Manufacturing has used several buzzwords to describe the same value of “flexibility.” “Resiliency” that gives supply chains the ability to bounce back after a breakdown, “visibility” that allows them to catch breakdowns before they occur, “Smart” manufacturing that uses technology such as industrial grade computers to optimize productivity across every phase of production. — all of these key phrases tend to cleanly fit into one core principle of efficient manufacturing: Flexibility. 

The ability to stay the course one minute, identify a problem in the next, and then adapt on the fly is what has given the few manufacturers who survived 2020 the ability to do so. It only stands to reason, then, that we see further emphasis placed on the flexible manufacturing system in 2021 and beyond.

And the newest trend in flexible manufacturing? The “Yatai” system.

What is The “Yatai” Flexible Manufacturing System?

“Yatai” is the Japanese word for “food cart”, a highly portable, compact food stand that can be wheeled around from location to location. These food carts, small as they are, contain all of the bare essentials needed to create delicacies on the fly and with lightning quick efficiency. In this sense, this mode of operation is incredibly compatible with Lean Manufacturing — a means of production that only uses the bare minimum necessary to create a product for clientele.

Adopting this business model of the “yatai”, companies like Mitsubishi have been able to create portable, manufacturing workstations that execute on the same principles of “creating more with less.” 

How Does it Work?

The secret to Mitsubishi’s “yatai” flexible manufacturing system is in the carts. On portable, wheelable, carts, each employee is given access to all the tools they need to create a product for any given stage of the manufacturing process. In Mitsubishi’s case, these stations are deployed in order to create air conditioning units on the fly.

These portable stations include a number of tools used regularly by staff, space for a unit to be worked on, and sometimes even a portable computer to aid in software applications and more.

Another key factor of this flexible manufacturing system is the calendars used to manage which stations are being used to create which products. 

With a quickly scannable, easy to digest readout of how many stations are on hand to deal with what product, changes in workstation and worker allocation to meet sudden orders or shifts in demand become much, much easier.

What are the Benefits?

Multi-Function Workstations

With workstations that have all the tools necessary to run a number of different operations, workers are able to quickly pivot to new operations as soon as they become needed. 

Let’s say, for example, your business produces both 3d printable assets, but has also taken up the charge in creating PPE for healthcare providers to aid in the pandemic response. If a workstation is created using the “yatai” flexible manufacturing system, tools needed to create both of these products can be outfitted onto the same cart. And if not, they can quickly be wheeled to a supply storage and re-outfitted with necessary tools at a moment’s notice. And once they are swapped to help produce a different product, that status can quickly be recorded on the live-updated calendar tracking all of the stations. This multifunctionality makes the “yatai” cart systems incredibly versatile, especially for businesses that create more than one good or product. 

Easier Customization of Products

If you create products that often need to be modified or customized to meet individual customer needs, say, a computer whose specs need to be modified to meet each customer’s individual requirements, the “yatai” flexible manufacturing system can be incredibly useful as well. 

With all of the tools needed to open up a product and modify it to customer specifications available on the cart itself, workers can get to work modifying standard units wherever and whenever necessary. 

What Will You Need?

Communication Systems

We discussed earlier the importance behind the calendars used to track which workstations are being used for which purpose. In many cases, these calendars can be swapped out for more sophisticated solutions such as manufacturing metric displays. Posted up on highly viewable points on the factory floor, these smart displays can be updated in real-time as workstations are swapped around and used for different purposes. 

Portable Industrial Computers

Of course, these workstations won’t do you any good if the computers and devices they house aren’t up to snuff. Rugged industrial computers are incredibly compact and can be outfitted onto a cart with minimal real estate use. Additionally, these computers can be equipped with all manner of peripherals such as RFID scanners that make logging into shared dashboards more streamlined.

Industrial grade tablets can also be deployed for an even more space-conscious workstation. Coupled with RFID scanning, these can also be used to scan inventory in and out from the same workstation, meaning more reactive supply coverage and responses to demand. 

Become Flexible With Where You Take Inspiration for Your Flexible Manufacturing System

Mitsubishi has shown manufacturers that inspiration can often be drawn from the most unique places. The age of manufacturing’s status quo has long since ended. A weakening labor pool and increasingly more difficult bar of entry set the stage for that end and 2020 was the final nail in the coffin. Learning to adapt and incorporate lessons learned from other, more successful industries into the way you manufacture may make the difference between whether or not you see success in 2021 and beyond. For more information on the computers and hardware you’ll need to make those adaptations, contact an expert from Cybernet today.