An assembly line is a common manufacturing approach where each worker in a sequential production process completes one step or task. While an assembly line gives your business economies of scale and specialization advantages, you risk bottlenecks and high turnover because of the repetitive work.
An assembly line offers a few specific economies of scale benefits. First, since each employee performs a single role, your investment in training and development is modest. Also, an assembly line means the production process is replicated for each unit. This replication ensures consistency, minimized defects and lower maintenance costs. Parts replacement is also standardized and affordable. You can pass on these cost savings to customers, which was a primary motive when Henry Ford introduced assembly lines at Ford Motor Company in the early 1900s.
On an assembly line, each employee gains expertise on a given piece of equipment or a specific task. Over time, this allows workers to become increasingly effective and efficient at what they do. A specialized worker is better prepared to spot defects or missteps than someone who carries out many roles. A veteran assembly line worker may also make suggestions on process or component improvements if the work culture encourages him to do so.
Bottlenecks and Delays
By definition, a product in an assembly line cannot move forward until it is through a current stage of manufacturing. This reality leads to bottlenecks if a back-up occurs at one stage. A worker who isn't performing up to par on a given day could stall production. This impact not only impacts efficiency, but it could create tension among the workforce. Equipment malfunctions and materials inventory delays also can slow production at a given point. Without manufacturing flexibility, your business has equipment and workers sitting with nothing to do.
Standardization and Repetitive Work
While consistency is a common goal with an assembly line, you lose out on distinct craftsmanship that consumers often prefer with luxury or high-end items. The repetitive nature of the work also weighs on some workers over time. It is easy to lose motivation when you perform a repetitive, monotonous task day after day. When a worker's role is non-technical, pay often is low as well. The combination of modest pay and repetitive work contributes to high turnover.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.