Editorial Feature

One Piece Flow Process - A Guide

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One piece flow processes are a type of optimization method that possess some significant advantages over batch processing, especially with respect to waste reduction, time reduction and increased process efficiencies. In this article, we look at what one piece flow processes are and the advantages that they possess.

What Is A One Piece Flow Process?

One piece flow is a type of process that looks to optimize operations by removing steps in a process line to create a single and more efficient process, whilst utilizing the waste given off by this process in other operational areas. Overall, it is seen as a way to increase overall efficiencies, reduce waste and increase customer value.

One piece flow processes are seen as an alternative approach to batch process, which often use multiple steps, take a long time and are susceptible to changes in quality from batch to batch. Interestingly, it is a concept that can be used across many areas of industry.

At the core of a one piece flow process, is the reduction of the number of steps between the start of the process and the finish. With batch processes, there is no continuous progression, whereas one piece flow processes constantly progress and are often termed “single piece flow” and “continuous flow”. What this translates to, is a process where multiple items can be in the process line without the need to queue, thus reducing waste. In real terms, on example might be the processing of an entire batch at each operation, before moving the whole batch onto the next operation.

Whilst it is a process that can increase efficiencies by not holding items for the future, there are big differences between the theory of a one flow process and its physical implementation. These complications require a large amount of coordination and consistency to work, but despite this, it does offer many advantages over batch processing.

It is also process that possesses the most benefits at the packing stage of any production line, especially where there are multiple packing stations. If there are two packing stations (A and B), batch processing, would finish A before enabling B to be started, whereas in a one piece flow process, A and B could be implemented simultaneously, reducing the time taken to complete the operation.

Advantages of One Piece Flow Processes

There are two distinct advantages of using one piece flow processes over batch processes. These are a quicker completion time and a reduction in cost. However, these two main advantages have a ripple effect that create other benefits, such as freeing up space in the production line, increasing the flow of product in the value stream, exposing problems that prevent flow and optimizing the process lead time.

Onto some of the main ripple effect advantages. Aside from those listed above, the implementation of a one piece flow process can help to improve the overall quality of the finished product if they are produced in bulk. This is because errors will be spotted a lot sooner in the process and can be removed before it is too late. This is a particularly important part of the process as any issues found with one product, will affect the whole batch being processed at that time.

Another advantage created by savings in cost and time is in making the process more flexible for the customer/end user. Because less time is taken between the start and finish of the production line, it means that the construction of the product can be started closer to the anticipated completion date and provides the flexibility for customers to make alterations much closer to the proposed completion date. The ability to monitor every part of the process enables the process to be scaled up with a much greater efficiency, and the savings in time and cost can also help to facilitate the scale-up from an economic point of view.

As with any process, there are disadvantages. For one piece flow processes, these include them not being suitable for all operations, an increase in logistical complexity and being too expensive to implement in the first place. However, for the processes where the physical implementation is feasible, the long-term advantages outweigh the few potential disadvantages.

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