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How does One Piece Flow work?

One piece flow is the basis of lean philosophy. In short, one piece flow is the opposite of batch production. In this system, the time when the product is not worked on/processed is minimized. Read on to find out more.

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One Piece Flow method

One Piece Flow method, sometimes called continuous flow, is a production method used instead of traditional mass production. In mass production, materials move through the manufacturing process in batches which can be highly inefficient. In one-piece flow, a product is completed before the next one is started. The name refers to a maximum number of products between operations, workstations, processes. That’s why it’s also called “single piece flow”, as everything is constantly progressing and only one item is in any given queue at a time. Multiple items can be in the process as a whole, but nothing has to queue up and take up space from the moment it starts until the moment it’s complete. Thanks to One Piece Flow you can save time and money, as work is performed faster and any space you use is highly optimized. The customer also receives ordered goods much faster than in a batch method. This reduces waste (you’re not spending money holding items for future delivery) but requires a huge amount of coordination and consistency to pull off.

One Piece Flow – the beginning 

The beginnings of the One Piece Flow are in 1934, when Kiichiro Toyoda used this method at a foundry and engine production. He used a concept of “confirming one, after the other”, which aimed at saving time and eliminating mistakes as they were spotted mid-batch before  affecting the entire order. Two main advantages of One Piece Flow were noticed: that work is completed faster and the money is saved both due to the time and space you free up. That said, these simple benefits have huge knock-on effects. The One Piece Flow method can be implemented almost anywhere providing the operations and processes are repetitive. Other necessary requirements include:

  1. The number of workstations has to be bigger than one. 
  2. Make sure that the flow of work is clearly visible, tracked and standardized by using a production planning system.
  3. The workstations should be balanced, which means that time spent at each of them should be similar.

What is a production cell?

The term “production cell” is very important for the One Piece Flow method. It refers to workstations and machines which are set up next to each other, which ensure the production flow is smooth and the product can follow easily all production stages. Modern work cell allows for the implementation of the entire production process as a one-piece flow, thus eliminating any waste and ensuring the highest quality of the end product.

One Piece Flow – the  benefits of implementation 

There are a few major benefits of One Piece Flow:

  • Improved quality

First up, using One Piece Flow can make your final results higher quality than if you tackled them in bulk. This is because errors are more likely to be spotted partway through the process than at the very end when it’s too late to correct them. With One Piece Flow, the problem is detected at its first occurrence, thus we will not produce next defective parts.

  • Less elements in the process  

It is easier to scale up your operations and do so reliably, since you can monitor the production of each product across every step of the process. When you control the production plan we no longer have to monitor and change the plan for numerous stations, but only for a select one. Additionally, by breaking up your process into set workstations and blocks of tasks you can more easily see where you can benefit from using business process automation. Any initial cost of setting up the automation would quickly be offset by both the money you save with one piece flow and with the savings your new automation will make 

  • Smaller production hall

We do not need so much space to store products between operations. Workstations can be situated closer to each other, and a smaller hall means not only smaller rent, but also less space that needs heating, cleaning, lighting, etc. Production cells are located next to each other to offer smooth transition between operations.

  •  Flexibility and productivity

In the one piece flow system you can immediately see which process is faster, so that we could respond more easily. For example, evenly distribute work between stations. This enables us to identify bottlenecks and  use resources optimally. We do not see this in batch production. 

  • Faster response to customer’s order

Refitting the line for other products or orders is much easier. We don’t have to take away containers, crates, pallets from various processes and supply new ones. The operator / machine simply adjusts itself to another product. That’s why the customer will get their order faster as they don’t have to wait until all ordered items are cut, milled, painted and assembled. This process often takes days, weeks or months. The faster the product is available to the client, the faster we can invoice. What’s more your processes will be more flexible to the customer. Since you’re able to fulfill orders and tasks much faster, you can leave them for longer before starting work on them. This then leaves more time for the customer to make any alterations before you’ve already started work.

  • Better ergonomy 

Workstations are optimized for the implementation of the One Piece Flow method.

  • Increase the morale of your workforce

Depending on how your process is set up, continuous flow can also help to increase the morale of your workforce. As long as there is still some variation in duties (eg, switching employee tasks every so often) the higher rate of progress can help to show your employees that the work they’re doing is making something worthwhile.

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