a flow line connected by a conveyor that can provide automatic transfer.

Cellular manufacturing is a hybrid system that links the advantages of a job shop with the product layout of the continuous flow line. The cell design provides for quick and efficient flow, and the high productivity associated with assembly lines. However, it also provides the flexibility of the job shop, allowing both similar and diverse products to be added to the line without slowing the process. Figures 1 and 2 compares a cellular layout to that of the typical job shop (process layout).

Figure 1

Process Layout

Figure 2

Cellular Layout


Many firms utilizing cellular manufacturing have reported near immediate improvements in performance, with only relatively minor adverse effects. Cited improvements which seem to have occurred fairly quickly include reductions in work-in-process, finished goods, lead time, late orders, scrap, direct labor, and workspace.

In particular, production and quality control is enhanced. By breaking the factory into small, homogeneous and cohesive productive units, production

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and quality control is made easier. Cells that are not performing according to volume and quality targets can be easily isolated, since the parts/products affected can be traced to a single cell. Also, because the productive units are small, the search for the root of problems is made easier.

Quality parameters and control procedures can be dovetailed to the particular requirements of the parts or workpieces specific to a certain cell. By focusing quality control activity on a particular production unit or part type, the cell can quickly master the necessary quality requirements. Control is always enhanced when productive units are kept at a minimum operating scale, which is what cellular manufacturing provides.

When production is structured using cellular manufacturing logic, flow systematization is possible. Grouping of parts or products into sets or families reveals which ones are more or less amenable to continuous, coupled flow. Parts that are standardized and common to many products will have very low changeover times, and thus, are quickly convertible to continuous, line-flow production. Products that are low-volume, high-variety and require longer set-up times can be managed so that they evolve toward a line flow.

Cells can be designed to exploit the characteristics peculiar to each part family so as to optimize the flow for each cell and for groups of cells as a whole. Flow systematization can be done one cell at a time so as to avoid large disruptions in operations. Then the cells that were easy to systemize can provide experience that can be exploited when the more difficult systematization projects occur later. Cells that have been changed to a line flow will invariably show superior performance in the areas of quality, throughput time, and cost, which can lead to eventual plantwide benefit.

Work flow that is adapted to the unique requirements of each product or part allows the plant to produce high-volume and high-variety products simultaneously. Since the cell structure...

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