What Is Cellular Manufacturing & How Can You Achieve It?

By Staff Reporter , Updated Feb 05, 2020 02:18 PM EST
What Is Cellular Manufacturing & How Can You Achieve It?
(Photo: What Is Cellular Manufacturing & How Can You Achieve It?)

Manufacturers aiming to increase profit margins have a couple of options: increase revenue, decrease operational expenses or achieve some combination of both. There's a catch though; sacrificing product quality is a major no-no, as it violates buyer trust and can even open up companies to lawsuits.

Lowering costs without cutting corners requires critically examining operating processes. Increasing efficiency on the line can help make sure every cent channeled toward production is a necessary expenditure.

Moving toward the cellular manufacturing model is one way to embrace lean manufacturing - here's more on what this means for companies within this sector.

The Potential Benefits of Cellular Manufacturing

A cellular manufacturing model is one in which materials and components flow smoothly through the production process without encountering inefficient delays and bottlenecks - nor unnecessary transportation from workstation to workstation that ends up sucking up time and money.

Summed up in a sentence; cellular manufacturing aims to move materials and products between points A and Z as efficiently as possible. Every movement is calibrated toward this aim. Auditing their practices and floor layout, companies may realize better - read: more cost effective - ways to do things with the principle of creating "cells."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), here are a few additional hallmarks of cellular manufacturing:

  • Work stations and manufacturing equipment are arranged in a sequence that facilitates a smooth flow.

  • Organizations often replace large, high-volume machines with smaller, more flexible machines.

  • Products move through the system on an as-needed basis dictated by customer demand.

  • Workers can often manage multiple machines within a designated "production cell." 

Some of the most popular examples of cellular manufacturing in action include arranging machines in U-shaped or straight-line configurations. The optimal result? Materials and employees travel shorter distances within a facility. Machines are grouped intuitively by family.

Above all, cellular manufacturing falls under the umbrella of lean manufacturing - a system originally created by Toyota to "eliminate waste and inefficiency in its operations," according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The ideal result is reduction in cycle time and scrap with an increase in productivity.

Moving Toward a Cellular Manufacturing Model

The EPA designates the first step toward a cellular manufacturing model as taking stock of the current conditions and processes within a manufacturing facility.

Implementing the tools to conduct full-scale manufacturing data analysis, like advanced self-service data analytics platforms like ThoughtSpot, can help companies understand current performance. For instance, engineers could use this tech to identify all the bottlenecks inherent in the current process that would need to be smoothed out in order to operate at peak capacity.

Once a manufacturer has a clearer understanding of exactly where their processes are stalling out or draining time/money, they can spring into action - getting the right stakeholders involved to implement smarter solutions. Overhauling the flow of the factory floor to adhere to cellular manufacturing is one concrete example of what the data may support as a better way to handle production in a more agile way.

It's important to note it's possible, and often necessary, to put processes and equipment through multiple rounds of "going lean." It's not a one-and-done endeavor. Companies must be vigilant about constantly turning to data to identify what they could be doing better. Making targeted improvements driven by data is the best way to address inefficiencies as they arise. And, trust us, they will continue to arise; it's simply the nature of the business.

One Cleveland-based manufacturer of electric equipment found cellular manufacturing - specifically setting up subassembly stations - allowed their company to start handling spikes in customer demand with more flexibility. As Material Handling & Logistics describes, this manufacturer ultimately found less inventory sitting in the warehouse waiting for orders to roll in. 

But, as with any big change, successfully harnessing the efficiency of cellular manufacturing requires doing your due diligence. Turn to data, identify weak spots, then enact changes supported by this information.

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