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Continuous Flow

Continuous flow is the act of moving a product through the production process from start to finish without stopping. In pure continuous flow, the cycle time equals the lead time, as the product never sits in a queue waiting to be worked on.

Contrast this to batch and queue production in which larger groups of parts move as a unit and then wait for an operator to have time to work on them.

Continuous flow production, when done well can

  • Significantly reduce costs. There is less sorting through piles, movement of material, etc.
  • Lowers inventory levels.
  • Improves on-time delivery. Paradoxically, continuous flow improves delivery, as it takes less time for the correct parts to move through the system when there are not incorrect parts piled up in front of them.
  • Delivers higher quality. Mistakes in continuous flow affect one part. In batch production, they can affect several, and can take a long time to identify.

Continuous flow is also known as single-piece flow, or one-piece flow.

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