Flow production is where all the different operations required for production are carried out in a sequence one after the other. It is usually used where mass production is required to meet high levels of demand and when the product being manufactured is reasonably standardised.
Flow production is the continuous movement of items through each stage of production, often along a conveyor belt or assembly line. Individual jobs are done in sequence. Also known as mass or line production, the process involves the manufacture of a large volume of identical, standardised products. Flow production is highly capital-intensive and has high set-up costs, requiring firms to operate near capacity (high capacity utilisation).
Employees are normally semi-skilled and the process is suited to both mechanisation and automation. The assembly line is often associated with the motor industry, with the Ford 'Model T' being given as one of the first examples of this method of production.
Flow production allows for Economies of Scale and Specialisation (Division of Labour), which are examined in more detail in the Business organisation and environment topic pack. Specialised staff tend to work on a single task, but as we see in the next section, this may not always be the case, especially if a firm employs cell production techniques.
Although standardisation is given as both an advantage and disadvantage of flow production, new technologies have allowed varied products to be designed, developed and produced more rapidly, flexibly and cheaply, often with better quality, e.g. computer assisted design (CAD), computer assisted manufacture (CAM) and automation using robots. More flexible and sophisticated automation of lines has allowed mass produced items to be more customised.
The following video on the Ferrari assembly line illustrates how mass production can be adapted to a more customised product.
For the advantages and disadvantages of each production method, see the advantages and disadvantages summary interaction (page C7).