In our last blog, we discussed different lean fabrication systems — traditional as well as non-traditional — that can work together to improve job shop environments, even when the manufacturing mix is atypical of a standard lean environment. Specifically, we are interested in investigating how the integration of lean philosophy impacts high-mix, low-flow environments like ours at EVS Metal. This week, we are focusing on a very specific aspect of lean as it relates to job shops: the achievement of one-piece flow, sometimes referred to as continuous flow or “single-piece flow”. Like many lean systems, this concept stems from the TPS (Toyota Production System) and the core operating principle behind it is the streamlining of production and elimination of waste in order to make the right parts available in the right quantities, “just in time.”
What is “One-Piece Flow” or “Continuous Flow”?
One-piece flow is achieved by ensuring that each individual part is moved from process to process with no work in progress (WIP) in between operations; essentially, each station only builds what is necessary for the next step to be completed. However, as simple as this may sound, there are a number of more complex issues that must be addressed before single-piece flow can be effectively implemented, the two most important of which are the consistency of the operations and reliability of available resources in the environment, including materials, equipment and at the very top — those who are working the shop floor.
There are a number of documented benefits to utilizing continuous flow in manufacturing; these include lower rates of injury for workers, greater product quality, reductions in inventory, improved scalability and faster turnaround times; not coincidentally, most of these factors also lead to higher levels of overall customer satisfaction, too.
When is One-Piece Flow Not the Right Choice for a Manufacturer or Fabricator?
As great of an impact as single-piece flow can make, there are still environments and situations in which it may not be appropriate or desirable. For instance, if there are consistent issues with quality, unrepeatable process times, low equipment uptimes (near 100%) or other factors that may interfere with meeting the rate of customer demand, then it may not be possible to implement continuous flow philosophy into that manufacturing or fabrication environment. However, if the job shop meets the basic criteria outlined above, continuous flow can ultimately create many efficiencies when integrated thoughtfully.
As a lean sheet metal fabrication and manufacturing shop, EVS Metal uses one-piece flow and other lean-based systems to streamline our work processes, ultimately leading to greater efficiency, decreased costs and faster production times. This creates value for our customers by allowing for greater speed and flexibility in the fabrication and finishing of both prototypes and full production runs, ultimately resulting in an accelerated movement of new products to market.
Ready to discover how EVS’s use of lean systems can benefit your company? Simply request a quote online, or call us at (973) 839-4432 today.