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Group Technology

By Engr. Muhammad Awais

In the current Post WTO scenario, manufacturers across the globe are developing themselves as emerging enterprises as to tackle an internet era market, where client prefer personalization of products with rapid delivery. To understanding the gravity of this little to write and hard to cope with reality, manufacturers must improve their working standards not just to form an organizational structure but to develop their production systems as a customer oriented online portfolio. This is the backbone for now a day’s requirement to interact with customer and produce precisely what they want and how they want.

To develop itself, an enterprise requires both researching and developing a strategy to manage production process both with flexibility and cost-effectiveness with along the biggest constraint of time. Many manufacturing philosophies have emerged in pursuit of a big like this and one of the philosophies that emerged in early 1960s was Group Technology.

Group Technology (GT) is a diversely researched manufacturing philosophy and it is implanted by many leading manufacturers around the globe as it inspires simplicity and effectiveness in product. One of the best definitions that have come up for GT is given by Solaja[1], “Group Technology is the realization that, many problems are similar and that by grouping similar problems, a single solution can be found to set of problems, thus saving time and effort”. The statement is self-explanatory and GT only aims to develop groups in work flow strategy to simplify a production system.

To carry out analysis for GT, one has to perform any of the three methods for analysis:

  • Visual Inspection
  • Classification and Coding
  • Production Flow Analysis

Venue for GT

As aforementioned, GT only aims to simplify, it is very well suited to associate GT with batch processing as it’s more complicated than mass production of one product. GT finds its application from soft product variety to hard product variety in a low to medium size venue (Low production in 1 – 100, High production in 100-10,000 units) as the process would always be more detailed as well as would require real time trouble shooting with ever changing customer demands. Examples can be found in aviation industry to general household products.E.g. each airline requires a unique set of planes for a specific flight service product to target specific market share like economy class with business class vs. premium class flight service of Emirates. Similarly a table lamp manufacturer could require several versions of each lamp design to cope with artistic nature of designers and clients.

Although in Pakistan there are thousands of manufacturers of all sizes, very few are concerned about developing themselves in terms of production strategy. Group Technology provides the better factory layout for a manufacturer to utilize its resources in best way possible by analyzing its resources, production information and scheduling. Such information if sorted properly into a efficient production process with the help of GT, disadvantages of batch process like downtime for changeovers, high inventory, time taking sequencing etc. can be avoided and associated benefits can be achieved.

Benefit by utilization of GT

GT requires through study of both the venue and process to be planned. It does so by developing groups or families of parts that have common attributes. Following are basic attributes[2] are used for grouping:

Part Design Attributes Part Manufacturer Attributes
Basic External Shape Operations to be Done
Basic Internal Shape Operational Sequence
Rotational or Rectangular Shape Setup times
Length to Dia Ratio Fixtures & Setup
Aspect Ratio Machine Tool
Part Function Production Cycle
Dimensions Batch Size
Tolerances Production Capacity
Surface Finish Material Handling

 

These are just a few ways grouping can be done. GT is now developed by advanced studies by forming methods to group both parts and processes using analysis and coding those into much simpler data so that GT can be implemented in real time to help a manufacturer boost its production and reduce costs of doing so.

Grouping has two targets:

  1. Identifying part families
  2. Rearranging production machines into cells

A part usually spends 3.5% of the total processing time on the machine while being operated[3]; rest of the time associated to machining goes to non-value added functions like setup, handling, moving, waiting etc. Hence any reduction in time of non-value added functions can dramatically increase the output of a project/production plan. GT provides a basis for reducing such shop floor function times and increase the cost-effectiveness of production.

By doing so, a manufacturer can avail many benefits:

  • Promoting Standardization of tools, fixtures and setup –With grouping of standardized production, less inventory & variety of out-sourcing parts is needed, tool management is easier and fewer fixtures are needed. This all benefits into having less inventory in hand and reduce associated costs.
  • Material handling is reduced – With less material in hand, better routing can be done as well as grouping creates localized cells that reduce much of the material handling time, resulting in cost effective handling.
  • Planning & scheduling are simplified – With standardization and better material handling, a production cycle can be planned far more easily and with least efforts being done on the shop floor as the work is now being effectively handled in group/sets and time saving in terms of sequencing. This yields in smaller production times and faster go-to market strategy.
  • Setup times are reduced – With parts to be operated in sets, it is less complex to setup the raw materials/parts/assemblies to be further processed and hence costs associated to setup times delays are reduced.
  • Work-in progress is reduced – With better routing and group handling of parts, work in progress is reduced as material is quickly processed and waiting/moving times in a sequence is reduced as each cell is utilized to its maximum possible potential (not always possible due to specialty parts that cannot be grouped easily)
  • Worker satisfaction is improved – At times in a group/cell, workers are associated with function from start till finish of a product, allowing them to fully indulge in the whole process since the part is moving within that group. This promotes personal excellence as well as teamwork.
  • Higher Quality of work is achieved – As works in a group build a better team, it is evident that their satisfaction will lead towards improved working skills and hence quality of the product improves as well as workers dedicate to their cell.

Aspects of GT in Pakistan with respect to computer integration

There are many manufacturing units in Pakistan that are operating without a proper layout with a spread out process that is taking unnecessary space as well as resources for operations. It is vital that such organizations focus their improvements in an organized way rather than improvising as it goes. This is far more essential for SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises) as they are struggling to get into the market and are looking for a permanent market share. GT can very well allow them to improve over time while minimizing operational costs of the facility.

The absence of GT does not mean that such SMEs cannot function or do not function, it depends on how their process is required to be carried out. Sometimes enterprises that do not specialize in GT are operating their facilities with a similar strategy using common sense and visual inspection method but it is always advisable to have a calculated guess instead of a wild one.

It is recommended to all SMEs to develop bonds with research institutes like NUST, NED, UEt etc. for a collaborate aim towards implementing GT as majority of SMEs in Pakistan are associated with batch processing.

References

[1] Solaja, V. B. and Urosevic, S. M. , “An Integral Concept of Group Technology,” SME Technical Paper, 1971

[2] Groover M. P., “Automation Production System and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing”, 3rd Edition, 2014

[3] Groover M. P., “Automation Production System and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing”, 3rd Edition, 2014

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