Work Cells

In traditional factories, machines have always been arranged with, for example, all the lathes in one section and all the milling machines in another. This functional layout was used because tasks were split up into single operations, each being performed on a separate machine. We can also identify the human equivalent of the functional layout. In car plants for example lines of people add their component to each car as it goes by on the conveyor.

This way of working is nowadays considered to yield less than optimum productivity but has in many cases resisted change for technical and economic reasons and because of social pressures.

Today with the availability of C.N.C. machine tools, the functional layout of machines has made way for a machine layout that maximises throughput and productivity. This new layout is called group technology and involves the configuration of machines into work cells whose constituent members are designed and arranged for the processing of a limited group of products. Within this work cell the material enters one end, is processed and comes out of the other end as a finished product.

The overall layout of a modern factory is now one in which work cells have become islands of automation often linked by an automated material transport system. Material is moved from the automated warehouse then passes through a single cell or a series of cells until the tasks are completed. The transport system then collects the value added material takes it to the warehouse where it is stored until dispatch, or takes it to another cell in a different part of the factory.

Logically, it would seem to make sense to have a one way route through the work cells but often for technical reasons, this is not feasible. For instance within cars, the engines, gearboxes, lights and facias are often the same. These would be made in separate cells and then taken back to a central store until they are required. The diagram shows one possible arrangement of the integrated but separate manufacturing cells.