Is one-piece flow the holy grail in the manufacturing industry?

One-piece flow is regularly applied in the assembly solutions of Total Productivity. But what is one-piece flow and is it always the best solution?Alex Valkering, Sales & Marketing Manager at TP(Lean Black Belt certified), explains it to you.

One-piece flow

If a product or small batch flows through a process without standing still, this is called one-piece flow. The product or sub-assembly is then completely finished before a new product is started. Because the process steps follow each other quickly, the goods do not come to a standstill. This is seen within the Lean philosophy as the best way to realize products.

In practice

In the production of more complex products, this isthesolution to save on (interim) stocks, to realize fast delivery times and to respond quickly to changed situations. A good example from our portfolio is the company SAG Alutech Nederland, which produces and assembles fuel tanks for trucks on an order-driven basis.

The end customer of the truck can make adjustments just before assembly, so that a different type of fuel tank has to be supplied. It is up to Alutech to supply the right tank at the right time. In such a situation, one-piece flow is the solution. By linking the system to the truck supplier's ERP system, you know exactly which type of tank is needed and when. Order-specific work instructionsandquality control, parts are only used for current products. As a result, there is no disruption and Alutech can deliver on time.

Quality as a starting point

Customer-specific and fast delivery time seem to bite each other in theory, but with one-piece flow you can realize this in practice. Of course, this requires something from an organization. If you do not want intermediate stocks, quality is essential, because you cannot fall back on another product from stock if you have an incorrect end product. One-piece flow makes mistakes immediately visible. This forces employees in this process to correct errors immediately.

Crap in Trash Out (CITO)

Quality starts with the right data. If the stocks, orders and bills of materials are not correct, then as an organization you still have something to do before a Lean (one-piece) flow production. But a quality system is also necessary during production to stay in flow. You can adequately safeguard this with digital work instructions, inline and end-of-line control.

The Holy Grail

With a limited product variety, there is often no viable business case to implement one-piece flow, the necessary investment simply does not outweigh the benefits. It is best to think of more situations where you don't think of one-piece flow, but where other assembly solutions come into their own. One-piece flow is therefore definitely not a holy grail with which you can solve every production problem.


TP Concept Study

That is why we at Total Productivity look for the balance between People, Resources and Method in order to arrive at the best concept solutions. By analyzing all elements in the process, you arrive at a concept that best suits the situation. SunTP Concept Studyoften serves as the basis for the right investment application for new products or processes. But it can also provide answers to questions such as integration of one-piece-flow production with existing processes. In short, we first look at the situation (current and desired) and then come up with substantiated advice as to whether one-piece flow is the right way of producing and assembling.

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