Lean Cell Systems and Plant Flow – Fast Production with Lower Costs

As manufacturers, we are always looking for ways to make things work faster, cheaper and easier. Often times, the approach we take involves re-evaluating the production elements within the plant that impede system flow. In such analysis, we take stock of the operation as a whole in search of efficiencies in the parts. In short, to improve productivity while responding quickly to changing customer demands, we try to make the most of the resources available at our plant. In doing so, the modern manufacturer strives for total enterprise resource planning (ERP) that ensures that all elements of the plant are in sync with each other. In the evolution of ERP as a manufacturing concept, the idea of ​​workplace management has come to the fore as a place of greatest efficiency gains.

While extraction production techniques certainly live for just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing modes, efficiencies that could be realized in other plant operations are sometimes lost in expensive setups and indirect labor costs associated with the non-productive workshop time. To overcome these negatives, lean cell It was developed to take advantage of the repetitive unit production and the physical space of the plant. Based on sensitive ergonomic principles, in the tight cell the operators operate in close proximity to each other, so close that they can simply deliver units of parts to each other. In the classic lean work cell, an ERP operation can maximize production efficiency through some of the most basic lean principles:

  1. Continuous flow: By using shadow boards for tools and delivering material to the cell prior to assembly, the lean work center eliminates most non-value-added operator movements (ie direct costs). In other words, the fitted cell becomes a place of efficiency where a value-added-to-value-added operation is performed.
  2. Configuration and reconfiguration efficiencies: By isolating repetitive production processes in a single space, configuration and reconfiguration costs and times for cellular are significantly reduced. This results in maximized changeover with minimized downtime in relatively uninterrupted plant flow.
  3. Improved quality: With the opportunity for immediate feedback through quality inspection, Lean Cell reduces waste and enhances continuous improvement, a principle of lean production. Additionally, by using simple, thin machines in the cell, replacement of malfunctioning devices is often quick and easy.
  4. JIT delivery: Not only do parts get into the cell when needed, but the fast one-part (or small) batch flow from the tight cell means that pull production is maximized at every step of the system flow. In addition, non-cyclical work is performed by support personnel located outside the cell. All of these factors help eliminate both inventory and work in progress.

Ultimately, the proper use of a lean cell system in an ERP operation significantly reduces production cycle time. From receiving the order by the order entry clerk to shipping finished products out of the plant, production time is reduced and JIT pull production is improved. Plus, with overhead minimized through ergonomic, continuous-flow design, lean-cell manufacturing improves the all-important bottom line profit margin.

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