Flow Production

Have you ever heard the old adage 'one step at a time'? Well, that's exactly what flow production is all about. It is one of the most common and efficient production management techniques used by companies. Let's discuss what flow production is and how it works. 

Flow Production Flow Production

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Table of contents

    Flow production definition

    Flow production, also known as continuous production, is an important method for organising production of a given product.

    Flow production is defined as a continuous and uninterrupted production method. The process of flow production connects a series of workstations into an assembly line. The goal of flow production is to increase productivity, reduce costs and minimize waste. It is usually adapted in mass production of products like cars, electronic goods, or clothes.

    Unlike job production and Just-In-Time production, which only produce the items once an order is made, flow production is adopted for mass-market products such as cars, doughnuts, chocolate bars, soft drinks, and electric goods. These products can be produced all year round since there is an ongoing demand for them.

    Characteristics of flow production

    Most big brands use flow production to quickly produce a large number of similar products whose demand is continuous and ongoing.

    For example, clothing is a mass-market product with continuous demand from customers. Fashion retailers around the world such as H&M and Zara apply flow production to produce clothes in large quantities and keep up with demand.

    The ‘flow’ in flow production means that items will move continuously during the production process. One task is quickly followed by the next. As a result, the amount of time to finish each task is often the same.

    In a factory, there are machines in close proximity that process an item from one stage to the next. This is also referred to as an assembly line, or a series of workers or machines that manufacture a succession of similar goods.

    The assembly line of a chocolate manufacturer consists of a mixer, a refiner, a concher, a melter, moulds, and a packing machine (see Figure 1). After being processed by each machine, a chocolate bar is ready for distribution and consumption.

    Flow Production Assembly line chocolate StudySmarterFigure 1. Chocolate assembly line, StudySmarter

    Flow production advantages and disadvantages

    Flow production is used for mass-producing goods. It is useful for creating a continuous flow of identical products. It is important to note, however, that flow production comes with both advantages and disadvantages.

    ADVANTAGES OF FLOW PRODUCTIONDISADVANTAGES OF FLOW PRODUCTION
    • Short lead time
    • Low level of inventory
    • Economies of scale
    • Structured material flow
    • Short transportation distances
    • Cheaper ordering costs
    • Special machines
    • High set-up costs
    • Danger of stoppage
    • High maintenance costs
    • Repetitive work
    • Demotivated workers

    Table 1 - Advantages and disadvantages of flow production

    Advantages of flow production

    Flow production comes with many benefits, including:

    • Short lead-time: Lead time is the time between the start of a process and its completion. Flow production reduces the lead time, as items move along a continuous flow of automated machines. A short lead-time means that the product can be delivered more quickly, which improves customer satisfaction.

    • Low inventory: With a shorter lead time, businesses can hold less inventory, which reduces inventory costs. There is also more space for production or storing finished goods.

    • Economies of scale: Economies of scale is the phenomenon where the cost per unit decreases as a company grows in size. Companies with flow production tend to enjoy economies of scale since a large number of goods are produced.

    • Structured material flow: Goods are supposed to move from one stage to the other along an assembly line.

    • Short transportation distances: Machines are placed close to each other, so there is less risk of breakage or damage when moving different components around.

    • Low labour skills needed: Since the flow production is mostly automated, businesses don't need to hire high-skill labour to operate the system.

    • Cheaper ordering costs: Producing mass products requires companies to order a large number of goods at a time. As a result, they can benefit from bulk purchase discounts.

    Disadvantages of flow production

    Flow production is not without its disadvantages. Here are some minus points for adopting flow production:

    • Special machines - Machines in flow production are expensive and perform only one function. Thus, it is difficult to replace them if something breaks down.

    • High set-up costs - There's a high cost for setting up special machines or installing a new production program.

    • The danger of stoppage - If one station breaks down, the whole assembly line will stop as well.

    • High maintenance costs - Big, bulky machines require regular maintenance.

    • Repetitive work - Factory workers may feel demotivated doing the same work every day.

    Example of flow production

    Zara is one of the world's largest clothing retailers. Its apparel and accessories are mainly produced by factory workers in developing economies.

    Zara's factories are linked to underground tunnels with high-speed monorails where the fabric is cut, sorted, then assembled into clothing items. The finished products are then shipped to stores for distribution (see Figure 3).

    Flow Production Clothes flow production example StudySmarter

    Figure 2. The continuous flow of clothes production in a factory, StudySmarter

    The flow production process at Zara is highly successful, as the brand is able to launch a new design every two weeks. In fact, Zara is often viewed as a supply chain icon in the clothes retailing industry.

    The advantage of flow production in Zara:

    Flow production allows Zara to produce its products quickly at a very low cost. This also reduces the price and makes Zara's clothing items more competitive in the market.

    The disadvantage of flow production in Zara:

    To achieve a large volume of clothes at the least cost possible, Zara's workers are forced to work very long hours in an unsafe environment for a very low wage. Due to mass production, Zara's clothes only have average quality. Not many of them can last for a long time.

    Flow production is an effective production method that helps companies save time, money, and effort in producing a high volume of goods. However, it also incurs a lot of cost in the initial stage and requires regular maintenance.

    Flow production - Key takeaways

    • Flow production is defined as a continuous and uninterrupted method of production. The process of flow production connects a series of workstations into an assembly line.
    • Examples of products made by flow production include: cars, clothes, food products, or electronic goods.
    • Flow production is continuous and is often adapted in mass production
    • The main advantage of flow production is that it can save time, money, and effort in producing mass-market products.
    • The main disadvantage comes from high initial costs and maintenance.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Flow Production

    What is flow production? 

    Flow production is defined as a continuous and uninterrupted method of production. The process of flow production connects a series of workstations into an assembly line. The goal of flow production is to increase productivity, reduce costs and minimize waste. It is usually adapted in mass production of products like cars, electronic goods, or food products.  

    What are the advantages of flow production? 

    Short lead times, low inventory, economies of scale, structured material flow, short transportation distances, need for low labour skills, and cheaper operating costs are the advantages of flow production.

    What are the disadvantages of flow production? 

    The need for special machines, high set-up costs, the danger of stoppage, high maintenance costs, and repetitive work are the disadvantages of flow production. 

    What are the features of flow production? 

    Flow production is used by companies, demand is continuous and ongoing. The items will move continuously during the production process, implying that one task is quickly followed by the next. As a result, the amount of time to finish each task is often the same. Machines involved in the flow production are placed in proximity so that the items can move from one step to another. This is also referred to as an assembly line.

    Where is flow production more useful? 

    Flow production is most useful for companies that are involved in mass production, i.e., production of the same or similar products in large quantities.

    What are some examples of flow production?

    Flow production is usually adapted in mass production of goods like:

    • cars,
    • electronic goods,
    • clothes,
    • processed food products.

    What do we call the series of workers working on products in flow production?

    A series of workers working on products in flow production is called assembly line.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is not a characteristic of flow production?

    What is not an advantage of flow production?

    What are the disadvantages of flow production?

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