We rarely grab our favorite organic shampoo in the store and wonder “Hmm, I wonder how this shampoo was made”.
It’s one of those things that just happens behind the scenes in manufacturing. Someone or a machine had to make the bottle and then the shampoo ingredients were all magically blended and added in. Maybe dyes and perfumes were mixed in the last stages. All we know as consumers is that the final product is what we always expect it to be when we get it home, right?
Many of our most popular household products are made in work cells. As a matter of fact, even on the business side, companies that we are all familiar with their brands and services, also use the work cell concept in their office environments too, not just on the manufacturing floor.
So, what is a work cell and how does it work?
Work cells come from the overall concept of lean manufacturing. The idea of manufacturing being LEAN is that production is centered around adding value and reducing waste. A work cell is defined as an arrangement that uses resources to stop waste and efficiently and strategically improve production. Both manufacturing and office businesses use work cells for the highest levels of productivity. A work cell is a small area of approximately 1-10 people in a work station that collectively make up a larger department to assemble products at different points in their assembly. The overall goal of a successful work cell is if it can be self-contained. Unlike line production, work cells help reduce errors, defects and waste.
Here’s a fun example of how work cells work outside the worlds of office or manufacturing business:
Imagine going to a lavish wedding reception and when you walk in, there’s several serving stations of mouth watering food. If the bride and groom have invited 100 guests who will be dining and they only have allotted one hour for guests to make their own plates and eat, they will need to keep the serving process moving quickly. At the various food stations, if there would be a total of 10 food serving stations instead of only one long line, this would be similar to the big picture of work cells. Even though each of the 10 various food serving station tables would need to serve all 100 guests in only a hour, because there’s 10 food stations instead of only one, this can go much faster than 100 people all waiting in one long line at only one serving table.
Work cells have that same overall principle. Think of the wasted ‘time’ that was eliminated as if it were called ‘waste’. Think of the food as the product. Of course, the guests would be similar to customers. When everything runs smoothly in small groups, the large quantity of product and customers are highly rated and there’s little waste.
In a work cell group, machinery in production are perfectly timed in queue and arranged so that all products move perfectly from one stage to the next. In the manufacturing work environment, the work cell rhythm and movement are from start to finish from the beginning stages of the products outer container formation to the ingredients being mixed in to the final presentation. This final presentation is what customers later find in their stores or online after the product completion and compliance codes are all met. In the office work environment, work cells make better use of communication and work flow in smaller groups.
What is Lean Manufacturing? How is it relevant to work cells?
Lean manufacturing is simply a system that uses eight waste avoiding methods to obtain high productivity without squandering time, resources and money. The basic principles of lean manufacturing are centered around each stage in production saving value.
What is a cell in LEAN?
Work cells and lean manufacturing are a marriage made in heaven. They both have a high quality production goal and an overall objective to simplify the steps along the way. Even though work cells are known for their simplicity, they are most effective when there’s a lean manufacturing perfect balance of managing human interaction and the use of machinery to create the highest quality of products. This enhances the manufacturing work flow environment when it’s balanced successfully with work cells in lean production. However, since work cells are brought in for their simplicity, lean manufacturing uses work cells to achieve the main objective of reducing waste and avoiding unnecessary costs and useless steps in production. They both improve the overall work process in various ways. One of the other perks of using work cells in lean manufacturing is that the work cells are easily regulated and self-supervised. This is great for the company’s production bottom line.
What Timing Elements Make Work Cells More Effective?
There are queues that are both inbound and outbound in work cells. The larger and more spaced out that the queues are, the better since there’s no way to determine exact completion times of each phase in the work cell production process. The beauty of work cells is that they don’t require as much movement in a small work area. The selection of equipment is paramount and is always well planned out to fit the needs of the work cell’s functions.
Here’s an example of a lean manufacturing work cell:
Using the lean manufacturing system, 10 work cells were used with 3 people in each work cell. The same workers moved around during the week working in various work cells so they had to know how to put together each phase of the product. There was a high production rate and very few flaws because each person was the next step in the process. Working together, they moved quickly yet, efficiently.
Now that we know all about work cells and LEAN manufacturing, let’s move on to the term ‘cell manufacturing’.
What is cellular manufacturing?
Cellular manufacturing is defined in the encyclopedia as “Cellular manufacturing is a manufacturing process that produces families of parts within a single line or cell of machines operated by machinists who work only within the line or cell”. As noted above, cellular manufacturing is based on the simplicity of the work cell’s process and how smoothly it moves along when the layouts are planned effectively.
What is a robot work cell?
A Robot is defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a device that automatically performs complicated, often repetitive tasks (as in an industrial assembly line).” But let’s have more FUN with the idea of a robot, shall we?
