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We’ve discussed product simulation as a way to bring down design and manufacturing costs, but are there other ways that manufacturers can sidestep problems related to complex products?

In addition to investigating new design tools, manufacturers may also consider refining their methods. Cellular manufacturing provides a way for OEMs to minimize supply chain costs while achieving the goal of creating products as fast as possible, with little waste via overproduction, excess inventory, overprocessing, or wasted motion. In an age of complex products, cellular manufacturing is a way for OEMs to regain control.

A Tactical and Strategic Focus on Speed

In essence, cellular manufacturing is a distinct offshoot from the lean manufacturing philosophy. It also incorporates elements from just-in-time. The emphasis, again, is on speed, without sacrificing quality. Speed is achieved in two ways. First, workstations and machines are arranged in a way that components to be passed around and built without waiting for individual batches to be assembled.

Second, all workstations and machines are positioned in a way that means the assembly process can easily be tweaked and optimized. Cellular manufacturing equipment is designed with the idea that an entire floor can be picked up and put down in a different configuration in just ten minutes. Therefore, cellular manufacturing achieves speed on both the tactical and strategic level — not only is manufacturing sped up, but the setup and improvement process is also sped up as well.

Emphasizing Speed Without Losing Control

As far as manufacturing complex products is concerned, cellular manufacturing doesn’t sacrifice quality for speed. For example, the open plan of the cellular workplace allows for better communication. Workers can see what their counterparts are doing, making it easy to understand the manufacturing process and making them more likely to detect and mitigate errors. It’s also easy for managers to make the same determinations — a visual glance might be enough to tell more productive cells apart from the run-of-the-mill.

Lastly, manufacturing cells can eliminate redundancy. One machine can do the job of assembling multiple components, and superfluous machines can be repurposed in other areas. Since every machine and workstation is close together, redundant distances are also removed—the distance traveled by each component is reduced by up to 70%. These factors — speed, quality, and efficiency — combine to reduce production lead time by an enormous amount.

Integrating Cellular Manufacturing With Smart Product Design

In research from Aberdeen Group, we talk a lot about how smart product design can save manufacturers a lot of trouble when manufacturing complex products. Much of this improvement comes through the use of good tools and process — 57% of Best-In-Class companies have improved their design process through intelligent use of tools and techniques. On the other hand, optimizing manufacturability is also hugely important — 34% of Best-In-Class companies chosen this strategy — and that’s where cellular manufacturing comes to the fore.

The speed with which cellular manufacturing allows products to be created, combined with the ease of reconfiguring a factory floor, means that cellular manufacturing goes hand-in-glove with complex products. This flexibility gives designers the freedom to choose a manufacturing scheme and a workflow that best fits their product, and allows them to make improvements on the fly — all without any reduction in product quality.

For more information on how to optimize manufacturing in an era where the trend is towards an increasing number of components, check out the Aberdeen report, “Maximizing Product Design in a Complex Manufacturing Environment.”

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