Limitations of cellular manufacturing

Group Technology is a great concept. But all good concepts do have their own limitations and need proper care in their application, for results to be realized in practice. Improper implementation and/or half hearted attempts may usually backfire. The concepts have to be applied with a great deal of thought prior to their application. The assumptions behind the theory have to be properly assessed. A good home work needs to be done before the application and a whole hearted implementation needs to follow. Thus, the limitations of cellular manufacturing may be as follows:

1. Setup times or change over times may not always be significantly reduced just because the components in the family bear apparent similarity. Some of the literature on Group Technology reports that a major proportion of the features of a group of components must be virtually identical for the education in the setup times to take place.
2. Similarly the assumptions regarding raw material ad work in process inventories need to be checked during the design of the cells. In a process layout, the machines share a common pool of inventories whereas in an ill-designed cellular system, machines may require own individual stocks of materials.
3. Improper cell formation, whether based on component shapes/features or on production flow analysis would turn out be in efficient in terms of time, investment and humanistic aspects. Load balancing situation of non-key machines and the placement of bottleneck machines are issues that need to be addressed during cell formation.
4. Inadequacies in employee education training and involvement could come in the way of proper implementation.

Cellular Manufacturing – the avatar of Group Technology in manufacturing has concerned only to the internal ‘spatial’ arrangements. That is, it has been focusing on only dimension of the production/operations system. It has not been systematic in nature. To that extent the application has been limited in its scope. Therefore, the results may not be radical in their extent. Newer management technological such as Just-in-Time system have used the concept behind Group Technology – that of bringing in the properties of a line layout in batch production in addition to several other concepts and measures which take care of other issues in the management of production and product delivery. The results have been quite positive remarkably so.

A broader concept of group Technology:

In a broader context, Group Technology is an attempt to achieve improved control by looking for commonalities i.e. looking for avenues for standardization and achieving better rationalization and harmonization through the same. Basically, ‘cells’ are nuclei for control. These concepts of ‘rationalization of activities’, harmonization of lows and ‘nuclei of control’ can also be used in several situations other than manufacturing. Administrative offices and banks for instance, could have such ‘nuclei’ for enhanced delegation of responsibility and control. In fact, the ‘teller’ system used in the banks is one such example of a nucleus formation by combining several small jobs into one job. The idea is akin to a composite element being made on a single machine. This is similar to a receptionist at a hotel who does a number of tasks, including registration, check in and check-out cash collection and refunds (it any ), answering queries of customers, providing them with varied information related to the hotel and regarding the city (Is there a restaurant in the town nearby where I can get good sea-food? What mode of transport should I take to go to Haji Ali’s dargah?) and environs including sightseeing trips, arranging of the answering and taking appropriate action on complaints of the customers. In several offices, treated activities are grouped and placed physically together (near each other) for better efficiency that could be possible due to a better/quicker flow of information and papers through the system.

In general it could be said that many problems/tasks could be ‘similar’. By grouping such similar problems/tasks single solution to he problem or a single point of control for the tasks could be found. This saves on time and effort. Group Technology could be viewed in this broader perspective. It appears, the benefits that Group Technology could offer to the discipline of management have yet to be fully exploited.