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Flow Manufacturing
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Lean Manufacturing, Basics, Principles, Techniques

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In order to compete and sustain competitive advantage in the 21 st cen­tury, the business strategy for a manufacturer calls for a cost-effective management of its products, processes, and people. The entire process must achieve faster manufacturing and delivery cycles, lower costs, and better quality to satisfy customer needs in a very highly competi­tive environment. This strategy requires a dynamic infrastructure and a synchronized network of customer-focused processes, product de­signs, people organization, and systems to satisfy the demand for product varieties with immediate deliveries.


This paper proposes a framework for synchronizing the manufac­turing segment of the supply chain by redesigning the factory layout, people organization, manufacturing process flow, and systems and pro­cedures. It takes an integrated resource management approach to blend the cross-functional disciplines from marketing, industrial engineer­ing, manufacturing/process engineering, materials management, pro­duction management, and quality. The paper specifically outlines a step-by-step methodology to redesign the factory floor for synchronized flow manufacturing and lean production. The paper proposes the inte­gration of enterprise resources planning (ERP), demand-pull materi-als/Just-in-Time (JIT) and selected initiatives from quality manage­ment (QM) that provide for an infrastructure for the manufacturing strategy to operate. The paper also highlights the results that the inte­grated approach can lead to in achieving the key competitive advan­tages of reduced cycle time and costs.


A good part of this framework has been developed for a generalized and integrated approach based upon the experience gained in three case companies—one is a highly repetitive electronic assembly manufac­turer with total manufacturing cycle time of few hours and the other two are varying degrees of hybrid or mixed-mode precision electro­mechanical assembly manufacturers with total manufacturing cycle times of few days to weeks.


The proposed framework is applicable to both hybrid or mixed-mode manufacturing and repetitive manufacturing environments. The ap­proach is specifically applicable to the companies striving for an oper­ating strategy of manufacturing components on a repetitive demand-pull basis and end items on a built-to-order basis.


1. Product/Process Flow Mapping and Product Family Grouping

The purpose of the product-to-process flow mapping is to organize or group products (models or end items) into product family group­ings that primarily share the same manufacturing processes and equip­ment with similar or varying process times. The products and pro­cesses are listed in a matrix format and applicable processes are mapped to each product. A visual or computer-assisted analysis of the matrix for process commonality leads to the determination of the product families and subfamilies.

2. Product Family Demand Mix by Customer and Design Line Capacity

The purpose of this step is to establish market demand rates or the output rates from the flow lines over the next three to five years. At this point it is critical for marketing to work closely with the customers and understand their expectations of demands, and demand variations in terms of quantity and time. The customer expectations are translated into a product-mix demand forecast by customer within each product family and subfamily. A management decision is made as to the target rate that would determine the design line capacity or daily rates at ca­pacity for the flow lines. The daily rate at capacity is a key design factor for designing the flow lines with required resources to support the target demand.

3. Manufacturing Process Flow Value Chains

This step utilizes the process analysis and flowcharting techniques to design the manufacturing value chains by product family. The pro­cesses are streamlined and the redundant processes and intermediate level assemblies are eliminated. All streamlined processes and flows are designed and charted from component to subassemblies and subassemblies to final assemblies within each product family. The processes are identified on the manufacturing value chains to depict the final assembly, feeder, and sub feeder processes in the sequence they would be performed. This step establishes the foundation for the synchro­nized flow process.

To Be Continued


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