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Product Family

For the purposes of continuous improvement, a product family is a group of products that follows a similar series of process steps. The value in this type of organization is that it supports flow. Similar products can be combined onto a mixed model production line. Generally speaking, the higher the pace of production, the more magnified the impact of each improvement will be.

Note that product families from the marketing standpoint and from the production standpoint may be slightly different. In marketing, product families tend to be organized around function or customer. For the production standpoint, the key driver for product family is process.

Remember, one of the keys to Lean is to create flow. This is easy to do on a production line where there is an extremely high volume with low variation. It becomes more difficult when the pace is slower and there are numerous differences between products.

Product families are away to strike a good balance. They put similar products into one production line to conserve improvement resources. Imagine you have 10 products that you produce. One option is to have 10 production lines. If there is a high enough demand to support 10 lines, you got a great situation. For most organizations, though, individual products are not produced at that volume.

Product families allow you to make two or three or four production lines for those 10 products. The downside, of course, is that mixed-model production lines have to be flexible. Flexibility typically has a cost in productivity, space, or equipment. By carefully choosing which products travel down the same line, you can minimize those costs.

While it might be confusing, you may find, especially if you do both fabrication and assembly, your product families may be different within each work area.

Consider if you have a facility that makes small motorized hobby vehicles. You might produce both go-karts and snowmobiles, and have a variety of electric and gas power options for the different size vehicles. You may organize your motor production area by electrical and gas product families and your assembly area by go-kart and snowmobile.

Look at each production area separately. The Parts Quantity/Process Routing (or PQ/PR) chart is the tool of choice for selecting product families.


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