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10 Benefits of One Piece Flow

There are at least ten reasons one piece flow won’t work. But, I prefer to look at things positively. You know, the glass is half full. With this said, here are 10 benefits of implementing one piece flow.

Benefit 1: Improves safety. Research shows that overexertion is one of the main sources of injury in the workplace. When we transition to one piece flow we limit the need to lift heavy pallets and containers of material.

Also, one piece flow often reduces the number of forklifts moving about. Did you know there are around 90 deaths and 90,000 forklift related accidents each year in the USA alone?

Benefit 2: Builds in Quality. When we “make one, move one” defects are detected immediately (usually the next work station) forcing immediate corrective action.

In contrast, when batches of material are produced piles of scrap may result when a defect is detected downstream. Why?  The entire batch may have the same defect.

During my time with Motorola I vividly remember the day when hundreds of cell phones were scrapped. Since the circuit boards were produced in batches (very typical in the surface mount technology world I might add) they were not tested until the end of the assembly line.

Eventually, once they were tested, we learned a wrong component had been placed on each and every board. Only one component… no problem right? Just re-work them.  Wrong. That one tiny component (.04 ” x .02″ in size) was placed on each circuit board around 50 times. Ouch.

Benefit 3: Improves Flexibility. One piece flow is faster than batch and queue. This speediness factor allows us to wait longer to schedule the order (and still deliver on time).

Subsequently, we are better able to respond to last minutes changes from the customer.  And everyone knows, no matter what industry you work in, customers love to change their mind.

Benefit 4: Improves scalability. With one piece flow, equipment can be designed smaller and at lower cost since the need to produce huge batches of material at breakneck speed is no longer required. 

Benefit 5: Reduces inventory. With one piece flow, work in process (WIP) is reduced in dramatic fashion. This frees us cash as we don’t have to move, store, and manage piles of inventory.  And make no mistake, if you are in a for profit business, cash is king.

Benefit 6: Improves productivity. Many of the wastes so inherent with batch and queue production (e.g. motion, transportation, waiting) are greatly reduced with one piece flow. As a result, productivity increases. 

Don’t believe me?  Try one piece flow and compare your units produced (and sold of course) per employee before and after implementing one piece flow. 

Benefit 7: Simplifies material replenishment. One piece flow paced at takt time allows for material delivery to be done by timed milk runs or set quantity deliveries. This predictability makes the water spider’s job far easier to perform.

Benefit 8: Frees up floor space. As already discussed, one piece flow reduces the amount of WIP stored on the floor.

Additionally, in order for one piece flow to function, work stations must be connected and not isolated on their own island.

All this frees up valuable floor space which allows the company to grow their business without additional brick and mortar.

Benefit 9: Makes kaizen take root. One piece flow is hard since the buffers and buffers of inventory are gone. We cannot hide behind them anymore. Further, quality must constantly improve, machine reliability must increase, changeovers must be shortened, etc. In short, kaizen must take root.

Benefit 10: Improves morale. Employees want to do good work. They want to see progress. They want be involved. Implementing one piece flow brings all these things, and more, together.

And when this metanoia occurs, the organization is transformed into a fun and dynamic workplace where innovation and problem solving rule the day.

Can you think of other benefits of one piece flow I may have missed?  If so, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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Comments

  1. Inspired by your video, how about one piece flow helps you get products to your customer faster than batching. Of course your customer has to be willing to take partial shipments. If this is the case, they will be very happy when you switch to one piece flow.

  2. Absolutely Michael. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Mike Lombard says:

    This is an excellent post, Ron. Getting people to understand that “exposing the rocks” through flow is a good thing is one of the hardest hurdles I face, and these types of posts make that task much easier.

    As a corollary to benefit #9, one-piece flow necessitates so much problem-solving that we have to learn to deal with problems systematically, instead of haphazardly. Moving to a lean management system allows our leaders to predict problems before they become catastrophes, and deal with them preventively. Additionally, the standardization of the problem-solving function allows leaders to normalize their days and build discipline. Not a bad side-effect!

  4. Great post. I was so excited to see you mention WATER SPIDER and I knew what you were talking about this time (thanks to you)! Keep up the outstanding posts!

  5. Thanks Mike and Brian. I’m glad the post was helpful.

    The idea of one piece flow can be scary to folks… and truth be told can be painful when first implemented.

    In fact, sometimes things get worse before they get better… but we must focus on the long term, not the short term.

    And in the end, one piece flow wins the battle 9 times out of 10. People just need to take a deep breath… and go for it.

    Thanks again for the comments gents. Have a great weekend!

  6. Mark Timmins says:

    I am admittedly fairly new to OPF, though most of the advantages you list are readily obvious. The one I struggle with (and frankly so do our customers) is that OPF improves scalability. Sure, scaling is easy, by simply replicating the line via mass parallelization, but there are no obvious inherent economies of scale inherent in such an approach. This makes it hard to sell “low tech” manual assembly for large-scale manufacturing to engineers (particularly in the high tech realm) who associate scale-up from prototype to production scale with capital automation and labor elimination. Elimination of labor is desirable both in terms of manufacturing cost and in terms of contamination reduction.

    It strikes me that manual OPF is inherently unsuited to high-volume manufacture. But need OPF necessarily be manual? Why couldn’t the precepts of OPF and JIT be applied to an automated process?

    I would welcome your thoughts on this topic, and how it impacts the argument of reducing cost by hiring lots of cheap labor vs. investing in labor-reducing automation.

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  1. [...] 10 Benefits of One Piece Flow by Ron Pereira – “we are better able to respond to last minutes changes from the customer. And everyone knows, no matter what industry you work in, customers love to change their mind.” [...]

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