Saturday, November 28, 2015

Repetitive Flow Manufacturing in a Discrete Environment

Did you perceive an oxymoron in the headline? Many people do and that is one of the reasons why so often software implementations (especially SAP) for the production environment do not deliver the expected results. The wrong manufacturing type is applied.

Repetitive flow manufacturing is an approach to discrete manufacturing that contrasts with batch production. In its core, repetitive manufacturing strives to introduce flow onto production lines or cells and tries to avoid waste (overproduction, cycle time, scrap etc.) that often can be associated with batch production. 

Just imagine the production of shower heads for bathrooms. It’s a discrete manufacturing style and you may either produce in batches – drill the holes for 1000 spray plates first, then attach cover plates to these 1000 spray plates and then the hoses – or repetitively in that exactly one spray plate gets drilled and then it ‘flows’ to the cover plate attachment and then flows to the hose installation (while at the same time another spray plate is drilled). In the first case you’ll end up with a discrete production order to drill 1000 spray plates, another production order for the attachment of a thousand cover plates and yet another production order for a thousand hose installations.

In the latter case, however, you’ll end up with one! order to run and manufacture 1000 shower heads whereas spray plate, cover plate and hose installations are executed in a flow-like manner, continuously over a specific period of time.

There is much more detail to this but it becomes obvious very fast that repetitive execution (and planning) in a discrete environment is a much better choice and brings about many benefits (product costing instead of discrete order costing, order management and associated reduced steps, reduction of waste according to lean principles, enhanced transparency etc.)

But let’s not get too excited. Repetitive is not for every discrete manufacturer. If, for example, you are manufacturing custom railroad turnouts and every turn needs to be engineered from scratch, you will have a hard time flowing these products through a line. But that is quite alright! You want to treat and cost each one of these orders from the customer separately.

Do you really want to do that with 1000 shower heads?