Roland DG, a small Japanese manufacturer, has pioneered “D-shop,” a production system that allows a single person to assemble products from start to finish. Parts are delivered automatically to the worker, who follows instructions from a 3-D graphic and doesn’t need to move from his position. The system allows the manufacturer to take in small orders and build a diverse set of products.
The evolution of Roland DG, which is 40%-owned by digital piano maker Roland Corp., started in 1998, when it 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 DG decided it needed a manufacturing system in which a single worker could build any one of its diverse products.
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.
The system is so simple that nearly anyone can assemble products anywhere, company managers say. When Roland DG is flooded with orders, it sends out for part-time workers. Veterans, meanwhile, are able to assemble two machines simultaneously, or run one finished product through tests while assembling the next.
Roland DG says its use of digital tools has reduced defects and helped it keep workers motivated in a market crowded with competitors. It also has helped maintain quality in Roland DG’s factory in Thailand, the company’s first outside of Japan.