Division of Labour Within Two Diametrically Different Assembly System Designs. The measure of the intra-workgroup pattern as has been practised for the design of the socio-technically most advanced (real-life) assembly systems
Preprint, 2017

This article (or preprint not yet completed due to the retirement of one of the authors) treats the division of labour within two diametrically different assembly system designs. One hand, are parallel flow assembly system designs discussed and, on the other hand, are also serial product flow assembly system designs considered (in more general terminology, dock assembly work versus assembly line work). This discussion is based on the so-called intra-workgroup pattern. The recognition of such work patterns (or measure to define the division of labour) will, in many aspects, help the reader out to understand why the extensively long work cycle times practised earlier in two Swedish (real-life) assembly systems differed from less advanced and orthodox assembly systems.

These two (real-life) assembly systems featured group work in parallel product flows with extensively long work cycle times. And, this, in turn, will help the reader to grasp why the more advanced and unorthodox designs proved to be successful, and thus used for full-scale production purposes. The author will treat the Volvo Automobile Corporation's assembly plant located in Uddevalla and the Volvo Truck Corporation's so-called assembly docks within the Tuve plant based in Gothenburg. Albeit these two (real-life) assembly system are now both closed down (in 1992 and 2002, respectively), are still such knowledge necessary be aware of for both practitioners and scientist.

Among other things, is this the case because these intra-group work patterns are one key measure for more advanced and unorthodox assembly system designs (nevertheless note that according to the author's insights were many of the less advanced and unorthodox designs practised within the Swedish automotive industry, not correctly designed). In contrast to the sometimes more public understanding, were these two (real-life) assembly systems by no means experiments. Instead, they were both based on solid engineering, which to some extent were and still are considered uncommon for the automobile industry. Both were based on e.g. particular established and training principles fetched from the scientific field of vocational learning featuring among other things advanced materials feeding techniques utilising materials kits. (In fact, a selected number of senior research competencies were engaged in the design, running-in and full-scale manufacturing phases of the assembly plant in Uddevalla, which with some slight time delay in parallel feed knowledge to the assembly docks in Tuve.) More theoretical speaking, and to connect to for a long time established theoretical frames of references, the experiences and insights reported may very well be perceived representing some of the final efforts to in practice to prove the sociotechnical research approach.

This feat was achieved in a more engineering-wise manner than what usually has been practised before. As was the case for the author's and his co-workers, who gradually became responsible for the design of these two so-called most socio-technically advanced (real-life) assembly systems. These two (real-life) assembly systems were internationally unique and thereby needs these experiences and insights to be reported. Consequently, to connect to what is hinted initially, presenting the meaning of the intra-workgroup pattern, while at the same time referring to selected theoretical frames of references within vocational learning. As well as some frames of references from operation management will most certainly make the different versions assembly line work questionable (there among other things, the product architecture and product variation have a specific meaning in the last-mentioned assembly systems than what are the case for the two advanced and unorthodox cases).

To be even more precise, we will exemplify all this using the intra-workgroup patterns from the two (real-life) assembly systems, and relate this to the advanced materials feeding technique. But we will also report on how these work patterns were related to the product architecture and product variation of the two different products assembled (automobiles and heavy truck chassis). As will become apparent, recognition of the more correct (shop floor) product architecture and product variation was the (unique) key innovation for these assembly system designs (i.e. from an assembly point of departure). That is, the present design-oriented product structure had to be complemented by an assembly-oriented product structure valid for the local shop floor work in question (relying solely on the still all-pervading fragmented and inconsistent product information communicated by the design-oriented product structure is by no means an option). Or in other words, the logic of the product manufactured must incontrovertibly become the logic of the small parallel workgroups assembly work. How such a feat has proved to be achievable for e.g. the author is something that will be explained.

autonomous workgroups

manufacturing technology

restructuring of information systems

long work cycle times

alternatives to lean production

learning and training

alternatives to line assembly


engineering of psychosocial preconditions

work organisation


assembly work

lean production

materials feeding techniques

work structuring

autonomous work groups


Tomas Engström

Chalmers, Teknikens ekonomi och organisation, Supply and Operations Management


Annan teknik

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