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Cellular Manufacturing System

In general, batch manufacturing (the opposite of a cellular manufacturing system) is oriented around a process. You might have a cutting group, a welding group, a grinding group, etc. Each workgroup is structured based on what they do. These clusters of machines produce long runs of a product according to a work schedule and deliver piles of work-in-process to the next operation in the value stream. Note: To clear up a confusing point, these process based groups are often referred to as ‘cells’. This process based ‘cell’ does not make the company a cellular manufacturing.

In a cellular manufacturing system, this changes to a layout based on how the product should flow.

Batch Manufacturing is organized by process; A Lean company uses Cellular Manufacturing to organize by product.

A key component of cellular manufacturing is, obviously, the cell, or work cell. Cells are characterized by a focus on a single product or product group. They are arranged for flow with machines and stations located in close proximity. The goal should be to set up single-piece flow in the Lean work cell. The most efficient configuration is the u-shaped cell, but you may also see work cells arranged in other (less effective) configurations, such as a straight line or an ‘L’.

Typically, products are grouped using a tool called PQ/PR analysis (Product quantity/Process routing, or Parts Quantity/Process Routing). This Lean tool lets you form work cells based on similar process requirements.


  • Ron Oxford says:

    I’m trying to understand what the boundries are for a world class cell.Is it from the Request for Quote to the end item product?Is it from the Sales order to teh end item?

    Thank you

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      It sounds like you might be thinking of a value stream rather than a cell. A cell is simply a product oriented workspace. Many cells may be linked together as a product flows through a manufacturing operation.

      The value stream concept is a bit cloudy when you start thinking of administrative work. There is a value stream for NPD, for example, that overlaps a value stream for order fulfilfilment. In your case, you can take it even further upstream and think of the user’s website experience while researching before requesting a quote.

      I recommend a few things.

      1. Go for simplicity. It is easy to get bogged down in minutia. Don’t neglect facts and data, but also don’t let data collection be a barrier to a project.

      2. Focus on time. Look for the total time from when a customer first interacts with you until they have a product in their hands. The shorter that process is, the happier both you and the customer will be.

      3. Look from the persective of the customer. Start at the end of the cycle, and keep looking upstream as if the customer was wading against the flow of your work.

      World class companies never lose sight of the customer when working on their value stream.

      Hope that helps.

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