The use of ‘Flow’ in lean manufacturing is a radical approach that needs to be incorporated throughout a manufacturing process in order to be totally effective. But what is ‘Flow’ and how does it complement and sit well within the whole process of lead manufacturing?

The Principles Of Flow

Lean Flow, to give it its full title has several aims, notably to reduce lead time, so that products do not lie unattended, but simply ‘flow’ from each step of the manufacturing process to the next.

Performance improvement, especially with regard to delivery times (with quality built in of course) is also a key component of Lean Flow. The increased performance is essential to keep businesses competitive and eliminate any ‘glitches’ in performance, thereby improving reliability without compromising on quality.

Lean Flow is also determined to identify any potential waste (which is an extension of Lean manufacturing in itself) and therefore through the elimination of waste, there is a reduction in waste and this has an ongoing benefit of costs being lowered.

Everyone Can Do Flow!

Although it was first introduced within the Toyota workplace, it was quickly imported to different parts of the world and is certainly not the preserve of the car manufacturing industry, but can be implemented within any business environment.

Flow is about being more efficient, enhancing performance and eliminating waste which in turn reduces costs. So even if the ‘product’ is a written report or a widget, the same principles can be applied:

• Reduce the lead in time, the time it takes to produce the product.
• Make sure that the product is processed without delay in each stage of the production
• Ensure delivery timescales are met, with products that pass quality control
• Reduce the transport costs and the storage costs of items produced
• Eliminate all waste from within the process.

Flow Design

Integral to the concept of Flow is the sub-division of Flow design. Flow design looks at the issues surrounding production, examines the products or components that are created and then carefully maps the flow of the processes that are essential in creating these.

This design process is usually referred to as the identification of cells. Cells are therefore the ‘groups’ of components or parts. These cells can then be used to improve the production flow and can strongly influence the layout and design of the shop floor or production line.

Cells can even share the processes involved, so there are times when these will be linked through various stages of the production cycle. Thus the identification or classification of cells can be flexible to accommodate the needs that different stages of production have, which makes it an important tool when it comes to improving efficiency.

Utilising sound business practices to strongly influence design on the shop floor and setting out machines in such a manner that the production simply flows, is perhaps the most efficient way of ensuring that the production line does flow and that there is no ‘down time’ in terms of products lying around, waiting to be dealt with. However, it is a concept that is alien to some, even though it is common sense at its most fundamental level!

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