cellularCellular manufacturing is a production system that arranges workstations and equipment in a sequence that supports a continuous flow of materials and components through the production process with minimal transport or delay. This production system requires a shift from “batch and queue” mass production to one based on a product aligned “one-piece flow, pull production” system.

In 1925 cellular manufacturing derived from the principles of group technology, and it wasn’t until the 1970s when it was actively promoted and adopted by industries. One of the places where it became a common element was in the just-in-time production of Japanese industries. Later, in the 1990s it began to be implemented in many organizations as one of the foundation elements of Lean Manufacturing.

Cellular manufacturing groups dissimilar equipment in a “cell” in order to produce similar parts using identical or closely related routing. In these cells, the equipment and workstations are arranged close together in sequence of processing steps. The equipment in the cell is usually laid out in a curved shape, resembling a “U” or a “C”; although a curved shape is not necessary, it reduces unnecessary walking and transport to promote a continuous flow in the process.

A change to cellular manufacturing requires smaller and simpler machines that can be operated by less workers; here, operators may need to be trained on how to run different types of equipment to support the process.

This method, because it produces one item at a time (or at least a smaller number of items), gives flexibility to the process and it enables organizations to respond to customer requirements at a faster rate. Other benefits that can come from implementing cellular manufacturing are:

  • Reduces waste from processes and operations.
  • Helps to produce a variety of products with minimum waste.
  • Minimizes distance the operator has to travel to begin the next cycle.
  • Reduces costly transport and delay from the manufacturing process.
  • Shortens the production leadtime.
  • Saves space.
  • Promotes continuous improvement.
  • Removes clutter of excess WIP inventory.

Implementation of this manufacturing method will require considerable planning and investment because it changes entirely the way people and machines work. An organization wishing to transform their processes will require the use of multi-criteria methods of analysis that consider the intangible benefits of quality, flexibility, employee satisfaction, as well as the intangible risks (market and technology) of not adopting it.

Regardless of the efforts needed to implement this Lean method, if it is successfully established, cellular manufacturing will greatly increase the flexibility and velocity to meet customer needs, thus making an organization much more competitive.