Cellular Layouts in Lean Production

Instructor: Brianna Whiting

Brianna has a masters of education in educational leadership, a DBA business management, and a BS in animal science.

Every company wants to be efficient and productive. Some even design their whole production process with efficiency in mind. In this lesson, we'll discuss cellular layouts and learn why they're considered during lean production.

A First Glance at Cellular Layouts

Jeff owns a company that makes board games. Currently, Jeff has a large warehouse building where employees operate the machines to make the pieces for the games and then assemble them to be sent to a variety of stores. There are employees who make the game boards, employees who make the game pieces, and employees who print the instructions.

While each employee has an important job and all of them are needed to complete each game, the layout of the warehouse is very chaotic. The paper used for the instructions is on one side of the building, but the printer is on a different side. The plastic that is melted into game pieces is located in crates in a small shed outside of the warehouse, but the machine that molds the plastic is located in a small corner room on the second floor. Employees are constantly crisscrossing the warehouse just to complete their specific tasks and duties. Jeff has decided to do some research on cellular layout to help create workstations that can improve the production of his business.

Foundation Definitions

Let's take a look at some basic foundations to help us better understand cellular layout. First, lean manufacturing is the concept of minimizing waste by means of eliminating activities or resources that do not add value, or doing the most with the least amount of resources and activity. One way to minimize waste is to make a more productive work environment using workcells. A workcell is a work unit that contains more than one machine, but is much smaller than an entire department. Workcells have 3-12 employees and 5-15 machines that are arranged in a compact manner, whereas a department may be comprised of many more employees and many more machines spread out over a large area.

Cellular layouts are the actual organization of a department so that similar products are manufactured together. The most effective cells manufacture a small portion of similar products and contain all of the needed equipment and supplies to complete the process for that cell. For example, machine one might be right by the door so that employees do not have to walk across the warehouse to begin production, followed by machine two, three, four, and so on (keeping in mind that all of the supplies to run the machine need to be located right next to the machine). This helps move manufacturing smoothly from one process to the next.


The purpose of design is to make sure the flow of production is smooth. This means connecting processes and materials together so that travel is minimized and employees are not constantly crossing over one another. Below are some common cellar layouts that companies can consider.

  • U-shaped: This is the most common layout and utilizes the smallest work area.
  • I-shaped: This pattern is used for businesses that are long and narrow.
  • L-shaped: This is often used in buildings that are square.
  • Comb and spine: This is shaped like a comb and is a great choice if a company has products that may leave the assembly line.

Because Jeff's warehouse is a square, he decides that an L-shape would be the best layout.

Other Considerations

Which design a company chooses depends on its own unique needs. Some considerations include:

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