A plant without a conveyor?!
When we hear the word ‘factories’, we usually think of conveyor belts and people repetitively performing their own assigned task in a mechanical fashion. What would factories look like if the conveyor belt disappeared? One of the ways to increase productivity and quality away from the conveyor belt approach is called cell type production. Today, I will try to delve into the cell production method.
Cell production system?!
In simple terms, the cell production refers to a self-contained production method in which the operator takes responsibility for the entire process from the first to the last. While a simple process is distributed to several workers in the conventional conveyor system, one or two workers assemble the entire unit in front of dozens of parts in cell production. It is a way to increase work expertise and productivity by eliminating conveyors that are considered to be a symbol of massive division of labor.
[Conveyor production] [Cell production]
Types of the cell production method
The cell production method is divided into three types, depending on the type of work: 1-person type, circulation type, and division type. One person type means that one worker is dedicated to the entire process of one cell, from the beginning to the end. The circulation type refers to a method where a small number of workers share a single cell and are responsible for the process. Finally, in the partitioning type, one person takes the responsibility of the first process and the last inspection process while another person takes over the middle process. This is an intermediate process between the cell production method and the conveyor type approach.
So, why should we introduce cell production?
1. Motivated individual workers
Unlike a conveyor system where people are mechanized by repetition of a simple process, the cell production renders a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction because it utilizes 100% of the capability of multi-skilled workers. This in turn leads workers to be more motivated, which eventually strengthens work identity, thereby maximizing accountability and expertise and resulting in improved quality.
2. Increased productivity
In the existing conveyer production approach, lack of operation load balance often leads to low productivity, as the production has to be paced to the slowest process. In the cell production method, it is easy to control the work speed per cell and to balance the work, as it is operated by a small number of workers. In addition, it is considered an efficient way to increase productivity because it has a structure that can secure 90% or more of the total production plan even if one person has a problem or is absent.
In a market with a large number of small volume production needs, the conventional conveyer production system cannot quickly respond to market demand due to the rigid production line. In cell production, on the other hand, it is easy to change operation lines, which allows timely re-allocation of workers in response to rapid changes in the market. In addition, as there are a small number of workers, product defect rate is low, and even if there are defects, discovery and actions are quick.
For a successful introduction of the cellular approach that has these advantages, some conditions need to be met.
1. Suitable products
First, it should be checked whether the product is suitable for cell production. It is difficult to apply cell production to products highly dependent on equipment rather than people as they require high precision or uniformity, or products that are difficult for the operators to handle as they are too large or too heavy.
2. Development of skilled workers
Given the nature of the work that requires one or two people to take on the entire process from start to finish, having skilled workers is critical to the success of the cell production system. As such, there should be a people development program and an incentive system for sustaining a sense of accomplishment.
3. Support systems
We need systems that help workers to complete the production process easily. Examples include standardized materials & parts, a simplified work process, a real-time information system, and system to prevent missing work.
If the above conditions are met, the cell production method will produce satisfactory results for both the company and the workers. In fact, many companies have done a great job with cell production. Well-known companies include Canon and Samsung Electronics. Lutronic is also one of the most successful companies.
Lutronic gives a six-month probation period to train the workers to develop the skills needed. During this period, they learn all the work standards and product specs in addition to the skills they need. This is called the multi-function development program. This program allows one operator to successfully complete all manufacturing processes in the cell production system.
Each of the products will carry the name of the person who made it. This is linked to the worker's pride in quality and a sense of accomplishment. Maybe this is why in Lutronic most of the workers in production are skilled workers with over five years of experience. In addition, before and after the production the workers carefully check each and every details of the product. So, Lutronic's products have a defect rate close to 0%.
The cell production method is what this era calls for
This is the era of the cell production method!
Improving product quality and production efficiency is a challenge most manufacturing companies must solve. They need to move away from the problems associated with the mass production approach of the past and adapt to the changes in the management environment today such as diversified customer needs, intensified market competition, and changed status of workers in order to focus on 'human ability' itself. In this regard, the cell production method can be seen to be the manufacturing process befitting this era. If successfully introduced, it will bring a win-win situation for both companies and workers.