For many of us….
Back when we were still kids, the word ‘robot’ never made us think of assembly lines or production. We saw television commercials of robots being similar to us as humans. Therefore, the thought of a robot sometimes brings us back to many fond memories of our childhoods playing with our toys and imagining that robots were AWESOME and that they could be our personal play buddies! Let’s be honest, if we ever unwrapped a gift box as kids and a saw a big robot, our imaginations would have gone WILD with excitement! The robot, in our minds, would have been useful or entertaining to us. This was always a fun myth about robots for many of us as children. We all wanted a robot to be useful.
In the manufacturing industry, robots are very similar to those ideas we had about them as kids.
A robot work cell has one sole purpose: To make everything move faster and more efficiently in the work cell. There are perfectly timed cycles that the robot uses in a work cell and the robots are deployed at necessary points in the production process however, humans need them to keep everything moving up to systematic pace.
What is the cellular layout?
A cellular layout is a system that uses both fixed position and product elements to create an arrangement used in the overall word cell production. There’s three main categories of cellular layouts:
- Process layout
- Fixed position layout, and
- Product layout.
Machines and work steps are arranged in the various layout designs needed for specific products. The various layouts are found in work cells and in cellular manufacturing.
What’s The Difference Between Product Layouts and Cellular Layouts?
Product layouts are similar to cellular layouts. The big difference is that cellular layouts have varied changes in their sequencing. Also, as mentioned previously about work cells, work employees in a work cell are trained to work in several different areas of the work cell with product knowledge at various creation stages. Product layouts are different because work employees usually focus on only one task vs the several different product stages. Departments are created around the product that were planned out in cellular layouts and the layouts are always keeping simplicity and high quality production as their main objectives.
What is a work cell layout strategy?
Planning of ANY kind always starts with a great strategy!
Whether it’s a plan to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch or to produce 100 coffee makers, nothing great can begin without a well-executed strategy, right?
In work cell layouts, there’s a few designs that manufacturers use in their successful work cell layout strategies. There’s a few main objectives that each layout strategy should have. For example, the work area should always be neat and the work flow should always be uncomplicated in keeping with the simplicity goals of work cell production goals. Each layout strategy should have their own specifications that help keep production operations running efficiently and reduce transit times between work stations. And even though each work cell space should be open to best utilize most of its work space, the transit time between work stations should always be kept at a minimal.
There are 4 main layouts commonly used:
U-shaped, T-shaped, S-shaped and Z-shaped layouts
|U-shaped Layout||The U-shaped layout is all about having easy access and simplicity. The operators should always be able to easily get to and from several work stations and the entrance and exit paths should always be effortlessly accessible as well.|
|T-shaped Layout||The T-shaped layout is perfect for whenever multiple products are being created at the same time. It also should have easy access to the entrance and exit paths, like the U-shaped layout does.|
|S-shaped and Z-shaped Layouts:||The S-shaped and Z-shaped are grouped together in functions because, they both should both have easy access to 2 stations and they both also work best around a hindrance or obstruction.|
These various layout strategies are vital to the production success of work cells. They help business owners to plan and keep their cell manufacturing needs simplified with easy access to stations, entrances and exits. When designed correctly for the right product, layout strategies work well in the lean manufacturing main objectives to save time and reduce waste.
Work cells may not be glamorous or a household social media trending topic.
However, cell manufacturing may be the LAST thing that comes to mind for consumers grabbing that shampoo from the store shelf but, without work cell strategies and cell manufacturing, those shampoos would never exist in our consumer radar. From their high tech robotic systems and machinery to the warmth of human personal touch, the use of work cells and cellular manufacturing check off all the boxes in a successful lean concept production process. Whether it’s creating the most effective work cell for an office team or minimizing station transit time in a cell manufacturing environment, work cells save time and money for many business owners and ultimately…
That shampoo shopper wins in the end.
How can digital signage improve work cells?
Digital signage is used to communicate communicate real-time, weekly, monthly and quarterly KPIs (key performance indicators), and help train employees so that understand company priorities and proceses. Digital signage can deliver newsletters and management messages to reinforce company culture and improve internal communication and employee engagement.
- Investopedia — https://www.investopedia.com/terms/w/work-cell.asp#ixzz5LBOOxXw2
- Market Business — https://marketbusinessnews.com/financial-glossary/work-cell-definition-meaning/
- LeanRobotics.org — leanrobotics.org
- Methods for Solving Cell Formation, Static Layout And Dynamic Layout Cellular Manufacturing System Problems: A Review — Authors: V. Anbumalar, and Raja Chandra Sekar
- Science Direct — https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925527316000153
- The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Management — Blackwell