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Cell: Manufacturing Explained

In the world of manufacturing, the term ‘cell’ refers to a specific arrangement of machines, tools, and workers designed to perform a set of related tasks. This concept is central to the understanding of modern manufacturing processes, particularly those that follow lean manufacturing principles. The cell manufacturing model is designed to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and improve product quality.

Cell manufacturing is a method that involves the grouping of similar products to streamline their production process. It is a part of the broader lean manufacturing system, which aims to minimize waste and maximize productivity. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of cell manufacturing, its benefits, the challenges it presents, and its application in various industries.

Concept of Cell Manufacturing

The concept of cell manufacturing is rooted in the principles of lean manufacturing, which emphasizes the elimination of waste, continuous improvement, and the optimization of resources. In a cell manufacturing setup, machines and workers are arranged in a sequence that supports a smooth and efficient flow of materials and components through the production process.

Each cell is designed to be self-contained, capable of performing all the necessary operations to transform raw materials or semi-finished components into finished products. This arrangement minimizes the need for long production lines and reduces the time and effort required to move materials and products between different stages of the production process.

Origins of Cell Manufacturing

Cell manufacturing has its origins in the Toyota Production System (TPS), a revolutionary approach to automobile manufacturing developed by Toyota in the mid-20th century. TPS introduced several innovative concepts, including just-in-time production, continuous improvement (kaizen), and the use of visual controls, which have since been adopted by manufacturers worldwide.

The idea of cell manufacturing emerged as a way to further enhance the efficiency and flexibility of the production process. By grouping related tasks together in a cell, manufacturers could reduce the time and effort required to produce each unit, leading to significant improvements in productivity and quality.

Types of Cells in Manufacturing

There are several different types of cells used in manufacturing, each designed to suit specific production requirements. The most common types include single-machine cells, multi-machine cells, and worker-machine cells. Single-machine cells consist of one machine operated by one or more workers, while multi-machine cells involve several machines operated by a team of workers.

Worker-machine cells, on the other hand, involve a single worker operating multiple machines. This type of cell is often used in high-mix, low-volume production environments where flexibility is crucial. The specific arrangement of machines and workers in a cell depends on a variety of factors, including the nature of the product, the volume of production, and the available resources.

Benefits of Cell Manufacturing

Cell manufacturing offers a number of significant benefits over traditional production methods. One of the key advantages is the reduction in waste. By grouping related tasks together in a cell, manufacturers can minimize the movement of materials and products, leading to less waste in terms of time, effort, and resources.

Another major benefit of cell manufacturing is the improvement in product quality. Because each cell is self-contained and focused on a specific set of tasks, workers can become highly skilled in those tasks, leading to fewer errors and higher quality products. Furthermore, because cells are designed to produce a limited range of products, they can be more easily monitored and controlled, further enhancing quality.

Increased Efficiency

Cell manufacturing can significantly increase efficiency by reducing the time and effort required to move materials and products between different stages of the production process. In a traditional production line, products often have to be transported long distances, leading to delays and inefficiencies. In a cell manufacturing setup, however, the distance between machines is minimized, resulting in faster production times and lower costs.

Furthermore, because each cell is designed to be self-contained, it can operate independently of other cells. This means that if one cell encounters a problem, it does not necessarily affect the operation of other cells. This independence can lead to greater overall efficiency and productivity.

Flexibility and Adaptability

Another key advantage of cell manufacturing is its flexibility. Because cells are designed to be self-contained, they can be easily reconfigured or expanded to meet changing production requirements. This makes cell manufacturing particularly suitable for industries where product designs and volumes frequently change, such as electronics and automotive manufacturing.

In addition, cell manufacturing allows for greater adaptability in the face of unexpected events. If a machine breaks down in a traditional production line, it can cause significant disruption to the entire process. In a cell manufacturing setup, however, the impact of such disruptions can be more easily contained and managed.

Challenges of Cell Manufacturing

While cell manufacturing offers many benefits, it also presents a number of challenges. One of the main challenges is the need for careful planning and coordination. Because each cell is designed to be self-contained, it requires a high level of organization and control to ensure that all the necessary materials, tools, and workers are available when needed.

Another challenge is the need for skilled workers. Because cell manufacturing involves a high degree of specialization, it requires workers who are highly trained and knowledgeable in their specific tasks. This can increase the cost and complexity of training and recruitment.

Implementation Challenges

Implementing cell manufacturing can be a complex and challenging process. It requires a thorough understanding of the production process, a clear vision of the desired outcomes, and a commitment to continuous improvement. It also requires a significant investment in time and resources, as well as a willingness to change established practices and routines.

Furthermore, implementing cell manufacturing often involves a cultural shift within the organization. It requires a move away from traditional hierarchical structures towards a more team-based approach. This can be challenging for organizations that are used to working in a certain way and can require significant effort to manage and support the change process.

Operational Challenges

Once a cell manufacturing system is in place, there are also a number of operational challenges to consider. One of the main challenges is maintaining the balance between demand and production. Because each cell is designed to operate independently, it can be difficult to ensure that all cells are operating at the same level of efficiency and productivity.

Another operational challenge is managing the flow of materials and products between cells. This requires careful planning and coordination to ensure that each cell has the necessary resources when needed. It also requires ongoing monitoring and control to prevent bottlenecks and ensure smooth operation.

Applications of Cell Manufacturing

Cell manufacturing is used in a wide range of industries, from automotive and electronics manufacturing to food processing and pharmaceuticals. It is particularly well-suited to industries where product designs and volumes frequently change, as it allows for greater flexibility and adaptability.

Cell manufacturing is also increasingly being used in the service sector, where it can help to streamline processes and improve customer service. Examples include call centers, where different teams handle different types of calls, and hospitals, where different teams handle different types of patients or procedures.

Automotive Industry

The automotive industry is one of the most prominent users of cell manufacturing. The concept was first introduced by Toyota as part of their Toyota Production System, and has since been adopted by many other automotive manufacturers. In this industry, cell manufacturing is used to streamline the production process, reduce waste, and improve product quality.

For example, in an automotive assembly plant, different cells might be responsible for different parts of the car, such as the engine, the body, and the interior. Each cell would contain all the necessary machines, tools, and workers to complete its specific tasks, and would operate independently of the other cells.

Electronics Industry

Cell manufacturing is also widely used in the electronics industry, where product designs and volumes frequently change. In this industry, cell manufacturing allows for greater flexibility and adaptability, enabling manufacturers to quickly respond to changes in market demand or product specifications.

For example, in an electronics assembly plant, different cells might be responsible for different parts of a device, such as the motherboard, the display, and the casing. Each cell would contain all the necessary machines, tools, and workers to complete its specific tasks, and would operate independently of the other cells.

Conclusion

Cell manufacturing is a powerful tool for improving efficiency, reducing waste, and enhancing product quality. It offers a number of significant benefits over traditional production methods, including greater flexibility, improved quality control, and increased productivity. However, it also presents a number of challenges, including the need for careful planning and coordination, the need for skilled workers, and the complexity of implementation.

Despite these challenges, cell manufacturing is increasingly being adopted by manufacturers in a wide range of industries, from automotive and electronics to food processing and pharmaceuticals. With its focus on continuous improvement and waste reduction, it represents a significant step forward in the evolution of manufacturing practices.

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Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.