Mixed Model Line Design

What is it? And Who Needs It?

Daniel Penn Associates President Tony Rodriguez chats with Richard Rahn, Principal with Leonardo Group Americas, on the topic of Mixed Model Line Design and an upcoming DPA-sponsored workshop on this topic.Richard Rahn, Principal with Leonardo Group Americas

Let’s start with the basics. What does the term “Mixed Model Line Design” mean?

RR: Let’s break the term down into pieces. A “Line” is a production line, a grouping of workstations and machines that are usually organized into a sequential flow, to build products. We often think of automobiles when we refer to lines, but almost any product can be built in this way. The term “Design” means that the line needs to be formally designed in order to function well. The design process involves using data, performing calculations regarding necessary resources, and creating a physical layout of the line. Finally, “Mixed Model” means that you are designing the line to build a family of somewhat different products, not just a single product. The nature of modern manufacturing is that customers like a lot of choice, and you need to be able to build these different products using the same manufacturing resources, and to do it in a highly efficient way.

Could you give us some examples of what kinds of products would be good candidates for this manufacturing approach?

RR: We’ve had a chance to apply our Mixed Model Line Design method in virtually every industry over the past 20 years, and some industries are a better candidate for this approach than others. The best fit is for products like vehicles with lots of options, industrial equipment (again with options), furniture manufacturing, electronic assembly, aerospace products, and discrete manufacturing in general. The Mixed Model methodology is less applicable if the line is highly automated and high volume. In those environments production is typically done in batches or “runs”, and switching from one product to another takes time. The good news is that much of the manufacturing done in the United States falls into the “high mix, low volume” category, where the Mixed Model approach is highly applicable.

There’s a huge interest in the US and around the world about the topic of Lean Manufacturing. How does your approach fit into the Lean model for improvement?

RR: A study was done a few years ago at Toyota in Japan. As you know, Toyota is famous for their emphasis on employee engagement and continuous improvement, although they don’t call it “Lean”, and the study wanted to uncover where the main financial and performance benefits were coming from: individual improvement suggestions, or engineering and management-driven changes. The conclusion was that 90% of the benefits were not coming from small improvement suggestions, they were coming from larger engineering projects, like Line Design. We’re not saying that individual suggestions are not important, especially in improving your work force, but most of the money is in redesigning products and processes, using the methods that we teach. We believe that Mixed Model Line Design is actually the heart of a Lean Production System.

Speaking of Toyota, let’s talk about your next Mixed Model Line Design workshop at their fork truck plant in Columbus, Indiana. Do they apply the Mixed Model method at their own plant?

RR: Absolutely. One of the unique opportunities of this workshop is participants will learn the step-by-step methodology of Mixed Model Line Design, apply it in a series of classroom simulations, and then see it in action on the Toyota factory floor. The fork truck line is ideal as a model, since it is less highly automated than an automobile plant, they produce over 50 different models on the same line, and this factory produces the #1 fork truck in quality and sales in the world. Students will take two factory tours, led by Toyota experts. We don’t teach the Toyota Production System per se, but our methods map closely to theirs, and they are very supportive of our approach.

Want to learn how to apply Mixed-Model Line Design in your production? Register for the July 15-17 Mixed Model Line Design workshop at http://www.mixedmodellinedesign.com/.

Use the code MMLD on your registration form before June 1, and we’ll give you a $400 discount. Register after June 1, and we’ll give you a $100 discount.

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