Flow Manufacturing
Supply chain strategy and operations management consulting firm offering state-of-the-art technologies and methods to companies world-wide

RCG University

Flow Manufacturing


Flow Manufacturing is a manufacturing strategy with roots dating to the early 1980's and the advent of Just-in-Time concepts in the U.S. During the early 1980's American companies in major industries were in a state of panic over the loss of world market share to foreign companies, mostly Japan: steel, electronics, and automobiles were the most visible as industries suffered losses to the extent of 25-35%. This resulted in a surge of American businessmen traveling to Japan to discover flat organization structures, dependent demand scheduling, Kaizen, use of teams, and a quality discipline that became TQC and later TQM in the U.S.

During the 1980's TQM and Just-in-Time became the manufacturing strategies of the decade, and from it evolved such strategies as Flow Manufacturing, Synchronous Manufacturing, Continuous Flow Manufacturing, and Lean Manufacturing. The driver for these is achieving the shortest possible cycle time by eliminating waste, using dependent demand scheduling as compared to independent demand. It is derived from the Toyota Production System and its key thrust is to increase the value-added work by eliminating waste and reducing incidental work.

The characteristics of flow and lean processes are:
Straight and short product flow patterns
Make to order
Single-piece production
Just-In-Time materials/pull/dependent demand scheduling
Short cycle times
Highly flexible and responsive processes
Highly flexible machines and equipment
Quick changeover
Continuous flow work cells
Collocated machines, equipment, tools and people
Compressed space
Multi-skilled employees
Empowered employees
High first-pass yields with major reductions in defects

Flow Manufacturing is in direct opposition with traditional mass production approaches characterized by use of economic order quantities, high capacity utilization, and high inventory. The demand-based "pull" of material through production contrasts with the traditional "push" production process, driven by a schedule that pushes inventory into stocking locations that may not reflect customers requirements.

The Issues

In changing from a traditional environment to one of flow manufacturing, cultural issues will emerge quickly, as well as resistance to change. A managing change program is needed to accompany the effort. Piecemeal or purely mathematical approaches generally do not work or achieve significant results. Quite often we will hear top executives claiming to be using Flow Manufacturing strategies and when we visit the site, we will discover a pilot cell off in a corner. Wide scale use produces wide scale results, and very little true results will be achieved if Flow Manufacturing is treated as a "fad of the month", or if the strategy is approached primarily using mathematical formulas.

Just as anything else, Flow Manufacturing is no panacea, nor should it be embraced as a religion, or a fad. It is an operational strategy that needs to be carefully reviewed for applicability. The best way to approach the situation is to first rationalize a facility and its processes, identify the opportunities, and then conceptualize a solution. If this fits, use it.

Pragmatic Applications

Flow Manufacturing techniques have been around for a long time and can greatly simplify a production process. Benefits are real and long proven. The phrase was coined in the 1980's taking examples from the successes used in the Toyota Production System. Although it has wider applications, it is best used in a repetitive or continuous production environment.

Our Approach: Tools from a Toolchest

Rockford Consulting Group applies concepts and technologies as the situation warrants, that will result in the ultimate benefit to our clients. We treat strategies, technologies, and methodologies as tools in a toolchest, and use them when they offer practical solutions and achievable results. We believe that each client situation is unique, with its own unique set of solutions. (Please see our lean manufacturing consulting services Lean Manufacturing Consulting Services )

Why Us?

Rockford Consulting Group can provide long-term assistance to many companies in a variety of industries. The firm has a cadre of the best management consultants in the world today, providing high quality professionalism through the use of experience and innovation.

We subscribe to the Institute of Management Consultants Code of Professional Conduct. All consultants engaged on projects adhere to its principles. Whenever possible we will use consultants certified in their particular specialty area. Certification assures that consultants have substantial prior experience in their specialty, and their competencies have been tested by the IMC, and verified by a number of clients. This assures our clients that we are assigning the highest qualified consultants in the profession.

We provide technical expertise, team facilitation, leadership, and direction in deciding how you will meet the challenge. We refer you to our Qualification Statement for further details on our background, areas of specialization, concepts and technologies applied, staffing, operating policy, approach, companies and industries served, case studies and references. Equally as important, we train our clients to sustain new methods of manufacturing and the consequential benefits over time. Your company will benefit directly from this training.

We have achieved an efficiency in our approach to assignments that allows us to provide high quality technical and managerial advice in a much shorter amount of time than could be accomplished years ago. We are able to do this because of the extensive consulting experience that each of our specialists has.

1999 Rockford Consulting Group, Ltd.

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