Group technology (GT) is a manufacturing strategy which strives to lower costs by improving the efficiency of production methods. This is often achieved by taking parts that are similar in design, known as part families, and producing them together rather than separately. The goal of group technology is to cut production time and maximize profits, both of which can otherwise suffer when various parts of an overall design are separately constructed and assembled. Once built up, group technology can drastically reduce costs by leveraging the benefits of automation.
First proposed by business innovator Frederick Winslow Taylor around the turn of the 20th century, group technology was an element of what he called the scientific management approach to business and industry. Taylor was among the first business consultants hired by companies specifically to assess production techniques and suggest improvements. Many of his recommendations, including the use of GT, were generally based on a transition from manual labor towards greater automation.
The logical basis of group technology is that a reduction in unit costs through increased efficiency means greater profit. To that end, GT can involve a range of specific modifications to the traditional manufacturing approach. This includes standardizing various constituent parts to the same shapes and sizes, rearranging production machinery on the factory floor to improve the flow of assembly, and tying production levels to order levels to free up capital.
A modern initiative often undertaken as part of a group technology approach is classifying parts according to their particular characteristics. These classifications are then applied using symbols or barcodes, making parts easier for customers to order and workers to identify. This means fewer errors on the factory floor and simpler ordering of new and replacement parts. Taken together, the various aspects of a group technology approach applied by a company mean faster fulfillment of orders, fewer parts needed to be kept on hand, and more accurate cost estimates for new products. With less reliance on the competence of individual workers, the unpredictability of human error is also diminished.
Group technology and other scientific management techniques have become established as necessary tools for successful businesses, and their tenets have become part of the curricula at many higher education institutions. Automation and standardization are strongly tied with growth as the costs of human labor continue to rise. Companies continue to pay consultants to help them improve and automate their production methods.