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OM in the News and Video Tip: The One Worker Assembly Line

June 5, 2014

At Japanese manufacturer Roland DG, assembling thousands of parts into wide-format printers is as easy as coloring by numbers, writes The Wall Street Journal (June 2, 2014). That’s because Roland DG makes everything from billboard printers to machines that shape dental crowns using an advanced production system known as “D-shop.” Under this method, workers in single-person stalls assemble products from start to finish, guided by a 3-D graphic and using parts delivered automatically from a rotating rack. Every worker is capable of assembling any variation of the company’s 50 or so products.

In 1998, Roland became one of the first companies in Japan to abandon the assembly line in favor of one-person work stalls modeled after Japanese noodle stands. With orders coming in smaller and smaller lots, Roland decided it needed a manufacturing system in which a single worker could build any one of its diverse products. On a recent day, one employee was assembling from scratch an industrial printer that ultimately would be more than twice her size and weigh almost 900 pounds, while another was assembling a dental-crown milling machine.

A computer monitor displays step-by-step instructions along with 3-D drawings: “Turn Screw A in these eight locations” or “Secure Part B using Bracket C.” At the same time, the rotating parts rack turns to show which of the dozens of parts to use. Meanwhile, a digital screwdriver keeps track of how many times screws are turned and how tightly. Until the correct screws are turned the correct number of times, the instructions on the computer screen don’t advance to the next step. The system is so simple, say managers, that nearly anyone can assemble products anywhere. The computer even gives workers a pat on the back at the end of the day, with the message, “You must be tired, and we thank you.”

You and your students will enjoy the 2 minute video embedded in the WSJ article.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why did Roland develop the D-shop?

2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach over the traditional assembly line?

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