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Who designs work cells? Mfg. Eng. or assembly workers?

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Who designs work cells? Mfg. Eng. or assembly workers? | 23 July, 2010

We are a small company of 110 people and I am the only manufacturing engineer. We have "work cells", but they are not time balanced like a true work cell would be; they are a group of primarily benches arranged to build a particular product(s). More recently test and assembly are together. I was under the impression that manufacturing engineering was responsible to design work cells, work areas or machine locations, whether they are in the SMT area or general CCA and box build areas.

We have embraced a continuous improvement program and one of the key concepts is to let the employees who actually work in a given area make decisions or at least suggest improvements. I've always designed the work cell how I thought it would logically be best and then show the plan to the workers, get feedback and then revise my design accordingly within the contraints of power, lighting, air, etc. Most recently we allowed a few assemblers to take 100% control over designing a small "work cell". Somehow I feel this is putting the mice in charge of the cheese and may cause problems that are unseen at the moment. Keeping the company's best interest in mind, where is the balance between what I do as a mfg. eng. and involving the other employees? I'm hoping some people with more actual electronics experience with this can shed some insight rather than through Lean gurus. Sorry if this is slightly off topic.

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Who designs work cells? Mfg. Eng. or assembly workers? | 23 July, 2010

On one hand, we appreciate your concerns. On the other hand, we agree that if you want someone to take ownership of the process, it really does make sense to have that person design the process.

We think you should find a way to add to the process. How can you put to use your background and knowledge to complement the skills, resources, background, and intuition of the assemblers?

As long as there is no fatal error, it really doesn't matter how something is designed, as long as the design people are committed to make it work. Deano, get on the bus.

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Who designs work cells? Mfg. Eng. or assembly workers? | 26 July, 2010

In our organization our cells are setup and designed in a Kaizen event. In the Kaizen participation is with assemblers, engineering, management, and a few other departments. We have very simple rules going into the event. First and formost is that rank and egos are checked at the door. The biggest advantange to this approch is that everyone participates and everyone is on the same page with a common goal. Everyone has a say so as to how the cell is designed. Also, you mentions that your cells are being setup without time studies, this is a huge mistake. The first basis of a cell it time. I agree with Dave that you need to get on the bus, there is no way that any of us know it all.

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Who designs work cells? Mfg. Eng. or assembly workers? | 26 July, 2010


My first thought relates to your statement: "I was under the impression that manufacturing engineering was responsible..." We find any statement that begins similar to this to be indicative of other issues within an organization. Unless it's your responsibility to assign job tasks within the organization, than this statement is counter-productive to the concept of working together to accomplish a task.

My second thought relates to the statement: "Somehow, I feel this is putting the mice in charge of the cheese..." We find this statement to also be detrimental to the team concept, and the CI program that you have described. Involving team memebers in these decisions, we believe, is essential to continuously improving production processes. ME's don't sit there and work on the product all day, and the knowledge gained from the assemblers that actually do the work is invaluable to improving the process while also making it more efficient.

All of that said, the answer to your question of "Who designs work cells?" can only be...whomever has been designated by management to do so. If management has decided that Mfg. Eng. should do it, then they should. If management has decided that the direct labor folks should do it, they should do it.

My personal opinion is that manufacturing engineering should be tasked with the responsibility of desiging the work cells, and that they should utilize the direct labor resources who work with the product all day to determine the best methodology. Working together not only fosters better relations between direct and indirect labor resources, it also leads to a more efficient and accurate process when all sides work on it collaboratively.

Incidentally, I'm an electronics job-shop manager, not a lean guru. I expect, however, that any ops manager, lean implementation officer, or even production manager would answer the same way.

cheers ..rob

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