Continuous FlowContinuous Flow Manufacturing (CFM) is a methodology that aims at the optimization of a process using minimum inventory. This is achieved by manufacturing a product, from start to finish, in one production line. CFM is associated with just-in-time and kanban techniques and it contrasts with batch production.

This method of production was developed mainly by the Toyota Production System (TPS), that aims to smooth or level customer requirements over time, in order to use resources in a more efficient way and ensure continuous production. This requires smaller batches and in the best case a “batch of one” capability from raw materials to finished goods.

Continuous Flow Manufacturing requires integration of all elements of the production system to achieve a continuous movement of the product through the system without separating them into lots. In contrast, batch processing, creates more than one piece of an item in each stage of the process and then moves those items forward to the next operation where they wait in queue until the downstream function actually needs them. In Continuous Flow Manufacturing, focus is on the product or on the transactional process, rather than on the waiting, transporting, and storage of either.

The ideal process is one where a product travels from one process to another in a single sequential flow. However, some processes will always be batch driven. In daily operation, it is not always possible or desirable to process items just one at a time, which is an ideal state. What is important is to promote continuous flow of products, with the least amount of delay and waiting.

For those that can be transformed into Continuous Flow Manufacturing, there are some requirements that need to be met:

  • The process must be able to consistently produce quality products.
  • Process times must be repeatable.
  • Equipment must have a high uptime. If equipment has a lot of downtime, CFM will not be possible.
  • It must be possible for the system to be arranged so team members can perform several tasks that match the takt time according to the work sequence.

Because Continuous Flow Manufacturingrequires the integration of the whole production process it promotes communication and team building with everyone involved. Other benefits from using CFM are:

  • Decreased work in process (WIP) requirements
  • Decreased floor space required.
  • Reduced inventory.
  • Elimination of non-value added movements.
  • Improves labor efficiency
  • Fewer product defects.
  • Reduced cycle time.

Also, by working with smaller batch sizes, the risk of producing a defect on large numbers of products is diminished.

Continuous Flow Manufacturing combines the elements of total quality control, total people involvement and it focuses on producing on-time and defect free products in a balanced production line that minimizes waste and optimizes the use of resources.