Lean Doesn't Work for Everything : Process Layout vs Cellular Layouts

I was talking with an engineer the other day, and he said that he was designing his plant in a traditional process, or functional, layout, and I said, “Whoah, isn’t a cellular layout more lean?”  And he said something that blew me away.

“Yeah, but I’m not going for lean.”

I was shocked.  I thought EVERYBODY and their mother was lean nowadays.  He mentioned that, just because you don’t subscribe to specific lean thinking in every application, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve efficiency.  The whole idea of efficiency, at its core, is to eliminate waste.  Now, if you have huge numbers of products pushing through everyday, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to lay things out with lean in mind.

Lean is a system that takes a conglomerative approach to manufacturing.  If you need a TON of stuff built, the cellular or value stream groupings don’t necessarily help the process–it can even hinder it.  So, in the name of waste elimination, it might be better to to move all the widgets through one station of, say, bandsaws first.  Cut them up with the saws, then send them all to the station of sanders–then they get sprayed with paint.  They all go back to the warehouse to dry–then the next day, a billion little widgets get their wheels attached.  From there, they get sent to all parts of the world.

I guess my engineer friend made his point.  I see what he’s saying.