The concept of cellular manufacturing is an important component for both JIT manufacturing and Lean organizations. It is a process used to support and facilitate one-piece flow in production by having equipment, workstations, and cells arranged in order of processes to produce a single or very small batch of products. A production line with a cellular layout will allow organizations to make a variety of products quickly with as little waste as possible and implementing a cellular manufacturing layout will create an even flow. Cellular manufacturing is process with built-in flexibility; if demand suddenly changes or if a product’s features needs to be altered, it won’t be a hassle for a company to adapt their production line.

Traditionally in manufacturing, similar machines are placed near each other with parts being processed and moved between different departments in large batches. This can lead to unexpected breakdowns, piled up inventory, and unnecessary motion, resulting in valuable resources waste. If something goes wrong along the production line, the defects aren’t usually identified until it’s too late, costing the company time and money. Additionally, mass production is not a flexible system and it’s difficult to make any changes within the processes.

On the other hand, a cellular layout operates on the pull system with products being made only as they are demanded and in very small batches. The production line is comprised of multiple cells sequenced in the order of operations and the work cells themselves are then placed near each other to save space and reduce unnecessary movement while streamlining the flow.

For example, the department receiving the raw materials inventory can be placed at one end of the facility and the first value-added process is in a work cell right next to the department. From there, products move from cell to cell, with one part of the manufacturing process being completed within each cell. The finished product ends up at the shipping department, which would be opposite to the receiving department in a U-shaped layout.

An important part of cellular manufacturing is to organize the cells as well. 5S is a Lean methodology  that provides the framework for sorting through the area and removing unnecessary items taking up space. The cell is then designed in a way that is easy to work in and typically follows the order of operations within a process.

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