What is 'Manufacturing Cells'

Manufacturing cells are sets of machines that are grouped by the products or parts they produce in a lean manufacturing environment. This system is used in the cellular manufacturing concept, which is distinct from the traditional functional manufacturing system in which all similar machines are grouped together. The use of manufacturing cells improves material flow and is especially suited for batch production, even in relatively low volumes.

BREAKING DOWN 'Manufacturing Cells'

One of the challenges of implementing a cellular manufacturing system is the actual establishment of manufacturing cells. If the same machines are required in different cells, it may result in higher capital requirements. However, the benefits of manufacturing cells, such as higher productivity, better responsiveness to market conditions and the ability to produce customized goods in small volumes, more than offset these drawbacks.

Implementing cellular manufacturing has proven itself as a way of reducing product costs, while improving lead times and quality. Cells have prospered because they work, and they work in almost any type of manufacturing environment. One reason cells are successful is that they often eliminate many of the wastes inherent in a typical manufacturing operation. Let’s look at some of these wastes.

Manufacturing Cells Eliminate Overproduction and Excess Inventory

Overproduction amounts to making more product than can be used. A manufacturing cell eliminates waste by making it easier to produce only what is needed. All operations are in close proximity, and the production process is simplified. In a cellular arrangement, one operator can complete multiple operations, which may improve the balance of work and simplify product flow.

Overproduction leads to excess inventory, which is the costliest of all manufacturing wastes. Manufacturing cells prevent excess inventory in a variety of ways. First, by balancing the work and instructing operators not to exceed what the next person can handle, the work-in-process inventory is reduced. By the nature of the cell layout, there's nowhere to put excess inventory. Manufacturing cells solve the vacant space paradox, which says the amount of vacant space is inversely proportional to the amount of time it is vacant.

Manufacturing Cells Eliminate Overprocessing

Manufacturing cells help eliminate the waste associated with overprocessing by keeping processes in close proximity to each other and making only what can be used immediately. Unnecessary processes, such as packing and unpacking, are eliminated because handling is reduced, and that which remains poses little risk of damage. Parts in the cells are processed sooner, so any of the other product protection processes can also be eliminated. The close proximity of all the operations makes it easier to identify the processes that are not adding value to the product.

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