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Connector Insights from iCONN

Cellular Manufacturing and How it Impacts You

Posted by Rob Smith on Mon , October 24, 2016

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A manufacturer’s reputation is important when it comes to manufacturing connectors and cable assemblies. But that’s not the only thing customers should consider. One of the most overlooked details is the manufacturing process itself. Why? Because it has everything to do with the quality, timeliness and cost of the final product.

In traditional manufacturing environments, similar machines that share the same tooling and fixtures get arranged close together, and products are processed one component at a time. This means the first step in a product’s manufacturing process is performed (usually for a massive lot size) and it could take days before that first step is completed for the entire inventory. Then, machines are changed over, and the batch is moved to the second step of the manufacturing process (which takes several additional days), and step 3 and so on.

Lead times are long, changeover is slow and unnecessary waste (in product material, time and labor) adds to the cost of production. Moreover, product quality is difficult to maintain in this scenario because engineers are working with such a large inventory over a lengthy span of time.

What is Cellular Manufacturing?

Cellular manufacturing is a Lean Six Sigma-inspired manufacturing process that assembles a product from start to finish in one production cell. This creates smaller lot sizes, faster cycle times, and less waste. Here’s how it works.

Instead of arranging workstations based on similar machines, cellular manufacturing identifies similar products that share compatible machine sequencing. Next, machines, workers and materials are arranged in a close-proximity workstation (called a cell) and products are manufactured all at once, one unit at a time. Instead of waiting for parts to travel in large batches from machine to machine, one piece travels through the entire manufacturing sequence. We call this process “one-piece flow,” which achieves and maintains continuous, efficient workflow and allows parts to be completed in minutes or hours instead of days or weeks. The idea being that manufacturers need only focus on the day’s product demand instead of months in advance.

The Benefits of Cellular Manufacturing

Cellular manufacturing has a trickle-down effect that ultimately impacts a company’s bottom line and influences the cost of a product as well as its quality and availability.

One-piece flow significantly reduces or eliminates waiting time between batches. This decreases lead time and enables the manufacturer to deliver products to the customer faster. In a cellular set-up, communication between assemblers also improves (thanks to proximity and one-piece flow) and products are more closely monitored for quality because assemblers handle them from start to finish. Smaller lot sizes also contribute to quality control and shorter lead times.

Furthermore, the process of converting a line or machine from one product to another can be done more quickly since machines are organized based on the product or product parts they produce. Finally, cellular manufacturing enables manufacturers to focus on the customer’s actual product demand instead of a forecast or prediction. These advantages contribute to an ultra-lean manufacturing process that results in greater quality for less time, less labor, and faster turn-around — all of which ultimately benefit the you, the customer.

The next time you vet a manufacturer for connectors and cable assemblies, ask them about their manufacturing process and make certain you aren’t paying the price for their outdated operations.

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