Small but perfectly formed

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 September 2000



Loughlin, C. (2000), "Small but perfectly formed", Assembly Automation, Vol. 20 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Small but perfectly formed

Small but perfectly formed

Our theme for this issue is small batch production. Globalisation and Just-in-Time combine to make this a very important topic for the future of automated assembly.

Globalisation does help to widen markets; however it also introduces new demands on manufacturing flexibility so that the different needs, standards and languages of various countries can be accommodated within what is fundamentally a single product.

Just-in-Time delivery passes the responsibility for supply of ordered goods further back down the manufacturing chain in an effort to reduce static inventory and storage requirements. Each supplier in the chain must be able to respond swiftly to incoming orders and accommodate changes to orders. No one likes to stockpile parts in cautious anticipation of future orders, so the only viable solution is to be able to manufacture parts quickly as orders are received, which in turn implies small batch production.

If machines are not to be idle for a great percentage of their lives it is important that they are able to accommodate all the product variations and permutations that the global economy requires. If the ultimate goal is to be able to efficiently manufacture with batch sizes of one, then industry has almost turned full circle on its original design brief which was to cheaply and efficiently manufacture large quantities of identical products.

Automation does not necessarily imply good quality (we will all have experiences of mass produced bad products). However, the product consistencies and quality controls demanded by automation have helped to steadily improve the quality of manufactured parts.

When you are mass producing a single product over a period of time there are opportunities to adjust and tune the various stages of the manufacturing processes in order to achieve six sigma quality standards. The challenge for small batch production is not simply to be able to manufacture in small batches, but to be able to do so without a loss of quality or productivity.

Clive Loughlin

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