Henry Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black,” a remark that underscored his belief that mass production and fast assembly were necessary in order to build affordable, dependable cars “for the great multitude.” His vision of a simple, scalable platform product with minimal variations allowed him to produce 15 million Model Ts over its 19 model years, which revolutionized the automobile industry. (Myths aside, apparently other colors were available initially but were discontinued because black paint dried so much faster. Interesting, but that’s a story for another day…)
While Ford’s strategy of high-volume, low-mix production has long been the desired model in most types of assembly operations, its opposite – high-mix, low-volume assembly – has increased significantly in the last couple of decades.
Why? Because today’s consumers what a variety of products and features tailored to their specific needs and preferences. To meet the demand for greater production variety, production volumes decrease inversely and accordingly.
There’s no reason, though, that flipping the assembly model should turn production costs and speeds topsy-turvy. While the specifics of sourcing, setup, testing, production, packaging and shipping may need to be adjusted, moving to high-mix, low-volume assembly can offer many advantages, including:
- faster reaction times to fluctuations in component costs and availability
- reduced inventory requirements
- improved responsiveness to consumer trends and market demands
- better customer service and satisfaction
- greater flexibility in use of working capital.
Applying lean principles and practices to assembly operations may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but dynamic environments call for dynamic solutions. In high-mix, low-volume applications, minimizing waste and optimizing material, people and process flow are vital to achieving output quality and operational efficiency.
High-mix, low-volume assemblies require flexible, innovative racks, shelving systems, workstations and other organizational solutions that improve space utilization, eliminate clutter, reduce travel and search time, protect worker safety, improve ergonomics, and speed picking, rotation and replenishment. That’s the only way to balance greater product variety with smaller production volume – and still turn a profit.
UNEX Manufacturing’s assembly workstations help create a lean assembly environment. All tools and parts are perfectly stored in the appropriate order to eliminate wasted time looking for a part or locating a tool. UNEX’s lean workstations integrate industry-leading carton flow solutions with galvanized steel workbenches and overhead toolbars to hold all of the equipment needed for a task – keeping parts and products easily within reach without stretching, bending, or other risky body movements.