My father, David Collins Jr., had a passion for manufacturing. Cars did not interest him but making cars was endlessly fascinating. One of the key things he emphasised was that every manufactured item, regardless of size or complexity, follows the same principles. He shared this insight with me while working on the F-35, the most complex piece of equipment ever manufactured. Despite not being an electrical or mechanical engineer or an aerospace expert, my father helped design the production system for the aircraft and understood that manufacturing is a process that can be broken down into smaller and smaller steps. Unfortunately, many people wrongly believe that certain products are "different" and that this insight does not apply to them.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Assembly: Why Assembly Lines Are Always the Way to Go
This video taken by our partner Renaud Anjoran at the Nagoya airport shows a speeded-up manufacturing process of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Notice how even this massive complex product is built on an assembly line. A crawler slowly brings the product to each workstation where workers assemble each part. You can see that each piece is a distinct process along the assembly line.
If something as large and complex as a jetliner can be manufactured on an assembly line, why are some products still built on a workbench? You can see from this video on the manufacture of an MRI machine that many large complex products are still built using “bench assembly” with different parts coming together (no line, no movement of the product). While it may be suitable for small-scale or custom manufacturing, without a streamlined process like the assembly line, the assembly of different parts can take longer with mass production, resulting in slower production times and increased labor costs.
3 Benefits of Transitioning to Assembly Lines
1. Increased Efficiency
Assembly lines increase the efficiency of manufacturing processes by reducing the time required to produce a product. Each worker is assigned a specific task, and the product is moved along the line, making identifying and addressing any inefficiencies easier. This results in a faster and more streamlined production process, reducing lead times and allowing manufacturers to meet customer demand more effectively.
2. Improved Quality Control
Implementing assembly lines can lead to enhanced quality control as every worker is accountable for a particular task, guaranteeing precise assembly of all parts and producing a high-quality finished product. Additionally, the prompt identification and resolution of defects or issues in the assembly process can significantly diminish the likelihood of costly rework or product recalls.
3. Cuts Costs
Assembly lines can help manufacturers reduce costs by increasing production efficiency and reducing labor costs. By using automation and specialized machinery, assembly lines can eliminate manual labor, reducing the number of workers needed to produce a product. This can lead to significant cost savings for manufacturers, allowing them to remain competitive in a global market.
Manufacturing products share the same principles, and utilising assembly lines can significantly enhance their efficiency. Even for low-volume and high-mix products, assembly line setup is possible using one-piece flow techniques, although challenging. Despite the initial engineering costs, the advantages of moving to assembly lines outweigh the drawbacks.