The passage of years has brought numerous variations in assembly line methodologies. These new wrinkles can be traced back not only to general improvements in technology and planning, but to factors that are unique to each company or industry.
Capital limitations, for example, can have a big impact on a small business's blueprint for introducing or improving assembly line production methods, while changes in international competition, operating regulations, and availability of materials can all influence the assembly line picture of entire industries.
Following are brief descriptions of assembly line methods that are currently enjoying some degree of popularity in the manufacturing world.
• Modular Assembly—This is an advanced assembly line method that is designed to improve throughput by increasing the efficiency of parallel subassembly lines feeding into the final assembly line. As applied to automobile manufacturing, modular assembly would involve assembling separate modules—chassis, interior, body—on their own assembly lines, then joining them together on a final assembly line.
• Cell Manufacturing—This production method has evolved out of increased ability of machines to perform multiple tasks. Cell operators can handle three or four tasks, and robots are used for such operations as materials handling and welding. Cells of machines can be run by one operator or a multi-person work cell. In these machine cells it is possible to link older machines with newer ones, thus reducing the amount of investment required for new machinery.
• Team Production—Team-oriented production is another development in assembly line methods. Where workers used to work at one- or two-person work stations and perform repetitive tasks, now teams of workers can follow a job down the assembly line through its final quality checks. The team production approach has been hailed by supporters as one that creates greater worker involvement in the manufacturing process and knowledge of the system.
• U-shaped assembly "line"—A line may not be the most efficient shape in which to organize an assembly line. On a U-shaped line, or curve, workers are collected on the inside of the curve and communication is easier than along the length of a straight line. Assemblers can see each process; what is coming and how fast; and one person can perform multiple operations.
Also, workstations along the "line" are able to produce multiple product designs simultaneously, making the facility as a whole more flexible. Changeovers are easier in a U-shaped line as well and, with better communication between workers, cross-training is also simplified. The benefits of the U-shaped line have served to increase their use widely.
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