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Flow Production

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Business Studies

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 definition

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

Flow production is used for producing a large number of identical products.

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.

Flow production is so named because the production of goods follows a continuous flow - from one step to the next.

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

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.

ADVANTAGES OF FLOW PRODUCTION
DISADVANTAGES 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

Advantages and disadvantages of flow production

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:

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:

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 a method for producing a large number of identical products.
  • Examples include assembly lines of cars, chocolate bars, electronic goods, etc.
  • Flow production is continuous and often involves an assembly line.
  • 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.

Flow Production

Flow production is a method for producing a large number of identical products. During the production process, the product moves continuously from one stage to the next along an assembly line. Some examples include the production of cars, chocolate bars, electronic goods, etc. 

The advantages of flow production include: 


  • Short lead time

  • Low inventory

  • Economies of scale

  • Structured material flow

  • Short transportation distances

  • Low labour skills needed   

  • Cheaper ordering costs 

The disadvantages of flow production are: 


  • Special machines

  • High set-up costs 

  • The danger of stoppage

  • High maintenance costs

  • Repetitive work

Flow production is often used by large brands to produce goods in large quantities at a low price. Items move continuously during the production process and each stage takes roughly the same amount of time. Flow production also uses an assembly line which is a series of workers and machines to produce successive goods. 

Flow production is most useful for producing mass-market products such as chocolate, soft drink, cars, digital devices, fast fashion clothes, etc. 

Final Flow Production Quiz

Question

What is flow production?

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Answer

Flow production is a method for producing a large number of identical products.

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Question

What is not a characteristic of flow production?

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Answer

Used for mass production

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Question

What is an assembly line?

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Answer

a series of workers or machines to produce a succession of similar goods.

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Question

What is not an advantage of flow production?

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Answer

Short lead time and low level of inventory

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Question

Why does flow production help achieve economies of flow? 

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Answer

With flow production, a large number of goods can be produced at the same time, which reduces the unit cost. 

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What does a short lead time mean? 

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Answer

A short lead-time means that the product can be delivered more quickly, which improves customer satisfaction.  

Show question

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What is the lead time?

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Answer

The time between the initiation and completion of a goods 

Show question

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What is the danger of stoppage in flow production?

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Answer

If one stage of work breaks down, the others will stop as well. 

Show question

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What type of machines are used for flow production?

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Answer

Specialised machines which perform only one function at each stage. 

Show question

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What are the disadvantages of flow production?

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Answer

High set up costs

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Why does flow production require low inventory? 

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Answer

In flow production, the products can be produced quickly. Thus, there's no need to hold a lot of stock. 

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Flow production requires ...

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Answer

Low-skilled labour

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Why do workers in flow production factories tend to feel demotivated? 

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Answer

Because the work is repetitive

Show question

Question

Name 5 products made with flow production 

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Answer

cars, doughnuts, chocolate bars, soft drink bottles, electronic goods

Show question

Question

What is another name for flow production?

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Answer

Mass production

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Question

Lead time is the time between ... 

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Answer

the start of a process and its completion 

Show question

Question

With a shorter lead time, businesses can hold less inventory and reduce inventory costs 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

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A structured material flow is one where good moves from one stage to next, along an ...

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Answer

assembly line 

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Short transportation distances in flow production means that ...

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Answer

machines are placed close to each other, so there is less risk of breakage or damage when moving different components around. 

Show question

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What is the benefit of ordering a large quantity of supplies?

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Answer

The business can benefit from bulk purchase discounts.

Show question

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The phenomenon where the cost per unit decreases as a company grows in size is called ...


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Answer

 Economies of scale 

Show question

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In flow production, there's a low cost for setting up special machines or installing a new production program.   

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Answer

True

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The demand for products made with flow production tend to be...

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Answer

high and continuous

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Unlike job production, flow production is adopted for ... products 

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Answer

mass-market

Show question

Question

In flow production, one task is quickly followed by the next in a continuous flow. 

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

What the benefit of low inventory in flow production?

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Answer

  • More space for production and storage of finished goods.
  • Reduced inventory costs.

Show question

Question

Flow production incurs ... set up and maintenance costs. 

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Answer

high

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