Challenges of Lean Manufacturing in High Mix/Low Volume

Manufacturing in the USA has undergone highs and lows over the last 20 years.  This is especially true in the assembly of printed circuit boards.  There have been the high times with numerous manufacturing sites popping up, investing in state of the art equipment and running 24 hours with 2 to 3 shift changes. 
The most enticing manufacturing projects are high volumes of a stable product with no variables.   These jobs run long enough to develop lean processes and efficient material handling. 
There are many products which do not have a high volume demand such as medical equipment or semi-custom products.  Some electronic manufacturing facilities accept a mix of high volume assembly projects along with the smaller build quantities.   Boutique assembly houses tend to cater exclusively to the low volume projects and have found their niche market. 
There are challenges unique to running multiple variations / projects through assembly in low volumes:
  • ·         High demand on administrative processes and scheduling to maintain floor capacity
  • ·         Documentation and labor in machine changeovers
  • ·         Employee training
  • ·         Lack frequency and/or volume to develop lean processes or process improvements
  • ·         System management and data entry of P/N’s used only used once
  • ·         Material handling costs for ordering /pulling, verifying, and staging for set-up

Despite the challenges, there are electronic manufacturing facilities which have developed the expertise to provide high quality, affordable, low volume assemblies.   Employee retention and healthy partnerships may be two of the keys to address the challenges. 
  • ·         Employee training can be minimized with strong retention, good initial documentation and established best practices for small volume builds will cultivate lean processes at the start.
  • ·         System management and data entry of P/N’s to feed MRP as well as managing material handling issues can be resolved by outsourcing to a kitting provider to allow absolute focus on producing a quality assembly.

Focus, focus, focus.  Success is found in focusing on the strong suit and partnering with others who do the same. 

You can do anything, but not everything. —Anonymous